ONE @ 50: Pilgrimage to the Desert

In honor of ONE magazine’s 50th-anniversary year, the CNEWA blog series, ONE @ 50: From the Vault, aims to revive and explore the wealth of articles published in ONE magazine throughout its history. Read about the secluded St. Makarius Monastery in the Egyptian Sahara in this article, originally published in Summer 1976.

Read an excerpt from “Pilgrimage to the Desert” below, then read the full story.

“I have called you into the wilderness so that I may speak to your heart.”

Sparsely settled, dry and barren, the desert is a quiet and solitary place which throughout the Bible is spoken of as a place apart for prayer and penance. A large portion of the Bible lands are desert, but the Sahara is one of the most overpowering.

The Church of the 49 Martyrs. Here lie the remains of 47 monks, their abbot and a visiting pilgrim who were slain, later buried by surviving monks who had hidden themselves in the tower during the siege. (photo: Paul Melton)

Nestled in the Egyptian Sahara is an ancient monastery run by Coptic monks who recently have opened their cloistered doors to Christian pilgrims from all over the world who are in search of peace and solitude.

Going north on the road from Cairo to Alexandria for about 50 miles, the pilgrim comes upon the sign for St. Makarius Monastery on the highway, which is 5 kilometers from the buildings themselves. In this part of the Sahara there are four monasteries. St. Makarius is the most accessible.

A rope connected to the bell tower hangs near the entrance to call the porter to open the huge door. (photo: Paul Melton)

At St. Makarius there are 50 monks and ten novices. Most are coenobitic (living in community) but some are eremitic (hermits who live in nearby caves). Many, including the abbot, Father Matta El Meskin, have given up considerable material resources in order to live a life of prayer and poverty in the desert. Of the 50 monks, 45 are university graduates. Physicians, pharmacists, architects and engineers have abandoned their careers and come to the desert for the love of God.

Read more.

Paul Melton of South Lyon, Michigan, travels frequently to the Middle East arranging pilgrimages and archaeological study tours for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

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