May 29, 2017 Length: 5:44
Dan Bein, the most recent Media Student Leader of Orthodox Christian Fellowship and a Coptic Christian, comments on the recent bus shooting of the Coptic Christians in Egypt who refused to renounce their faith at gunpoint.
Friday May 26 started out like any other day. I woke up, made the sign of the cross like I was swatting flies, and checked my phone to see if I had overslept. I scrolled through my social media and washed my face. As I was lazily gathering things together for the St. Tikhon’s pilgrimage weekend, I received a text from my mom that read “There was an attack on a Copt bus going from a Church in المنيا (al-menya) to دير الانبا صمويل المعترف. (Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor) So far 34 killed.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten those texts about the Church in Egypt, but it was weird because it was almost the same exact situation that I was in. We’re both pilgrims, but I journeyed with complete safety. These pilgrims were asked to recite the Islamic declaration of faith, and when they refused, they were shot. In contrast, I drove and listened to podcasts, stopping at a Dunkin Donuts so I could use the wifi. It really made me think about the words that we sing in the Coptic liturgy when we pray for the departed. We say, “And we too, who are sojourners in this land, keep us in your faith and grant us your peace unto the end.” Do I really see myself as a sojourner? Is my place, my portion, my pride with Jesus Christ? Do I bring about the life of Christ in my own daily existence? Am I sojourner here, running towards Jesus Christ, or am I just meandering around, assuming that I’ll end up with the Lord just because I’ve heard so many success stories, aka the saints? What am I doing with my life????
I don’t think that I’m filled with a righteous indignation, and I think that’s because I’m so used to hearing these reports of new martyrs from Egypt. The bus’s passengers were mostly children and their families going to visit the monastery where they were baptized. As we hear these details, sometimes we say “Oh, they were so young! They were taken before they could accomplish things—before they could go to college, get married, work, and so on. But I think this belies a fear about our own situations. We don’t really think that there is a life after death, so we feel that we have to make a mark on the world. Instead, we have to remember that Jesus Christ is the one who changes the world, Jesus Christ who has made a mark on us.
So, I’m not really filled with righteous indignation, and I think that’s because I’ve accepted that we live in a fallen world where sin is real and has disastrous consequences. Instead, I try to look to Christ and look to the examples of these children. They wanted to visit the place of their birth in Christ! They journeyed to heaven! So, we pray for them, that they might have rest and mercy.
And maybe most importantly, we pray for these terrorists. We pray that they might know the love of God, expressed through us, who are icons of His Son, in the Holy Spirit. We pray that they may know light and life. We say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We ask that by THEIR prayers, God might have mercy on us. And I know, I know, these are not easy things to do, they’re easy to say, but we labor in the vineyard until the fruit is ready for the harvest. Even if we don’t fully understand why these events happen or how to process them, we struggle and we persevere. And slowly, we see that we become like Christ in these moments of compassion.
I think that we have to follow Moses’s advice to the children of Israel when they first came up across the Red Sea. They had just escaped from Pharaoh and now Pharaoh’s hosts chased them to the Red Sea. They asked Moses what was the point of freeing them if they were going to die, and Moses said “The Lord shall fight for you and you shall keep your peace.”
I don’t really know what to say, but I guess I’ll close with the Coptic litany of the departed, which is sung during vespers:
“Graciously O Lord repose all their souls in the bosom of our holy fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sustain them in a green pasture, by the water of rest in the Paradise of joy, the place out of which grief, sorrow and groaning have fled away in the light of Your saints.
Raise up their bodies also on the Day which You have appointed, according to Your true promises, which are without lie. Grant them the good things of Your promises, that which an eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither have come upon the heart of man; the things which You, O God, have prepared for those who love Your holy name.
For there is no death for Your servants, but a departure, and even if any negligence or heedlessness has overtaken them as men, since they were clothed in flesh and dwelt in this world, O God, as the Good One and Lover of Mankind, graciously accord, O Lord—Your servants, the orthodox Christians who are in the whole world, from East to west and from north to south, each one according to his name and each one according to her name, O Lord, repose and forgive them.
For no one is pure and without blemish even though his life on earth be a single day.
As for those, O Lord, whose souls You have taken, repose them, and may they be worthy of the kingdom of the heavens.
As for us all, grant us our Christian perfection that would be pleasing to You, and give them and us a share and an inheritance with all Your saints.
Lord have mercy.”