Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

Is Persecution of Christians Gaining a Stronghold?

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Three or four days have past since I first saw the newspaper picture of a Coptic monk lying on a dirty sidewalk facedown and painfully handcuffed with his hands behind his back. The picture is one still vivid in my thoughts. Just as incomprehensible the first day I saw the picture—as it is to this day. How can a quiet peaceful sit down protest lead to being beaten and handcuffed?

No one could have predicted such violence and harm would be targeted at a group that does not take up arms, does not have military affiliations and is of no political party. What has happened to the judgment and insight of man when legal court documents cannot be honored and the order of the land to be the end product of something protested FOR not against.

I have many thoughts related to the Coptic monks at the protest and in particular the one in the newspaper picture whose illustration I am still acutely aware of.

First, he did not have $100 dollars in his pocket, he stole from no one, he had no weapon upon him, and he was not leading a mob to break storefront windows. So what action could have possibly called for someone's face to be in the dirt and arms handcuffed behind his back? No one police officer was spat upon, called a derogatory name or cursed, and no one called for retaliation upon the forceful offenders.

So what could have led to such inhumane actions against a group of Coptic monks whose sole objective was not to have restoration equipment for renovation and repair of a monastery until the legality of the monastery and its rightful owners be thrice established in a court room not inclined to delve into the problem? One would reason that the justice system seek out justice—a deed of ownership and it be verified, acknowledged, and put into place prior to work on an establishment in particular an antiquity.

My thoughts continue...perhaps politics, perhaps bullying—preying upon the weaker, perhaps misplaced judgment of the policemen could have led to the persecution of the Coptic monks? What is the down to earth mentality operating here?

During the New Testament era, many biblical scholars believed that disturbing the peace led to punishment of Christians by the Romans. Have things become worse? The monks did not minutely disturb the peace with their protest, now in days of historical learning, how can peaceful protest lead to persecution?

The Holy Gospel according to St. Mark is widely held written after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem somewhere about 70 CE. Following this many lands/countries/empires were divided and provinces left to be ruled by governors. Governors often jailed and persecuted Christians upholding no particular laws, and no particular ordinances. Is our world resorting to ancient times of cruel and inhumane treatment?

Certainly this will prove to be encouragement to Christians, as times of hardship are. Coptic Christians who have flourished in other lands outside their own have been with certainty called to uphold their faith and be ever mindful of these monks in their daily prayers and in particular their fasting.

"But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now" (Galatians 4:29).

My second thought related to the event of the monks in El Sultan Monastery corresponds to that of the Holy New Testament persecutions.

"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God" (Matthew 5:7).

Being a peacemaker is one of the highest forms of grace. Living peacefully with all men and seeking out peaceful resolutions is incorporated into the monastic way of life. Calmness and peaceful demonstration of one group without ulterior motive, without gain, and without malice is to honor God in the truest and highest sense. Persecution is a gateway to upheaval.

Persecution of Christians in the Holy New Testament writings is often related to the Sanhedrin and its persecution of Christians. In the 4th century St. John Chrysostom taught that the Pharisees were primarily responsible for the murder of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. John Chrysostom taught that the Pharisees incited the Romans related to the condemnation of our Lord Jesus Christ and of Christians in general.

St. Peter and St. John were arrested by Sadducees and questioned by the Sanhedrin. St. Stephen was arrested and questioned by the Sanhedrin. Gentiles in Thessalonica imprisoned St. Paul and St. Silas. While the legal process at the time was to protect the innocent, gather evidence, allow each to speak their innocence, the Sanhedrin proved the ultimate judgment could be with or without justice served. Floggings, imprisonments, stoning would occur over religious differences rather than support of the legal system or the innocent.

Further, many biblical scholars hold true that there were more than one cleansing of the Temple. It is widely held by biblical scholars that Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine concurred in the early days of our Lord Jesus Christ's ministry more than one cleansing of the Temple took place. Perhaps this expedited the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps this monk's action will expedite the settling of the court's decision and rectification of the monastery to its rightful heirs.

My third thought is that persecution is a God given instrument for Coptic Christianity—in example and encouragement. It is also for a mandate that a disputed thing must become undisputed. It is a time for right action and validated court documents to be honored as they must and they should be. Coptic Christians do not proclaim war on anyone, they do not persecute anyone and they do not negate their rightful heritage. The Coptic Christians, the monks in particular, are simply requesting the law and legal sanctions of the land to be upheld.

My final thought surrounds the fact that astoundingly nothing was accomplished. There was no end to the means. No conference time set aside, no court appointed time to resolve the dispute and no committee set up to study the matter further. Is just beat it away or show physical force the answer? I pray not. I pray that this will ultimately bring about a peaceful resolution by historical documentation.

Simply and sadly put, what has a man accomplished that brings harm to a monk? Certainly, this does not put an end to Coptic monasticism or to the undisputed claim to one of its held dear sites. Did other monks come to the aid of the Coptic monks requesting peace at the moment of force?

Persecutions of monks can only bring about a united steadfast belief in our endearing Coptic Church. Copts from all parts of the earth have been strengthened in one accord in its faith and conviction for our Church by these merciless acts upon our monks. Our fear lies ONLY in the judgment of God not man.

"And I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4).

I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ enlightens everyone's heart on the true meaning of peace and brotherly love. May He bring a resolution to this longstanding issue without any further physical harm to any human being.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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