Monday, March 2, 2015

Loving Our Enemies, Forgiveness & Martyrdom

I stumbled across this article last week about this remarkable Christ-like response on the part of Egypt's Coptic Christians to the slaughter of 21 of their brothers in Libya by ISIS affiliated militants back in February.  The opening half includes the most important comments, including those from the brother of two of the men who were killed:

Twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians were slaughtered on a beach in Libya a week ago. And even in his mourning, the brother of two of them gave thanks. Beshir Kamel, brother of both Bishoy Astafanus Kamel, who was 25, and Somaily Astafanus Kamel, who was 23, thanked their murderers for not editing out the name of their Savior when disseminating the video of their beheadings. 
Appearing on an Arabic Christian television station, Kamel said that the families of the men, laborers who were working in Libya in order to provide for their families — 13 of them from the same small, impoverished village — were congratulating one another. “We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs,” he explained. Who would have an ounce of gratitude at such a moment? The answer: one who has hope — hope of something real and eternal. It sounds crazy to a modern secular society, one that tends to view religious faith as sentiment, comfort, and milestone ritual. 
Kamel said: “Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way. This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.” And he relayed what his mother had said, when asked what she would do if she ever met the man who had beheaded her son. “My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [him] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her son entered the kingdom of heaven.” 
That’s no mere sentiment, comfort, or ritual. While it’s unlikely that the Kamels’ mother will face that day, Christians throughout the world have the ability to take action. In his response to the news from Libya, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, explained: “While it may seem illogical or incomprehensible, we also pray for those who have carried out these horrific crimes, that the value of God’s creation and human life may become more evident to them, and in this realization, that the wider effects of pain brought by this and other acts of brutality may be realized and avoided. We pray for an end to the dehumanization of captives who become mere commodities to be bartered, traded, and negotiated with.”

Read more at:
 This image made from a video released Sunday by militants in Libya claiming loyalty to ISIS purportedly shows masked militants leading Egyptian Coptic Christians in orange jumpsuits along a beach before they are made to kneel and simultaneously beheaded. The Associated Press could not independently verify the video.

I am always humbled by the profound faith of my Christian sisters and brothers who live in poorer and more dangerous parts of the world. Most of the comfortable and secure Western Christians that I know (including myself) struggle with Jesus' teachings about loving and forgiving our enemies, refusing to use violence, and the call to sacrifice all, including our lives, to bear witness the gospel (note: 'martyr' is the Greek word for witness). Most of us end up saying (or quietly believing) that these are nice ideas, but ultimately not all that practical or applicable for us today.

That's not to say that this is an easy thing for these Coptic Christians to live with, but in spite of the difficulty and the pain they must feel, they are actually doing and proclaiming the things Jesus taught us to do. As we go through Lent, let's us here in Canada and the West remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in places like Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria (where ISIS has kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians) who out of necessity and the grace of Jesus take up their cross in much more concrete ways than most of us ever do here. Let us pray in particular for the families of these 21 new Egyptian martyrs, for strength and peace through their grief and loss and thanksgiving for the faith that sustains this community through this trial.

Here are the names of all 21:
1. Milad Makeen Zaky 2. Abanub Ayad Atiya 3. Maged Solaiman Shehata 4. Yusuf Shukry Yunan 5. Kirollos Shokry Fawzy 6. Bishoy Astafanus Kamel 7. Somaily Astafanus Kamel 8. Malak Ibrahim Sinweet 9. Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros 10. Girgis Milad Sinweet 11. Mina Fayez Aziz 12. Hany Abdelmesih Salib 13. Bishoy Adel Khalaf 14. Samuel Alham Wilson 15. Worker from Awr village 16. Ezat Bishri Naseef 17. Loqa Nagaty 18. Gaber Munir Adly 19. Esam Badir Samir 20. Malak Farag Abram 21. Sameh Salah Faruq

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