From the Great Pyramid to the Valley of the Kings, the major landmarks of ancient Egypt exude mystery and power. But as impressive as these sites are, for Christians the land of Egypt contains landmarks even more significant. Here pilgrims can walk in the footsteps of Moses on Mt. Sinai, worship where the Holy Family is believed to have rested on the flight from Bethlehem, and watch the stars emerge above the desert where the Israelites once wandered. In this nation that has shaped so much of Christian history, Biblical stories come alive.
Egypt is one of the most frequently mentioned places in the Bible, found in references from Genesis through the Gospels. Abraham journeyed to Egypt to escape a famine, and later his great-grandson Joseph took the same journey involuntarily when he was sold into slavery.
Generations later, the Israelites became slaves in Egypt and were led out of bondage by Moses, who had been adopted into the Pharaoh’s family. After crossing the Red Sea, they wandered for forty years in the Sinai desert before reaching the land promised to them by God. Many generations later, the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plans.
The history of the early church is also intricately linked to Egypt. Christian missionaries came here in the first century and found a receptive welcome among a people whose religious system already included a belief in an afterlife. The Mediterranean port city of Alexandria became an intellectual capital of the early church, home to such important leaders as Clement, Origin, Athanasius, and Didymus. Equally influential was the reform movement launched in the third century by men and women who fled to the Egyptian desert to found monastic communities, a form of spirituality that later spread throughout the world.
Even after Islam came to Egypt in the seventh century, Christians continued to be a vital minority within the country. Today about ten percent of Egypt’s population is Christian, most as members of the Coptic Orthodox Church (a denomination whose name derives from the Greek word for Egyptian).