The Coptic Christian Church Bombings and the Message of Easter April 14 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

I heard a remarkable interview on the way into work this morning.  Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, we were horrified to hear of the bombings of two Coptic Christian Churches in two different Egyptian cities, killing almost 50 people and injuring dozens more.  It could have been worse had security not been present already.  Christians make up about 10 percent of the population in Egypt, and they have been targeted before, with another church bombing just this past December.  

“Coptic” generally translates to “Egyptian,” and these churches have ancient roots said to date back to John Mark, author of the gospel by that name.  Their worship is said to be similar to Eastern Orthodox, but we consider them dear brothers and sisters in Christ nevertheless, and they represent the largest Christian population in a Muslim-dominated country, hence their vulnerability to persecution.  

The interview is a reminder of how fragile a life many Christians live in other parts of the world, yet how the message of love and forgiveness, which is the essence of the message of the cross of Christ, permeates Christian belief throughout the world, even under intense persecution.  It sets Christianity apart from those intent on hatred, vengeance, and conflict.

Here are a few excerpts from the NPR interview with Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom. Bishop Angaelos was born in Egypt and is in constant contact with the Coptic community there.  Regarding these events, the Bishop notes:

“It has been a tragic week.  At times like this we see the very worst and very best of humanity.  We see one group of people wanting to cause pain and terror while there are so many acts of graciousness and kindness that have also happened.  We are very blessed to have so many people praying for us.”  

Interviewer: “What do you tell people in Egypt who are concerned about the state of emergency that the president of Egypt has declared, suggesting that this has given the government too much power?“

Bishop Angaelos: “What I say to them is ‘please do not confuse the issues while we are still burying our dead and are still ministering to our families, and do not turn this into a political argument.’   My biggest concern during these days is that there is an immediate desire to politicize everything that happens.  So Christians just become collateral damage.”  

Interviewer: “So the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for these bombings.  Do you believe that they were behind this?

Bishop Angaelos:  “The political grandstanding and point scoring that comes from people declaring they have done this or that doesn’t really impress me nor does it concern me.  The important thing is that we keep the focus on those who have lost their lives and those who continue to be victims, rather than giving the focus to those who want this kind of coverage.”  

“I think that groups like this actually have a more sinister plan.  I think what we are seeing now is a plan to actually eradicate Christians.  I think there is an immense intolerance by these people and their followers, felt toward Christians in Egypt.”

Interviewer:  “What is that like day to day for Coptic Christians in Egypt?”  

Bishop Angaelos: “It is interesting that these attacks happened in full churches.  We had the bombing of St. Peter’s Church in Cairo only a few months ago, and yet Christians keep going to church, still keep publicly proclaiming and living their faith.  They are not dissuaded as they walk out of their homes every day feeling vulnerable.  One of the clear, defining factors of Christians in Egypt over the past years, as we have seen them suffer these ongoing attacks, is their spirit of forgiveness and their spirit of resilience.  I think that in itself speaks volumes.”  

Interviewer:  “Do you forgive the suicide bombers that carried out these attacks?”  

Bishop Angaelos: “Absolutely. I don’t have to forgive the act, because the act was vicious and it was evil. But we are all humans, we are all under the brokenness of sin, and we all have a possibility to repent.  We are very happy to continue loving, and forgiving, and hoping.  And I think this is the only way to break a really sinister spiral of violence that has swept across the Middle East.”  You can hear the full interview at: http://www.npr.org/2017/04/14/523890722/immense-intolerance-felt-toward-christians-in-egypt-coptic-bishop-says

In a future blog, we’ll talk a little more about forgiveness, for which Christ’s death for us on the cross is the ultimate example, together with “justice,” which is also part of the way God works in the world.  The perpetrators of hatred and violence will not escape justice.  But for now, during Easter season, the reminder to us is the magnitude of God’s forgiveness, which far exceeds even the ability of the Coptic Christians to forgive their persecutors.  This is amazing forgiveness, validated by the resurrection, which we joyously celebrate this weekend.  He is risen indeed!   May we keep our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in prayer worldwide.

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Steve Smith