In honour of our 21 martyrs of Libya

I am breaking from my retreat to write with tears a tribute of honour and veneration to our newest martyrs, the 21 martyrs in Libya. These valiant men have offered themselves as a living sacrifice as a testimony before the whole world and all nations.

But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
(Lk 21:12–19)

That, my friends, is the Gospel reading typically read for the martyrs. This is the perfection in deed of what it means to be a crossbearer.

I am breaking from my retreat to write with tears a tribute of honour and veneration to our newest martyrs, the 21 martyrs in Libya. These valiant men have offered themselves as a living sacrifice as a testimony before the whole world and all nations.

Please, reflect with me a little, and think on what this means. Try and understand your life, your faith, and your church. We, who live in the West are in the same situation as these martyrs. They left their country looking for a better living, looking for jobs and opportunities that would help them be more successful and stable in this world. But in a moment, their world changed: kidnapped, possibly tortured, belittled, berated, mocked, trampled upon, and finally, beheaded. For what? For the Cross. For the sign of their Christ. The sign of their God. The sign of our Lord’s own suffering and death – but also – the sign of His Glory.

You hear the synaxarium entries in Church every Liturgy. How many times have you rolled your eyes when you heard, “…and after many and various tortures, finally they cut off their holy heads and they received the crown of martyrdom. Their prayers be with us and Glory be to God forever…” Do we not hear it all the time and then jest with one another “It’s the same story, just insert the name of whichever martyr’s feast day it is.” I am guilty of this. I have made these jokes. Today I am confronted with a new reality, when for the first time since the old era of martyrs, we have videos that show the whole world how gruesome, heinous and despicably odious it is to hate and to murder another human being. Never before have we been able to see what kind of courage and valiance it takes to kneel down while someone declares that he views you and your God as filth, all the while waiting for the edge of the sword to come upon you.

What faith! What courage! What valiance! What heroism! What tongue can find enough words to praise these men who laid down their lives before them, and who went to their creator crying out and proclaiming, “O my Lord, Jesus!” to the last breath?! I, myself, could not watch until the end; I cannot see the sight of a human being being desecrated in this way, no matter what creed. Can you understand now, for what reason the Church sings the praises and honours of the martyrs above all the saints? Can you understand now why we sing doxologies for them and praise them in our services? Do you understand why we have long venerations to honour people like this? Do you understand now the point of those random verses in tasbeha (midnight praises) where we sing of the “new martyrs” and the “49 elders of Scetis” and “the martyrs of such and such place”? Do you know why we have synaxarium entries that simply say someone was martyred? It’s because of these real events that wrench our hearts but also lift our heads with pride. This is how the Church felt each and every time these events happened! We want them to be remembered, we want the world to know that we are proud of them and that their death on our behalf, on behalf of our God and on behalf of our identity, was not in vain. We do not want them blotted out from history as though their sacrifice and precious blood was worth nothing.

One of the captions their murderers wrote says, “these insisted to remain in unbelief”. Do you understand what that means? It means that like the ancient martyrs, they were being bargained with and then threatened into denying their faith. It means that they had options and opportunities to deny their God and save their own lives, returning to their families, and possibly rewarded for joining these terrorists in their version of religion. Yet, they did not. My God, what faith! My God, what zeal! Would God grant me a portion of their belief.

My friends, did you not go West for the same thing? Are you not being murdered as well? You are. Not with the brutal edge of the sword, but with the slow-acting poison of secularism, relativism, and atheism. Everyday you are being asked to deny your Christ with what they are offering. If you refuse, you are hated, persecuted, mocked, jeered, ostracised, called weird, queer, haters, bigots, close-minded, selfish, pedophiles, ignorant – you name it. You are being baited with promises of sex, love, fulfillment and ‘freedom’ if you deny your religion. What is your response? Will you kneel and say, “Oh, my Lord Jesus” and “insist to remain in your unbelief” of their gospel, or will you join them?

People your own age and older, gave up their lives for the cross in front of the whole world. What are we doing? We struggle with sin, but as St. Paul says, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Heb. 12:4) But these men have. I am not trying to be dramatically tragic, but it is a human tragedy, and it’s one that should sound like a call to arms and battle for all Christians. Not a physical battle against people and nations – but a rally around the Cross of our Saviour and all that it stood for.

BE HOLY! If you have two coats give one to someone else! If you have excess give it to others! Struggle for purity as our God is pure! Do not get angry! Love your neighbour as yourself! Do not want something that is not yours! Don’t wish evil on anyone! Love to the point of death! Fight evil with love! That is the message of the gospel! Nothing has power over you, not people, sin or death, nothing! We are new and alive in the Risen Lord Who made us and created us and Who loves us and died and rose for us.

Do we believe this? Do we live this? We grumble about self-control in a fast and about ‘giving up stuff’. We whine about what the rest of the world is “allowed to do” that we cannot. Do you think if for His sake you are not able to deny yourself in the small things, that you will be able to deny yourself in martyrdom?

No, my friends.

To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
(Re 3:21)

We must endure, we must repent – that is, have a change of heart, a return to our senses – or we will not overcome, we will not endure, and we will not be counted with the choir of the victorious.

I pray that the families of these martyrs are consoled with heavenly consolation. Even as the saints often appeared after their deaths to comfort the faint-hearted, I hope their families receive the same grace. I pray, I really pray that the Church puts these 21 martyrs immediately in the Synaxarium, so that we can declare their holiness and sacrifice to the world, and from them gain strength, courage, and more importantly – their intercession before the throne of God. May we say now with meaning, of these 21, “…and after many and various tortures, finally they cut off their holy heads and they received the crown of martyrdom. Their prayers be with us and Glory be to God forever.

Pray to the Lord on our behalf,
O Courageous and valiant heroes,
The 21 Martyrs of Libya,
That He may forgive us our sins.

The names of our martyred sons:

1. Milad Makeen Zaky
2. Abanub Ayad Atiya
3. Maged Soliman Shehata
4. Youssef Shukry Younan
5. Kirollos Boshra Fawzy
6. Bishoy Astafanous Kamel
7. Samuel Astafanous Kamel
8. Malak Ibrahim Sinyout
9. Tawadros Youssef Tawadros
10. Gerges Milad Sinyout
11. Mina Fayez Aziz
12. Hany Abdel Mesih Salib
13. Samuel Alham Wilson
14. Ezzat Boshra Naseef
15. Luka Nagaty Anis
16. Gaber Mounir Adly
17. Essam Baddar Samir
18. Malak Farag Abrahim
19. Sameh Salah Farouk
20. Gerges Samir Megally
21. Mathew Ayairga (from Ghana)

15 thoughts on “In honour of our 21 martyrs of Libya”

  1. I hope that we not only remember their names, but the countless martyrs in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and other parts of the world. The brokenness of humanity is so sad. May God forgive those who martyred those great people and hopefully the light of those saints awaken them to see how unnatural this is. May we have the same courage and the same faith and fight for love to prevail. Thank you for the beautiful insight. May their Memory be Eternal.

    1. Amen, Matt. I hope that none of us are forgetting to pray for the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Nigerians, the Indonesians and the faithful everywhere that are dying or being persecuted for His Name. I loved what Pope Frances said, that our martyrs are not ours alone, they belong to all of Christendom.

      Pray for me.

  2. As always as all your writing you make me proud of my Christianity and now my name too I agree with you and praying for you God bless your service

  3. If there be glory laid up for them that die in the Lord; much more shall they be glorified that die for the Lord.

    Richard Baker

  4. Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    Their last words were “Ya Rab Yasou!” I watched the video, and I cried, and I repeatedly did the sign of the Cross. On that day, my mind fixed on the phrase: “My Lord, Jesus!”

    It was believed that St. Mark, the Evangelizer of Egypt, came from Jewish parents in Pentapolis, present day Libya. As St. Mark was dragged in the streets of Alexandria to be killed, he would see Christ in a vision and would repeat the words “My Lord, Jesus!”

    These terrorists have done the Christian world a favor, by showing us the last words of these 21 brave soldiers of Christ. Truly, these are the children of St. Mark! May their prayers and the prayers of St. Mark be with us all! Amen!

    One note also, and it is a difficult note. Let us pray also for our enemies. I am reminded of St. Stephen who prayed that the Lord may not lay this sin of stoning against them. Let is too pray that the Lord may forgive them, soften their hearts, and give them the enlightenment of the road to Damascus: “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Let us pray and fast for our enemies as well and hope that these brave souls may have some impact to heal their blindness and hardness of heart.

    Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of all ages! Amen!

  5. Thank you for a very consoling post. May God give us the grace to acquire even a portion of the faith of these 21 martyrs. May he fill the hearts of their families and friend with heavenly peace. We pray that God may protect his people and his church all over the world and open the eyes of those who lack understanding.

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