Alexandria & Christianity

The spiritual void in Alexandria and Rome before the emergence of Christianity

Our discussion about Alexandria and its position as regards Christianity is specifically concerned with the last few decades of the Roman and Byzantine era. Alexandria was then the capital and the most important city in the province of Egypt under Roman control, then under Byzantine control until the coming of Moslem Arabs and their conquest of Egypt and Alexandria about the middle of the seventh century AD.

If we consider the Roman Empire before the advent of Christianity, we find that that religion aimed at worshiping the Emperor and his consecration as well as his family and the rulers of the Empire, alive or dead. This religion forced Roman citizens to enter pagan temples to present their offerings in the name of the Emperor. They were also forced to worship any deities worshiped by the Emperor, such as Mars, the Roman God, the triad of the Capitol, Jupiter, Juneau and Minerva and other ancient deities.

The Emperors were not keen on the continuation of Emperor worship. They were keen on their citizens obedience, for people’s entrance into pagan temples and presenting of offerings in the name the Emperor was not just a rite of worship or mere religious traditions, it was also a type of political obedience and submission to the Emperor.

Yet this religion together with other Greek or Roman deities began to lose their importance with the passage of time and failed in attracting enlightened men and women who enjoyed independent thinking. They could not find in the pagan beliefs and official deities anything that satisfied their reasoning and quenched their thirst for knowledge. Thus this Roman religion’s inability to offer satisfactory solutions to the problems of present and future life in addition to its ineffectiveness in benefiting people in their time of need or adversity was the reason behind people’s losing interest and their feeling of a great spiritual void. Consequently those thinkers turned to philosophy to fill their fragile world in its schools. The higher social classes delved deep into Stoicism and modern Platonism and Gnosis.

Some people in Italy and Greece converted to local deities, seeking in them goodness, blessing, health and success in their endeavors. Others turned to oriental religions that brimmed with vitality and provided every man, irrespective of his level of education, blessing and exoneration from sins as well as hope in an eternal life through the worship of Isis and Serapis, the Sun god and the sky gods, as well as the worship of Metra and Cebele and other oriental deities.

These oriental religions spread easily specially since Roman Emperors did not fight or contest them so long as they did not conflict with their interests and did not oppose their sovereignty.

Yet it was not long before there oriental religious cults lost their glamor and no longer enjoyed all the previous interest, as they did not represent to the Roman world beliefs upheld by sacred books and sacred literature. They seemed like types of worship that the Hellenistic period succeeded in modifying and adapting. Thus they did not last and if they were popular with people for a while that popularity was temporary.

Once more the feeling of spiritual void overwhelmed the Roman world. For worshiping emperors could not fill that sense of emptiness neither could the ancient deities, nor could the trend of educated people turn towards schools of philosophy or seek goodness and happiness in Greek or Italian deities. Or turn towards oriental cults. All such objects of worship were far from heavenly horizons being characterized by extremism and rigidity and were incapable of offering solutions to people’s problems whether present or future. Coupled with the fact that they were unable to provide any consolation in times of need and in adversity.

The Emergence of Christianity, its Arrival in Egypt and its Early Stages

Amidst this spiritual appurtenance which spread among citizens of the Roman Empire, the continuation of Emperor worship, the numerous local and oriental deities and the move towards complex schools of philosophy and the resurrection of some of the Greek and Roman deities, Christianity began to surpass other cults and rites and progress towards new horizons to fill the spiritual void in the lives of the people of the Roman Empire.

Jesus was born at the time of the Roman Emperor Augustus in Bethleham, Palestine. Christianity began modestly among his disciples and apostles who were loyal to him and who followed his teachings until he died in 30 AD. His followers continued to practise Christian rites in Solomon’s Temple and gathered in its vestibules. They were all Jews from the lower social classes of Jerusalem, El khalil and some other parts of Palestine as well as from Egypt, Libya and Kayrawan and some Arabs from the Arab Peninsula.

Despite the fact that we do not possess many details about the first period of the history of Christianity and the number of Christians at the time, anecdotes point out that at the beginning they were 120, then they became 500, then they increased to about 3000, then 5000 in the years between 35 and 37 AD. They continued to increase as historian Takitus points out that they were many at the time of Neron’s persecution i.e. between 54 and 68 AD. Later their number in Rome alone reached about 50000; thus the Church of Rome founded by Peter became Christianity’s first church and the most famous.

The spread of Christianity at the time was rapid among the lower social classes more than its spread among the upper ones. Peasants, slaves, the impoverished hard workers and a small number of the upper classes adopted Christianity. Although our knowledge about that early period of Christianity is scarce, yet there is evidence that the 12 disciples progressed among Christians, followed by 70 other apostles. There is also evidence that some disciples were distinguished like Peter, Judas and Jacob in addition to Yaohan’s notable services to Christianity.

Christianity’s history at that early period was connected to three personalities, namely Paul, Peter and Mark, who had a major role in its progress, spread and the establishment of its basis and theology. Paul was born in Tarsus between the Fifth and Tenth cenfuries AD. He studied the Jewish creed and laws and some philosophy through personal efforts, not through lessons or teaching as his father kept him away from Greek schools. In his youth he left for Jerusalem to learn more about theology. He became a Jewish fanatic and tracked down anyone who adopted Christianity or converted to it to persecute him, or her in the name of the Jewish code. In 31 AD he went to Damascus to fight Christianity and halt its progress among Jews. However, as soon as he approached Damascus, as it is said, there was a flash of lightning from the heavens and he fell to the floor and heard a voice telling him: ‹Paul why do you persecute me?. That was how he converted to Christianity.

Paul started preaching Christianity among the Jews of Damascus then he went to Antioch, where Christianity spread widely among its people. He spent there a number of years until these responsible for look Christianity chose him to preach the religion in neighboring regions. He then made trips to Cyprus, Asia Minor and some islands of the Archipelago and along the Eastern Coast of the Mediterranean in Sour, Aka and Caesariam as well as inside Palestine and Jerusalem. This work took place in the years between 45 and 58 AD. Mark and some other pious men helped him in his mission. In 58 AD the Jews rebelled against him in Solomon’s Temple and he was taken to prison as a result of a decree by the Roman Ruler to that effect, there he spent about two years, after which he was sent to Rome for his trial in front of Nero. It is thought that he was executed in 64 AD with Peter and other victims of Nero.

Paul did many great services to Christianity with his diligence and perseverance until he managed to convert the new church into a well-established and organized institute and a public missionary. He succeeded in extracting from the teachings of Jesus the foundations of Christianity. He also set out the pillars of Christian theology and the basis of a world Church. He was also successful in preaching Christianity until it spread in the entire east then extended to Italy and Rome.

Peter was the second important figure in Early Christianity. He was one of Jesus’ appostles. He preached Christianity in Palestine among Jews and continued his mission in the city of Java until he felt God commands him to preach to all the world’ Go to the whole world and spread the Bible to all humanity’. When he began to do that he was arrested and imprisoned in 41 AD.

When released from prison he left for Antioch in 45 AD and lived there for eight years until 53 AD. Later he travelled to Rome in the same year to establish the Christian Church. However, he was executed with Paul and others at the hands of Nero most probably in 64 AD.

A third important Christian figure was Biblical Mark. He founded the Church of Alexandria, after a life of serving religion and offering faithful aid to Paul in his missionary work. He also travelled to Rome but returned directly to Alexandria to preach among Jews. He stayed in the Jewish district in Alexandria, and was the first person to preach the Bible in Egypt. He became the first Christian Bishop in Alexandria and succeeded in converting the first Jew from Egypt to The History And Civilization of Alexandria Across the Ages Christianity. Mark died in 62 or 68 AD. in Alexandria. According to some historians some Venetians moved his remains to their city in the 9th century AD.

As for the arrival of Christianity in Alexandria and Egypt, it seems that that happened from the very beginning of Christianity. Since among the pioneer Christians who worshiped at Solomon’s Temple there were a number of Egyptians. Many merchants carried to Alexandria the preaching of the new belief whose delegations never stopped from all over the world.

Egypt’s vast trade transactions and its closeness to Palestine made it an easy opportunity for the new religion to spread. Thus some of its inhabitants began to adopt Christianity and from there it began to spread throughout Egypt. Four ancient papyrus sheets were found in Mid Egypt related to Christian theology dating back to the middle of the second century AD. This proves the advent of Christianity to those regions at that very early stage. Christianity spread in Upper Egypt at the end of the second century AD.

One of the factors that helped the prompt spread of Christianity in Alexandria and in Egypt was a seeming natural disposition of the Egyptian people to believe in one God. Egyptians were the first nation to believe in the oneness of God since the age of Akhenaton, in addition to their belief in life after death, accountability for ones actions and retribution in the other life or after life.

Not with standing the fact that Jeus’ story, his suffering and the sublime principles which he preached and which were emphasised by Christianity, the most prominent of which were: oneness, purity and equality were the key attracting factors for joining the new belief.

Furthermore, Egyptians perhaps found in the new religion a new opportunity to express their opposition to Roman authorities after Egypt lost its independence and became a province of Rome. In addition to that the Egyptians admired miracles and the fact that Christians are capable of fending off devils, cure the sick and resurrect the dead attracted them greatly. martyrdom fascinated the converts to the new religion and prepared their minds to adopt Christianity.

Religious Persecutions of Christians in Alexandria

Despite the fact that religious oppression is a terrible and horrifying crime for any followers of a certain belief, doctrine or school of thought, and although religious persecutions had many effects such as terror and misery on the souls of pioneer Christians during the ages of tyranny, yet those religious persecutions hardened Christians and showed their true calibre. They were a kind of blessing for them because they were the reason behind the spread of the new religion until it was acknowledged and became in the end the official religion of the country.

Historians have determined the religious persecutions which befell Christianity since its early days until the issuance of the decree of religious tolerance and acknowledgement of Christianity i.e. in the period between 64 AD and 313 AD to be 10 acts of persecution.

They start with the special legislation issued by Nero in 64 AD which prohibited the adoption of Christianity for citizens of the Empire, whoever disobeyed that was subject to punishment. The victims of these persecutions whether ordinary men or preachers grew in number until their exact numbers could not be determined. Notwithstanding the fact that these persecutions were not general or comprehensive, since they may have occurred in one region rather than another. They might have occurred in Egypt and not in other countries under the rule of the Empire or vice versa.

Our review will be limited to persecutions that occurred in Alexandria since the beginning of Christianity until the era of Emperor Diocletian i.e. the end of the third century AD and the beginning of the forth century.

As a consequence to what happened in Rome during Nero’s tyranic rule, and the murder and torture of Christians with the two apostles Paul and Peter as victims, pagans in Alexandria attacked a Christian church in the east of the city in 68 AD. They killed the reverend Mark after dragging him with ropes through the streets of the city until his flesh was torn. Persecution occurred once again at the end of the 1st century in 98 AD during the era of the Emperor Trajan as some Bishops in Egypt and Alexandria were killed and Christians were tortured like the rest of the world.

During the rule of the Emperor Septimius Severus at the beginning of the third century AD persecutions escalated until they reached their peak as Christians faced torture and death, the prisons of Alexandria and Egypt were packed with Christians. Christians were sent from all over Egypt to Alexandria to be tried and many of them suffered various types of torture at the hands of executioners and at the time of Emperor Decius (249-251). Near the middle of the 3rd century AD there was an attempt to eradicate Christianity and eliminate its followers. The Emperor issued a decree that forced every citizen to present a certificate to prove his presenting offerings in the name of the Emperor in pagan temples. This certificate was given to a committee specially formed for that purpose and whoever did not present it was subject to exemplary punishment. Thus many Christians in Egypt and Alexandria met their death during that period.

Emperor Valerian (253-260 AD) tracked down the leaders of Christianity and the priests and forbade Christians to meet in temples or cemeteries. A great number of Christians and priests were killed by suffocation in the tunnels where they used to conduct their worship and sermons.

However, the worst wave of religious persecution occurred during the rule of Emperor Diocletian (284-305 AD) who hated Christianity as a new religion that was actively destroying people’s loyalty to the Emperor and that began also to destroy the unity of the Empire. This Emperor’s displeasure increased when Christianity began to move towards extremism and began to demand from its followers to choose between loyalty to the Emperor and loyalty to Christ. When it surpassed affecting society and began to affect the army and destroyed the l many soldier’s loyalty to the Emperor; Christianity became a separate state inside the country few secret societies were formed whose activities indicated that they did not have much respect for the country’s laws and legislation.

A wave of persecution of Christianity and its followers took place a few years before Diocletian gave up the throne, i.e. at the beginning of the 4th century AD. In 302 AD began the largest persecution movement against Christians. To start, Christians were dismissed from the royal court and from army ranks and were banished to remote areas and deprived of their civil rights.

They were also banned from holding any administrative positions and their sacred books were burned, their churches demolished and Christians slaves were denied freedom. All this was followed by physical punishment such as destroying hearing abilities, cutting noses, gouging eyes, breaking teeth, cutting off limbs and tongues and nailing iron into stomachs. Then followed a wave of killings and torture in 304 AD, where more Christians were tortured and executed in Alexandria in particular.

Christians were thrown into pits of fire or were crucified and burned or thrown into cages of hungry lions and other beasts. This led many to forsake their religious convictions as the last few years of that Emperor’s rule became a reign of terror for Christians in Egypt, to the extent that Egyptians called his rule the Martyr’s era. The Coptic Church started a new chronology with the year this Emperor came to power in 284 AD. This chronology is called the chronology of martyrs.

The above mentioned persecutions led to the intensive spread of Christianity as the heroism of those martyrs attracted the attention of many heathens and raised their interest in the new belief and made them adopt Christianity which spread further throughout Alexandria and other parts of Egypt.

Constantine’s Acknowledgement of Christianity

Constantine joined in his youth the service of Emperor Diocletian and traveled with him in the eastern regions of the Empire including Egypt. There he became familiar with the circumstances of Christians and witnessed the spread of their belief in those parts and became convinced by means of his trips of the power of Christianity and its importance and the necessity to change the state’s policy as regards its followers. Hence when he became the ruler of the Empire after overcoming his adversaries, Christians explained to him that he became ruler through God’s support, He had promised him victory, his pagan beliefs were shaken and he became more understanding of the powers of that new belief.

In 313 AD Constantine issued the Religious Tolerance Decree in which he acknowledged Christianity as one of the official religions of the Empire. Judaism and other incoming religions and their followers enjoyed all the rights given to followers of other local religions. Consequently, it was said that Constantine was a Christian and a true believer. On the other hand, it was also said that he was never a Christian and that his political interests obliged him to take that step.

Yet the truth of the matter remained unclear till the end of his life. Perhaps he was a real Christian at heart but did not admit his belief due to the circumstances of his country and the great power of the pagan aristocracy who controlled the administration and the army. Perhaps also he was not a Christian in order that he could keep his title as the Great Priest of the Sun God and in order to allow paganism to continue side by side with Christianity. In addition, he committed certain crimes that are forbidden by Christianity such as murdering his wife and son. Moreover, he was not christened until he was on his deathbed.

In any case the acknowledgement of Christianity ended a painful period in the history of Christianity. Religious persecutions stopped, and circumstances became favourable for the spread of Christianity in Egypt, specially since the pioneer preachers could speak Greek. Thus Greek inhabitants of Alexandria and Egypt were among the first people to adopt Christianity and began to influence the natives who spoke the Egyptian language. That effect was greater at the end of the 3rd century and beginning of the 4th century AD as Bible explanations were found written in the Coptic language dating back to that period, proving that some Egyptians used to translate from Greek to Coptic.

The Church of Alexandria

Our talk here about the Church of Alexandria is focused on two periods:

  • The first period of the history of Christianity i.e. in the early centuries of Christianity and until the acknowledgement of Christianity in 313 AD.
  • The following period a review of religious differences which occurred at the heart of religion and were brought to light by the Church of Alexandria that had a major role in directing the religion in the entire Christian world at the time.

St. Mark founded the Church of Alexandria and he was its first Bishop. He paid his life in the end as a price for his loyalty to the Church when pagans attacked him and dragged him in the streets of Alexandria until his flesh was torn in 62 or 68 AD (according to some stories). Hence, he became the first Bishop in Alexandria to die at the hands of heathens. However, the Church of Alexandria kept on its mission and grew stronger with the passage of time until it became similar in its organisation to what was prevalent in the Churches of Rome.

The Church of Alexandria in the early centuries used the Greek language in its ceremonies, teachings, preaching and rites. It included a number of preachers who undertook to teach people the foundations, practices and rules of the Christian religion. It also included the missionaries who introduced new Christians to men of the Church to christen them.

In the first Church of Alexandria there was nothing that calls for religious discord or differences in opinion because Christians at the time of the apostles were affected by the passion and morals in Christ’s life. They believed in life after death and the return of Christ and they did not care about complex or philosophical religious ideas. In fact in St Paul’s letters we note the beginnings of the divinity sciences and the foundations of religion in a rudimentary uncomplicated manner.

As for the period that followed that of the apostles when the church began to grow and the number of Christians increased, heathens began to adopt Christianity and some of them were renowned for their knowledge of science and philosophy. Yet many of them were well educated and were thinkers who were trained in logic and philosophy and the art of debate and who were also used to classic scientific thinking.

Accordingly men of the church had to convince those intellectuals of the new belief and its principles and had to answer their queries about many related issues. That task was carried out by a number of great Christian thinkers who were called ‹the fathers of the Church’. They believed in the necessity of convincing people through sermons, good faith and answering inquiries.

Two of those were Clementine and Origen in the 3rd century AD. Each of them left a large number of their writings that discussed the issues related to their religion and to the Church of Alexandria. Their writings introduced Christianity in a form acceptable to intellectuals using the old philosophy to justify their views and support their ideas.

Then the men of the Church of Alexandria established the Missionary School of Alexandria, which made the Alexandria Museum its headquarters. Its task was to teach Christians as opposed to the teachings derived from the pagan school. Clement was the Headmaster of that school at the end of the 2nd century AD. He perfected his job and wrote many books most of them about defending Christianity and confronting its enemies.

Origen succeeded Clement in directing this missionary school and remained Headmaster until 235 AD. He was considered the most famous Christian figure in the history of the church of Alexandria as he was bold and possessed a deep knowledge of the foundations of Christianity in addition to his piety and devoutness. However, he was accused after his death of heresy and atheism, due to some of his views, specially those related to the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Church of Alexandria grew in status in the Egyptian society specially when the ecclesiastic organization took the same pattern as the administrative system of the Empire. Thus the authority of the Bishop of Alexandria extended to the outside of Egypt and reached the region of Barka. Many distinguished Bishops resided over the Church of Alexandria; the most important of whom was Peter who became Bishop in 300 AD. He was one of the best scholars of the Christian religion in Egypt and the most

During his period the supremacy of the Church of Alexandria and its control over the nation was established especially when he gave the orders for punishing the apostates during the persecution ages and those who wanted to convert to Christianity again. Yet the end for this Bishop was painful as he was captured during the last wave of religious persecution during the reign of Calarious and was executed at the Emperor’s command. Hence he became the last martyr of the Church of Alexandria.

Thus ended that phase for the Church of Alexandria during the reign of the pagan Empire and began a new phase in its history following the official acknowledgement of Christianity. If Mark was the first martyr Bishop, then Peter was the last martyr of the Church of Alexandria.

Religious Disputes in Christianity

We come to the second period in the history of the Church of Alexandria. It was the period when that Church was the center of religious disputes in the whole world. If at the first period no religious differences occurred between Christians, yet in the second period there was a move towards philosophizing theology. Consequently Christians differed about Christianity’s essence and differed again when attempting to determine the relationship between the son Christ and the Father God. That was the problem that arose and caused a prolonged dispute and triggered a terrible conflict among the followers of Christianity.

A great dispute broke between two priests of the Church of Alexandria. Arius who was a well read priest found that logic necessitates the existence of the father before the son, making the son younger than the father i.e. as long as Christ is the son of God then he must be less in status, power and ability. Thus b

Both the father and son cannot be equal since Christ is a creature of God. God was older and came first and the son was younger and comes second. If immortality is the characteristic of God who has no beginning and no end then Christ is not immortal since he has a beginning. Thus Christ is no god i.e. Arius denied the divinity of Christ and ranked him with humans.

On the other hand, the other priest Athanasius found that the son god though he is different from the father God, yet both are from the same elements and derive their characteristics from eternity i.e. the son is exactly equal to the father and the idea of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit calls for considering Christ a god who is of the same status as the father God. I.e. Athanasius elevated Christ to the same status as the father God to be equal to Him in everything.

That was how the religious dispute broke out in the Fourth Century between Arius and Athanasius at
the Church of Alexandria. Consequently Arius creed emerged and prevailed in the Eastern half of the Empire, which was the cradle of the Greek civilization and center of culture and thought and the homeland of philosophers and intellectuals. While Athanasius creed was more suited to the more simple-minded people. That was why it prevailed in the Western half of the Empire where the Latin civilization spread, which was much less developed than its Greek counterpart and its cultural and intellectual level, was lower than that of the Eastern half of the Empire.

Due to the repercussions of that dispute and discord between followers of Christianity and threat to the unity of the state and its stability, the Great Constantine decided to resolve the dispute, so he sent two envoys to Alexandria to meet Arius and Athanasius to settle the issue and decide upon one formula that could be satisfactory for both sides. Yet both men did not listen to what was said and were not interested in that attempt and the dispute remained. This made Emperor Constantine call for the holding of a religious gathering at Nichia in Asia Minor in 325 AD to discuss the issue and put an end to the dispute.

The first Masconi convention in the history of Christianity was actually held. It was attended by 300 men of religion in the east and west concurrently. The assembly discussed the views of both Arius and Athanasius. They condemned Arius and banned him to Elyria Region in the Balkans and ordered the burning of his books and forbade the exchange of his ideas and his followers and supporters were persecuted.

The assembly on the other hand, acknowledged Athanasius. They conceded the equality between the three icons of the Holy Trinity and conceded that Christ was of the same essence as the father. They considered Athanasius’s views and his doctrine as the world’s doctrine or the world’s view or the Catholic view because Christ was “God from a God and a light form a light and a God of truth and an offspring that was not created”.

The Church of Alexandria earned as such an even more important status among the Christian churches of the entire world. At the end of the 4th Century the Bishop of Alexandria became one of the greatest men of religion as regards status in the Christian world and the most powerful especially since the Church of Alexandria witnessed the succession of three Bishops between 385 and 451 AD who added to its greatness, increased its fame and elevated its status, they were Thiofiel, Kareless and Dioscros.

Kareless was the most famous of the three especially when a new religious discord broke out in the Fifth Century AD continuing the argument about the nature of Christ. This new dispute caused an upheaval in the city of Antioch, which was influenced by Arius and Eastern thinking in Christianity. It found that the human nature prevailed in Christ and Antioch’s said that Christ had a perfect human nature and refused to call the Virgin the mother of god because she did not give birth to a god but to a human being. The theological school of Antioch followed one line of interpretation: they proceed from the humanity of Jesus to view his divinity in his consciousness of God, founded in the divine mission that was imposed upon him by God through the infusion of the Holy Spirit.

Yet Alexandria formed its own opinion as to that issue-at the time of Kareless-on the basis that when Christ was embodied the human nature melted into the divine nature and the divine nature alone remained i.e. it regarded Jesus Christ as the divine Logos become flesh. Egypt and the people of Alexandria had faith in that doctrine which was called the doctrine of unified nature or monophysitism which is a word derived from the Greek word ‹monos’ meaning one. Thus it was that the struggle to understand the figures of Jesus Christ created a rivalry between the theologies of Antioch and Alexandria.

Religious conventions were held in Asia Minor to discuss that doctrine. Their views began to be clearly biased towards Constantinople at the time of Patriarch Nestorios with Antioch and against Alexandria. Later the matter of dispute was settled in Caledonia’s Convention in 451 AD when Rome joined Constantinople against Alexandria after the deposition of Nestorios. The assembly chose the opposing view to Alexandria. They acknowledged the ‹Angelic’ Doctrine or the Dual nature Doctrine and said that Christ possessed an independent and completely separate human nature as well as a divine nature, which is also independent and totally separate. That was the doctrine that prevailed in the Empire with the exception of Egypt and Alexandria.

Consequently Alexandria was considered as dissenting since it continued to be faithful to its Monophysist doctrine or the doctrine of the single nature. Alexandria fought the Byzantium authorities and defied Constantinople and held on to its doctrine in the face of all challenges.

Alexandria’s Hermitage and Monasticism

Hermitage is when a person lives a solitary life away from civilization to concentrate on worship and to practice a life of asceticism voluntarily choosing to remain solitary. Yet monasticism refers to the gathering of groups of monks away from civilization where they dedicate themselves to worship and a life of asceticism and abstinence, while realizing the bare necessities of life. A monastery is a place dedicated for the residence of monks and nuns and their worship.

Hermitage in its original form was an invention of Christian Egypt and was an original] Egyptian system that was not much affected by previous hermitage movements. Hermitage emerged in Egypt spontaneously when monks lived as recluses in caves dug in mountains or cells made of palm branches, canes or reeds.

Egypt’s geography, its weather and the presence of a large number of ruins and archaeological remains, as well as the closeness of the desert ends to its valley were all factors that helped the emergence and growth of this type or religious life.

Hermitage was a means of protest or escape of the soul from the evils of the world and its corruption. It was a means of protecting religious beliefs from apostatizing in a time when great spiritual strength was required to face persecution, torture and murder. Thus a hermit was considered next to a martyr in status.

Christians felt the origins of hermitage, asceticism and abstention in the beginnings of Christianity and in the teachings of Jesus Christ who said: ‹If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow me’ (Matt. 19:21). In addition to what was found in St Paul’s sayings and his teachings that encouraged the practice of asceticism, poverty and self-denial.

The origins of hermitage in Egypt date back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD when both Father Paul and St Anton lived. They were the oldest Christian hermits known not only in Egypt, but in the entire world as well. Paul was born in 150 AD, and he studied the principles of the Christian religion and was greatly interested in it and decided to desert the world with all its evils and sins. He went to the desert to devote himself to prayer and worship. Hence he went deep into the Eastern desert, he threw his cane in one of the caves in the mountains facing the Red Sea while he was very young. He remained there until he died when he was almost 113 years old.

If it were not for the fact that St Anton found him by chance deep in the desert, he would have remained anonymous to us. Yet St Anton who lived until he was 105 years old from 250 to 355 AD is considered the real founder of Christian monasticism in Byzantium Egypt. He headed towards the foot of the Eastern Mountains adjacent to the edge of the valley. St Anton lived as a recluse and practiced asceticism and abstinence. He was visited by St Athanasius the apostle-the Patriarch of Alexandria and its Bishop who wrote about him, that was how people came to know of his existence and experience.

The philosophy of those recluse monks is based on choosing a way of life that humiliates the body so that the soul is elevated. That is why they used to fast for many days, and used to wear coarse clothes made up of animal skin so that the rough edges of the clothes touch their skin and torture it. Sometimes they remained in their caves for many days without emerging out of them\ depending on the charity of good willed people in obtaining their bare necessities of crumbs of bread, water or salt. Thus their lives to a great extent were characterized by passivity.

Solitary hermitage seemed to intellectuals to be a type of extremist behavior which is contradictory to man’s nature because man is a social being who seeks companionship. Consequently hermitage as a system began to change slowly. With the passage of time it was replaced by another type of social hermitage where a group of monks gather to worship God and practice a life of asceticism while at the same time facing the difficulties of life in the desert.

The next phase of Christian Hermitage began as an intermediary step between the Hermitage of Paul and Anton and the monastic systems that St. Bakhoum the Egyptian developed.

Later on the monastic system as we now know it emerged. It represented the third phase of hermitage and the final one. St Bakhoum or Bakhoumis who lived in the 4th century AD introduced it. He was a pagan and remained so until the age of 20 when he adopted Christianity in 314 AD and was faithful to it. He joined the Roman army and learned discipline, obedience and hard work as well social life. His service in the army did not last for long but it left indelible marks on both his personality and life.

Bakhoum was more inclined towards monasticism and hermitage and solitude, but in a manner that differed from seclusion because he dearly loved mankind. That was how he created his monastic system, which suits the nature and tendencies of man and his social inclination on the one hand, and served society on the other hand. Thus hermitage acquired the characteristics of monasticism through his efforts. Bakhoum founded his monastery in 315 AD near Dandara in Upper Egypt. It included a number of monks who practiced devoting themselves to worship while co-operating in providing the necessities of life. Bakhoum required from his monk’s quietness, obedience and manual labor.

He divided the day in his monastery between rites, prayers, worship and the performance of manual tasks in the fields or manual professions as well as copying books and teaching children in the neighbouring areas. Thus the Bakhoumian monastery became a working society which was self-sufficient and provided for itself as well as neighboring areas unit products such as baskets, pottery, tanning, sewing, wood and iron crafts and others.

Many Bakhoumian monasteries were built in Egypt and in Alexandria. One was built in Canopus near Alexandria and the beaches of the Mediterranean were full of large numbers of monks. At the time of Bakhoum’s death in 346 AD there were 11 monasteries, nine of them for men and two for women.

The monastic system spread from Egypt to Syria, Lebanon and Asia Minor, then to Europe. St Mena also was considered as the most respected and honored by Christians in Egypt, was martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. His body was mounted on a camel and when the camel stopped walking in the desert west of Alexandria in the road that extended to El Natroun Valley he was buried. Around his cemetery a church was built and around his grave a small sacred city was established. People used to go on a pilgrimage to it from Egypt and other countries in the east.

Mina was pictured in Christian icons as standing between two reclining camels and he became the guardian of caravans. Near his grave a water spring spurred out from the ground and became famous for it miracles. It was said: drink from St mena’s water and all your pains will leave you.

That was the way Alexandria was and that was the story of Christianity during the Byzantium age, which began when Constantine built Constantinople until the time when the Arabs entered Alexandria in 641 AD i.e. for about more than three centuries. Before that we discussed the early centuries after Christ or what was known as the Roman age. We reviewed the emergence of this new belief and the manner in which it spread in Egypt in general, and in Alexandria in particular.

Then we discussed the religious persecutions that Christians were subjected to during that period. We saw how Emperor Constantine acknowledged Christianity and issued the Religious Tolerance Decree thus beginning a new era in the history of Christianity.

After that we reviewed the Church of Alexandria during the early centuries of Christianity and the religious disputes which occurred as regards the fundamental concepts of that religion. We concluded with our discussion of hermitage and monasticism, their effect on Alexandria and their role in the life of the Egyptian society in general, and the city of Alexandria in particular.