- Mother Irini
Mother Irini, الأم إيرينى(Tamav (Coptic for Mother) Irene),(Umina (Our Mother in Arabic) Irini) (died October 31, 2006) was Abbess of St. Philopateer Mercurius (Abu Sefein) Convent in Old Cairo, Egypt.
Tamav (a Coptic word for "my mother") Erini, Mother Superior of the convent of St Philopater Mercurius in Old Cairo, died on 31 October. She was consecrated head of the convent on 15 October 1962 (Babah 5th 1679 according to the Coptic Calendar). She is most recognised amongst Copts for her intimate relationship and Communion with the Saints. She is particularly known to have been visited by, and to have communicated with, Saints of the Old Testament, St. Anthony the Great, and St. Philopateer Mercurius. In her last days she has given us the privilege to hear of the various wondrous events and incidents, that God may be glorified through His Saints, by allowing her narration of such events and incidents to be recorded*. She is also known to have received a dream regarding the Papacy of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III.
Tamav Erini was born on 9 February 1936 in Girga, a small town in Upper Egypt in Sohag Governorate.
She was the eldest of seven blessed children born to two pious Coptic Orthodox Christian Parents. Her parents and grandparents were very keen on practicing their religion and carrying out acts of mercy. For example, on a daily basis, her mother would cook a considerable amount of food and send her daughters to distribute the meals to the needy families residing nearby. At the time of her birth and while her mother was going through a difficult labor, her grandfather went to the Church of St. George (Mari-Girgis) and asked for his intercession. Meanwhile, at home, the mother was asking for the intercession of Virgin Mary. Suddenly, the room lit up and St. Mary and St. George appeared to her. St. George tapped on her back three times and St. Mary took hold of the blessed new born girl. She made the sign of the cross on her and handed her to her mother saying "She is not yours, she is ours but raise her well." During her Baptism in the Monastery of the Great Saint Shenoudah the Archimandrite, the saint himself appeared and blessed her. The only person that saw this was Bishop Boutros who was baptizing her. Bishop Boutros, who was the Bishop of Sohaj and Akhmim at that time, later on informed her parents about his vision.
Even in her youth, Mother Erini lived a pure life, she loved going to masses and serving. Along with a group formed by her sisters and friends, she loved cleaning her local church.
One time as they finished cleaning the Church of St. Mary, St. Mary appeared to them, smiling, and said: "I am thankful and I am pleased with you because you have cleaned my son's house which is named after me." She blessed them and disappeared.
Ever since her early teen years, she knew that she wanted to live the Monastic life. Accordingly, she prayed continually for God's guidance and help in order to fulfill her wish. God allowed for the great Saint Philopater Mercurius Abu-Sefain [The Holder of Two Swords] to appear to her. He did the sign of the cross so that she knows that this was from God, and told her: "I want you to live and serve in my monastery in Old Cairo." He took her [miraculously] to the monastery and showed her around. On 6 October 1954, Mother Erini became a nun in the Monastery of Abu-Sefain at the age of 18, accordingly, she became the youngest nun in the monastery.
She faced a lot of challenges and hindrances by Satan; however, she kept her calm and pursued her fervent prayers. Many times, the hindrances and problems were solved via miraculous appearances of St. Mercurius.
At the young age of 26, and after many predictions had been made by prominent members of the Coptic Church such as Pope Kyrillos, mother Erini, or as she would later be called Tamav Erini [Tamav; Coptic name for mother] was ordained the abbess of the Monastery of Abu-Sefain. This was on 15 October 1962.
The Journey at the Monastery
At the outset of her upholding the monastery's responsibility, Tamav Erini fasted and prayed fervently for three days for guidance regarding the system the nuns should live by. God answered her prayers and allowed her to meet [in soul not in flesh] St. Pachomius (292-348 AD), one of founders of the communal life of monks. Upon his instructions, she found a neglected copy of the Pachomian Koinonia in the convent's library.
She restructured the nuns' life accordingly; banning all forms of personal property or segregation. Tamav made sure the nuns' time was devoted to prayers and to their assignments. Little by little, group prayers and meals were introduced and the nuns' life was changed forever. For several decades, the monastery will witness an unprecedented uprising in spirituals and in construction and expansion works and the monastery will be one of the most famous and blessed ones in Egypt and the whole world.
Before Tamav Erini's assumption of the monastery's responsibility, the nuns used to attend mass and communion in an adjacent church, also dedicated to St. Mercurius. Tamav Erini founded St. Mercurius' Church and subsequently founded a second church inside the convent in honor of St. Mary, on the site where the Virgin is said to have sat with her Son during the Holy Family's flight to Egypt.
The church was founded based on Virgin Mary's apparition and request. The sanctity of the place was later on affirmed by the outburst of the Miron Oil during the church's inauguration ceremony [Miron: holy oil used by Christians to consecrate newly baptized babies and church icons].
Mother Erini popularized St Mercurius among Copts. In this sense she is often compared to Pope Kyrillos VI whose name became associated with the Egyptian martyr, St Mina.
On Abu-Sefain's feasts—celebrating his martyrdom, the coming of his relics to Egypt, and the consecration of the first Coptic Church in his name—she would speak to the thousands who gathered about the miracles performed through the intercession of the saint.
In her weekly meetings, which took place on Fridays until just a few years before her death, Tamav Erini would speak of heaven in a way that brought hope and consolation to her listeners. Her message and vocation attracted many, and the number of nuns increased under her guidance—there are now more than 100—and some of her daughters are now mothers superior of other Cairo convents.
Like St Syncletica (d. 400 AD) Mother Erini came from a wealthy family, though she renounced worldly treasures, opting for a life of voluntary poverty following her consecration as a nun on 26 October 1954.
St Syncletica and other [Desert Mothers] contributed to the extraordinary development of monasticism during the fourth and fifth centuries. They established a tradition equal to that of the desert fathers and attracted many disciples and listeners, male and female. The teachings of these mothers focus on the life of vigil, prayer, fasting and struggle, purity of heart, poverty, solitude and stillness.
Tamav Erini's words tackle many of the same issues; like the ascetic literature left by these mothers and fathers, her sayings represent the fruit of her personal labor and struggle.
Under her guidance the convent published a well-researched and documented book highlighting the contribution of women to monastic and ascetic life. The Angelic Life: The Virgin Mary and Other Virgins in Different Ages (Cairo: Harmony Printing House, 2002), can be regarded as a feminist and a new historicist reading of the monastic movement, from which perspective it sets the record straight regarding the role played by women in this movement.
Tamav Erini's life was also a living example of the forbearance of pain. For more than 25 years she suffered from ill health which she bore with gratitude and joy. Her life and heritage echoed that of Christian female celibates and saints from preceding centuries. During her long and painful journey with many illnesses she encountered many visitations from our Beloved Lord Jesus Christ, St. Mary, St Mercurius Abu Sefain and many more saints.
In their memorial the nuns at the convent described her as their "enlightened mother, mentor, teacher, guide and the lamp whose light would remain for ever". They also expressed their gratitude "for being the daughters of the mother of monasticism in this generation, for having been watered by the fountain of her sacred life and enlightened by the torch of her monastic and spiritual teachings which will remain to guide us until we meet her in heaven".
The reading of the Gospel on the day before her departure was from the Gospel of Matthew 25:21 "His master replied, 'well done, good and faithful servant! you have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness". On the 31st October 2006 Mother Erini departed in peace to her beloved Saviour to the place Revelation said of: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4
At Mother Erini's funeral Bishop Raphaeil (General Bishop) spoke on behalf of his holiness, Pope Shenouda III. He described Mother Erene as representing a great value to the Coptic Church, demonstrated by the great impact she had on the spiritual life of bishops, monks, nuns, and many of her children in Egypt and abroad.
Thousands of mourners queued to pay their last respects on the day following her death. Some of them had never seen her before, but had heard of her love, simplicity and humility. She departed the world, but will continue to live in the hearts of her children.
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