Once upon a time, Egypt was a flourishing center of Christian life and faith. The language of the country was Coptic and it has always been believed that the first leader of the Coptic Church was St. Mark who evangelized the Egyptians and was their first Pope. Saint Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria (296-337 AD), is one of the most important of the Church Fathers and is revered by all Christians as the “Father of Orthodoxy” due to his fidelity when the Church was threatened by the Arian heresy. Christian monasticism began in Egypt and St. Anthony the Great of the Desert (250-350 AD) is the “Father of Monks”. Sr. Benedicta Ward, the Anglican scholar, tells us that “…By 300 [AD], in the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus alone there were said to be ‘Ten thousand monks and twenty thousand nuns’”.
In 641 the Muslim Caliph Umar invaded Egypt and conquered the country. The jack boot of Islam crushed the Church and reduced the Christians to “dhimmis”. Arabic replaced Coptic as the national language. And the rest, as they say is history…a very sad history of oppression and marginalization for the Christians who refused to deny Christ and submit to the “Allah” of the Mohammedans.
Despite everything, a Christian remnant has endured and Christ has raised up saints among the Egyptian Christians. In the 20th Century a pharmacist who took the name “Matthew the Poor” revived and revitalized Egyptian monasticism. In this century Christ has raised up a woman of extraordinary faith and grace. Although Maggie Gobran has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she is virtually unknown in America.
A business woman and college professor, a wife, mother and grandmother, she has devoted herself to rescuing the Christians–the children above all–who are forced to live in the garbage slums of Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt. Her story is finally told in an authorized biography and to call it inspiring would be an understatement. Maggie Gobran is known as “Mama Maggie” by the numberless people she has helped, one of whom observed, “The dead live better than we do.” I pray that many will read this book and begin to grasp the mystery of holiness and what it means to be a Christian in a Muslim culture and country.
Copies of Mama Maggie are for sale at Village Books!
This article was written by Fr. Ivor Kraft. Photo was taken by Flickr user Salmonrbc; a filter was applied to the original work. Mama Maggie by Marty Makary & Ellen Vaughn; Thomas Nelson Publishers (2015)