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How to stand with Coptic Christians this Holy Week

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As two bombs exploded inside Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, the shock reverberated around the world. “In just seconds, the entire church was filled with smoke, fire, blood, and screams,” Fr. Daniel Maher, who was serving in St. George Coptic Church on Palm Sunday when the first bombing attack took place, told the Associated Press. Fr. Daniel survived, but his son, Beshoy, was among the 44 deaths recorded so far.

But the world, and especially the Church, neither suffers nor heals alone. Fr. Peter Farrington, a British convert to the Coptic Church, reminds us of the ever-more entwined lives of the global Church in a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic:

As I was about to begin celebrating the Divine Liturgy of Palm Sunday in the Coptic church I was serving in Great Britain, the first news of the terrorist attack on a church in Tanta, Egypt, started to filter through. Almost as soon as the news started to appear on the BBC website, it seemed that another bombing was being reported at the Cathedral in Alexandria where Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, had been praying. The festive atmosphere became rather sober our congregation. Just a few minutes later I received a text message from a friend here in the UK, who had lost a close relative in the bombings that morning. The news was not simply affecting fellow Christians far away, but was an attack on the members of my own church, and had painfully and personally touched even those well known to me.

Increasingly, the victims of fundamentalist Islamic terror do not live on other continents, Fr. Peter notes, recounting the attacks that mingled with the tales of anti-Coptic violence since last December:

Such terrorism is no longer a phenomena affecting only those far away. In Stockholm and Westminster the same wicked ideology led to death and destruction of innocent people. But immigration, and a globalised world, means that even when an atrocity takes place in another country we are often very close to those who are personally affected; indeed, we may be the ones affected ourselves.

Yesterday, Bishop Youssef of the Coptic Diocese of the Southern United States, warned that “the whole world is under siege by an ideology of hatred—a cancer of the conscience.”

The concern for mere survival should not ignore Egypt’s self-defeating economic discrimination against Coptic Christians. Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christian minority, make up one-tenth of Egypt’s population but their employment in the police and armed forces is unofficially capped at one percent. Artificially excluding an appreciable percentage of the population from the nation’s economic life has led to a situation in which Egypt’s poverty level (28 percent) is nearly as high as this year’s inflation rate (31 percent this year). The economic situation is so bad that the head of the official statistic service (CAPMAS), Maj. Gen. Abu Bakr al-Gendy, called population growth “a curse” and “a burden on society.”

By contrast, Bishop Youssef did not lose sight of the fundamental good – the imago Dei – embodied within people of all faiths. His Grace instead explicitly acknowledged that this good is best expressed when people use their God-given talents for the life of the world. “The same hands that skillfully designed weapons of harm could have discovered tools for cure,” he said.

Fr. Peter Farrington reminds us that those of us in the West, blessed with material abundance wrought by the free work of our hands, can and should use that wealth to assist the suffering Church. In some cases, this can be done within our own communities, as Copts and other Christians flee the region and sometimes take refuge in the West. But it may also involve supporting charities that assist this proud community continue to endure in its homeland:

BlessUSA is an official Coptic charity and funding raised goes directly to the Coptic community. St. Marks Universal Copts Care, a UK-based organisation supporting the Coptic community, lists many other charitable agencies working for this community on their website. Most of these programs are intended, not simply to provide immediate and emergency support but to make a lasting difference to the Christian community in Egypt. For instance, Coptic Orphans provides a small income to families who have lost a father. One of its distinguishing characteristics is that it provides for the education of young girls and women, helping them to escape poverty. It is working with more than 10,000 girls and young women, both Christians and Muslims, especially in rural and poor areas of Egypt.

Our compassion, and our supplications, should know no boundaries. “This is a time of prayer for the whole world,” Bp. Youssef said.

His statement, and the intimate connection Fr. Peter’s parishioners had to Palm Sunday’s victims, reminded me of the prayer of the Anaphora (Eucharistic canon) from our Byzantine version of the Liturgy of St. Basil. This liturgy, which Orthodox Christians pray throughout Lent, asks God to “be mindful of Thy holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church, which is from one end of the inhabited earth to the other. Grant peace to her whom Thou hast obtained with the precious blood of Thy Christ. And strengthen this holy house unto the end of the ages.”

You can read Fr. Peter Farrington’s full essay here.

(Photo credit: History of the Copts Facebook page.)

Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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