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Posted June 1, 2013

Book: Fleeing Herod: A Journey Through Coptic Egypt and the Holy Family
Author: James Cowan
Paraclete Press. Orleans, MA 2013. Pp. 287

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

When the Holy Family fled Bethlehem to escape the wrath of King Herod Antipas, they journeyed three years in Egypt, mainly along the Nile River, keeping Herod's agents at bay. Using an ancient 4th-century test written by Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandrea as his guide, James Cowan takes the reader on a fascinating journey through 21st-century Egypt in the footsteps of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus. Cowan follows their tracks around the Delta region and up the Nile to a place called Mount Qussqam, where they are believed to have resided for six months.

Cowan's itinerary, retracing holy steps from 2,000 years ago according to Coptic tradition, was revealed to Theophilus in a dream. Documenting his journey, Cowan finds himself in the midst of a spiritual revolution going on in Egypt itself. He meets with monks and health workers, desert mystics and visionaries, all of whom have a stake in the story of the Holy Family's journey. This 2,000 year-old legend is full of beauty and relevance for our world today.

An Excerpt from the Book:

"It would seem by what you are saying that the ascetical process is more than simply one of discipline. It embodies something subtler. Nor is it about controlling --- no, bridling --- one's passions, so much as bringing them to order. They are like colts in a field, ready to run in all directions without thought of the consequences. Asceticism becomes a halter; it subjects us all to some form of control so that our appetites might be lead safely through the gate."

"We often see ourselves as asses, do we not? This is why we rely so much on a trainer in our early years as a monk. Saint Pambo, as we know taught Saint Bishoy. He also taught Ammonius Plotinus's teacher, as well as Origen's. a teacher is there to give us the benefit of his experience, and that of his teacher as well. Everyone who enters monastic life begins as a student. In doing so, we draw comfort from knowing we are partaking of a long tradition of ascetical insight. Without this, where would we be?"

"Why are monasteries always located in the desert, and not in more salubrious surroundings?" I asked.

"Because it is only here that thoughts are permitted to become concentrated," replied Father Abadir, pouring me another glass of tea. "Distillation is the essence of our journey throughout the spiritual life. As with refinement, we are attempting to reduce all our thoughts down to one simple belief --- our invisibility in relation to God. We do not wish to be seen. Strange, is it not? To want to become selfless, to be absolutely effaced in the eyes of God. This is the principal objective of any monk. He is not here to astound himself. No, he wants to diminish himself --- his self, rather --- to the point where its existence is no longer acknowledged. It is the very reason why Father Lucas advised you against talking with the hermits last night."

Table of Contents:

1. The audience

2. A vision

3. Journey into exile

4. Confronting the old gods

5. City of women

6. The tree that cried

7. On the road

8. Wastelands

9. The heel of a prince

10. Into the desert

11. A chance conversion

12. Under the tree

13. The dream

14. Heart of a city

15. Voyage on the Nile

16. Toward Memphis

17. Sailing south

18. A heavenly city

19. Language of stones

20. One man's choice

21. Braiding the Iota

22. At Ashumounein

23. The well of the cloud

24. Center of the world

25. On the Holy Mountain

26. Father Angelus speaks

27. A dream interpreted

28. The Last Supper