It is an awful thing — a blasphemous thing, a sacrilegious thing — to massacre people at prayer, as ISIL did on Palm Sunday in Egypt, killing more than 40 Coptic Orthodox at two churches, including the cathedral in Alexandria.
It is an awesome thing — literally rendering us full of awe — to behold the death of those killed while most fully Christian, singing God's praises and giving witness to Him.
This is not the first jihadist massacre of Christians in Egypt; not so many years ago there will killings of Christians leaving Christmas Mass. I try not to let the lack of novelty diminish the hot and righteous anger that ought greet such assaults, but this time was different. By the time I heard the news — I spend less time following the travails of the world on Sundays — I was also able to hear the response of the Coptic Church. I bow my head before their great faith.
"With great pride, the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, the Church of Martyrs, bade her sons farewell, who were martyred today Sunday April 9, 2017, during the liturgy of Palm Sunday," the official statement read. "They were carrying the palm leaves, praying and celebrating the commemoration of the entry of Christ, the King of Peace, to the city of Jerusalem."
"The souls of the martyrs have been slain by the hands of the enemies of humanity, the enemies of peace and the carrier of tools of destruction. But now, with all the Church, they are offering their prayers to the Just Judge who sees, hears and writes a book of remembrance."
They have "great pride" that their own are counted among the number of the martyrs! What amazing grace.
It was not their choice to be killed because they were Christians. It is their choice to receive that martyrdom precisely as Christians, strengthened, not diminished, in their faith. It is an inspiration, just as those Coptic Christians beheaded on the beach two years ago whispered the name of Jesus as the jihadists drew their knives against their necks.
"We have seen the photos. It is very heartbreaking," said Bishop Makar of Sharquia about his fellow Orthodox murdered on Palm Sunday. "The deacons are standing for prayer, starting the liturgy on earth to be ended in heaven. I was one of them long ago; I used to stand with them, chanting hymns together. They continue now in heaven. Life with Christ starts on earth but it is completed in heaven."
For Orthodox and Catholics, the purpose of the liturgy is not only to listen to God and speak to Him, but more than that. The liturgy of heaven — the saints gathered around the crucified and risen Jesus — somehow breaks into this world. At the earthly liturgy we are already beholding what shall be. To be martyred like those deacons chanting, or the French priest murdered at the altar last summer, is to move directly from the antechamber of heaven to the great throne room.
The funerals were led by His Holiness Pope Tawadros II who was at the cathedral of Alexandria when the bombing took place there, but was not hurt. As leader of the 10-million Coptic Orthodox in Egypt, it may have been that ISIL planned to assassinate him. Alexandria is one of principal seats of ancient Christianity where, one might note, Christians have been worshipping since before Islam existed.
When each coffin was brought in to the funeral, the congregation interrupted their sobs with thunderous applause.
When each coffin was brought in to the funeral, the congregation interrupted their sobs with thunderous applause. They recognized in their dead the principal mystery of this Holy Week: that the Cross of Christ ends not in the tomb, but with the promised glory of the resurrection.
On Palm Sunday, Christians wave palm branches, recalling the triumphal entry of Jesus — just days before His arrest and crucifixion — into Jerusalem, the holy city. The palm branch then was waved in homage, as for a king. In Christian iconography the palm branch has since become a symbol of martyrdom; martyred saints are often depicted carrying it. And so the Copts were, unwittingly, hailing the martyrs in their own midst.
In every Catholic Church in the world on Palm Sunday, from the hermit priest at his solitary altar to the Holy Father in St. Peter's Square, Psalm 22 was proclaimed. It begins with the cry that no doubt filled the churches in Egypt as the bombs exploded: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
The psalm is a prayer of great desperation, even a cry of dereliction. But it concludes with a confession of faith: "I will proclaim Your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise You."
That is what the Christians of Egypt did on Sunday, at the beginning of Holy Week. They proclaim God's praises in the assembly and before the entire world.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Proud to be slain." National Post, (Canada) April 11, 2017.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2017 National Post
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