The Monastery of Saint Macarius The Great, also known as Dayr Aba Maqar, is a Coptic Orthodox monastery located in Wadi El Natrun, Beheira Governorate, about 92 km (57 mi) north-west of Cairo, and off the highway between Cairo and Alexandria.
Location of Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great
History of the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great
Dayr Aba Maqar was founded in 360 A.D. by St. Macarius, the Egyptian, who. was a spiritual father to more than four thousand monks of different nationalities. These monks came from Egyptians, Greeks, Ethiopians, Armenians, Nubians, Asians, Palestinians, Italians, Gauls and Span-lards. Among them were intellectuals and philosophers, members of the aristocracy, and simple illiterate peasants.
From the fourth century to the present day, monks have continuously inhabited the monastery. Fr. Matta el-Meskeen has written a significant work on the history and archaeology of the Monastery of St. Macarius entitled “Coptic Monasticism in the time of St. Macarius” Cain, 1972, 880 pp.
Era of Restoration
In 1969 the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great entered an era of restoration, both spiritually and architecturally. The restoration went parallel with the arrival of twelve monks with their spiritual director, Fr. Matta el-Meskeen. These monks had spent the previous ten years living together entirely isolated from the world. They lived in caves in the desert area known as Wadi el-Rayyan, about 50 kilo-metres south of Fayyum. There, they had lived the monastic life in the total sense, in the desert fathers’ spirit, with the same simplicity and exact goods and cares deprivation of this world. For these twelve monks, it was time to relate together in the crucible of the divine love, uniting them in Christ, in the spirit of the Gospel.
It was the late Patriarch Cyril VI who in 1969 ordered this group of monks to leave Wadi el-Rayyan and go to the Monastery of Saint Macarius to restore it. The patriarch received them, blessed them, assured them of his prayers. He also asked God to grant their spiritual father grace that the desert might bloom again and become the home of thousands of hermits. By then, only six aged monks lived in the monastery, and its historic buildings were on the point of collapse. Accordingly, the abbot of the sanctuary warmly received new monks, Bishop Michael, Metropolitan of Assiut. Also, he created an atmosphere favourable to the renewal they hoped for through his wisdom and humility.
The patriarch Shenouda III has busily engaged himself in restoring the two monasteries of Saint Bishoy and Baramos. After fourteen years of constant reconstruction and spiritual renewal, the monastic community numbers about one hundred monks. Noteworthy that most of these monks were university graduates in such diverse fields. They also had work experience before entering the monastery. These monks aimed to revive the spirit of the first centuries of Christianity, both by their rule of life and conscientious study.
According to the spirit of the Gospel, the monks live in strong spiritual unity, practising brotherly low and the unceasing prayer of the heart. They are all directed by the same spiritual father who watches over the monastery’s spirit’s unity. The renewal is also revealed in the diligent prayer of the daily office and other liturgical services.
Reconstruction of the Monastery
The new monastery buildings, designed and constructed by the monks qualified in these fields, are now nearing completion. These buildings include more than 150 cells. Each cell comprises a room for prayer and study, a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and small balcony.
The Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great has a new library with several thousand volumes. This library compromises a spacious guest house comprising several reception rooms and single rooms for retreatants and guests. The monastery also has a large refectory where the monks gather daily to share an agape meal. Moreover, monks constructed buildings to house various utilities, including a kitchen, bakery, barns, garages and a repair shop. Nowadays, the new buildings occupy an area of ten acres, six times that covered by the old monastery.
Discovery of the relics of St. John the Baptist and Elisha the Prophet
During the restoration of the big Church of Saint Macarius, the crypt of Saint John the Baptist and Elisha the Prophet was discovered below the church’s northern wall. This discovery is mentioned in manuscripts from the 11th & 16th centuries found in the monastery’s library. The relics were then gathered in a particular shrine and placed before the sanctuary of Saint John the Baptist in the church of Saint Macarius. The monastery published a detailed account of this discovery and an assessment of the authenticity of the relics. The pastoral tradition of the Coptic Church also confirms it.