Between joy and sadness: Hail New Martyrs!

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed′nego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnez′zar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.[a] 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.

Daniel 3:16-18

That verse is what these youth did. This one’s unedited, from the heart and raw:

It seems like it was just yesterday that we sent up our goodbyes to the Martyrs of St. Peter’s, and here we are again: another attack. I suppose what’s different this time is the attack happened during the services. I don’t know what it is about this one, but this one hit me hard. This time the tears came down in a way that was so much harder to control. The tears were a mixture of sorrow, envy and joy.

The sorrow is obvious. Faithful people went to pray. That’s it. That cost them their lives. These were cousins, sons, daughters, best friends, fellow Christians. Their crime was faithfulness. In a moment they were taken. Just yesterday was Lazarus Saturday, and we read that our Lord groaned within Himself and wept. That’s what we’re feeling. That hard pain of loss, that thing in us that we cannot articulate but that gnaws at us. It just runs really deeply for me this time, more than at other times. There’s a sorrow over the images: palms covered with blood, mothers grabbing the caskets of their sons, blood spattered all over the place. Martyrdom is so much cleaner in the Synaxarium, they’re just murdered and it’s done – very factually. It’s not so clean in real life. A very dear friend of mine was on the phone with his brother in Tanta and heard the whole thing happen on the phone. How traumatising!

This time, though, I’m truly envious. Perhaps this is wrong, presumptuous even, but I’m writing at the state that I’m in and not necessarily to be held as a good example. I’m envious of their crown. I envious of their witness, their martyria. I’m envious of those who get to hold the hands of the faithful there and join together in unity to pray. I’m jealous that I don’t get to walk boldly into the Church on the same day that people were murdered there to pray Paschal services, knowing that my life is at risk. I’m envious that I don’t get to physically be there in communion with all of them. I’m envious that I didn’t get to go with them. I really mean that. Ya bakhtokom. I don’t know how to translate that expression.

The joy…the joy is a strange one. Yes, joy at the new intercessors, joy at their crowns, but also a joy at the era of which I think we are lucky to be a part. This new wave of martyrdom is creating 21st Century saints. How many of us read stories of St. Abanoup, St. Menas, St. George, St. Philopater, St. Demiana, St. Marina and all the other martyrs? We were raised on their stories, and they moved many of us. We would think of the old days when people actually died for their faith. We do not need to look back 1600 years to see these martyrs. Our generation is giving an offering to the Lord, our generation is producing saints, our generation still believes in some level in holiness. This is worthy to rejoice over. I wish we would have their icons all over our walls. I wish that every church hall would have a picture of them in their entrance because I’m so proud of them and to be affiliated with them. I want when someone enters the Church to point at them and ask, “Who is that?” so that we can answer, “That is [so and so], and here is the story of his witness.” I want with joy to tell people that I belong to his family, that person is mine and I’m his. That person is now one of my intercessors. That brings me joy.

As terrible as it sounds, I’m also joyous that they tried to kill my Pope. Pope Peter Seal of the Martyrs means a lot to me, and it’s no small thing that they wanted to kill our Lord Archbishop the way that that has happened so many times in history. Many of our Patriarchs were confessors or martyrs, and many of them were protected by their sheep who of their own accord wanted the lives of their fathers protected. I’m joyous that I have a pope who loves Christ and almost got to be a martyr. If the person didn’t get forced to go through the metal detector, he would’ve sent our Patriarch up to our Lord as well. I’m joyous also that the faithful, in 21st century ways, also cared for the safety of their father. I’m joyous that I have a father who sees me as his son. Look at his face. He’s a dad suffering with his kids.

A part of me, though, is also somber.

I’m not going to speak for the Lord and make a judgment, but I will ask a question: Is it possible that this is also a chastisement for us? Is it possible that the Lord wants us to return to Him? I am not saying that the Lord sent us murderers, no. I’m asking if the Lord wants us to use these deaths to awaken from whatever spiritual decay that we have found ourselves. Today we saw the Lord cast out the moneychangers from the temple. He scourged the temple. Could this be also a scourging of our temple? Could it be that He wants to ask ourselves if we would go to socialise at Church and treat the altar with contempt if it meant that we could die? Do we have the reverence of God in our hearts when we go to Church? Are we there to buy and sell; are we there for secular reasons? Will we be found praying in Church?

“I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held…” (Rev 6:9)

I can’t get over that they were just in normal service, praying. Really, blessed are they. Everything just changed. The tunics of those chanters were covered with the red of blood, and that became their mark of glory before the Throne. It became a witness for them in spite of any wrong they may have done in their whole lives. It said, Whatever I may have done, I loved you and died in your arms. They were praying! They get to say, I literally died conversing with and praising you, my Lover! Will you receive me into your eternal bosom? What lover could reject such a deep sacrifice? What lover wouldn’t put this person’s sacrifice over his head and glorify and exalt the person in every way possible?

Finally I’m understanding the beauty of martyrdom even more. I can say honestly I never really “got it”. I never really understood its grandeur until all these killings. I now see more clearly how martyrdom made monasticism. This same envy that I feel, this same desire to be among them, the same desire to give the same witness, drove those monks out to the wilderness saying, “Lord, I want to love you like them!”

To my Lord:
My Lord, I wish to love you, I truly do. Teach me to love you where I am. Teach me to witness where I am. Teach me to die for you in every way that I can. Teach me to show that I choose you in the small things, that maybe one day I might be found worthy to be faithful with much. Teach me to love, Lord. Teach me to love you. Let my life be for you.

To the murderers:
As always, we forgive you.

To our friends who beat us there:
Hail to you! Ya bakhteekom! We offer you up salutations and the highest praises and honours! As you were with us on earth, please be with us now in spirit, support us in our struggles and intercede for us before His Throne. We’re proud of you! Help us to be like you. Indeed, blessed are you who, as you sang of His coming, found yourselves coming to Him.

Pray to the Lord on our behalf
O struggle-bearers and athletes,
The Martyrs of Palm Sunday,
That He may forgive us our sins.

4 thoughts on “Between joy and sadness: Hail New Martyrs!”

  1. Hello Abouna,
    If martyrdom is the greatest gain a spirit can receive, why do we protect our churches and try to prevent it? Why does the patriarch receive such vigilant protection? I can vaguely remember a few stories from the synaxarium in which individuals actively pursue martyrdom. I believe that during the invasion of the monastery of Shiheet by the berbers, a monk was hiding, but when he saw the angels giving out the crowns of martyrdom, he ran out, and the berbers slew him. Is there a distinction between precaution/security and cowardice in the face of martyrdom?

    1. +Christ is risen!

      Hey Steven!

      Sorry for taking so long to reply. I wasn’t writing during Holy Week and then completely forgot!

      This is a great question, actually. The Church actually doesn’t endorse or encourage people to actively seek martyrdom. If you look at the canons of the Church after the great persecutions, you’ll see that the church gave different “penances” (for lack of a better word) for someone who was being forced to be a martyr and denied Christ, compared to someone who was running to be a martyr but last minute denounced the faith. There was a differentiation because choosing to be a martyr has serious consequences. Martyrdom is seen as a calling, and not promoted as something to self-select.

      So, we need to differentiate people in their piety wanting to be martyrs, versus the Church telling people, “go be martyrs”. Officially, the Church doesn’t ask people to go be martyrs, this is wrong. What we say is that we are willing to accept martyrdom, but we will not actively pursue becoming martyrs. For that reason, we have a responsibility to be as safe as we possibly can, while also accepting that in spite of our human measures, there will still be those who can and will kill us.

      Does that clarify? It’s not about fear or cowardice, it’s about a principle: we are not saying that people should pursue martyrdom, but that we accept being martyred.

      Pray for me!

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