With 100 massacred in five months, leaving vengeance to the Lord is getting harder for Copts.
(By Jayson Caspter in Cairo, Christianity Today). They couldn’t even wash their dead.
Thirty Coptic Christians were gunned down by ISIS, ambushed in a church bus on a weekend outing to a popular monastery in the Egyptian desert. Their families gathered to receive their loved ones in a local hospital, but were met with a mixture of ill-equipped facilities and overwhelmed staff. They even had to fetch their own water.
As if another reason was necessary, Coptic anger turned the funeral march into a protest.
“With our souls and blood we will redeem you, oh Cross!” they shouted. Some seemed to take aim at Islam. “There is no god but God,” they chanted, before changing the second half of the Muslim creed, “and the Messiah, he is God.”
Other chants took no aim at all, thrashing wildly in anger. “We will avenge them, or die like them.”
Many observers say such anger plays right into the hands of ISIS, which is keen to turn Egypt against itself.
Six weeks earlier, after twin suicide bombings on Palm Sunday, Bishop Boula of the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Tanta found himself in a similar situation. Hospitals did not have enough refrigeration units to keep the 25 bodies of those martyred at St. George Church. Crowds were gathering, and anger was surging.
Quickly, he made the decision to bury them together in the church crypt reserved for bishops. Honoring the dead with their leaders of ages past, he then marshaled the youth to provide order and security for the semi-spontaneous funeral service.
“It cooled the fire of all the people,” he later recounted on satellite TV. St. George was renamed to include “the righteous martyrs of Tanta,” with a shrine erected outside the crypt.
It was perhaps the most practical of Coptic efforts to process their anger. Forgiveness is another, as Copts have moved Muslims and wowed the world with their example.
“The normal reaction of normal Middle Easterners in a shame-based society is to retaliate,” said Ramez Atallah, head of the Bible Society of Egypt. “The terrorists want to infuriate the Christians enough that they forget their principles and go out on a rampage.
“What is countercultural is that the leadership of the church has been so insistent that Christians do not retaliate. So by the grace of God, there has not been a reaction.”
This teaching has filtered down to the people. Circulating on social media is a poem Copts have shared to encourage themselves—and to remind themselves of the ideals of their religion. Two of its six stanzas read:
“Your hatred and killing in no way suffices
To stop us from loving and praying for you.
My father’s religion, oh dear Uncle ISIS,
Is not a weapon to pierce you straight through.
My fathers’ religion if you could discern
Offers each wounded the medic of life.
Tomorrow when you will repent and return
You will come to know just who is the Christ.”
But the Minya bus ambush is the fourth massacre in five months, and the poem’s “tomorrow” has not yet come. For many Egyptian believers, the ideals of Christianity are becoming harder to hold.
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