Chapter II :: The Birth and Upbringing of Mother Mariam | The Nun Mariam ~ Offering And Praise Book
Photo Credit To The Convent of St. George in Old Cairo: The Nun Mariam | Offering and Praise

Chapter II :: The Birth and Upbringing of Mother Mariam | The Nun Mariam ~ Offering And Praise Book

Mother Mariam

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Mother Mariam | Her Birth

Mother Mariam was born in the village of Shentena El-Hagar, by the city of Berket El-Sab of the Governorate of Monufia in the year 1922. Mother Mariam was given the name “Angel” and was the eldest child of her parents and first grandchild of Heg. Fr. Girgis. She was a blessed and chosen child from birth. [Chapter I :: Fr. Girgis Nasrallah]

The following is a well-known story in the family that was reported to us by family members who were eyewitnesses to what took place. On the seventh day of her birth, the child Angel was in her bed with her mother beside her, when her mother saw angels around the bed praising God in beautiful melodies and sweet voices. They placed beside the child a silk napkin made up of gorgeous colours.

The mother had never seen anything as beautiful and took the napkin, and upon opening, it found within it seven silver coins. The mother was shocked by this heavenly and remarkable scene and made haste to tell her husband who in turn went and told Heg Fr. Girgis (while he was still with us in the flesh). Upon seeing the napkin and what was inside, Heg. Fr. Girgis Nasrallah rejoiced greatly and told them that this child will be a blessing and that God has chosen and brought her from her mother’s womb to serve His Holy Name.

He then took the napkin, the seven silver coins, and buried them alongside the altar of the Virgin within the sanctuary of her church in Shentena El-Hagar out of fear of losing them. Furthermore, her mother would see in a vision our Lady the Virgin embracing the child saying, ‘this child is ours’. After this the parents feared for the child, expecting her to die at any moment.

Mother Mariam | Baptism

The child Angel was baptized by Heg. Fr. Girgis Nasrallah in the Church of the Virgin in Shentena El-Hagar and was given the name Mariam [Mary in Arabic] for her baptismal. After the conclusion of the baptism and divine liturgy, our blessed Heg. Fr. Girgis told them that this child will become a blessed nun and that the Virgin Mary herself blessed the child during her baptism. However, her parents marveled at the idea of monasticism and told him that she was their firstborn and that no one from their family ever embarked on the path of monasticism from before.

Mother Mariam | Her Sister

The parents bore another child named “Fawzia”, then “Georgette”, her only brother “Helmy”, and her youngest sister “Nadia”. In her early childhood, Angel was a heavenly child, very much attached to the Church, and was always with her grandfather, whether at church or home in prayer. She would spend the entire night alongside him in prayers and prostrations without tiredness and fatigue, while he was also cautious and compassionately aware of her young age.

During the day, she preferred to stay in the church to learn the hymns which she adored, and preferred this over her free time of playing with her siblings and peers. She rejoiced at hearing the stories and lives of the Saints, regularly asking her grandfather to recite them. This was followed by the whole family gathering to pray the Compline Hour and read the Holy Bible as it was their custom.

The child Angel grew in grace and stature before God and people. Mother Mariam loved education and learning and entered the American School in Birket El-Sab with her siblings. During her daily commute to school by a cart, she sang praises, recited the psalms she had memorized, and told her siblings of the stories of the Saints and Martyrs whom she loved very much along the way. For her mind was constantly preoccupied with heavenly matters even at her young age.

She was keen on completing her schoolwork perfectly and quickly in addition to being intellectually sharp. She committed herself to join her grandfather on his daily visits of shepherding his flock in the villages and seeing his family which consisted of the poor, widows, and orphans, and in distributing meals, clothes as well as sweets for the children.

Despite being young she recognized that when her grandfather Heg. Fr. Girgis gave to the poor, he would blindly place his hand in the pocket of his cassock and give the person in need without looking at the amount to see whether it was affordable. When she asked him about this, he told her he did not know what they needed, but Christ Himself alone knows of their needs and petitions and is the one who gives from His own hand. This memory would never leave Angel’s heart until the day of her passing.

In 1932, her grandfather departed when the child Angel was ten years old. Mother Mariam’s parents completed their successful raising of the child and her siblings, in a properly Christian way and by following in their spiritual father’s ways. They continued to gather daily in the evening for prayer, with every member of the family attending to pray and to read the Holy Bible as it was their practice. Veneration of the Mother of God would follow before an ancient icon which Heg.

Fr. Girgis brought back from Jerusalem and consecrated it in her church in Shentena El-Hagar. Many times, they would smell strong scents of incense, a sign of the presence of the Virgin Mary being in their midst. They kept his teachings regarding every aspect of their lives; from the day of the tonsuring of Mother Mariam and until the other siblings were married.

Mother Mariam | Move to Tanta

The family would go on to move into a large house in Tanta and here we will mention a story told to us by Ms. Soaad Habashy, the aunt of Mother Mariam and who was the same age as her, and currently resides in America. When Angel turned twelve years old, she asked for a new bright coloured dress for the Feast. When they brought the dress for her, she discovered that the dress was pink in colour and was upset. ‘I asked for a bright coloured dress,” she said. Later, the Virgin Mary visited her in a dream and told her, ‘Angel, you are the daughter of Jesus, you should not be concerned with colours on a dress.

I will take you into my embrace and from now on, you are my child.” She got up from her sleep and said, ‘I am going to be a nun, I don’t want to wear any new dress’. She revealed this dream to Fr. Tadros, priest of the Church of the Virgin in Sagha, Tanta, who responded by telling her to ask God to give her from His strength in embarking on this royal path (the path of monasticism) in peace.’

The child Angel grew up and was deeply attached to her church of the Virgin, in Shentena El-Hagar, and grew up to be a beautiful child. She was very modest in her clothing and wore long sleeves and a shawl which she never took off inside or outside the church. God and the Saints preoccupied her mind, heart, and thoughts, and in her practical imitation of them. For she never spoke of anything else and saw God present in all that she does. She had a very strong personality and was solid and very stern with herself. She did not deviate from her path despite the criticism and belittlement she received from those her age, because she knew her path well and saw it clearly.

Angel chose to serve the poor (Arabic Transliteration: Siblings of the Lord) and loved performing charitable works. At fourteen years of age, Mother Mariam would set out to look for the poor in the graveyards to give them from her allowance. During the feasts, she would ask her parents to buy new clothing fabric for the poor, joining her father to give them out herself.

She lived a life of prayer and with her siblings and they resorted to prayer whenever they faced any problem. She would fast for three days while abstaining and not eating anything except when she partook of the Communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord, later finding the solution to her problem.

When her mother was stricken with an illness that astonished doctors and was consequently bedridden for a long time, and while she [Mother Mariam] was still a young girl; Mother Mariam continued serving her at her bedside by her father, brother, and sisters in love and compassion. She carried out her duties as a grown-up and despite having their own servants to serve them. Irrespective of the sanctity and perfection of her mother, she continued to strongly refuse the idea of her daughter becoming a nun, convinced that another path to Heaven exists in marriage also, and kept up her persistence on this matter.

Angel perplexed by this, prayed, and fasted for long periods of time asking God for His help, aid, and will. In a vision, she would see the Virgin Mary who said to her, ‘you are chosen from your mother’s womb, you are ours.’ She told her mother what about what she experienced, and it helped to calm her a bit. However, she would later return to persist in her daughter getting married, refusing the idea of monasticism. Nonetheless, Angel continued in prayer asking God for His help and involvement in pleasing them.

Mother Mariam | Heaven’s Involvement

In the year 1950, one morning the child Susan the daughter of Angel’s Aunt was playing next to [Angel] when she happened to drop an ancient icon of the Virgin which hangs in the middle of the living room that fell on Angel. She was seriously hurt with a deep wound in her eye that was bleeding profusely. Two of the doctors arrived, one of them was Greek and the other Egyptians. Both were convinced that there was no chance of saving her eye, and having lost a lot of blood until all that was left was yellow fluid, they could no longer feel her pulse.

The parents took the child and placed her on her bed, and everyone began to pray in tears and cries unto our Lady the Virgin, while the child clung to a small icon of the Virgin calling out for her with all her heart until she lost consciousness. At this point, they were all awaiting her death and preparing for it.

Her sister Georgette went to the room Angel was sleeping in and began to cry and pray until she fell asleep on a bed in front of Angel’s bed. At nighttime, Georgette woke up to a bright light that filled up the room with our Lady the Virgin beside Angel’s bed. She heard the voice of our Lady the Virgin telling Angel, ‘I am pure, and I love those who are pure. You are ours.

I will heal you, and you will become a nun by the name of Mariam [Arabic: Mary] and you will serve my son, and my son will make you a blessing.’ Georgette got up and told her family what happened, and they went and saw that Angel was up and in very good health. They took her to the Greek doctor who was astonished at the vision and said, ‘impossible, how are you this well now? Going and coming down the stairs. Truly, you must be a child of God.’ Following this miracle and Angel would begin to wear the habit of consecration (gray clothing), and continued doing so until she became a nun.

Mother Mariam | Her Tonsuring

Beginning the Royal Path

When her father permitted her to become a nun and finally gave his approval, she went to see and tell Bishop Thomas, Metropolitan of Gharbia, of her father’s approval. Angel has then tonsured nun in the year 1952 by H.G. Bishop Thomas, who gave her the name [Mariam]. This took place in her church in Shentena El-Hagar and the day of her tonsuring was a great day, and all were filled with happiness and joy for the tonsuring of Mother Mariam. H.G. Bishop Thomas gave her a room in the church that she stayed in for three months. At that time, the monk Heg. Fr. Tadros guided her as well as Bishop Thomas, every now and then the latter asked about her.

Later Mother Mariam would ask to go to the convent, but her parents refused and she returned to her family’s house where a personal room was set up for her. “…I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2)

Mother Mariam continued to stay in a cell in her parent’s house serving her ill mother, her father, and siblings. Mother Mariam chose to serve in the villages near Tanta such as El-Kershy, El-Khadem, El-Ageezy, Seeger, and others. She outreached the widows and orphans in their homes, with the help of her siblings cooking the most delicious food daily in her house, and distributing it herself to those families in need. Going up and downstairs and high floors, sitting with them, and serving them herself. In prayers of thanksgiving, she stood in deep prayer with them. For she served like our Lord in all joy, love, and humility. Indeed, she was a great blessing to all those places and souls she served.

All this did not distract Mother Mariam from her monastic life, as she was vigilant over the state of her soul, faithfully and carefully following her monastic canons. Receiving her strength and the success of her service from her spiritual retreats with the Bridegroom of her soul our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ. At the end of the day and after the communal prayers with the family, she went to her personal room, lit an oil lantern before the ancient icon of the Virgin, and stayed in all-night vigils until morning, in long prayers and numerous prostrations.

Mother Mariam grew deeper ascetically after her tonsuring, and she would cook her own food with water only, a practice which she maintained throughout her monastic life. She did this while cooking the most delicious food for her family and the poor, daily.

Mother Mariam | Her Mother’s Departure

Her mother departed into heavens in the year 1959, and Mother Mariam filled her mother’s shoes and increased in doing charitable works in her name. As for her sister Fawzia, she would be in fervent prayer asking our Lady the Virgin if she could see her mother’s eternal place. She stood before the ancient icon in deep prayer, and saw our Lady the Virgin who asked her, ‘What do you want?” Fawzia answered, ‘I want to know where mom went.’ She is in the Heavens, but she has a few slips. Perform divine liturgies and increase in the performing of charitable works in her name. For merciful work and prayers remove those slips,’ our Lady the Virgin answered.

Mother Mariam | Another Attempt to Enter the Convent

In 1959 and after her fathers’ departure, H.H. Pope Kyrillos received the leadership of the Church and declared that all monks and nuns are to return to their monasteries. Mother Mariam obeyed the decision of His Holiness the Pope and went to him so he can choose for her a befitting convent given his personal knowledge. However, H.H. Pope Kyrillos, known for his gift of prescience told her, ‘your time to enter the convent has not come, your vocation of service in the world is not over yet.” Indeed, Mother Mariam obeyed the words of H.H. Pope Kyrillos and returned to complete her service as God willed for her.

Mother Mariam | Her Intercedes in Her Sister’s Healing

Her younger sister Nadia was like a daughter to Angel with the latter adoring her greatly and was compassionate towards her. At that time, Nadia was studying in the Faculty of Arts when she came back home one day from college, very sick and with a high temperature. The doctor prepared for her a penicillin injection prescription without knowing that she was allergic to the chemical. After Nadia took her first penicillin shot, her body swelled up and she began to have difficulty breathing. Her eyes could not open due to the severity of the swelling and her situation was nearing death – they did not have a treatment (for anaphylactic shock) at the time.

Mother Mariam left her sister in that state and went to pray before the ancient icon after having lit the oil lamp. She prayed strongly, in persistence and tears before the Virgin Mary, feeling peace in her heart and calmness after she finished her prayers. She went to check on her sister finding her no longer nearing death and struggling as before. She knelt near the bed and began to pray for a long time.

Greatly exhausted, she went and fell asleep on her bed and saw the Virgin Mary who told her ‘do not be afraid, I already interceded for your sister’s long life before my beloved son, and my beloved son answered.’ She woke up, and when her sister woke up she found her perfectly well as if nothing happened and appeared to have been given a new life through the blessings of the Lord and the intercessions of the Mother of Light. Following that, they continued in prayers of thanksgiving until the morning per her custom.

Mother Mariam | Visit Jerusalem

Mother Mariam had a longing to see Jerusalem, and indeed God would allow her to visit twice. Before her first trip, at the time her sister Fawzia was worried about her flying by plane and tried to discourage her from going. She [the sister] saw the Virgin Mary in a dream who addressed her sharply saying, ‘Why do you fear for your sister? Will you be taking care of her? I don’t ever leave her!’ Mother Mariam was then able to go to Jerusalem per her heart desires.

…to be continued

May the prayers of This holy Mother be with us, Amen.

1 Philippians 1:23 | 2 Matthew 25:21 | 3 Sweet-smelling spices used in beautifying relics

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Chapter II :: The Birth and Upbringing of Mother Mariam | The Nun Mariam ~ Offering And Praise Book

Post source : The Convent of St. George in Old Cairo: The Nun Mariam | Offering and Praise

About The Author

I am a law graduate and psalter serving in the Diocese of Mississauga, Vancouver and Western Canada. I translate Arabic hagiographies of recently departed Coptic monastic figures. In my journey of discovering the rich faith and heritage of the Church of Alexandria, I am interested in making available in the English language the numerous Arabic biographies of contemporary monks, nuns and figures of the Coptic Orthodox Church to upcoming non-Arabic speaking generations of Copts worldwide.

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