Coptic Christians & Persecution

6 days ago, Coptic Christians in Cairo experienced an attack while protesting restrictions that have been put on building churches as well as protesting an attack on a church in southern Egypt. My daughter’s friend, Sarah, a journalist, had an eye-witness account of the event as it occurred at a large building that houses Egyptian radio and television, Maspero. Her account brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps some of you have read or seen videos from Sunday, October 9. The brutality of armored personnel carriers going at high speeds through crowds of people; the resulting deaths and crowded halls and morgue of the Coptic Hospital; the urging of restraint from political leaders. The more I read, the more it seems that one side did show restraint, while the other showed aggressive force.

From the start of the church in Egypt, Coptic Christians were aware that they could be persecuted for their faith. Alexandria, under the rule of the Roman emperor, Neru, was the home of this new faith, brought to Egypt by St. Mark, and it was not welcomed kindly. Rather, there was a bitter reaction to the point of St. Mark being brutally dragged by rope through the streets of Alexandria by Roman soldiers the Monday following Easter. He was later killed on that day in 68 AD. This was not the end of persecution. The Copts have been persecuted by many of Egypt’s political rulers, yet have clung fast to the Cross and the messages of humility and hope that come from the Cross.

In the Coptic Church, persecution is perceived as a Biblical part of living out the Christian faith. It’s not about culture wars and ideology over social issues. It’s about believing in the core of the gospel message and standing firm, though you may face imprisonment, beatings, and death.

The fact that Coptic Christians have known persecution for centuries does not exempt me or any Christian from speaking out against persecution, and the right to believe as one chooses, but it does give a perspective and raises a challenge for me. The challenge is that of sustaining a faith, and growing the church despite, and through, persecution. The words from Luke 9:23 are clear:

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me

I have much to learn from Christians in other countries. The comfortable pews and buildings that have become a part of my days of worship have lulled me into a belief that persecution is about a colleague disagreeing with my stance on a social issue. That doesn’t seem to be the true meaning of persecution, not historically, and not in the present. I don’t think I am to chase after persecution, but I do believe I am to daily learn more of what it means to live as a Christian, so that should it come, there will be no question but to cling to the Cross with no looking back.