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Tamav Ireni

In her Youth

In Gerga, a small town that lies on the fertile banks of the Nile in Upper Egypt and in the 1940s, Yassa and Genevieve gave birth to their beautiful eldest daughter Fawzia. She was one of seven children in a wealthy family. To tell the stories and miracles of Tamav's life would require endless pages of writing.

Ever since her birth, she was a chosen fruit, and her mission was clearly assigned: “She is not yours; she is ours, but look after her and bring her up properly” were the words of the Virgin Mary to her mother in a vision while in labour.

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.

Even in her youth, Tamav Ireni 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.

In her younger days she showed a passionate interest in monastic life, and she knew that she wanted to live the Monastic life. Accordingly, she prayed continually for God's guidance and help in order to fulfil her wish. At the age of 18, Fawzia forsook the vainglories of this world and her family's wealth and joined the convent of Saint Philopater Mercurius (Abu Seifein) in “Old Cairo” and was named Irene. 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.

Leadership

In October 1962, after the departure of the mother superior of the convent, Irene at the mere age of 26 (the youngest of all the nuns), was pushed to church to be ordained as the new mother superior, Tamav (coptic for "Mother", Tamav) Irene, when His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI held the chair of the See of St. Mark. So exceptional was this nun in his eyes that he entrusted her to be the Abbess of the convent. In her, he recognized the exemplary reflection of God’s Love and Holiness and the profound ascetic self-discipline that she exercised in her monastic life.

At the outset of her upholding the monastery's responsibility, Tamav Ireni 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. 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. Tamav Ireni insisted on the importance of living in a community. "While it is up to each nun to decide on the level of austerity appropriate for her, our life is still essentially built on partnership and love."

Tamav Ireni didn't run a convent like a traditional mother superior -- she emphasised the importance of leading a community in a democratic way. "I don't like to point to the sisters' faults and shortcomings. Words of love and encouragement are more effective." Still, despite her non-confrontational, non-aggressive philosophy, Tamav Ireni was anything but a submissive, introverted woman. She was reputed for being outspoken and for not budging once she has taken a stand.

Tamav Ireni was deeply involved in her effort to bring to light women's real contribution to monastic life in Egypt. Tamav Ireni must be the one nun Coptic Christians today love the most; she is considered a living saint by the majority. While traditional accounts have consecrated St Paul of Thebes and St Anthony as the pioneers of monastic life and seclusion from the world, Tamav Ireni insists that it was women who started this tradition, in the first century AD. Shortly after the resurrection of Christ, she believes, a group of women vowed to live a celibate life of prayer in a community at Mount Olive. They are supposed to have been in close contact with St Mary, the mother of Christ. Although this was the first of its kind, according to Tamav Ireni, such communities of women proliferated and became commonly known as the "houses of virgins". In the centuries that followed, women also sought a solitary life in the desert as anchorites, but disguised themselves as men. Their real identity was only discovered after their death. Tamav Ireni, however, emphasises that some of the anchorites who reached high levels of spirituality even had monks as disciples, "like Anisimone, the anchorite who taught many monks."

The Lost Sheep

In her weekly meetings, which took place on Fridays until just a few years before her death, Tamav Ireni 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. In these meetings, as well as in her private conversations with the visitors to the Convent, she would talk about the Lord and the beauty and pleasure of companionship with Him. Many stories reveal how keen she was on returning the lost sheep to their Good Shepherd. On all such occasions, she would pour out her heart to the Lord in prayers, fasts and metanias (prostrations) for the sake of the lost souls.

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. Tamav Ireni once said, "In a family, different people take on similar features and traits. It is like that when you live your life with God. You are influenced by those you spend the most time with. Peace, joy and love come from prayer with God. That's why our life here is a life of prayer.'

Long-Suffering

Tamav Ireni'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.  Tamav Ireni is known to have prayed to God requesting that if He should find it fit that she be tested with a trial, that that trial affect her physical being and not the love, peace and harmony that existed amongst her Nuns at the Convent. Tamav Ireni's prayer was answered when she was struck with cancer.

This was not the only physical ailment she had to deal with however; she was at one stage simultaneously suffering from a blocked artery, and was flown to the U.S. for an emergency bypass operation. The night before the operation, St. Philopateer Mercurios appeared to her and told her that he came to perform the bypass operation for her. Out of his great love for Tamav Ireni, he told her that it was his desire that he also cure her weak heart that was made as such by the Chemotherapy she was undergoing as part of her cancer treatment. However, he said that he would leave her heart in God's hands, and declared that in as much as it was his desire to prolong her lead of his Monastery, that he would not want to deprive her of the Crown that awaited her for her most faithful endurance throughout the whole ordeal. The next day, the American physicians found Tamav Ireni's arteries to have been cured.

Heaven is Close By

Regardless of the tremendous suffering that she endured, Tamav Ireni continued to praise and glorify God. Though deprived, according to her own will, of healing for her own cancerous condition, God granted healing through her prayers to many others who suffered and desperately sought her prayers, just as He did through the Apostle Paul who healed many afflicted in his days of suffering also. Tamav Irene was a simple person who wholeheartedly loved God. Aflame with the love of her Saviour, He bestowed on her the gifts of the Holy Spirit that helped her, an inexperienced woman on her own from the world’s perspective, to achieve miracles. Not only  miracle ssuch as healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, foretelling future events, or moving from one place to another in the manner of Sowaah and others (all of which she reportedly did) but also to more interior actions - the great miracles of leading people to the salvation of their souls.

The promise of the Bible says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also and greater works than these he will do…. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father will be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

Tamav Irene lived a life full of spiritual depth. She lived a life that is unparalleled in our modern times. This great saint departed to her heavenly abode on October 31st, 2006 after forty-four years of service as the mother superior of the convent of St. Philopater Mercurius in “Old Cairo”, Cairo, Egypt. 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".  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".

Tamav Irene Yassa was not any other nun or Mother Superior. Many rightly believe she was chosen by heaven as an ambassador on earth. She was—and still is—a strong voice crying in the wilderness asking people to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight.

 

 

 


References:

http://www.tamavireneforall.com/

On the Departure of the Blessed Umina Irini, Mother of Saint Mercurius Convent in Old Cairo by carolb (http://www.coptichymns.net/module-library-viewpub-tid-8-pid-26.html)

Mother Irini – Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Irini)

 

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أعلّمك وأرشدك الطريق التي تسلكها. انصحك.عيني عليك
مز 32: 8


I will instruct you and teach you in the way
you should go; I will guide you with My eye.
Ps. 32: 8



يا إله الفضائل أملنا اليك وأرنا وجهك فنخلص!ـ
القديس أغسطينوس



“Turn us again, O Lord God of Hosts, cause
thy face to shine; and we shall be saved"
(St. Augustine)


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