Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Miracle of Mokkatum

On 5 July 2008, Jeff and I participated in a CSA tour of the Mokkatum church complex. I've uploaded an album to Picasa for anyone who wants to see more pictures than those I'll include here. The album has 73 pictures in it, so allow plenty of time :-)

Mokkatum started out as one church that was carved out of the mountainside. As time went on and the congregation expanded, becoming too large for that one church, another church was carved out of the mountainside. And so it went. I'm not sure how many churches there now are in Mokkatum; we entered three and saw entrances for at least two more. But the complex includes more than just churches. Because it is surrounded by Garbage City, and most of the people who belong to these churches are incredibly poor, Mokkatum also has other amenities that the people would not be able to afford on their own. There is a small arboretum, a small sports/recreational club, and even a small zoo. We didn't get to see the sports club, and we didn't take pictures of the zoo (it was too depressing, with the tiny, smelly cages, but it's my understanding that the larger zoo that the richer people go to isn't much better). There are pictures of the arboretum on Picasa.

In the late 1970s or early 1980s, an artist came to visit Mokkatum. I think he was Dutch, but I'm not sure, and I don't recall his name. In either case, he never went home. He fell in love with the churches and people of Mokkatum, and it became his mission and his ministry to improve the complex for the benefit of the people. He began a program of carving pictures of Bible scenes into the mountainside, so that the illiterate people could see and be reminded of the Bible stories and principles. He still lives at Mokkatum, where he designs the carvings. He has a team of artists who assist with the carving. It is his dream to cover all of the mountainside within the complex with Bible pictures. In many pictures, you can see the round holes in the mountain where the workers put stakes to hold the platforms on which they stand while carving; in a few pictures, you can see the wood planks they stand on. Seeing how high some of them are, I can't imagine climbing up there at all, but these artists are dedicated to their ministry.

Most of what I saw at Mokkatum is best shared via the pictures and captions I put on Picasa. However, there is a story of Mokkatum, depicted in the pictures, that I want to share here. It is the story of Saint Samaan and the Miracle of Mokkatum.

The picture to the left depicts how Samaan (later known as Saint Samaan) became a one-eyed man. Samaan was a very devout Christian man who worked as a cobbler. He was so devout that, although he was very poor, he desperately tried to save money to give to people who were needier than himself. He also went out very early each morning, far earlier than anyone else was out, in order to fetch water for old and disabled people. For this reason, Saint Samaan often is depicted with two bags, one behind him representing the money he was saving for charity, and one in front of him or in his hand to represent the water he carried. Neither of these bags is depicted in this particular picture. In any case, Samaan was a very devout believer. One day, while working in his profession as a cobbler, a woman came to him and asked him to fix her shoe. When the woman removed her shoe from her foot, she pulled her dress up, and Samaan inadvertently glimpsed her ankle. The sight of a woman's ankle was forbidden, and Samaan felt incredibly guilty. He remembered a Bible verse that says that if your eye causes you to sin, you should gouge it out, for it is better to lose your eye than to lose your soul. Samaan promptly gouged out his eye, but he continued to feel guilty because he had seen the woman's ankle. That is how he became a one-eyed man, although at that point, Samaan was not a well-known man.

During this time, Cairo as a city was desperately in need of expansion. The population was too big for the space available to the city. The city could not expand in one direction because of the Nile River and its floodplain; it could not expand in the other direction because of the mountains, which had no name at that time. A meeting of all the leaders of the city was called in order to discuss the problem and arrive at a solution. In attendance at the meeting, along with other leaders, were the King and the Egyptian Pope. One of the other attendees knew of a Bible verse that says that those who have faith the size of a mustard seed can say to a mountain "Get up and move" and the mountain will obey. This attendee mentioned this verse in jest, making fun of the Pope. The King asked the Pope if this verse really existed; the Pope said that it did. The King asked if it was true; the Pope said that it was. The King and the Pope agreed that the Christians in Cairo would fast, pray, and demonstrate their faith by moving a mountain out of the way to allow for the city's expansion.

For three days and nights, the Christians of Cairo prayed and fasted. In the early morning of the third day, the Pope was praying and fasting in the Hanging Church, then his headquarters, when he fell asleep. The Virgin Mary appeared to him in a dream and told him to exit the Hanging Church by the Iron Gate and seek the one-eyed man, for this man had been appointed to lead in the miracle that would occur. Although it was too early for anyone to be about in the city, the Pope believed the Virgin and went out by the Iron Gate. He saw a one-eyed man, Samaan, who was engaged in his ministry of fetching water for old and disabled persons. The Pope approached Samaan and told him that he, Samaan, had been appointed to lead in the miracle, but Samaan said no, he was not worthy; he was a guilty man. The Pope assured Samaan that he must have been forgiven, for he was the one God wanted to lead in this miracle. Samaan could not deny the Pope's words, but still felt unworthy, so the two agreed that the Pope would be the visible leader, while Samaan would stand behind him and tell him what to say.

The Pope, Samaan, and all the faithful of Cairo went to the base of the mountain. Also with them were the King and other people of the city who wanted to see the miracle. The faithful prayed to God and commanded the mountain to move. Suddenly, the mountain began to shake and rise; it rose to the point where the sun could be seen shining underneath the mountain. The King and the people were terrified and begged the faithful to stop, to put the mountain down. The faithful complied, and the mountain was put down. When it landed, it broke, and that is how it got its name of Mokkatum, which means "broken." Although the mountain was not moved out of the way for the city's expansion, the faith of the Christians did inspire the other people of Cairo to expand the city anyway; they expanded up and around the mountains, so the people got the living space they needed.

And that is the Miracle of Mokkatum.

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