“Words that Moves Mountain”

Historical Places

During the reign of Caliph Al-Muizz , northern Africa, Coptic Christians were allowed a degree of freedom. The relationship between al-Muizz and the Copts  has benn to the subject to the great miracle of moving Mokattam mountain in Cairo

This incident is the reason of Coptic Church having the 40+3 days to Christmas Fast. After these three days were added to it , It begins on November 25. each year.


The story goes like this,

The Caliph Al-Muizz, who reigned during 972-975 AD, used to invite different religious leaders to debate in his presence. In one of those meetings in which the patriarchAbraham, also known as Pope Abraam and Jacob Ibn Killis the Jew called to him another Jew named Moses. In their First meeting Pope Abraham got the upper hand in the debate. But this debate upset the minister Ibn Killis and his other Jewish companion Moses so much that they decided to take revenge on Anba Abram and Anba Sawirus by devising a plot that would destroy the Copts altogether.

Moses the Jew and the minister Ibn Killis hastened to the caliph Al-Mu’iz and said to him,

“We have found it written in the book of the Christians that whosoever has faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain. (Matthew 17:20),

So it is our right to demand them to prove that their religion is right by means of this. If they cannot, they should be punished for the invalidity of their religion.

The caliph Al-Mu’iz sent for Anba Abram the Syrian, who came to him and talked with him concerning this verse. He told him that he had to choose between these four alternatives: (25)

1) To fulfill this commandment and move the eastern part of the Mokattam.

2) To accept Islam and abandon Christianity on the account that it is invalid.

3) To leave Egypt and immigrate to another country.

4) To be killed by the sword altogether.

The Patriarch kept silent, and was praying in his heart for the Lord to guide him in this ordeal.. Then he asked the caliph to give a three day respite, after which he would give him an answer.

The Pope was very unhappy when he returned to his seat, and issued a public statement ordering all the Christians in Egypt to fast for three days from down, till sunset, and to lift up fervent prayers for the safety of the church. The Pope went to the famous church of Saint Mary, which is know as “The Suspended Church,” and called bishops and monks more 3 days of intense prayer.


Inside Hanging Church

Inside Hanging Church

The Virgin Mary appears to the Pope:

The third day at dawn, the Pope dozes off for a short while, saw the Virgin Mary, and heard her say to him,

“What is the matter with you?”

The Pope answered,

“You know, lady of the heavenly and earthly beings.”

She said to him,

“Fear not, faithful shepherd, for your tears which you have shed in this church, and the fasts and the prayers which you and your people have offered up shall not be forgotten. Now, get out through the iron gate that leads to the market-place and, when you are on your way out, you will find a one-eyed man in front of you carrying a jar of water. Take hold of him; for he is the man by whom the miracle will take place.”

As soon as the Virgin Mary said this, she was hidden from the sight of the Pope, who woke up from his sleep wondering.

Saint Simon the Tanner-

Saint Simon the Tanner-

Saint Simeon the Tanner

When the Pope went out to the iron gate that leads to the market-place, and saw outside it the man whom the Virgin Mary had spoken, he took hold of him… brought him inside the iron gate, and closed it… The Pope told him what had happened between the caliph and himself, and what the Virgin Mary had ordered him to do, mentioning that it was he by whom the miracle would take place.

Saint Samaan said to him,

“Forgive me, my father, for I am but a sinful man.”

The Pope said to him in persistence,

“It is the command of the mother of Light.”

Saint Samaan answered in humility and submission,

“As long as it is the Mother of Light who decided that I should be entrusted with this great task, I, then, place myself at the you service, sir.”

The Pope asked him about his name, and why he was there in the market-place at such an early hour in the morning while people are asleep.

Saint Samaan answered, “My name is Samaan the Tanner. I work in tanning animal skins. But I wake up as early as this hour in the morning every day to fill my jar with water and distribute it to the elderly and the sick, who have been hampered from bringing water for themselves by old age or sickness.

When I am finished with this service of mine, I return my water skin to the house and go to my work at the tannery where I work till evening. And at sunset I go out with the rest of the wage workers and eat just a little, so as to keep myself barely alive. Then I turn to prayer…”

Saint Samaan urged the Pope to keep the true state of his affairs hidden as long as he lived on this earth.

The faith of St Simon the tanner

The faith of St Simon the tanner


The preparations for the miracle

After Saint Samaan had finished this, he said to the Patriarch,

“My honorable father, go up the mountain and take along with you the religious leaders, the deacons, and the archdeacons, and make them carry on high the Bibles, the crosses, and the long candles, these being lit, and the censers full of incense.”

“And ask the king and his retinue to go up with you… So you shall stand on one side of the mountain, while they stand on the side opposite you. As for me, I will stand among the people behind your felicity, so that no one would recognize me.

“Then after administering the holy sacraments, you raise up your voice with all of the people, repeating, “Kyrie Eleison” (have mercy, Lord) four hundred times.

“Then after that keep silent for some moments…. and worship you and the priests, before the Most High.  Repeat this three times, and every time you stand up after worshipping, draw the sign of the cross over the mountain, and you shall see the glory of God.”

The Patriarch lifted up a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who allowed the trial to come, but provided a way out . (1 Co 10:13)

The Supernatural Miracle

A great crowd of people

The Patriarch told the caliph Al-Mu’iz Li Din Illah that he was ready to carry out his request by the grace of God… the caliph went out on the back of his steed, having with him several men of his retinue, his great men of honor, and his soldiers. He met the Patriarch and a great number of bishops, priests, deacons, archdeacons, the common people, and among these was Saint Samaan the Tanner… The two parties stood opposite one another on the mountain as Saint Samaan told them.

A great quake and the moving of the mountain

After administering the holy sacraments which the Pope and the bishops lifted up, the people repeated with a broken spirit and a crushed heart the “Kyrie Eleison” (heve mercy, Lord) prayer, four hundred times; 100 to the east, another to the west, another to the north, and another to the south.

Then they kept silent for a moment between the hands of the Most High… And they started to worship and stand up three times, while the Patriarch drew the sign of the cross. And behold a great earthquake swept over the mountain, and at each worship the mountain was thrust down, and every time they stood up the mountain would rise up and the sun would be seen from under it. And every time it would go back to its place.

This was the power of faith which our teacher Paul declared when he said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)

wall painting depicting the miracle of moving the mountain , in Cave Church

wall painting depicting the miracle of moving the mountain , in Cave Church

The caliph and the crowds become frightened

When the miracle took place, the caliph Al-Mu’iz panicked and feared, together with all the multitudes that gathered with him; he cried out at the top of his voice,

“God is great; may His name be blessed.”

And he entreated the Pope to stop what he was doing, otherwise the city would be overthrown.

When the things calmed down once more, he said to the Pope,

“You have proven that your faith is a true one. “

Providence willed it that this miracle should be eternalized down the ages and remain intact in the intellect of the people, untainted by the years and undiminished by the forgetfulness of man. But remain a witness to God’s glory and surpassing power that can shake and move mountains. This miracle will remain to tell the whole world in every generation that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church of God, but that every weapon that was formed against it shall not prosper…

H. H. Pope Shenouda III has reflected all these meanings in his poem “FOR THE CHURCH” of which we quote the following excerpt:

The gates of hell shall  not prevail against you, So rest assured and relax , for the One crucified is with you.
Ask about the time of Al-Mu’iz, for it knows it out of experience;
Ask it how by faith you moved the Mokattam,
A mountain that shook because of you, and you willed it,
You could break into pieces.
You who forget, understand the heart of history.

Icon depicting St Abraham the pope and St Simon the tanner in St Marcarius Monastery, Old cairo

Icon depicting St Abraham the pope and St Simon the tanner
in St Marcarius Monastery, Old cairo

May this Lenten season help us to move the mammoth Hurdles from lives too.
In the name of one triune God we pray


Reference : Coptic Websites



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