Qusquam: Feast of the Holy Family
Qusquam in Arabic is the name of mountain in Upper Egypt on which the monastery and Holy Church of Al- Muharraka are still standing. The Monastery marks where the Holy Family is said to have dwelt during their exile in Egypt. The Homily of Theophilus compares the Holy Mountain in Egypt with the Holy mountain of Zion and Refers to Mary as “Mary of Zion.”
It is a place where the Holy family found refuge following their Exodus from those who seek to kill the baby Jesus and where the Saint Gabriel revealed to Saint Joseph that king Herod has died.
Every year on November 15 the Ethiopian Church commemorates the return of the Holy family to their home land, Israel and their relief from the menace of King Herod, following a period of 40 days of devotion and unique church services in memory of the hardship the Holy Family suffered during their flight. It also venerates the appearance of Lord Christ and His disciples on Mount Qusquam for the consecration of its church.
The Homily of Theophilus narrates the journey of the Holy family to Mount Qusquam and testify concerning this matter, “We might perchance find a good place wherein we might dwell and my darling Son pointed to a place with His finger and said ‘Let us go to this good place to dwell there in for it is a very fine place….and when we had sat down there, we found in it everything that women need for washing children, a washing basin, a water channel, a well of water. We sat down there for six months and behold, the announcement of the Angle Gabriel came to us and informed us of the destruction of Herod, and we returned to the land of Jerusalem.”
Amid, Qusquam became the place where the Holy family has relieved from awful flight and where the announcement of the Saint Gabriel revealed to Saint Josef to inform the destruction of Herod.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, soon after the Magi left Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said: Rise, take the Child and his Mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the Child to destroy him (Matthew 2:13).
Our Lady’s joy at the visit of those distinguished men who had recognized her Son as the Messiah was instantly turned into sorrow and anguish. The cruelty of Palestine’s elderly king, ever fearful that someone might seize his throne, was well known.
As we learn from several historical accounts, in the neighborhood of Bethlehem, infants two-years-old and under were being wrenched from their mothers’ arms and slain. The king had assassinated several of infants, as well as other persons he viewed as threats. The danger, then, was great. Thus the Magi, being warned in a dream not to return to Herod…departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:12)
After their stay in Egypt, which lasted for about three-and-half years, moved through many towns in Upper and Lower Egypt, the Holy Family called divinely to return to their home land as stated in the Gospel of Matthew, when Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and went to the land of Israel. (Matthew 2:19-23)
Besides, during this season of Exodus , the Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church offers special hymns that recite in the Holy Mass and other services including , Mahilete Tsige (The Hymn of the Flower) and Seqoqawe Dingil (The Lamentation of the Virgin) along with the hymn of Saint Jared (Digua). These strophes of hymns are composed in memory of the hardship of the Holy Family; Biblical verse such as “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1) “The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it.” (Isa 19:1) “… His ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.” Hab.3: 6-7)1 – Cush is a Biblical name for Ethiopia as stated in the Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions. “Even the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, Where she may lay her young– Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3)
From the verse of the Prophet Isaiah, we can realize the coming of the Lord into Egypt that resulted in the destruction of the idols of Egypt. While the Prophet Habkuku tells us about the coming of the Lord into Ethiopia and based on that verse, “He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting,” the Ethiopian Church tradition elaborates that during their Exodus, the Holy Family came to the land of Ethiopia and visited many historical sites such as, monasteries of Aksum, Debre Damo, Waldibba, Tana, Debre Zemeda, Mehur Iyyesus Gedam and many other holy sites. (Habakkuk 3: 6-7)
May the prayer and intercession of Saint Mary be up on us all!
- Africa Zion: the Sacred Art of Ethiopia. (1993:73-4.)
- E. A. Wallis Budge, 201. Legends of Our Lady Mary the Perpetual Virgin and her Mother Hanna, (page 98-99).
- Synaxarium: The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (Translated by E. A. Wallis Budg__, page 122).
- Rev. Afewerk Tekle, (2005 Eth. Ca.) Metsihafe Tarik Wegiss, page 288-289).