Gunmen Kill at Least 28 Coptic Christians in Egypt
The headline spares nothing, except that there were children. I numbly read the article describing the pilgrimage. The group was headed to St. Samuel Monastery for a pilgrimage when pick up trucks reportedly drove up to the busses and began firing automatic weapons. I read as little as I have to to get the story. Then I stop and I feel myself getting sick.
During our years living in Egypt, my husband used to love taking our oldest son, Joel, to monasteries. The first time he went, Joel was only three years old. He went off happily into the desert with his dad, secure and excited. The pictures taken later that day show a tow-headed pre-schooler with a bearded monk. They are absolutely comfortable with each other and the camera captures this well.
Our introduction to Orthodoxy came through the Coptic Orthodox Church. My husband went on countless trips into the Sinai desert, enjoying the hospitality and growing through the spirituality of monks who had devoted their lives to prayer in the desert. Christianity in Egypt is alive because of these havens and those that set themselves apart to pray for Egypt and the world. It was a monk who said to my husband “Cliff, you are Orthodox. You just don’t know it yet!” This was years before we entered the Orthodox Church. My husband just thought this is what the monks say to Protestants who they liked. It turns out it was more prophetic than we could have imagined.
These trips to monasteries are a respite from the chaos of the massive cities in Egypt. But they are so much more! Pilgrimages to monasteries are part of the spiritual life of the Orthodox Christian, so when I read about the group who were attacked it felt personal. It should feel personal. These are fellow Christians, members of what we call the “body of Christ”.
The commands to “love our enemies” and “do good to them that hurt you” are not ambiguous. They are clear and forceful. Along with this, we have the words said by Jesus as he died on the cross:
Father – Forgive Them.
In the most outrageous act of love the world has ever witnessed or will ever witness, we have these words. They are recorded and echo through history. They are heard in great cathedrals and small,village congregations. They are said aloud, and they are whispered in the soul.
These words – they feel too hard. How can a grieving mother say them? How can an angry father believe them?
And yet – still they echo.
After the attack on Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday, a television station interviewed the wife of a security guard who was killed during the attack. It was this man who stopped the suicide bomber and made him go through the metal detector, an act that cost him his life. His widow’s words echo the words of Christ on the cross:
‘I forgive you and I ask God to forgive you. I pray that God may open your eyes to light your minds,’
Violence lasts but a moment, forgiveness echoes forever.