Saint Samaan
The Tanner Monastery



1) The Incidents that Pave the Way for the Miracle.
2) The Distress is Dispersed.
3) The Supernatural Miracle.
4) The Results of the Miracle.
5) Recording the Miracle.
6) A Research on the Determination of the Date of the Miracle.


1) The Incidents that Pave the Way for the Miracle.

a) Heated religious discussion:

As we said earlier, Al-Mu'iz Li Din-Illah the Fatimid was fond of literary gatherings and much interested in religious controversies. He used to rally the religious leaders of the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews and let them debate in his presence, and stipulated that this should be carried out with neither anger nor contention.

There was a Jew in the retinue of Al-Mu'iz who espoused Islam in order to be assigned a minister. This man's name was Jacob Ibn Killis.

In spite of the fact that he espoused Islam, he still sided with Judaism, because he did not adopt Islam out of belief in it, but for the sake of the governmental office. Now this Jew hated Christians very much, especially because he had a Christian rival who was dear to the caliph. This Jew feared that the caliph would appoint the christian as minister instead of him. This man's name was Quzman Ibn Mina, and had the title "Abul Yumn" (The fortunate one).

So, Jacob Ibn Killis the Jew called to him another Jew named Moses and wanted him to debate with the Patriarch Abram in the court of the caliph Al-Mu'iz.

The caliph sent a message to the Patriarch, saying, "If you want to debate the Jews someday, whether yourself or through one of the bishops you choose, come to my house and join issue with them in my presence."

So Pope Abram set a date for the debate, and took along with him Anba Sawirus Ibn Al-Muqaffaa the bishop of Ashmunin (in Upper Egypt), who was one of the church scholars in his generation. It was he who wrote "THE BIOGRAPHY OF THE PATRIARCHS," and besides this he was well versed in theology, especially in comparative religion, and authored numerous volumes in this field. Of these books are: A BOOK ON MONOTHEISM, and THE BOOK OF THE WONDROUS PRESENTATION IN ANSWER TO THE JEWS, among other books.

When the caliph was seated, together with the Jewish minister Ibn Killis and his friend Moses, he said to the Pope,

"Speak my reverent Pope, or otherwise grant your companions the permission to talk."

So the Pope said to Sawirus the bishop of Ashmunin,

"Speak my son, and the divine wisdom grant you wisdom."

Anba Sawirus said in spiritual prudence,

"It is not proper to address a Jew in the presence of the caliph."
Moses, the minister's companion, was enraged and said,
"You are insulting me in the hearing of the prince of the believers [the title of the caliph among Muslims], since you describe me as ignorant."
Anba Sawirus asked him calmly,
"What if I furnish the proof for your ignorance, will you not be angry?"
The caliph interfered out of tolerance, and eloquently,
"There is no need to be angry in the discussion; freedom is vouchsafed for each of you so that you may express each his own opinion frankly and without embarrassment."

Anba Sawirus said confidently,
"Well, it is not I that call you ignorant; it is rather a great prophet of yours, who had a special favor from God, who witnesses against you."
Moses the Jew asked him,
"And who can this prophet be?"
Anba Sawirus answered immediately,
"It is Isaiah the prophet, who said about you, `The ox knows his master, the donkey, his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.'" (Is 1:3)
The caliph burst out laughing , for he was impressed by Anba Sawirus' prudence and skill of speech. Then the caliph asked Moses the Jew,
"Are these really the words of Isaiah?"
Moses said, with pent-up anger,
"Yes, sire."
And Anba Sawirus continued talking,

"Behold a great prophet of yours has announced that the animals have more understanding that you do."

The caliph was still under the intoxicating effect of the brilliance of this joke, and decided to end the session, having heard enough for the day.

b) The malicious plot:

This sharp debate upset the minister Ibn Killis and his other Jewish companion Moses so much that they decided to take revenge on Anba Abram and Anba Sawirus by devising a plot that would destroy the Copts altogether. For this reason, the Jew started to search the New Testament looking for something to help him in his malicious purpose. He chanced upon the verse that the Lord Jesus has said in Mt 17:20, which says: "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Moses the Jew and the minister Ibn Killis hastened to the caliph Al-Mu'iz and said to him,

"We have found it written in the book of the Christians that whosoever has faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain. So it is our right to demand them to prove that their religion is right by means of this. If they cannot, they should be punished for the invalidity of their religion."

The caliph kept silent and was mulling over this verse, thinking to himself that if the words of the New Testament were true, then this would be a golden opportunity to remove the mountain that was perched to the east of the new city (Cairo) so that it could stretch further east and would enjoy a terrific site, since the mountain was bordering Birket Elphil before it got removed. (24) But if they proved unable to carry this out, this would be a cogent proof that the religion of the Christians was wrong, so should be done away with completely.

The caliph Al-Mu'iz sent for Anba Abram the Syrian, who came to him and talked with him concerning this verse. He told him that he had to choose between these four alternatives: (25)

1) To fulfill this commandment and move the eastern part of the Mokattam.

2) To espouse Islam and abandon Christianity on the account that it is invalid.

3) To leave Egypt and immigrate to another country.

4) To be smitten by the sword altogether. (26)

The Patriarch kept silent, and was praying in his heart for the Lord to guide him in this ordeal.. Then he asked the caliph to give a three day respite, after which he would give him an answer.

c) Calling for a fast:

The Pope was very unhappy when he returned to his seat, and issued a public statement ordering all the Christians in Egypt to fast for three days from down, till sunset, and to lift up fervent prayers for the safety of the church, that God might deliver it from the impending ordeal. What a spiritual insight and heavenly wisdom is that which turns to God in such hard circumstances and distresses! How wonderful is the prayer of the church which it lifts up during the Mass, saying, "For we do not know another but You...Your holy name is the name we utter and our souls are revived by Your Holy Spirit."

Thereafter, the Pope went to the famous church of Saint Mary, which is know as "The Suspended Church," and called for the bishops who were present in Old Cairo, together with the archdeacons and the monks to tell them what had happened between the caliph and himself. He said to them,

"We are to fast and pray these three days which I have asked of the caliph as respite, so that the Lord may show mercy upon us in His grace, and provide us a way of deliverance."

All the people responded to the calling of the Pope, and the Coptic people fasted throughout the land of Egypt. Masses were held and prayers and supplications for this ordeal through which the church was going.

Pope Anba Abram, together with some bishops, priests, monks and archdeacons confined themselves to the Suspended Church of Saint Mary during those three days.

2) The Distress is Dispersed.


a) The Virgin Mary appears to the Pope:

The third day at dawn, the Pope dozes off for a short while, saw the Virgin Mary, and heard her say to him,

"What is the matter with you?"

The Pope answered,

"You know, lady of the heavenly and earthly beings."

She said to him,

"Fear not, faithful shepherd, ... for your tears which you have shed in this church, and the fasts and the prayers which you and your people have offered up shall not be forgotten. Now, get out through the iron gate that leads to the market-place and, when you are on your way out, you will find a one-eyed man in front of you carrying a jar of water. Take hold of him; for he is the man by whom the miracle will take place."

As soon as the Virgin Mary said this, she was hidden from the sight of the Pope, who woke up from his sleep wondering.

b) Saint Samaan, the messenger of heaven

When the Pope went out to the iron gate that leads to the market-place, and saw outside it the man whom the Virgin Mary had spoken, he took hold of him... brought him inside the iron gate, and closed it... The Pope told him what had happened between the caliph and himself, and what the Virgin Mary had ordered him to do, mentioning that it was he by whom the miracle would take place.

Saint Samaan said to him,

"Forgive me, my father, for I am but a sinful man."

The Pope said to him in persistence,

"It is the command of the mother of Light."

Saint Samaan answered in humility and submission,

"As long as it is the Mother of Light who decided that I should be entrusted with this great task, I, then, place myself at the you service, sir."

The Pope asked him about his name, and why he was there in the market-place at such an early hour in the morning while people are asleep.

Saint Samaan answered, "My name is Samaan the Tanner. I work in tanning animal skins. But I wake up as early as this hour in the morning every day to fill my jar with water and distribute it to the elderly and the sick, who have been hampered from bringing water for themselves by old age or sickness.

When I am finished with this service of mine, I return my water skin to the house and go to my work at the tannery where I work till evening. And at sunset I go out with the rest of the wage workers and eat just a little, so as to keep myself barely alive. Then I turn to prayer..."

Saint Samaan urged the Pope to keep the true state of his affairs hidden as long as he lived on this earth.

c) The preparations for the miracle

After Saint Samaan had finished this, he said to the Patriarch,

"My honorable father, go up the mountain and take along with you the religious leaders, the deacons, and the archdeacons, and make them carry on high the Bibles, the crosses, and the long candles, these being lit, and the censers full of incense."

"And ask the king and his retinue to go up with you... So you shall stand on one side of the mountain, while they stand on the side opposite you. As for me, I will stand among the people behind your felicity, so that no one would recognize me.

"Then after administering the holy sacraments, you raise up your voice with all of the people, repeating, "Kyrie Eleison" (have mercy, Lord) four hundred times.

"Then after that keep silent for some moments…. and worship you and the priests, before the Most High.  Repeat this three times, and every time you stand up after worshipping, draw the sign of the cross over the mountain, and you shall see the glory of God."

The Patriarch lifted up a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who allowed the trial to come, but provided a way out . (1 Co 10:13)

3) The Supernatural Miracle

a) A great crowd of people

The Patriarch told the caliph Al-Mu'iz Li Din Illah that he was ready to carry out his request by the grace of God... the caliph went out on the back of his steed, having with him several men of his retinue, his great men of honor, and his soldiers. He met the Patriarch and a great number of bishops, priests, deacons, archdeacons, the common people, and among these was Saint Samaan the Tanner... The two parties stood opposite one another on the mountain as Saint Samaan told them.

b) A great quake and the moving of the mountain

After administering the holy sacraments which the Pope and the bishops lifted up, the people repeated with a broken spirit and a crushed heart the "Kyrie Eleison" (heve mercy, Lord) prayer, four hundred times; 100 to the east, another to the west, another to the north, and another to the south.

Then they kept silent for a moment between the hands of the Most High... And they started to worship and stand up three times, while the Patriarch drew the sign of the cross. And behold a great earthquake swept over the mountain, and at each worship the mountain was thrust down, and every time they stood up the mountain would rise up and the sun would be seen from under it. And every time it would go back to its place.(27)

This was the power of faith which our teacher Paul declared when he said, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Phil 4:13)

3) The caliph and the crowds become frightened

When the miracle took place, the caliph Al-Mu'iz panicked and feared, together with all the multitudes that gathered with him; he cried out at the top of his voice,

"God is great; may His name be blessed."

And he entreated the Pope to stop what he was doing, otherwise the city would be overthrown.

When the things calmed down once more, he said to the Pope,

"You have proven that your faith is a true one. "

4) The Results of the Miracle.

This mighty miracle had many important results, of which we list the following:

a) Renewing and restoring the churches

After the miracle had been performed, the caliph Al-Mu'iz Li Din Illah took the Pope aside and spoke to him privately, saying,

"Now, ask whatever you want and we will do it for you."

The Pope answered wisely,

"The only thing I ask is that the Lord may lengthen your span of life, and give you victory over your enemies."

The caliph, however, insisted that the pope should ask something, so the Patriarch said, "Since you press me to reveal my desire to you, allow me to say that I desire that the church of Saint Markorios Abu Sifein (Babylon, Old Cairo) be rebuilt; for some mob and riffraff had it torn down, and used what was left of it as a storehouse for sugar-cane. Also I would like the walls of the Suspended Church to be restored, for they are now cracked."

As soon as the caliph heard these requests, he ordered a clerk in his office to draw up a decree immediately that would grant the Patriarch the right to do whatever he asked of the caliph.

He commanded that all the expenses be provided for from the state treasury... The Pope took the decree that entitled him to build and restore the church, but apologized for not taking the money, and said to the caliph,

"The One for whom we are building the church is able to help us complete it; he is in no need of the money of the world."

The church was rebuilt.

It is an example of the life of contentedness and satisfaction with one's portion that Anba Abram did not ask the caliph for any personal need or possessions.

The renewal of the church of Markorios Abu Sifein was a herald of a new age of building and renewal. A great number of churches were restored, especially in Alexandria.

2) The peace of the Church

The miracle of moving the Mokattam Mountain had a profound effect on all people, and the fear of the Lord fell upon all the people in the country, big and small, for history records this, saying:

Peace replaced upheaval and war. And Anba Abram's heart was full of assurance toward his faithful people.. (30)

One of the reasons why peace prevailed in the church was due to what was said about the caliph himself... (31)

This reminds us of what happened with the Emperor of the Roman empire Constantine the Great, who, after seeing the sign of the cross in his sleep, and realizing victory in his battles, believed in Christ.

There is nothing too difficult for the Lord, for the grace of God can enter into the courts of kings and emperors; taking captivity captives and giving gift unto men. Our teacher the apostle Paul wrote, "All the Saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household." (Phil 4"22)

5) Recording the Miracle.

Providence willed it that this miracle should be eternalized down the ages and remain intact in the intellect of the people, untainted by the years and undiminished by the forgetfulness of man. It remains a witness to God's glory and surpassing power that can shake and move mountains. This miracle will tell every generation that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church of God, and that every weapon that was formed against it shall not prosper...

H. H. Pope Shenouda III has reflected all these meanings in his poem "FOR THE CHURCH" of which we quote the following excerpt:

The gates of hell shall not prevail against you,

So rest assured and relax , for the One crucified is with you.

Ask about the time of Al-Mu'iz, for it knows it out of experience;

Ask it how by faith you moved the Mokattam,

A mountain that shook because of you, and you willed it,

You could break into pieces.

You who forget, understand the heart of history.

The means whereby this miracle was immortalized are:

a) The three day fast that precedes the Christmas fast

The Pope Anba Abram the Syrian decided to make the three days which the church fasted on account of this miracle as a continuing ordinance in the church, which all the Copts should keep. After these three days were added to the Christmas fast, it became 43 days after it has once been 40 only. It begins on November 25. each year.

Here is what history has to say about it:

Anba Abram has appended three days to the Christmas fast, which used to be forty days; these three days being the days which the Christians fasted under that Patriarch to remove the impending flail from them which came about because of the wiles of the Jewish minister Jacob Ibn Killis. (23)

b) The icon of the two Saints, Anba Abram and Samaan the Tanner

An icon adorns the northern wall in the yard of the church of The Virgin Mary, which is known as "The Suspended Church", in Old Cairo that dates back to the fifteenth century AD (which is five centuries after the miracle, and it must have been drawn from another picture that we do not have at present). This icon represents Anba Abram and Saint Samaan the Tanner, and together with them the Virgin Mary appears in the picture. (33)

3) The building of a church in the name of Saint Samaan the Tanner in the Mokattam Mountain:

The will of God decreed that the first church would be built in the memory of this miracle after ten centuries of its occurrence. It was built on the Mokattam itself under H. H. Pope Shenouda III in 1974, as we shall see later on.

6) A Research on the Determination of the Date of the Miracle.

History has recorded the miracle of moving the Mokattam mountain showing that it took place under the caliph Al-Mu'iz Li Din Illah Al-Fatimi, which coincides with the time of Pope Abram the Syrian the 62nd. Patriarch, at the hands of Saint Samaan the Tanner.

But history does not record the day, the month, and the year in which the miracle was performed, which is a remarkable thing indeed!

Maybe the reason for this neglect is the fact that the miracle was such a supernatural occurrence to the historians of that era that they deemed it superfluous to back it up historically, for on that day an unforgettable earthquake shook the earth, and it was kept in people's minds by the power of its effect that shook the souls. So it was meant to remain intact in the minds, down the ages...

But forgetfulness is human; therefore history is found lacking in the determination of the date of the miracle.

In fact, it is not difficult to know the exact day, month, and year of the miracle, for we can get to know that by comparing the events that occurred at the time of the miracle. This we shall try to clarify in our research, by the grace of God and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

In order to be able to deduce the year in which the miracle took place, let us review the following:

(A) The miracle must have happened between the years 975 and 979 AD.

The miracle was performed under Pope Abram The Syrian who was ordained as patriarch in AD 975 and rested in peace in AD 979. So the miracle should be restricted to these two dates.

(B) The miracle must have happened in the same year of the renewal of the church of Abu Sifein

The renewal of this church was one of the results of the miracle. When the caliph insisted the Pope should ask for him something which he (the caliph) promised to carry out, the Pope asked for a permission to renew the church of Markorios Abu Sifein in Old Cairo.

History says

And he ordered, immediately, that a legal paper of entitlement should be written him... (34)

And it also says:

The caliph commanded that he should be given the church of Abu Sifein right away (35)

The word "immediately" and the word "right away" indicate that the permission to renew the church took place directly after the miracle, namely in the same year of the miracle.

It is well established from history that the renewal of the church had begun also at the time of the miracle, namely shortly after the permission was issued and the church was handed over. Our evidence of this is the historical record of the events that occurred at the beginning of the renewal of the church.

When the decree that Al-Mu'iz issued was read in front of the church of Abu Sifein, the mobs gathered in clamor and objection, declaring that they would not allow anyone to rebuild the church.

The caliph heard of what had happened, and got furiously angry to the extent that he rode his steed and headed his army to Babylon, to the spot where Anba Abram wanted to work.

As soon as he arrived there, he ordered the builders to work in his presence and under his own supervision. When the mobs saw how firm the caliph Al-Mu'iz was, they stood there in silence and just looked at him as if stricken with awe. (36)

These facts confirm that the building of the church of Abu Sifein was started directly after the miracle, for the caliph was still so impressed and enthusiastic that he himself came in order to enable the pope to work on the building.

It is a historical fact that the rebuilding of the Markorios Abu Sifein church was in AD 979.(37)

(C) Then the year the miracle took placemust have been AD 979:

This is because the year of the rebuilding of the church of Markorios Abu Sifein is supposed to have followed the miracle directly.

2) Determining the day of the miracle

(A) It is an established historical fact that the Patriarch Anba Abram called for a three day fast for the miracle to happen, saying to the bishops, the priests and the people whom he gathered in the Suspended Church:

"We are to fast and pray these three days which I have asked of the caliph as respite, so that the Lord may show mercy upon us in His grace, and provide us a way of deliverance." (38)

(B) It is also estabished historically that in the third day of the fast, the miracle happened ... for it is recorded that " In the morning of the third day the Patriarch told the Caliph that he was going to move the Mountain .." (39)

(C) It is also known historically that these three days of fasting were added to the Christmas fast, for it is recorded that "three days were appended to the Christmas fast, which used to be forty days only... These three days are the days which the Christians fasted under the Patriarch to remove the impending flail from them which came about because of the wiles of the Jewish minister." (40)

(D) The question that concerns us here is why this three day fast of the miracle was added to the Christmas fast in particular?

Has this been done haphazardly, irrationally?

But how could we conceive it has been so done?

And could the church accept such an act?

Then, there must be a reason and a relationship between these three days and the Christmas fast.

(E) If it were up to the church to append these days to any other fast, it would have rather added it to the fast of Jonah or the fast of the Virgin; and this is for the following reasons:

1) The addition to the fast of Jonah

The fast of Jonah was introduced by Pope Abram the Syrian who himself introduced the three day fast of the moving of the Mokattam mountain. For being Syrian himself, he kept up the fast of Jonah which the Syrian church observed. Now when he was ordained a Patriarch of the Coptic church, he observed it in its time, and the people followed suit and kept this custom till this day. (41)

So then, if were the up to the Pope's choice to append this three day fast of the miracle, he would have added to the fast of Jonah, especially that the two fasts share a common nature, namely were fasts in times of distress.

For the fast of Jonah was observed because of the distress that the people of Nineveh had to go through, for which they implored the tender mercies of God, and the fast of the moving of the Mokattam mountain was because of the distress that came over the people of Egypt, for which they implored the tender mercies of God.

Furthermore, it is quite a small number of days if one adds three to three, which totals six days, while the addition of three to forty is quite the opposite. For 43 days are not short periods of time at all.

2) The addition to the fast of the Virgin Mary

If it were up to the church to add the three day fast of the miracle to any other fast, it would have been to add it to the fast of the Virgin Mary (42), since it was the Virgin herself that appeared to the Patriarch and guided him to Saint Samaan the Tanner. So it would have rather added these three days to her fast to glorify her and in remembrance of her intercession.

But since these three days were added to neither of these two fasts, which otherwise deserve that this fast be added to them, then there remains the question: why were these three days appended to the Christmas fast?

In attempt to answer this question, we say that the Patriarch Abram the Syrian seems, on historical accounts, to have been quite minute as to keeping the dates of the fasts on their occasions, for history says:

When the date of Nineveh's fast had fully come, he fasted it and his children followed suit, and therefore the Coptic church kept this custom till this day. (43)

So it is most probable, that the three day fast regarding the moving of the Mokattam mountain was fasted by the people just before the Christmas fast, and after the same fashion which our church kept till this day because that is when it actually happened.

The Christmas fast used to begin on November28. each year and last till Christmas (January 7), which makes 40 days in all. But when the fast of the moving of the Mokattam was added to it, the sum total became 43 days and people began to observe it starting from November 25 every year. And since the miracle took place on the third day of the fast, then it took place on November 27.

So according to this research, it is true, the date of the miracle would be Hatur 18. 695 AM , namely November 27. 979 AD.

3) Celebrating the memory of this miracle

At any rate, whether this assumption is correct or not, it is still fitting to celebrate the memory of this miracle during the first three days of the Christmas fast, namely from November 25. till November 27. every year, simply because they are the days that were appended to the Christmas fast in remembrance of this great miracle of moving the Mokattam mountain. For this reason, these three days in particular should be a period of spiritual revival, daily meetings, and divine masses for the memory of this supernatural wonder, for the victories of faith, and for the church's triumph over all the powers of evil, and over every weapon that formed against it, according to the sure and faithful divine promises.

"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Mt 16:18)

"No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that will accuse you."

(Is 54:17)

My Great God, I thank You because that which is impossible with men is possible with You. However great the mountain may be, Your power is much greater.

My Lord, grant my complete faith and confidence in Your hand which raises mountains. Allow me, Lord, to come to You, imploring, "Lord, I believe. help my lack of faith." Let me place my small unable hand into Your big able hand that moves the mountains of weakness and doubt from my heart. And help me continue being confident in You, trusting You, proud of You. Amen.
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