Abba Rewase is a wondrous personality in that he is a living icon in whom the mustard seed hid, and the leaven fermented that leaven which, inspite of its small size, leavens the three measures in which it was hid.
And the Lord God, Who leaves not Himself without a witness, leaves not His Church without a witness too. For this very reason He watched over His Church, and sent to Her, in every generation, a grain of mustard seed, He, also, continued to hide within Her the leaven which enlivens and Keeps Her fertility. His tender providence was declared, towards the end of the fourteenth century, in the person of Abba Rewase and some of his contemporaries such as Pope Mattheos the Great, and the spiritual Father Marcus'l Antoni.
Among the saints who adornes the fourteenth century - as we said - is St. Freig, also known as Abba Rewase. The wonder is that he is the personification of St. Paul's "As unknown, and yet well known... as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. An outstanding example of his making many rich is that when the fierce persecutions proclaimed by the Mameluke Sultan Qalawoon flared up, even Freig's father denied his Lord. But he and many others were reclaimed by the prayers and the strivings of this saint. The ardour of his love for the Saviour and the Church caused him to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, by journeying from place to place, preaching repentance, and enthusing the hearts unto steadfastness. The wonder is that he was not a priest, nor a deacon, nor even a reader, for he was illiterate. He was so poor that he had to work for aliving from his boyhood. And he resembled St. John the Baptist in that the only covering of his body was a girdle about his loins, he was bare-headed, and bare-footed. Yet he lived in contentment and serenity for he practised St. Paul's words: "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen... which are eternal . And because he was convinced of the Lord's saying, "You are not of this world" he endeavoured to win as many as possible from this world unto his Lord. In his striving towards this high ideal, he feared no temporal power, he retreated not before any sarcasm, he followed in the footsteps of the Apostles and the Lord of the Apostles, leaning on the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and longing that this grace might fill the hearts of all those came in contact with him.
Life Story of St. Freig, Known as Abba Rewase
His Lifestory :
The writer of the manuscript containing the biography of Abba Rewase advises us saying: "Heat, 0 ye people assembled today (21 Paopi)(3) in this holy church to commemorate a spiritual feast befitting this great and honoured Father, select among the saints... denuded of all vice, and clothed with all virtue... attend to this blessed biography... for good and pleasant is his memory..." . "O Proclaimer of the Truth; Declarer of the Faith; You have trampled on the works of nations and proved their vanity; you haved vanquished their pride by gloring in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ". "Strengthen me, 0 my honoured Father, that I may show your wonders unto the edification of the hearers and the the reader in the Peace of the Lord, Amen" .
1- His upbringing :
He was born in a village called Miniet Yameen in the Delta. His father, Isaac and his mother, Sarah, called him Freig. They were poor peasants, but brought up their son in the fear of the Lord. And because of their poverty, Freig had to work from his boyhood to help his father earn a living. Nonetheless, he had a camel whom he called Rewase (or small head), because when the camel found him oversleeping, he would squat near his feet and pass his head smoothly and gently over them to wake him up. Also, this camel was so obedient that Freig would often cite him as an example.
2 - Persecutions
Freig lived this simple frugal life for twenty years. As he grew, his heart blazed with love for his Lord, his Church, and his people. Such was his ardor that he learned by memory whatever he heard of the Holy Bible, the Divine Liturgy, and the sayings of the Fathers. Suddently the persecutions flared up with fierceness and brutality. Freig, frightened lest some Copts weaken and deny their Lord, left his village and went to Cairo, intending to enthuse the hearts.
3 - His Vision, and his Going to Upper Egypt :
Feeling tired, he slept under a tree by the roadside. In his sleep, he saw a brilliant vision: two radiant men appeared before him and said You are weary and hungry, come, partake of the heavenly food'. They led him to the Sanctuary where he took communion then took him back to where he was.
Waking'up refreshed and joyous, he went to Cairo, and from there to Upper Egypt. On this journey he took to himself the name of his camel out of sheer humility. Like unto his Lord, he had nowhere to lay his head(6). As he journeyed he preached words of comfort and strength. At the same time he worked for aliving. Nonetheless he spent his nights watching and praying. And because he prayed with fervor, humility, and tears, many joined him and were thus consoled.
His disdain of the world and its glitter was such that he slept on the earth, with the sky for a cover. And once, he warned a disciple of his," "Mind the scorpion under your foot" The disciple discovered that it was a gold dinar(l).
He started training himself in abstinence, and succeeded in remaining twenty six days without eating. On his visits to families in their homes, he would pray for them, bless each member, fill them with the Peace of his Lord, and heal their sick.
4 - His Persistence in Taking Communion
In his deep love for the King the Christ, he persisted in partaking of Holy communion, though he was fuly convinced of Its Awesome Divineness. He both advised and warned his disciples to prepare their spirits incessantly that they deserve this wonderous Myster. And they all noted that whenever he was about to take communion he would go backwards a little, then go forward. On asking him why, he replied:"Because I see the Guardian Angel overshadowing the Divine Eucharist". He also was given to see the Glory of God filling the Sanctuary, and His Light over the head of each communicant.
5 - Divine Revelations :
Content with a leathern girdle about his loins, with bare head, body and legs, he was assaulted by many ruffians. Once they stoned him, but he opened not his mouth depsite his sufferings. When they left him, some of his disciples carried him to a near by wood- store, where they revived him and dressed his wounds. As he sat talking with them, they suddenly saw a fire in the corner opposite to them.
Naturally they were frightened. He said unto them, Fear not, this is no fire, but the Light of the Christ, appearing unto us to prove to us His promise that He will stengthen us upon the bed of languishing(lj'.
This divine appearance was by no means a solitary incidence; for the Christ appeared to him five other times; and once He held converse with him. For these numerous revelations, Abba Rewase is entitled, "Theophanires" i.e. he who beholds God's Revelatoins.
6 - Training himself to be silent :
Among his practises was his endeavour to control his tongue; he so succeeded that he could remain for months on end without uttering a word. Knowing this, some wicked men went to him during a period of silence, and tried to rouse him to speak. At their failure they threw at him a live coal. Despite the burn he maintained his silent equanimty. On another occasion they beat him with sticks, and failed again.
Thus Abba Rewase agreed to pay the price; he had sat with himself and counted the cost of building the tower of his silence; he found that whatever the cost, the gain was greater by far. A disciple once asked, 0 man of God, will you not have mercy on yourself and answer your questioners, if but with one word?. He answered.' Stop your shameful talk. Does it not befit the Christian to rejoice in suffering?
His silence was such that once a prince called Sodan summoned him to hear a word from him. Abba Rewase kept his lips tight, Infuriated, the prince ordered that they bind him to the back of a donkey and parade him through the streets; the one word passers by were told to beat him, to throw mud at him, to prick him with awls, to mistreat him in whatever way they liked . When the paraders guards grew tired, they unbound him more dead than alive and threw him on the pavement. Two of his disciples carried him to a safe palce. The Lord, the Christ, had mercy on him and healed him.
7- His Compassion on Youth
Though the saint's heart over flowed with love towards everyone, he had a special corner in it for youth. Two examples will show us this compassion.
One disciple named Mikhail used to stay with him from morning till afternoon. Returning home, he would brush aside all that he had heard from Abba Rewase and live according to the world. One day he fell sick and lost consciousness. In his coma he found himself surrounded by angels of darkness with hooks in their hands, trying to catch him. In his panic he cried ouf Help me, 0 man of God'. Immediately Abba Rewase appeared in their midst and ordered them to disappear. Turning to Mikhail, he said, "The Heavenly Father had mercy on you, He will heal you and thus give you a chance to repent'. With these words he vanished. Two days later Mikhail had become whole; he went to the saint, thanked him, and declared his repentance openly.
The chief scribe of Sultan Qalawoon had a handsome on whom he was training as a scribe. The Sultan liked the handsome youth so he took him aside and persuaded him to forsake his religion by promising to make him a prince, give him a princess as a wife, and let him live in his palace. The enticement was overpowering and the youth succumbed. But his conscience troubled him. Two years later he found a chance to leave the palace. So he went directhy to Abba Rewase and confessed what had happened, adding, The devil has overthrown me, 0 man of God'. The saint said in tenderness" Fear not, he overthrew you in the first round; and you shall overthrow him in the second'. The youth asked' How! The quiet reply was' Leave the palace and go live in the monastery of St. Antoni ' And when the Sultan hears, and harasses the monks because of me?' Fret not yourself because of that, for I shall pray for you incessantly imploring our Loving Saviour to make the Sultan forget you". The youth accepted in all confidence, and the man of God so kept his promise that the Sultan did not ask about him at all until he died. The youth went to Abba Rewase, thanked him, and returned to the monastery until the end of his life. He thus vanquished the devil in the second round.
8 - Lifting tip the Cross with Daring :
Abba Rewase spent the last nine years of his life lying on the bare earth because of his extreme weakness. Despite this fact, some judges desired to examine him. They went to him and asked" What is your faith?" Imediately he stood up in strength, as though his weakness had vanished, and said with great emphasize Behold the Cross in tattooed on my wrist. I glory in the Cross of my Lord Jesus the Christ". Then he signed each member of his body with the Cross. The questioners trembled at these words and signed from head to foot. They left him and walked out.
In spite of his weakness and ailments people continued to flock round him, seeking his intercession and councel. All those who sought him found solace and comfort. He continued to strenghten hearts with words of grace and to guied souls towards spiritual living and soaring above that which in material.
9 - His Blessed Departure
When Abba Rewase foresaw that his end was nearing he called his disciples and, advising them' to love one another,blessed them one by one.
He then asked for a basin of water and a towel and washed his body member by member. He then said to them, Behold I have washed all of my body, that none need do it after my repose".
And becaue of the great honour he felt towards the Blessed Virgin, he implored Her, saying, Please, allow me to depart from this world on a day of Your commemoration". She graciously granted him his request, for he died on the 21 st of Paopi at 11 a.m. . And we all know that the twenty- first of each Coptic month is dedicated to the ommemoration of the Blessed Virgin. At the hour of his departure none was beside him. But a firm believer living nearby attested that he saw a woman whose radiance outshone the sun come down from heaven, receive his pure spirit, and carry it up to heaven.
And, because believers enjoy listening to his sweet savoured biography on the day of his repose, the scribe concluded it as follows:
.. We all ask our Lord our God and our Saviour, by the intercession of His Mother, the Pure Saint Virgin Mary, Who received the spirit of the blessed Saint on this date, to bless all those assembled on this holy commemoration. And whoever gives an offering or alms, whoever feeds the hungry or clothed the naked, whoever gives shelter to a stranger or visits a prisoner, the Lord God will accept and shelter him in His Everlasting Realm".
Also, whoever is mindful of the commemoration of this blessed Father on earth, the Lord God will be mindful of him as He promised. He will recompense him in the Kingdom of Heaven, and will cause him to hear that joyous voice" Come, ye bleessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world". Unto our Lord be glory now and unto eternity, Amen".
Miracles Performed by God
Through his Saint
The Saint, being burnished mirrors, reflect God's Grace with clarity, hence His Miracles through them.
The Heavenly Father showered on his saint some rare gifts, among which was the ability to leave his body for a time, then return to it. Here is a most touching example of this mystical ability:
AMameluke prince called Mintash was sent by the Sultan to Syria on a government mission. His treasurer was a Copt whom he took with him together with his guards. They remained in Syria much longer than expected. The wife of the treasurer, in her anxiety, went to Abba Rewase, and expressed to him her worry. She suddenly found him in a deep swoon. A few hours later he returned to himself, and said , No need for worry; your husband was in danger but is quite safe now. He will arrive tomorrow morning". The woman took the saint at hiswordand returned home serene.
Next morning the treasurer walked in; his wife asked why he was late, and he told her that the work desired required more days than they had expected. She then asked,' What was the danger you passed through@ Astonished, he said" How did you know@ At her reply, he told her that when they were nearing Cairo Prince Mintash had galloped off, leaving him with the guards. They wanted to take the safe from him, threatening to kill him. Then, he added" As I was trying convince them to leave me and leave the Prince's money, I suddenly found an almost naked, bareheaded barefooted man, with some others, cut their way through the guards;they surrounded me and escorted me to the outpost nearest to Cairo. Then they vanished as suddenly as they had appeared, so that I had no time to thank them nor even to know who they were". She said happil@, - I know their leader; come, let us thank him together. Both went to Abba Rewase, whom the husband immediately recognised. And the man of God told him that he would be appointed in the palace of Sultan Barquq for six years which later happened as the Saint had foretold. 1 2- A Coptic policeman was on duty one day; towards evening he made a careful round of the suburb -under his care. As he passed the church (now known by the name of the saint,) he'found him sitting on the bare earth with his back resting against its western wall. Supposing him to be a beggar, the policemen gave him alms. Abba Rewase accepted them thankfully, and said,. Wait, it is written in the Book: he that hath pity on the poor lendeth unto the Lord Therefore give me your handkerchief that I may give you your reward. The policeman obeyed, and was astonished to see the man of God take a handful of soil, tie it up in handkerchief, then say,' Put this in your pocket, and do not untie it till you reach home". In his amazement, the policeman obeyed. When he entered his house he related what had happened to his wife and children. Then, getting out the handkerchief, he found it full of newly minted silver coins. 3- A deacon,by the name of Iss-hAq Ibn'l Adeeb, lived near Dier'l Khandaq. One day, Abba Rewase said to him - , - When you are ordained Priest for the Deir, take me to sleep with you ". The deacon was astonished because he did not understand the meaning of what was said. But he took Abba Rewase to with him in his house. The Saint found a - 12 - store-room where he lived for three days. The deacon was so busy with diverse duties that he totally forgot his guest. After the three days, he suddenly remembered him, and found him lying motionless on the floor. His heart was filled with sadness, as he took him for dead. He called his relatives and friends, saying',' Come, let us bury this poor christiari'. At these words Abba Rewase came to himself, and reproached the deacon for having neglected him. Some days later, the priest of Deirl Khanac died, and Iss-Ifaq was consecrated instead. He continued to serve for thirty three years, at the end of which Abba Rewase died. Fr. Iss'hAq chanted the funeral Rites over him. Strangely enough this was his last Service, for he became so sick that he had to lie in bed. Abba Rewase appeared to him in a dream, and said;" Prepare yourself to leave the world. Give all that is in your custody to those responsible in the Church". He- did as he was told. Six days later, he rested in the Lord. 4- A disciple of Abba Rewase fell sick. In his extreme suffering, he asked for the Saint's help. He appeatred to him in a vision, streched him out on the floor, with his face towards the east, then said to him " My son the inexorable hour has come ". The sick man came to himself at these words. He called his family to bid them adieu. While thus engaged, a fit of epilepsy overtook him; then suddenly he roused himself and told all those round him that the only person who could cure him was Abba Rewase. They were at a loss for they knew not where the saint was. To their jyous amazement, they found him in their midst. He took a glassfull of water, blessed it, then asked his sick disciple to drink of it; after he made over all his members the sign of the Cross- adding: "Get up, now,and let not your heart weaken. Say not that I raised you, for the Christ our Lord raised you and granted you life anew. You shall live to a ripe old age. Also you shall write down all that happened to me of woes and affictions The disciple did get well; he lived many years till his hair grew grey. He also, attended the funeral of Abba Rewase, then wrote his biography. 5- There was a scribe in the Sultan's palace called Ibn Wagh'I Mohr who fell and broke his leg. His friends carried him to Abba Rewase who said, " Am I a doctor? Ask him why he is careless towards the needy though he is rich ". The man's heart trembled. He said; " 0 man of God, from now onwards, by God's grace I shall be mindful of them ". The saint rejoiced at his immediate response, and said; " My God grant you your request ". Immediately the broken leg was healed. With heart at ease, Ibn Waghrs Mohr doubled his acts of charity, seeking in person the houses of the orphans and the widows, and the hidden families. And God, who forgets not a cup of -cold water given in His Name,(') blessed him greatly. At one time, the Sultan tried to seduce ibn Wagh'I Mohr to apostasy, promising to make him a vizier. He took refuge in Abba Rewase who told him; " Fear not nor hesitate for the Sultan will die soon ". And the Sultan died that same year. Consequently, Ibn Wagh'i Mahr, resorted to the saint whenever he was in danger. He did not find solace only, but the man of God sent him a message with one of his disciples saying; " Fear not for you shall not die in the sea, but at home. And, behold God has added twelve years to the span of your life. Therefore, continue in your works of mercy ". Ibn Wagh'I Mohr rejoiced at these words. For eleven years he continued in his work of charity. In the twelfth year, he sold all his belongings, and distributed them among the needy, and the convents and monastries of nuns and monks. He was then translated to the next world in an amazing manner. He had been imploring God to make him die in the presence of the Pope Abba Mattheos the Great. By God's providence, he was visiting him one day, when he suddely commended his spirit onto the Hands of the Father. When the revered Pope buried him, he wrote on his tomb, " You asked and were given; you sought and found; you knocked and it was opened unto you(') ". 6- There lived at Harit er-Room a vendor of sirops called Daood. One day Abba Rewase went into his house and threw all the sugar he found in the adjoining well. Daood's wife asked, "What answer shall I give to my husband when he asks about the sugar? ".He said,"Do younot know that you and your husband will be beaten because of it? " - and went away. The woman felt bewildered. But within an hour, her husband came surrounded by a band of soldiers asking for the sugar. They had witnessed falsely before the Sultan that Daood had stolen the palace sugar to make his sirops. They openly declared that should they find any sugar in his house, they would beat him and his wife with their sticks, and confiscate his monev. Finding no sugar whatsoever, they walked out. Daood, in his fright and amazement, kept silent. Then his wife related to him what had happened. Abba Rewase sensed that Daood was sad for the loss of his sugar. He went to him and said; " Had your faith been firm. , you would have drawn out the water of the well and cooked it into sirop ". He then filled all the utensils to the amount of the thrown sugar, and askded Daood to cook it. When he did, he was delighted to find it turned into sirop. The man of God went away while Daood and his wife offered their praise unto the Heavenly Father. 7- One day at noon Abba Rewase went towards a bakery, straight to its adjoning well and began to heap dust into it. When the workers at the bakery saw him they began beating and kicking him. He opened not his mouth. Then some Christians rescued him. No sooner was he rescued than he hit the well with a stone and broke it. A huge serpent immediately came out of it and slithered away without harming anyone. The workers begged the saint's pardon, declaring their ignorance of his aim. He accepted their apology in silence and in meekness. 8- At one time Prince Yalbogha persecuted the Pope Abba Mattheos the Great and threw him into prison. Abba Rewase was in retreat at the time. One of the Pope's disciples reproached him, saying, " What are you doing, " 0 man of God? Will you not pray for the Pope in his affliction? The Saint stood up immediately, lifted up his eyes and his arms towards heaven and said, " Our Blessed Lady the Virgin will save him." At these words a deeep sleep overtook the Pope's disciple; he saw in a vision a beautiful white Dove come out of a Cross in the clouds. and spread Her wings over the Pope's head; at the same time, he heard Abba Rewase saying; " 0 Mattheos, fear not, for the Beautiful Dove Whom you love has come today to rescue you." 9- Moreover, the Heavenly Father granted Abba Rewase the ability to foretell the future. Like all his other talents, he used it in the service of his people. He forewarned his people of a famine, and of consequenly high prices people, knowing by experience of his sincerity, obeyed him. They stored up as much grain and other necessities as possible. This foretelling of great service indeed, specially to the poor, for during the famine prices were ten times higher than they normally were. People asked him, " When will this famine end? " He answered, " I implore my God to take me from this world before its end." And the Heavenly Father accorded him his desire, for He took him to Paradise while it still raged. Stealing the body of the St. and Rerurning it: On the eighth day of the Saint's burial some men stole his body. So he appeared unto his disciples and disclosed to them what had happened. They immediately got up and retrieved it. Another group of men again stole the body and put it in a boat on the nile intending to place it in Deir shahran (present-day Maadi). Hardly had they started to sail than a tempestuous wind started. In their fright, they took the body back to the Saint's Church. 10 - Iris Habih El Masri was to go, and give a lecture on this Blessed Saint in Alexandria a few years ago. At the time, she had a tiny second hand car. It needed some repairs. So, she took it to a mechanic, and asked him to have it ready within three days she was to spend in Alexandria. On the evening during which, she was speaking about Abba Rewase, the mechanic drove her car to an out-of way spot to try it. He took no assistant with him. When he reached the desired spot, he parked the car colsed it, and went away. No sooner had, he left it, than two men came along, and suceeded in opening it. They were unaware that, facing the spot on the side of road, two secret policemen were on duty when the two men got into the car, thinking that they would get away with it, the two secret policemen caught them red-handed. Both of them together with the mechanic were taken to the nearest police station, where it was discovered that they were car-thieves.