- DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?
Miracles strike us ill two contradictory ways. We are attracted by anything that lifts us out of our everyday ruts, and gives us a glimpse of heaven. Yet we feel extremely skeptical about anything that seems to make nonsense of our rational and scientific way of viewing the universe. When it comes to the Gospels, we are attracted to Jesus as a human being, but often find it hard to explain and accept his miracles.
This book concerns the lives of a group of rubbish collectors living near Cairo. Their story brings the miracles of the Gospels abruptly into the present. Yet they trace the origins of their thriving and colorful church back to the days when St Mark, the evangelist and Gospel writer, came to Egypt. But the coming of the Muslims to Egypt in the seventh century began the process by which the Christians of Egypt found themselves a minority. Even today they are denied opportunities for promotion and advancement that would help the disadvantaged among them to escape from the poverty trap.
As we approach the millennium, there are still many people in the world living in appalling conditions. What hope would you have if your house were filled with other people's stinking rubbish, if deprivation and disease stalked the land, and pigs lived in your backyard?
People in conditions like these are sometimes more open to the power of God than we in the affluent West are. The beauty of our green landscapes, best-kept villages and multipurpose shopping malls blinds us to the reality of life for many throughout the world. Admittedly we have emotional problems, and medical ones too, but the raw struggle for survival in a polluted and impoverished place is completely foreign to our perceptions.
When you cannot afford a doctor, when you can't find food, where will you turn? Do you commit physical and spiritual suicide by resorting to drink, drugs and crime - or do you put your faith in God? This book tells the very remarkable story of how faith can genuinely move mountains, and what God can achieve through those who truly put their trust in him.
- Profile of a rubbish collector
It was Easter Day and I was following in the wake of a lay-worker who worked among the zeballeen, or rubbish collectors, of Cairo. He was marching through the flies and filth, visiting as many people as he could in the community. The people live out on the edge of the city, under the shadow of the Mokattam Hills. Every day the men bring back the refuse of the metropolis in trucks and donkey carts to their streets and homes. The women then sift through it and salvage anything useful. They give the food scraps to the animals, so dogs and donkeys (sometimes a dead dog or a disabled donkey), goats and pigs mill around in the mud-and-manure alleyways. It was in this scene of squalor that my friend proclaimed to all he met, 'Yesua Qam!' ('Christ has risen!').
What did it mean to them? That's just what he asked one young pig-keeper who had turned to Christ only a month before. The man had married at the age of sixteen and lived with his wife in a small room. He had no papers as his birth certificate had been burnt up in a fire. This meant he also had no identity card. In Egypt everyone carries an ID card: it states not only your name and parentage, but also your religion. Rather in the way that people in Britain used to put down on their hospital forms 'C of E' (even if they were not active Anglicans at all), so in Egypt nearly all non-Muslims put 'Christian' on their card.
Legally everyone in Egypt has to have a religion. The vast majority of the 10 per cent of Egyptians who are 'Christian' rather than Muslil1l identify themselves with the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church, but this doesn't mean that they are necessarily keen Orthodox Christians, or know anything about Christ. Some indeed are very zealous, but the average local Coptic church is doing extremely well if it can attract 10 per cent of the Copts in the district to attend on a regular basis. In many villages there are no churches at all, and in many cities there are not enough, since it is difficult - some would say impossible - to get permission to build a new church. There are many parts of Egypt where there is no church available to teach the Copts, and many may know more about how Muslims pray than how they should worship as Christians.
The rubbish collectors' community we are concerned with here had up until 1974 been one such place: the people knew nothing about Christ, and if they wanted to pray they might bring newspapers and spread them out on the ground in imitation of Muslim prayer mats. Our young pig-keeper had been like this - a Copt in name only, growing up among people who until 1974 had had no one to teach them the Coptic Orthodox faith. As he had no papers, he had no legal rights - but he did get the chance to hear the gospel. Although he had no ID card, most of the rubbish collectors were presumed to be originally from Christian families. This was important, because in Egypt there are tight restrictions on any evangelistic activities of the Church, especially if it is suspected that Muslims might get to hear the gospel. But in the pig-keeper's case, the Church felt free to visit him - and all the more so because he was a pig-keeper.
When it comes to hearing the gospel, what is the advantage of looking after pigs? Simply this. In any other part of Cairo, if a Copt were to play a Christian cassette tape so that it could be heard in the street, he would get a visit from Muslim fundamentalists. Rubbish collectors, however, are generally spared their attentions, and this was why my friend could march through the streets shouting 'Jesus is risen!' without molestation. Why is this? It is partly due to the fact that the rubbish collectors keep pigs. Pigs in Islam are considered to be unclean, and those who look after them are popularly viewed as sub-human. So to avoid defiling themselves, keen Muslims would not contemplate going into a rubbish collector's shack - especially if he was also a pig-keeper.
This particular young man kept his pigs downstairs on the ground floor, so no Muslim would dream of entering his house. Previously he had lived in a shack, but by carefully selling off a couple of pigs per year, he had managed to build a shell of a house out of breeze blocks. There was no plaster and no glass in the windows, so dust and ash from burnt rubbish could freely blow in.
To make our visit more comfortable the pig-keeper put some pieces of cardboard across the gaping windows to stop the worst of the dirt from blowing in. We sat at a table - the one prominent piece of furniture in that upstairs room. There were a few chairs, but everything else (including kitchen utensils) had to be left on the floor. So far they had three children to look after and, 'God willing', there would certainly be more - rubbish collectors like to have lots of children so that there are more boys to collect the rubbish, and more girls to sort it. Several would die in childhood.
In these circumstances the young man had had little self-respect and had taken to drink and drugs, but now he had met with Christ and felt his love and purifying power. The drink and drugs had gone.
Those things were gone, but what was in their place? My friend pressed him on this point, knowing that while it was not so hard for people to be attracted to Christ, it was much harder for them to stick at the Christian life. For one thing, people don't like rubbish collectors to have any time off, and for another, he couldn't read, so it was hard to feed himself spiritually.
So to answer my friend's question the pig-keeper had to think hard and struggled to find words. He knew he should love his wife, his children, his sister...
'And who else?' prodded my friend.
'Everyone?' asked the pig-keeper.
The fact that he even asked the question was a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit within him. This area of Cairo had been notorious for fighting, gambling, knifing and shooting incidents. It was not a light thing for someone born and brought up in these circumstances to even consider a different way of life. There were still many barriers and difficulties to overcome - not the least of which was trying to understand the Christian life when the words of the Arabic Bible were almost foreign to him.
To try to reinforce .the pig-keeper's determination to go on with Christ, my friend read to him the passage in John 15:1-11 when Jesus talks about the vine and the vinedresser. But reading anything was for the rubbish collector an alien activity. My friend found himself in a position rather like that of a child from school today, trying to explain computer language to a parent who had never so much as touched a keyboard. The communication gap was as wide as that.
After every sentence my friend had to ask the pig-keeper if he understood. If he didn't, he would find another word and carry on. The aim was that by the end of the conversation the pig-keeper would have a better idea about how to bear fruit in Christ.
For my lay-worker friend, to have a pig-keeper ask how to live the Christian life was the greatest miracle that he could wish for. Knowing the difficulties, knowing the barriers that had to be overcome - of deprivation, disease, poverty, ignorance and temptation - this was a far greater miracle than the more spectacular physical healings and acts of God that also took place under the rubbish collectors' mountain. 'Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Get up, take your mat and walk"?' (Mark 2.9 NIV}.
In coming to read about the community that lives under the Mokattam Mountain, you are coming to a Mountain of Faith - a place that symbolizes what God can do as he acts in power to lift up the lowest of the low, to save the weak to confound the strong.
A Mountain To Move
Farahat realized that he needed to know more about the people of the mountain - how they had come to be there etc. - so he could learn to serve them better. Very little of their history was known in the outside world.
The presidency of Gamal Abdul Nasir (1956-1970) was well known for social upheavals and movements of population. The most famous was his decision to move the Nubian people off their land. This was to make way for the Aswan High Dam that was to provide electricity from the south of Egypt.
The Nubians had struggled for centuries to defend their language, their customs and culture from outside pressures. Unlike the Copts, they succeeded in keeping their language alive to this day. Their customs include giving their children 'the baptism of John'. But with no Church of their own Christianity never took deep root among them. The Arabs cut them off from the Coptic Church and their faith faded away.
Nasir moved them off their homelands to make wav for the dam lake, Lake Nasir. He put many of them in a complex of villages near Aswan called Medinat Nasir, or 'Nasir City'. But while all this was going on, the World's media missed another movement of population around the same time - the decision to move thousands of low-income Copts to Manshiyat Nasir, or 'Nasir Suburb', this was a barren site on the lower slopes of the Mokattam Mountain.
- The Zeballeen Story
During the centuries of Islamic rule that led up to the modem period, Egyptians who did not convert to Islam had to pay for the privilege of remaining Copts. Those who could afford to do so were probably wealthy, but it was not until 1855 that this special gezyah tax was lifted. By then, with the constant burden of extra taxation, many Copts had become very poor. As a result, some became zeballeen - slum dwellers who carted away the rubbish of the various towns that came to comprise Cairo.
The people we now know as zeballeen can be divided into two separate social groups. Those who were first on the scene came about a hundred years ago from the oases of Egypt. They collected household waste and sold what they could to be used as fuel for heating public baths or for cooking beans in oil In the end, they became middlemen who sold on these recycled products.
This change of status happened as the second social group appeared on the scene. Landless peasants, mostly from Christian families, migrated to Cairo from the south. They took over the job of collecting household waste, under the supervision of the people from the oases who were there first. Their Muslim supervisors were forbidden by Islamic law to touch pork or come into contact with pigs, but as Christians the newcomers were free to do this. Therefore they could supplement their income by keeping pigs that were fed on the food scraps.
There are seven zeballeen districts around Greater Cairo. The largest of these is Manshiyat Nasir, which was created in 1969 when the Governor of Cairo had thousands of rubbish collectors moved to the east of the city on to the lower slopes of the Mukattam Mountain. These low-income Copts had been moved on at least Once before, but in Manshiyat Nasir (New Nasir Suburb) there were no buildings at all and no services. The newcomers did not even have time to plan or prepare the area. They had to get to work immediately on bringing in the rubbish, so any attempts they made to build for themselves were very haphazard. When they did find the time, they turned their hands to leveling the ground and building tin shacks on it with pig-pens attached to them.
Some 7,000 rubbish collectors get up at the crack of dawn every morning at Manshiyat Nasir. They go to blocks of flats, hotels and other parts of Cairo and collect Over 2,000 tons of rubbish. They take this home, emptying their carts in the backyard or in front of their shacks. The women and older girls sort the rubbish into organic and inorganic refuse, and the edible leftovers go to their pigs and cattle. They then sort the durable Waste materials according to type and color.
The rubbish collectors gather the secondary materials such as glass, paper, plastic, tin, rags and bones into big bundles in front of their dwellings. They then sell them to the middlemen from the oases, who come with their vehicles to collect them. In turn, the middlemen sell them to factories for recycling.
Any waste that couldn't be reused, such as the refuse from the animal enclosures, they used to leave on the paths. Eventually it would be burnt or sent to the incinerator or the rubbish tip in the lower part of the area. Understandably, the living conditions were deplorable, and there was a very real danger of fire breaking out as a result of spontaneous combustion from materials reacting together in the remaining refuse. When such explosions did occur, they put both the environment and people's health at risk, as did the pall of thick black smoke that settled over a large part of the area.
It was into this scene of poverty and spiritual deprivation that God had called the young man Farahat Ibrahim.
- Manager of AL-Kiraza Press
By this time, Farahat was facing a very difficult time at work; and as he could find no way to cope with the problems he faced in 1976 he went to the Patriarch Pope Shenouda, for advice. Seeing that Farahat was unsettled in his job at the newspaper, Pope Shenouda saw a golden opportunity to turn his talents to good use for the Church. ‘Don’t put up with it!' he declared. 'Stay with me.
So it was that Farahat found himself called to leave his job with The Republic newspaper and instead serve under the Patriach's direct supervision. Pope Shenouda appointed him manger of the AI-Kiraza or 'Proclamation' Press. Among f he tasks of this press was to print regularly Al-Kiraza, the official magazine of the Orthodox Church. Working directly under the Patriarch's supervision was to Farahat a tremendous privilege, and one that gave him great insight into a life lived in full-time commitment to ministry. Sometimes he would see Pope Shenouda staying up into the small hours of the morning to meet some deadline or other. This encouraged Farahat to emulate such commitment to Christian service - rather than finding any excuse not to!
- Beauty for Ashes
The most momentous event of 1976 in Mansheyat Nasir was the fire that swept through the entire district. Yet the wholesale destruction it caused paved the way for a process of transformation. The residents gradually began to use local stone for building, instead of the scrap tin and corrugated iron sheets. They stuck to the original plan of their homes - one big room for living and working in, and an enclosure for animals attached to it. A Corrugated iron fence separated the pig-pens from the household. An office for environmental change also emerged, which worked with engineering consultants to plan and name the streets of the district. The result was the first meaningful map of the area, and it gave the residents the beginnings of a sense of security. With the rebuilding of their dwellings, they filed claims for ownership of the land with the local government.
At the same time as the residents were rebuilding their homes, so the time seemed ripe to build a permanent church in this residential area below the mountain. Farahat had wanted to be a minister in many places including Sudan, yet he was very certain that God was calling him to be a minister in one specific church. The Mukattam church was being built from scratch. One day when Farahat was sitting with a friend, a man came up to them and announced to Farahat: 'I tell you that you will be the priest of this church and you will be the one to give it the name of Samaan.' This man was uneducated, knowing neither how to read nor to write, yet he knew when God was speaking to him. Once in a Bible meeting, he knew the Lord was clearly speaking to him about his addiction to smoking.
Immediately the man promised to repent and threw away all the tobacco he had in his pocket. But when he got home he found his niece waiting for him. She held out her hand to him, clutching something in it. 'Look what I've found, - Uncle,' she said, expecting him to be very pleased with her. 'It's your tobacco - I found it in the church!'
Although this humble prophet had informed Farahat that he would be the priest of the church, such an idea was still far from his thoughts. Farahat didn't have the qualifications that the job demanded and being a khaadim (lay-worker) seemed more than enough to be getting on with. But God seemed to have other plans and gave him a vision. Farahat saw himself entering a vast church that was to be built in Mukattam. In front of him he saw a tall rock blocking his path, but God flattened the rock and Farahat kept going and entered the huge church. Farahat felt this vision was a clear sign that it was God's plan that he would be there in the future. Yet he didn't breathe a word of this to anyone. God seemed to be giving Farahat a firm assurance that he wanted to use him - but Farahat felt equally strongly that he didn't deserve it...
Meanwhile, on the morning of 18 June 1976, the Patriarch paid a surprise visit to the area.3 He was thrilled with the progress on the church building. He also climbed up to the cavern on the mountainside. There wasn't time for him to get right up to the top of the mountain, yet he could see its potential as a centre for worship, and as he went up he chanted Psalm 24: 'Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior' (24.3-6).
To Farahat, this was a fulfillment of the word that he had received from Joshua 1.3, 'I will give you every place where you set your foot. He felt very blessed and encouraged by the visit, which the Patriarch made with Farahat's own spiritual counselor, Farahat's spiritual father.
Soon after, Farahat went to see his Spiritual Father, and they were talking the older man mentioned that he was going to call the new church 'the Church of the Virgin'. But Farahat felt strongly that God was saying to him, 'Call it St Samaan AL-Kharaz ['St Samaan the Tanner'], for it was because of him that this mountain moved. The mountain belongs to the church of St Samaan AL-Khiraaz and the miracle took place through him.' So Farahat explained to him, that he felt God had spoken to him, and the two men agreed that the church should he called the 'Church of Samaan AL-Khiraaz'.
- Choosing The Site Of The Church
The minister Farahat (who is now Father Samaan), together with another one, started to look for a place to minister, even to Sunday School kids. They stood in a place at the edge of the area, and the first minister remembered what he had heard from his Father Confessor when the latter preached, reiterating the saying in Joshua 1:3, "I will give you every place where you set your foot."
In simplicity of faith, he began to set his foot on the place where he was standing without telling his colleague anything about what was going on inside him, especially that he found him moving in the opposite direction. Then they met while turning around the place in opposite direction. the minister asked his colleague what he was doing, for which he gave an answer that astonished the other minister. he said, "Isn't it written in Joshua that "I will give you every place where you set your foot"?!!
The minister was assured that this was the place that God appointed for them as a site of a church in the Mokattam, which has now come true.
- Building A Church Of TIN
After choosing the place, work was begun on a church made of tin, with a roof made of reeds, just like the roofs of the rest of the area, which brought back memories of the manger in Bethlehem. The ministry to the Sunday School kids started, and on the first day eleven kids attended. After that a general meeting for men and women was started. The attendance on the first day, which was April 13. 1974, wsa nine people.
Even though this was not an encouraging beginning, yet it pushed these two ministers to pray all the more, and visit the huts one by one, speaking with everyone about the love of the Lord Jesus Christ and about the way to repentance.
After nearly five months, the place could no longer contain all who came. The Lord had blessed the work through the prayers of the Saint of this mountain, Samaan the Tanner.
- Replacing The TIN With Bricks
When the place became too small, the two ministers, together with a third one, whom the Lord had added to them, were obliged to enlarge the place by the help of the Lord. So they replaced the tin with bricks and reinforced concrete. But the roof was made of canvas, which made the place look like the Tabernacle on top of the holy mountain!
- The Present Church Building
After the church was completely built with bricks, the minister went, along with his Father Confessor, to H. H. Pope Shenouda III and told him everything that had been done. He greatly rejoiced and encouraged his children the ministers and gave a certain sum of money to build a roof of concrete.
However, something happened that obliged the ministers to tear down that building and erect the present church, which was the third attempt to build a place suitable for the holiness of God.
It so happened the attendance multiplied in an amazing way, and multitudes came to the church, which made the place too small for them all. This compelled the minister to turn to a helpful architect, who planned a wonderful design for the church. Thus the building started till it became the lofty one we see now covering an area of about 1000 sq.m.
Many miracles took place to bring this gorgeous building to its present state.
- The Miracle Of Providing WATER
After buying the building materials, namely gravel, cement, steel, and bricks, work could still not begin due to the need for water. This was especially so in that desert area whose inhabitants could not find water for their necessary needs at that time.
Fervent prayers were lifted up and the miracle took place. One evening when the minister was returning, he found at the edge of the paved road leading up to the Mokattam City a tractor pulling a huge water container. He asked the driver to provide him with the water necessary for the building of the church. The man agreed on the spot with no hesitation. This was the assistance of heaven!
- Festival of St. Samaan
Small and quiet the work may have been, but the Patriarch, Pope Shenouda, took a personal interest in the early efforts of his new priest. Thus Father Samaan went to see Pope Shenouda in his monastery of Anba Reweiss to invite him for the festival of St. Samaan the Tanner. Late in November 1978 the community lined his route, waving palm branches and chanting their welcome. People released doves as the Patriarch passed by, after which he celebrated communion in the church. His visit greatly encouraged the people and he repeated it on the same occasion the following November.
Gradually the festival of St. Samaan grew in importance in the eyes of the people. The reason for celebrating it in November was simple. Back in the tenth century, it was November when Patriarch Abraam had called the Church to fast and pray for three days before the miracle that split the mountain, so the Patriarch decided that the Copts should fast each year in memory of it.
The Coptic Church observes many fasts during the year. The longest is the Christmas fast. In Patriarch Abraam's time, it lasted forty days. If it had been a matter of choosing any time of year, the Church could have found one when fasts were shorter. Yet it was to this fast that they decided to add three days in memory of the mountain moving. Since they celebrated the new fast 25 to 27 November, this tells us that the original fast began on 25 November and the miracle itself took place on the third day, 27 November AD 979.1
The twentieth-century Father Samaan believed he was building his mission on the foundation that the tenth century Samaan had laid. His fascination for the mountain and the area around it was so strong he felt like 'a fish out of water' outside it. He felt that he could not be effective if he strayed beyond the borders of that historical place where he belonged. By confining himself to the people of this area, he felt he could make more impact for the gospel; and the more he moved around the community, the more his roles multiplied. God was adding to his gifts, so not only could he preach, but he could also offer a healing ministry. Last but not least, he grew in leadership ability, so that he was also effective as an administrator.
For six long years they prayed that God would show them how to discover the entrance to a new meeting place. Then in 1986 a workman who was lifting a rock dropped it and it crashed down to the level below. When the dust cleared they could see that the impact had opened up a previously invisible underground cavity. When their eyes had finally adjusted to the gloom, the workers found beneath their-feet 'a starkly beautiful cave with natural rock pillars'.
The cave's presence was a constant reminder that God could have more surprises in store for them yet. By 1990, they had started work on fashioning a church out of the cave. To their surprise, the natural shape of the cave fitted perfectly the outline of a traditional Coptic church. It divided naturally into three sections: for enquirers, the baptized and the communicants. All they had to do was hang a curtain in front of the space that would typically serve as a sanctuary.
The place may have been a church or at least a meeting place long ago, before falling into disuse and getting filled with rubble. Traces found among the rubbish suggested that there had been a rail for tying horses. Organic remains suggested food and accessories used in Napoleon's army. He had invaded Egypt in 1798, and for three years confronted the country with the full range of Western technology. The West was also given an insight into Egypt by the work of eminent professors that Napoleon took with him on his campaign. Eventually Nelson sunk the French fleet and the British helped the Ottoman Turks to expel Napoleon's army by September 1801.
Whatever it had been used for before, the cave was reopened in 1991 as a church. It was named after Anba Boula, a hermit monk who followed the pattern of St Anthony.
Long ago, in response to falling standards of Christian life in the cities, Egyptian Christians pioneered a counterculture by staying single and living a simple lifestyle. At first they tried this in local churches, but increasingly they followed the example of St Anthony, who in 270 sold his estates and went to live in the desert.
Egypt lends itself to such withdrawal because 97 per cent of the land is desert. Towns were limited mainly to the narrow strip of the Nile valley in the south, or to the fertile region of the Nile river delta in the north. In the northern desert St Anthony lived as a hermit and his disciples followed a solitary way of life; in the southern desert St Pachomius set a pattern of large communities which had made a radical break from society. In between the two regions and the two models, were the monks of Nitria who lived in small groups near a spiritual father and met for worship at weekends.6
Such lifestyles attracted a lot of interest in the West. Monks with Egyptian names reached Ireland and stayed there till their deaths. They may have been the inspiration for St Patrick, who set the pattern of small communities as bases from which Celtic monks could reach Britain with the gospel.
Although it has no monks, Coptic visitors call the Mokattam Mountain retreat centre site 'the monastery'. So for them the cave church named after Anba Boula conjured up images of the ascetic spiritual lifestyle of the desert. There was space in the church for 400 worshippers. When they entered it one morning they were shocked to find all the cave walls blackened. It seems there had been a fire the night before, yet the smoke had left untouched the altar curtains and an icon of Christ.7 the believers wondered why God would allow such damage to the church, but later came to see the incident as providential.
Egypt is still, nominally at least, following certain aspects of nineteenth-century Ottoman Turkish law that aimed to restrict church building, repairs and activities. It is very hard to get permission to build a new church and there are far fewer church buildings in Egypt than the Copts need. In this instance, a delegation came to find out what the Copts were doing 'building' a church on government land. If they received no satisfactory explanation, they could close it down immediately. But the blackened nature of the interior persuaded the delegation that the church wasn't new. A typical feature of ancient Coptic buildings is a blackened ceiling and walls darkened with smoke from candles used by worshippers down the ages. Thus the Department of Antiquities decided that the church had existed for centuries and they gave it protected status.
Three years after the discovery of Anba Boula in 1986 came another remarkable confirmation that God was watching over the efforts on the mountain. In 1989 workers on the cliff-face dislodged a large boulder and sent it crashing down into a courtyard some 30 meters below. Many people lived in the buildings around it, and plenty of pigs in it, yet no one was hurt - neither human nor animal.
- Finding the Saint
At the beginning of 1989 God had laid it on the heart of Father Samaan to look for the body of St. Samaan the Tanner. His whereabouts at the time of the miracle of moving the Mokattam Mountain in the tenth century were a mystery. After the miracle, the people drifted back to their homes, and it would have been true to Samaan's self-effacing character if he had melted into the crowd. Patriarch Abraam himself was unable to find him and a rumour spread that he had thrown himself under the mountain, to escape worldly adulation.
Yet this was highly unlikely, since only the Patriarch knew of St Samaan's role on the day of the miracle and promised to keep it a secret until after St Samaan's death. In fact, Patriarch Abraam himself died the same year that the miracle took place, in 979. Eventually Father Samaan discovered that the Copts had buried the tenth patriarch, Yo'annas, next to St Samaan in the cemetery of Al-Habash in Old Cairo.! They did the same with Patriarch Gabriel in 1378.
That meant that Father Samaan could narrow down the site of the burial to a specific part of Old Cairo. Specialists who were working on restoring St Mary's Church, in the correct area for the cemetery, then discovered a skeleton 1 meter below the southern wall. The bones evidently belonged to a person small of stature, with a head balding in front. It seems likely that the skeleton is that of St Samaan as it bears a great similarity to an icon found in the Hanging Church that shows St. Samaan and Patriarch Abraam together.
Buried near the skeleton the restorers found a clay pot that was over one thousand years old. This supports the dating of the skeleton. On 11 July 1992, the Copts celebrated the life of St Samaan the Tanner in Mokattam. That day, they brought some of his mortal remains in solemn procession to the church that bears his name. They installed the clay pot in the same compartment where they laid their saint's remains to rest.
The return of the body of the one who prayed to move the mountain to the people of the mountain, proved to be a potent symbol of faith. Visitors to Mokattam dared to hope that God would work as powerfully in their time as he had done in St Samaan's.
1979 27 November: miracle of the moving of Mokattam Mountain through the prayers of Samaan the Tanner.
1890 Migrations of Muslim people from oases to Cairo.
1900 Migrations of poor Christian families from Upper Egypt to Cairo and their engagement in rubbish collection.
1969 Government moves the rubbish collectors to Manshiyat Nasir district, under Mokattam Mountain.
1972 The rubbish collector Qiddees invites Brother Farahat to visit his people, the zeballeen.
1974 Brother Farahat comes to the zeballeen area. First meeting of church in building of corrugated iron. Bishop Samweel registers Society of Rubbish Collectors.
1975 Brother Farahat's wife, Su'aad, starts a school with two kindergarten classes.
1976 Fire destroys Manshiyat Nasir: redevelopment begins. Construction of church below the mountain on a site of 1,000 square meters. Healing of Adham's head. First visit of the Coptic Patriarch, Pope Shenouda.
1978 Ordination of Brother Farahat as Father Simaan. First modern celebration of festival of St Samaan.
1980 World Bank, Egyptian government and private agencies get involved in redeveloping Manshiyat Nasir. Rubbish collection service extended to low-income families.
1986 Opening of 'the cavern' as a permanent place of worship. Discovery of site of Anba Boula.
1991 Opening of the Church of Anba Boula seating 400 people.
1992 Earthquake leads to resettlement of people from other parts of Cairo on the Mokattam Mountain. Some remains of St Samaan are brought in procession to the church named after him. (Other remains go to the Church of St Mary and the Hanging Church in Old Cairo.)
1993 School sponsored by the Patmos Foundation of Finland opens.
1994 Opening of Patmos Hospital. Re-opening of 'the cavern' as a Roman-style amphitheatre on a site of 10,000 square meters. Three other churches open for worship: St Mark, the Angel & St John and Anba Abraam.
1996 Father Samaan received the Robert Pierce Award for Christian Service, presented by World Vision.
1997 Some 120,000 people visit the Mokattam Mountain site during two weeks of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting