Dear brothers and sisters,
If we ask people to name the greatest glories and treasures of Egypt, most (even Orthodox Christians) will name the Sphynx, the Great Pyramid, the Valley of the Kings and the mask of Tutankhamen, yet how many will stop and reflect that the greatest treasures are not the relics of Pharaonic Egypt, but the saints who made Egypt the great light of the ancient Christian world?
Sanctified by the ministry of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist, Mark, the founder of the Apostolic See of Alexandria, Egypt became a mother of martyrs such as St Catherine and St Varus, the great monastic saints, headed by St Anthony the Great, and the spiritual giants among the Holy Fathers, Athanasius and Cyril.
Today, we celebrate one of the most beloved Egyptian saints, the Holy Great-Martyr Menas, a wonderworker who continues to pour forth miracles upon the faithful. The treasure we call Menas is far greater than any gilded death mask or mausoleum built to house a royal corpse, and St Menas not only lives in Christ, but cares for us, intercedes for us, and defends us in our earthly lives.
As they sought to imitate life even in their funerary rites, the pharaohs’ paraphernalia of death arranged around their mummified remains brought them nothing and led them nowhere, as they sought to evade the clutches of death with an earthbound delusional view of the future-life.
In contrast, St Menas, stripped for torture, willingly embraced death-in-Christ, knowing that this was the gateway to eternal life with his Lord and Saviour, where he had no needs of the chariots, rotting loaves of bread, amphorae of wine and oil, and jars of honey that surrounded the lifeless mummies of the pharaohs.
St Nikolaj Velimirović summarises the life and passion of the Great-Martyr for us:
“Menas was an Egyptian by birth and a soldier by profession. As a true Christian, he was not able to witness the abominable sacrificial offerings to the idols and left the army, the town, the people and everything else, and went to a deserted mountain, for it was easier for him to live among the wild beasts than with pagans. One day Menas clairvoyantly discerned a pagan celebration in the town of Cotyaeus. He descended into the town and openly declared his faith in Christ the Living God. He denounced idolatry and paganism as falsehood and darkness. Pyrrhus, eparch of that town, asked Menas who he was and where he was from. The saint replied: “My fatherland is Egypt, my name is Menas. I was an officer, but witnessing the worship of idols, I renounced your honours. I now come before you all to proclaim my Christ as the true God, that He may proclaim me as His servant in the Heavenly Kingdom.” Hearing this, Pyrrhus subjected St. Menas to severe tortures. They flogged him, scraped him with iron claws, burned him with torches, and tortured him by various other means, and finally beheaded him with the sword. They threw his body into a fire so that Christians would not be able to retrieve it, but Christians recovered several parts of his body from the fire nevertheless. They reverently buried those remains, which were later transferred to Alexandria and buried there, where a church was built over them. St. Menas suffered in about the year 304 and went to the Kingdom of Christ. He was and remains a great miracle-worker, both on earth and in heaven. Whoever glorifies St. Menas and invokes his help with faith, receives his help. The saint has often appeared as a warrior on horseback, arriving to help the faithful or punish the unfaithful.”
The details of his life are scant, but the details of his countless miracles may fill volumes of books, ever growing in length through the continued outpouring of grace, with the miracle of St Menas’s before the Battle of El-Alamein in 1942 changing the direction of the Second World War in North Africa, and ending the threat of the Axis powers in North Africa.
In the words of the Synaxarion:
““In June 1942, during the North-Africa campaign that was decisive for the outcome of the Second World War, the German forces under the command of General Rommel were on their way to Alexandria, and happened to make a halt near a place which the Arabs call El-Alamein after Saint Menas. An ancient, ruined church there was dedicated to the Saint; and there some people say he is buried. Here the weaker Allied forces including some Greeks confronted the numerically and militarily superior German army, and the result of the coming battle seemed certain. During the first night of engagement, Saint Menas appeared in the midst of the German camp at the head of a caravan of camels, exactly as he was shown on the walls of the ruined church in one of the frescoes depicting his miracles. This astounding and terrifying apparition so undermined German morale that it contributed to the brilliant victory of the Allies. The Church of Saint Menas was restored in thanksgiving and a small monastery was established there.”
How many Allied soldiers owe their lives to the miraculous intercession and intervention of St Menas will never be known.
On this feast, our Cardiff and Cheltenham communities received a great blessing with the ordination of Deacon Mark, named for the Holy Apostle Mark, another treasure of the Church in Egypt. It is my firm conviction that the Great-Martyr has gifted us many things, including our Deacon, and we were blessed with an offer of a home after losing use of the University Church after a week of prayer to St Menas!
I pray that we will continue to be blessed and aided by Menas, Great-Martyr and treasure of Egypt, and greet you all on this feast, especially our friends in Egypt, and our Cypriot brothers and sisters who have great devotion to St Menas.
We also congratulate Father Deacon Mark on this second anniversary of his ordination, commending him to the protection of the Holy Great-Martyr Menas.
We pray that God will grant him many, blessed years!
In Christ – Hieromonk Mark