The holy martyr, Saint Menas the Wonder Worker, is one of the most well known Egyptian saints both in and outside the Coptic faith, due to the many miracles that are performed through his intercessions. His feast day is falls on November 24th, or day 15 of the month of Hathor, in the Coptic calendar.
Birth and Early Life
Prior to his birth, Audexois and Aufimia, pious aesthetic Copts were childless. on the feast day of Saint Miriam (Mary), his mother, Aufimia, prayed in front of the icon of the Virgin with tears that God would give her a blessed son. She heard a voice say "Amen", and thus she called her son Menas, who was born in 285AD in the city of Niikiu, near ancient Memphis, Egypt.
His father, ruler of a nome of Egypt, died when Menas was just 14, and Menas joined the Roman army the following year. He was given a high rank due to his prominent bloodline, and was stationed in Algeria. However, three years later he left, longing to devote his whole life to our Lord Jesus Christ, and headed into the desert to live the aesthetic life of the hermit.
Later Years and Martyrdom
After five years as a hermit, a vision seized him - the angels crowning the martyrs with glamorous crowns. He longed to join those martyrs. While he was thinking about it, a voice came to him. "Blessed are you, Abba Menas, because you have been called for the pious life from your childhood. You shall be granted three immortal crowns; one because of your celibacy, the second because of your asceticism, and the third for your martyrdom"
Immediately he felt as if the earth under him vanish from under his feet, a lightness of heart, and a great eagerness to fly to heaven. With valour in his heart, he hurried to the Roman ruler, declaring his faith. His sufferings, and final martyrdom in 309AD attracted many of the pagans, not only to the true Coptic faith, but also to martyrdom.
Burial and Miracles
The murders of the saint tried to burn his body, but miraculously failed. The saint's body remained in the fire for three days and nights, and was not harmed by the flames. His sister came and gave the soldiers money and they let her take the body. She embarked with her brother's body on one of the ships heading to Alexandria, where they placed the saint's body in the church.
When the time of persecution ended, during the reign of Pope and Patriarch Athanasius, a vision seized the the Partiarch commanding him to send the saint’s body in the desert. It was duly placed on a camel and headed towards the western desert. At the spot that the Lord had designated, the camel stopped and refused to move. There, near a well at the western end of Lake Maryut, they buried the saint's body. Today, monastery still stands at this sacred and holy site.
Many years later, the Berbers raided the desert and towns around Alexandria. The people were getting ready to face the Berbers, and the ruler of the city decided to take the body of Saint Menas with him to be his deliverer and protector. He took the body secretly and through the saint's blessings and protected, defeated the Berbers and returned in safety and victory to Alexandria.
However, the ruler decided not to return Saint. Menas' body to its tomb at Maryut, wishing to keep it in Alexandria. On the way back to the city, they passed by Maryut. The camel carrying the body knelt down and would not move. They moved the body over another camel, but this second camel did not move from the sacred place. The ruler of Alexandria finally realized that this was the command of the Lord. He made a coffin from decay-resistant wood and placed the coffin of the saint, which was made from solid silver, in it. He then returned it to its tomb, and invoked Saint Menas' blessings and protection, before returning to his city.
Later, the tomb of Saint Menas was revealed when a shepherd was feeding his sheep in that area and a sick lamb fell on the ground. As it struggled to get on its feet again, its scab was cured. The story spread quickly and the sick men and women who came to this spot recovered from whatever illnesses they had, just by laying on the ground.
During that time, the daughter of Zinon, the Christ-loving ruler at Constantinople was leprous. His advisers suggested that she should try that place, and she did. At night a vision Saint Menas appeared to the girl and informed her that his body was at Maryut. The following morning, she bathed in the well and was healed. She related her vision about Saint Menas to her servants and that he cured her. Immediately, Zinon ordered that a church be built in the sacred and holy place.
Historical and Modern Significance
When Arcadius and Honorius reigned, they ordered that a large city to be built at Maryut and named after the saint. Sick people from all over the world would visit the city and were healed by the intercession of Saint Means the Wonder Worker. This is evident from the numerous little clay bottles on which his name and picture are engraved and survive to this day. These were discovered by archaeologists in diverse countries around the world, such as Heidelberg, Germany; Milan, Italy; Dalmatia, Yugoslavia; Marseille, France; Dongola, Sudan; and Jerusalem. Visitors from these cities and others would buy these bottles, usually containing oil or water for blessing, and take them back to their relatives.
The historian Edith L. Butcher recorded that destruction started to take place in the city, and its inhabitants were degraded after the Arab conquest. During the period after Haroun El-Rashid, a Muslim ruler, the Berbers raided the city and burned a large portion of it. At the time of El-Mamoun, the Muslim ruler ordered that the entire city be destroyed, and that it’s numerous and fine marble pillars be plundered so as to build his palaces and mosques. It is only in the 20th century that international missions began to search for the city and the church.
The New Cathedral of Saint Menas
As soon as Pope Kyrillos VI was installed on the Throne of Saint Mark, he began to put the foundations of a great monastery close to the remains of the old city. Thus, the old monastery of Saint Menas is resurrected in it’s purity and glory, and the Copts are able to visit it once again and to be blessed by the saint. Pope and Patriarch Kyrillos VI even stated in his will that his body should not be buried in the new and very fine Cathedral of Saint Mark in Cairo, but in the monastery of his personal friend and intercessor, Saint Menas the Wonder Worker.