Once Upon a Meeting: Conclusion

Our friend still stood by our table holding a couple of plates he had cleared away. We asked him to sit with us but he  shook his head. He seemed to be staring at some spot across the room and finally said, “Ah yes, we do indeed revere the Mother of God as all Christians should. In my country not only Christians cherish her, but also Muslims and others as well. A few words on our history are necessary first. You may remember in 1967 after only six days of fighting we were defeated by a small country we supposed to be inferior to Egypt in every way; in size, might, and wealth. The Six – Day War with Israel brought us to our knees both militarily and physically. You see our Christian population both Orthodox and Catholic had joined the materialistic ways of the pagan world.”

He sighed before continuing. (Admittedly we did recall the war but not the details of it.) “We were in dire need and began praying for our very survival. One year later in 1968 a Sunni Muslim passed by St. Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church where I lived in Zeitoun, a suburb of Cairo. He saw a woman on the roof and thought she was about to commit suicide so he reported the sighting to the police. It was believed by observers to be  the Blessed Mother. That was the beginning of numerous apparitions seen by millions from April 1968 to 1971. Investigations could not explain the appearances of the luminous figure. The witnesses included Christians, Muslims and even Nassar, the leader of our country and also a Marxist. The head of the Orthodox Coptics sanctioned the apparitions and years later Pope John Paul 11 visited the sight. The outpouring of believers was widely reported in our papers but not in western news as I understand.”

My husband said, “We had no idea of this. Did the Catholic Church also sanction the apparitions.”
“No, Paul VI said it should be left to the Orthodox Coptics because St Mary’s was not a Catholic Church. Catholics are  much fewer in number in my country. One time Blessed Mary came bearing an olive branch and we knew she was our path to peace in the Middle East. She gives us hope but my people suffer and Christians are persecuted daily.”

We were enthralled by our host’s revelation and speechless for a moment. I finally asked, “Is there any more to the story?”
“You don’t want to spend the beautiful  day here in this dark restaurant. Just one more thing I must tell you. Zeitoun  has been known for centuries as the place Joseph, Mary and Jesus stayed when they fled Herod. St Mary’s is known as the actual spot where they resided in Egypt.” Reluctantly we bid our acquaintance good-by and travelled on down the windy river road.
One Sunday afternoon a short time later we decided to have lunch in the same restaurant; however, when we arrived, the parking area was empty and a for sale sign posted. I could not help but hum that theme song from The Twilight Zone: duda, duda… Was the Meeting an apparition only experienced Once Upon a Time?

Note:    This post is not fiction. Reflecting on this encounter we realize the natural world and the spiritual realm are entwined and designed by the One…who knows when I sit and when I rise… and when I stop along the way for lunch.    Psalm 139:2 NIV

Once Upon a Meeting : Part 2

We ordered a pasta dish from the menu and a glass of beer on tap. The mysterious person came with our drink and my curiosity took over as my husband gave me an, Oh no look! It did not deter me from asking him a question, just one.
“Where is your homeland?”
“I’m from Egypt, I am a Coptic Christian.”
“I’ve read about the Coptic church when we got our first computer eons ago. You are Orthodox then.”  It surprised me he spoke English so well with only a slight accent.  “My dad was Russian Orthodox.  Have you been here in the states long?”
“A year or so.  I grew up being bi-lingual.  That’s why I had no problem with language.”

This was going well. He answered my question before I asked.  My husband smiled; he was amused but interested.  Our waiter excused himself and went to check on the food.
He returned in a few minutes with the salad and pasta and I asked, “Tell me about the Coptic religion. My husband and I would like to hear more about it.”
“I was raised in the traditional way. Fasting was a major part of our faith.  We fasted not only in lent but also during advent and before Our Lady’s Assumption.  We hold Her in great esteem as do the Muslims in our country.  You must have heard in the news, there is much upheaval in our country.  There are factions opposed to one another. But the people just want to live their lives. They love food and festivity and family just as people in this country.   It is sad for young people.  The  cannot marry and have children because unemployment is rampant and though many are highly educated, they find no jobs.  It is distressing but there remains our faith and Our Mother.”

Our host talked with us just being interrupted once when we heard a Harley pull in and the fellow came into the bar for a speedy refreshment and left again within minutes of his arrival. (Seemed he came to verify this was a real business.)

The most memorable part of our new found friend’s conversation came when he returned to clear away the dishes and we ordered desert and coffee. With no one else in the place he stayed standing beside our table and  asked us a few questions, the usual ones: Where are you from? Where are you going today? And another not often asked: Are you Christian?
After answering those he posed, I felt entitled to one more question for him. “How is it there is such devotion to the Blessed Mother in your country?”

The answer follows in the next and last segment of this story…




Once Upon a Meeting

This story has been ruminating in my writer’s soul for some time. The exact date and details of the meeting are recorded in one of my numerous journals which I have recently searched unsuccessfully.  In the meantime, the memory of this providential meeting of several years ago begs to be written here.

We awoke to a blue sky and bright sunny day much like that on May 29, 1971  our wedding day. We had no plan other than taking a drive and exploring some area which turned out to be Route 611 along the Delaware River by crossing the Portland Bridge into Pennsylvania.  It was a day trip we had taken several times before, usually ending in New Hope, Pa. After enjoying an extended breakfast and coffee on the deck while deciding where to travel, as usual, we got a late start around 11 am.

We zipped along the country roads in our silver 2000 Mustang, free as the breeze feeling quite entitled to a weekday off. We came to a small town and a bar restaurant we had never tried and it was lunch time.  Once inside we were greeted by a rather short stocky dark haired man who turned out to be the chef, waiter, and dishwasher.

The place did have a certain atmosphere all its own with a trellis hanging about a foot below the ceiling with artificial grapevines and clusters of grapes and greenery with the carpet worn enough to reveal years of foot traffic. The lights were dim in contrast to the bright sunlight outside and our eyes had to adjust to the dimness. We were totally alone except for the interesting man whose nationality we couldn’t quite identify by his appearance or slight accent. He came with our menus, smiled. and left us. Somehow it already reminded me of the Twilight Zone and the theme song from the old TV show kept running through my mind: duda duda, an eerie melody.

To be continued…

Cooking for the Bishop: Conclusion

Around 10:00 pm everyone finished the final course and were ready to leave. Father came into the kitchen and told us he was surprised the Bishop stayed so late because he had a packed schedule and his day began early.  He also told our pastor how great it was he had parishioners who cared enough to be of service to the parish under adverse circumstances (not his exact words but close in meaning). I thought the Bishop was gracious to bear with us through the not so serene evening and stay to the end. In fact all seemed in good spirits even though the dinner was not as perfect as I hoped. The carrots were over cooked and dry and the broccoli mushy, the Cornish hen wasn’t crispy, the steak was well done but the sauce and mushrooms were scant after the second time in the oven. Probably the best dish was the pasta penne and mozzarella with tomatoes and fresh basil.

Father thanked us profusely and sent three hens, a piece of steak, some cake and unopened prosecco home with us. Looking back on the evening I believe great good came to us from the experience of cooking for our Bishop. My husband and I glimpsed the true humility of the man behind the pomp and power. As our pastor had mentioned our Bishop was a simple man who loved growing vegetables in his garden. Through him that same evening a group of young people became members of the body of Christ and received the Holy Spirit. I have always thought the nature of the work, not only of bishops but of all priests as well, is in a way humbling. They represent Christ Himself.

We left the rectory exhausted but enlightened; when you cook for people, it isn’t the food but those you serve that matters most. Some days later we received a letter from the Bishop thanking us, reminding me of those I need to thank: first of all our pastor for trusting me with this project, two women who sincerely offered to help, my friend, the best cook I know, another friend who lent me lovely serving trays and expensive knives, and of course my husband  who so willingly pitched in as usual.

And thank you dear Bishop–for thanking us.