“I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me.”
There is little to say about the event. It is not new, our Lord told us in every Gospel: they will kill you. He told us that He was telling us so that when it happens, we may remember He did. Our Coptic Orthodox Church in particular, is very aware of this warning. She has given up in love for our God martyrs in every decade in every century since we were founded. Thousands and thousands of martyrs from Egypt have joined the heavenly chorus, and allow the Copts to raise their heads with pride. We love our martyrs and we love that we are martyred.
Yet, one is still torn. I think this picture captures the dichotomy very well:
One woman is grieving, another is rejoicing. It captures perfectly the attitude of all of us. On one hand we are grieved by the loss of a member, we are grieved at the violence, the rage and the darkness. We are grieved that such things exist in our societies. We grieve that those among us we love were taken. Yet, we are rejoicing, and sounding out with ululations, because our own have been crowned as martyrs, and join the highest ranks of the all the saints in heaven. We rejoice that we have new intercessors, and modern ones. We rejoice because we know that sainthood is a thing of today, not just yesterday. We rejoice that we are counted as worthy to suffer for the Lord’s sake. We rejoice because those thieves who stole the lives of our Martyrs, were unaware that our Martyrs would steal heaven.
It’s strange how being murdered can become normal. In looking at these pictures, I’m reminded of a scene from Hotel Rwanda.
It’s an exchange between a journalist, Jack, and Paul, a Rwandan. Jack has just captured footage of the carnage of so many Rwandans – gruesome murder and violence. Paul assumes that in showing the images to the Western world, the West might step up to try and help bring back order to Rwanda rather than turn a blind eye to the atrocities being committed. The conversation goes like this:
Paul: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.
Jack: Yeah, and if no one intervenes.
Paul: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Jack: I think if people see this footage… …they’ll say, “Oh, my God.that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.
This is exactly what typically happens, not by the West in general, but by the East, too. On Sunday morning we heard of the blasts that took 25 of our faithful, by Sunday night, we are having dinner and laughing about random things – we haven’t been touched enough to remember.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that we should be sitting in our rooms crying and refuse to come out for any reason. I am not saying that the world should stop. I am saying that, the world goes on, and because some of us are not so personally affected, we just move on without learning things that we ought to learn. This event affects me, because I am a Copt, and because El Abbassiya is important to me. For me it is not just headquarters of our Patriarchate, but full of living memories with deep sentiment. That is why I, personally, connect. I will admit that I do not connect as much as I should to the plight of other Christians being murdered – in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Indonesia, Nigeria, Sudan and many other countries.
It is because we are self-absorbed that we do not connect.
Let’s face it, we are self-absorbed. If all of us, including myself, were to see the world and all humans as our brothers and sisters, we would not be so casual about anyone’s losses. We would not be able to sit quietly while other people suffer, we would want to do something. So what can we do?
When you heard, did you stop and pray? Did you immediately ask the Lord to console the families of the martyrs and the community? Did you pray for peace? Did you pray for their enemies who killed them? Did you pray for those who spitefully used them and persecuted them? Did you pray and ask the new martyrs to pray for us and for their families? Did you pray that those who killed them learn the truth about God? Did you pray for the Gospel to be preached as a result? Did you pray that God use the evil that was committed and turn it for good? Did you pray and ask Him what you ought to do?
We need to pray.
If you have the means, send money. If not to the families of the martyrs, to organisations that will deliver aid to them or other persecuted peoples. Send money or clothing or supplies to any victims anywhere of violence and persecution. Give your time to organising aid for those who are in similar disadvantaged situations. Give from whatever resources you possess towards building something good. Giving can be local! There are people who are locally persecuted: battered women, foster kids from abusive homes, refugees or wrongly imprisoned inmates. Find a way to give to victims so that good can come be brought out of the evil that we see.
Do not just say nice things, do nice things.
Yes, live. Live a righteous life. The 21 Martyrs of Libya were tortured before dying, but the 25 Martyrs of St. Peter’s had no clue they were going to be martyred that day (to my knowledge). They went into Liturgy because they valued Liturgy, and they were praying. They were taken in a moment, and they went up prepared. Don’t live day to day like you have all the time in the world, like you’re immortal. Don’t live for the things that perish, because not only will they perish, but so will you!
Live like today is your last day and you will not sin nor will you even be depressed! We are not of this world, but we live like there’s nothing other than this world. Live because of why others die.
These martyrs died in a moment. They were murdered. They were murdered doing a normal thing: going to Church. Think of the things that you complain about and about which you become aggravated or irritated. How many of us feel sorry for ourselves for not having as nice a car as we would like, the possessions that we want, the spouse that we want, or the attention that we crave? How many of us want more of something? How many of us are greedy for various things? How many of us always have something to grumble and complain about? How many of us really just feel so sorry for ourselves? Now think of all those things, and put it next to what happened to these people who simply went to Church one day, and were killed: do you really have it so bad? Are you worried about your safety when you go to a church or work? Will our Lord find you in Church when you die (and by Church I mean it not just materially)? Will He find you thinking on heavenly things, on positive things, on things that matter? Or will he find you at home lazy, or at a club, or at a shisha bar? Will he find you caring at all about meeting him – or will you be surprised that you died at all?
Reflect on your lives, my friends, and think about what gives life value, think about the fact that we have an end, think on the things that matter.
You might not shed your blood physically as a martyr like our New 25. Perhaps you might have an ambition to die like them. Many of us, especially when younger, desired to be martyrs and get that free ticket to the Promised Land. Well, we have those tickets around us all day long, every day. Treat every day like a battle – a battle for what’s right or wrong. Fight for holiness. Fight for virtue. Fight for Love.
Yes, we must deny ourselves, for that is love! Love is to deny myself! The only way that any goodness will ever be seen in the world, is if we do this. The only way there will ever be peace is if we do this. If we all wait for another person to bend himself or herself for others or for me first, then love will never prevail, because all will continue to self-gratify. All will put themselves before others. All will want their own rights before others. All will be violent, all will be cruel and all will be cold. Struggle. Struggle to give, to sacrifice, to put my neighbour on equal level to myself if I’m unable to put him higher than myself.
Our Lord said there’s no greater love than dying for another person, teaching us that the highest form of self-denial is to die for others. He also told us that by only one thing will everyone know that we are His: that we love. Love your enemies – sacrifice for them. Love everyone – sacrifice for everyone. Make your life about other people, and you will have fulfilled the gospel. Live a life of love and you will never fear death, because you will have conquered it by Love and in Love, and with Love – because our God is Love.
To our new martyrs, and to all those around the world who are martyred: thank you. Thank you for being an image of holiness for us, thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for testifying of the Truth not only to those who don’t know of Him, but also to the rest of us. Thank you for your love, for dying for me and for others.
To myself and to all living Christians, the martyria or witness of these 25 was proclaimed loud and clear. Their lives indeed became witness to the gospel. Let your life, too, become a martyria, that in every act that you do, you proclaim His death and confess His resurrection, so that He is remembered by the whole earth until He comes.
Pray to the Lord on our behalf,
O struggle-bearers and martyrs:
The 25 of St. Peter’s
That He may forgive us our sins.