The picture at the top of this site shows a small chapel in the Coptic retreat center called Anaphora. Located about 75 km (47.85 miles) north of Cairo, Egypt, Anaphora opened in 1999 and also serves as a farm. Its founder, Bishop Thomas, is the bishop of the Qusaya area in the south of Egypt.
Everything in and on Anaphora’s one hundred and twenty acres has purpose and meaning and is based on a vision of wholeness. An aerial view of the place would reveal that the chapel represents the dot to the question mark that is created by the design of the guestrooms. The idea is that answers can be found in the dot; in the chapel where guests can pray and meditate when facing difficult questions in their lives. The chapel is surrounded by water to help restless souls find tranquility.
The chapel is one of many structures and activities that signify the meanings of the Greek/Coptic word Anaphora; lifting up; carrying back, offering. The word is used to indicate the most solemn part of the liturgies prayed in churches across the globe. In the Coptic Church the believers pray the Anaphora after reading the Gospel by stating “our hearts are in God’s hand.” So in the chapel, visitors give thanks, ask for help and guidance, and aspire to be uplifted beyond their natural boundaries and limitations.
Nowadays, thousands of visitors from across the globe visit Anaphora. They come for spiritual retreats, conferences, seminars, or to spend time working on the farm or in one of the craft shops. Guests and staff eat whatever the farmlands yield. They help turn bountiful harvests into marmalades, freshly ground flours, dried herbs, fragrant soaps, and other products available in the store. They can learn to weave, make candles, or paint icons and leave their creations behind in the shop to help sustain the center.
Bishop Thomas’ vision is to create new communities of individuals who come together to lift up their minds and hearts to God and to one another. Observing the obstacles young people faced within his diocese, the Bishop decided to create a place where they could come and meet with others from inside and outside Egypt. From the beginning, the goal was to invite foreign visitors to show that it would be a place where all, irrespective of their background, beliefs, or faith, could feel loved and respected. At the same time, they learn to love the earth and all that lives. Environmental awareness and respect for all creation is one of the core teachings of Anaphora.
The original idea grew when the Bishop watched how young people in his diocese felt inhibited by local traditions and cultures. By organizing meetings, discussions, and activities in Anaphora, far away from the watchful eyes of their demanding families, teenagers and young adults, especially women could gain self-respect, learn skills, and feel empowered to speak their minds. The presence of foreign and non-Coptic visitors would help them learn a different kind of discourse; not inhibited by social expectations or steeped in hierarchical thinking as is often the case in Egypt.
Another aim to open Anaphora was to instill a sense of pride in young Copts about their identity, unique and deeply rooted in the Egyptian soil. Conveying the awareness about all that is Coptic is not limited to studying Coptic history, languages, music and practices. It also means taking the decision that the center does not rely on large foundations or large donors. Visitors can donate as much or as little as they wish, while especially Copts are being invited to contribute with gifts of money or in kind. The ultimate goal is to create a community of individuals and groups who feel invested in Anaphora.
But most of all, Anaphora is a retreat center where strengthening one’s spiritual life by participating in worship, Bible study, prayers remain key activities. Every brick and object of the large church that stands in the center reminds of this goal. The multi-colored carpet refers to the diversity among people across the globe and reminds of the command that we should accept each other, regardless of ethnicity, nation, or faith. Communion is handed out around the tree of life that stands in front of the altar. The eye over the altar reminds of the loving eye of God. Surrounded by three sets of seven openings, it tells the story of the Apocalypse: seven messages, seven seals, and seven trumpets. It is the story of expectation when the earth will be well again.
Guests are invited to meditate about their place in the midst of the colorful tapestry of life; their relation with the Divine and with the other. They can do that in a large group or alone in the chapel. The answer might be in the dot.