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Egypt - Volunteers in the silence of Lent in Anafora.

EN - Thursday, 25 March 2021

′′Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength."

Far from Cairo, volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient have withdrawn into the silence of the Monastery of Anafora for a few days of spiritual retreat.

When we leave the Egyptian capital, the sand and rocks extend as far as we can see. Highways cross a desert landscape, lunar-looking. Few of our things in our bags, a rosary and our best resolutions in mind, here we are heading to Anafora for two days out of time.

Anafora, mysterious name, with secret consonances, which we have been described as a small earthly paradise.

sos chretiens orient egypte monastere anafora residenceAs soon as the iron gate is crossed, we open the curtains of the bus and discover with wonder the greenery and flowers that brighten the alleys of the place. We see ourselves handing over a key to our rooms. After lining a pool with fresh water, attractive under this sun, we access our rooms furnished  with beds, armchairs, carpets and colorful cushions, so luxurious compared to our cairote apartment. The calm, which prevails, pleases our ears abused daily by Egyptian noise pollution. Evening rest will be most welcome.

For now, let's visit the rest of this exceptional site. Founded in 1990 by Monseigneur Amba Thomas, Coptic Orthodox Bishop, who has dreamed it for years, it extends over about a hundred hectares of cultivable land. Here, sisters and passing travelers live in self-sufficiency. Everything we eat is produced on site and the meal buffet is a perfect illustration: vegetables and fresh fruits, eggs, jams or even teas and herbal teas are local. Candle, carpet, cosmetics and crochet workshops also help furnish Anafora's shop. A library with many books in several languages is perfecting everyone's knowledge, while the most curious can admire ostrich (and even a freshly laid egg) in the farm's enclosures.

sos chretiens orient egypte eglise monastere anaforaOn the main square you find the church, erected as a cross. The floor is covered with colorful carpets, the altar is in good place. Two offices punctuate the days: Coptic Mass at dawn and evening prayer. Songs, incense, candle glimmer bring our prayers up to heaven, in a serene atmosphere.

In the alleys, we meet a few nuns and rare monks, groups of visitors from Northern Europe in search of serenity, farm workers... Families with children, students and even tourists are greeted with kindness .. Everyone can come as long as they wish to rest, reflect, recharge...

Little peculiarity, in this monastery, we leave our religion at the entrance. Here, all are welcome: Christians, Muslims, tourists or visitors in search of rest and peace, in a spirit of sharing. Everyone is first considered a human being. This ecumenical spirit responds to the divine commandment ′′You will love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself."

sos chretiens orient egypte volontaire en retraite a anaforaTo help us taste this peace, Father Ambroise, of the Fraternity Saint Vincent Ferrier, passing through Cairo, preaches us some teachings about Lent time. In a great fresh room, in the heart of the house, we religiously listen to the meaning of this time of preparation for the redemptions of our sins through Christ. The essential purpose is to prepare for the feast of Easter, Christ's resurrection. This is a concrete way for us Christians to unite with Jesus Christ, who himself fasted forty days in the wilderness to prepare for His mission, death and resurrection. Everyone prepares their hearts for Easter: ′′Memento, homo, quod pulvis es, and in pulverem reverteris.′′

After a hearty candlelight dinner, we scatter into the enclosure to say the evening prayer or recite the rosary under the stars, which shine in the sky. The Holy Mary rise towards the enlightened heavenly vault, as our minds soothe themselves in this mesmerizing silence.

sos chretiens orient egypte volontaires prient eglise anaforaThe next day meets us for a morning traditional dominicain mass. In the Coptic church, traditional prayers and religious songs in French resonate. Ultimate proof of our bond with Christians in the East. Coptics listen to us sing a French song in the morning light. A gentle tranquility invades us. We are learning to break away from the superfluous for the needful.

In this place whose name means ′′elevation", we tried to rise, far from our daily materialistic life. One last teaching, one last rosary under the palm trees, a herbal tea under the stars and it's already the end of our retreat.

Sharing, peace and simplicity are the three words I will remember from this express stay, which I hope I can one day renew.

Inès, volunteer in Egypt.