Tamav Erene, A Modern Desert Mother

“Tamav (a Coptic word for “my mother”) Erene, 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 organised life inside the convent according to the Pachomian Koinonia, the rules set by St Pachomius (292-348 AD), one of founders of the communal life of monks and nuns, a neglected copy of which she found in the convent library.
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In addition to organising the spiritual life of her daughters, she also expanded the convent, one of the most significant additions being the church dedicated to St Mercurius, known among Egyptian Christians as Abi Seifein (the one with two swords); before its opening the nuns attended mass and communion in an adjacent church, also dedicated to St Mercurius. Tamav Erene subsequently founded a second church inside the convent in honour of St Mary, on the site where the Virgin is said to have sat with her Son during the Flight to Egypt.
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Mother Erene popularised St Philopater among Copts.
In this sense she is often compared with Pope Kyrillos VI whose name became associated with the Egyptian martyr, St Mena. On Abi Seifein’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.
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In her weekly meetings, which took place on Fridays until just a few years before her death, Tamav Erene 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.
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Like St Syncletica (d. 400 AD) Mother Erene 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 Erene’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 labour and struggle.
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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 Erene’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.

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”.

At Mother Erene’s funeral Bishop Rafael 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.
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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.”
Tamav Erene born, as Erene Yassa, in Alexandria in 1936; died in Cairo on 31 October 2006.

see also

For a video of a talk by Tamav Irini (with Engklish subtitles) see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_CkId7qMqE


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