Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Feast of Nayruz - Its Message and Significance

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We have entered once again those few but wonderful days which inaugurate the Coptic New Year, also affectionately called the Feast of Nayruz. It is a time in which the Church dons her festal robes and sings her hymns in the joyful tune. But for most of us, Nayruz may only amount to a time we go to church, hear yet another sermon, and entertain ourselves with trite games; and we might be excused for the mistake, since the mind easily passes from the church's new year to the world's new year, which the majority of mankind wastes away with trivial and useless festivities.

The Church comes to us with a much greater gift to offer, for she has invested her New Year with a meaning and significance of immeasurable depth. And that meaning is to be found in the central theme of Nayruz: the memorial and celebration of the martyrs. A martyr is probably the most succinct expression of what a Christian's life should be: a sacrifice of the self. To "give up" one's self, to forego one's own ideas and wishes, to throw one's life recklessly into God's hand, is the daily struggle of the believer. We may say that each martyr, even without knowing the details of his or her life, stands out as an "icon" of Christianity, a stark, isolated witness to the heart of our faith.

Every year of our lives can be seen as a little journey and every New Year's Day is the beginning of that journey. And as we take our first few steps, peering out into the receding horizon, we may ask ourselves, "Where am I going? And how will I get there? And who will I follow?" If a person does not consider these questions seriously, but unthinkingly plows through life willy-nilly, he can go from the womb all the way to the grave without making a single day amount to any importance in God's Kingdom.

"If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself..." (Luke 9:23). Deny himself? Oh Lord! Such is the requisite of following You? But what a terribly difficult task! Our modern world does not encourage us to deny the self, but to pamper it. The two ways of life and death could not be more opposite. While Christ says that the denial of eyes, ears, stomach, desires, selfish gain, and the entire "self," is the only way to follow Him, the world pressures us into the complete satisfaction of every sinful wish, pleasure, and caprice of the self. We are physically born into a world that is wholly absorbed in feeding its own ego and appetites, and we are spiritually born into a faith, or rather a person, who calls us to rebel against the world's orders.

"In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). So then it is possible to achieve this formidable thing we call self-denial. Not only is it possible through Christ, but it is one of the most liberating, refreshing, and spiritually rejuvenating acts a person may accomplish. To throw off the chains that bind us—to refuse and reject the cares, opinions, expectations, and desires that hold us down—and to see the world through Christ's eyes, I say, is the only road to victory and happiness.

"...and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." The importance of carrying one's cross daily requires a thick book to fully elucidate; but at least we may say this: the day we decide to put down our cross, as a short "break" in our Christian work, is a day to be stricken out of our days on earth. In no circumstances should we ever lay down our cross; for then will we have abandoned Christ and turned to another path. The cross is given to us daily; we are called to deny this troublesome self daily; Christ promises to help us overcome the world daily.

And now returning full-circle, we see the mystical wisdom of the church in extending the celebration of Nayruz from the first day of the Coptic calendar to the Feast of the Cross. She is beckoning us to a year of self-sacrifice, to a habitual "losing" of one's old life for Christ's sake (Luke 9:24), that He may "find" it for us and return it renewed and full of His hidden blessings. For this is precisely what the martyrs, our great examples and forerunners, did, and they did it to the utmost when they offered their necks to the sword. So then we celebrate Nayruz as a feast which, above all else, reminds us to live the life of those living icons, the martyrs, and we end it with a feast which, above all else, points to the culmination of such a life—the Cross.

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