Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

In Honor of the Martyrs and Confessors of Alexandria

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"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?As it is written: 'For Your sake we are killed all day long;We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'" (Romans 8:35-36).

It is not easy to be the member of a church that has been persecuted for 2,000 years. It is not easy to hear about one's spiritual ancestors being dipped in boiling fluids, or having their sides ripped by iron knives, or having their limbs torn apart by monstrous and deadly machines. It is not easy to hear about the ongoing stories of brethren in Egypt being taunted, mocked, insulted, threatened, discriminated against, conspired against, killed by gunfire and murdered by explosives. The recent suffering of our sister church in Egypt has filled many with wrath and anguish, yet their story is worthy to gain an entry in the Coptic Synaxarion. One might object that it is easy to live in America and praise the church in Egypt without having to endure their trials; but "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26). The Coptic churches around the world have felt sharp grief at the unhappy news of the Church of the Saints; an arm has been lashed, and the rest of the body is writhing in pain.

The persecution and martyrdom of our fellow believers in Alexandria serves as yet another testament to the unflagging courage of the Coptic people. Who can deny that they are one of the boldest and most resilient minority groups in the world? While other minorities in history were persecuted for a while then obliterated, or completely abandoned their country, or had their rights mercifully restored by the majority rule—the Copts have continued to exist under their same oppressed state for centuries, in the face of unspeakable slander and hatred spewed against them—by virtue of their faith in Christ. But though their numbers indicate only a minor presence in Egypt, their faith is major. They remain steadfast in a society virulently hostile to their very way of life; and, for some reason, the more pure and honest and blameless their lives are, the more they are threatened.

One must ask what the assailants expected to accomplish in their wicked act. Did they imagine they could with a bomb convince the Alexandrians to abandon their historic faith? Did they think they could halt the services of the victimized church for a single day? Did they ever suppose that their wretched deed—ironically severe in its cruelty while equally extreme in its cowardice—could somehow permanently injure the indestructible Coptic Church? They succeeded in sowing seeds of sorrow and anguish in the hearts of all Copts; but little did they know that, with time, those seeds quickly sprout into trees of strength and glory. The news from Alexandria does not make us shrink in fear, but causes us instead to walk forward boldly, with head high, and eyes fixed, with swift legs and sturdy gait, wishing that we too could have been numbered with those martyrs. The depth of the Coptic pride in martyrdom runs deep in our blood; and when that blood is sprayed against physical walls and curtains for all to see, it awakens slumbering forces.

The murderers in fact unwittingly did us a particular service. They reminded us of and also fulfilled the words of our Lord: "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 15:20). We had almost forgotten. We sometimes act as if our Lord wasn't serious, or that His words held true only for a time; but alas, He was uttering a prophecy that has proved only too true until today, and that has found its latest fulfillment in the death and suffering of our Alexandrian brethren. Not only that but furthermore, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). Our Lord meant not only to speak a consolation for those afflicted by persecution but also a benediction: blessed are you, because the martyrs share in the lot of the great prophets, and even of Christ Himself, the Prophet who died for us.

And while their death is still a great loss for us, and a loss for all Egypt, which has been deprived of 21 of its best citizens, St. Paul speaks of a brighter hope: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthyto be comparedwith the glory which shall be revealed in us"(Romans 8:18). No one dares speak of the event as "glorious"; it was rather in the deepest sense tragic. But as I reflect upon their martyrdom, I wish my death, which is certain to come, could one day be as worthy as theirs. Their end was marred by the bitterness of injustice, but my end will also be marred by the bitterness of a failing body. Their end involved the pain of murder, but my end will involve the pain of disease. Their end is mourned by millions of grieving sympathizers; my end will be mourned by a few. Their end was touched by violence; but my end will be touched by heartache. What then makes the difference? It is that each of their deaths is now crowned by the inestimable title of "martyr", while mine will have no such distinction. How I envy such as these! These words should not be misjudged as insensitive or unsuitable; I do sincerely wish that, when my time comes, it could somehow take on such an honorable form.

The departed Alexandrian saints have joined the souls under the heavenly altar, who are given white robes and who wait in patience for God to judge the world in righteousness and truth (Revelation 6:9-11). It is left for us here to carry on their sacred memory. It is our privilege and duty to have moments of communal silence, to pray for the families, and to beseech God's peace upon the whole church. Perhaps most difficult of all, we are commanded to pray for our murderers: "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44) and "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Romans 12:14). What greater joy could emerge from the ashes of such a calamity than to see the murderers come to Christ? What spectacle of art, or nature, or heaven itself could be more beautiful to behold than the conversion of our enemies? This type of conversion occurs, in fact, all over the world every year, just as persecution continues to wield its brutal power against the moral power of believers throughout the world. Let us pray for them always, and pray for ourselves, that if God ever put us to the ultimate test, we may be found willing and ready.

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