Days Go By

Keith Urban makes some of the best uplifting, fun music in country music.  Unfortunately, I can’t say this article is upbeat or fun.  With each passing day I find myself at times mystified, angry, and depressed all at the same time.  Why can’t my fellow American citizens, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists etc. see what is happening in our world?  The systematic extermination of Christians in the Middle East and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe are very real and very dangerous.  Is it because it’s “over there” as compared to here?  Yes, I write articles, post on Facebook, and tell everyone I know.  Yes, I’ve gone to and ordered up pins and wrist bands blazoned with the Arabic letter N or ن that ISIS is forcing Christians to wear, much like the yellow Star of David that the Nazis forced Jews to wear.  However, it’s not enough.  I keep asking myself why anyone isn’t shouting this from the rooftops.

I was hoping with the condemnation by Pope Francis more people would become outspoken but so far the silence is deafening.  There are snippets of information on the news, but in most cases they don’t acknowledge the men being slaughtered are Christian.  I was watching The Blaze TV this week and to his credit Glenn Beck played a small portion of the gruesome film of the latest group of Christians being gunned down by a firing squad or being beheaded.  I watched with one eye open.  The images and sounds of men being beheaded with knives was something I’ll never forget.  As ghastly as it was it should be seen by all.  It should be in every newspaper and on every news show.  Other tyrannical dictators did their dirty work in the dark.  These evil savages are making slick videos and distributing them across the globe.  What’s the matter with us!  Wake up!

A Coptic Christian priest was also on the show.  I was heartbroken when he said he couldn’t understand why his fellow Christians in America have not spoken up for them.  Beck made an interesting point.  If the slaughter was happening to Catholics, Baptists, or Methodists, would we pay attention?  So I thought I’d find out more about the Copts and what they believe.  Coptic means Egyptian.  The Christian community was founded by the apostle Mark who went to Egypt to evangelize the word of Christ around 42 to 62 AD.  At one time Egypt was 100% Christian.  The country switched from being a 100% Christian nation to a predominately Muslim nation after the Arab invasion around 639-642AD1.  They were given the same options we hear today – give up your Christian faith and embrace Islam, pay a huge tax, or die.  Their message hasn’t changed throughout the centuries.

In 1992 it was estimated there were over 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt2.  They continued practicing their faith until the great “Arab Spring” when the Muslim Brotherhood took over the country.  Immediately persecution of Coptic Christians took on a whole new level as well as the destruction of ancient archeological finds, churches and religious artifacts.  It didn’t take Egyptians long to figure out this was not what they wanted and they tossed President Mohammed Morsi and the Brotherhood out of power.  President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a military man, is a much better replacement, but there is still much work to be done.

Coptic Christians observe seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Confession, Orders, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick.  Divorce is not allowed.  Services are held in churches on Sunday mornings.  There are four parts to their service: 1. Preparation prayer – altar boys incense the church while chanting; 2. Offering – prayer is said over holy bread; 3. Preaching the Mass – priest reads sections of the Old and New Testament as well as giving a sermon; and 4. Reconciliation prayer. The fifth component is called the Believer’s Mass. This is when the congregation has communion3.  Sounds a lot like our services, doesn’t it?

Their feast days are also very similar.  Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, which is an official holiday in Egypt. It’s celebrated by the Pope in Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo in the Coptic language, which is almost extinct. Copts fast for 210 days of the year – Fast of the Nativity Christmas is 45 days, Fast of the Apostles, Fast of the Virgin Mary, Fast of Nineveh and of course Lent.  In addition to these fasts, they also fast every Wednesday and Friday. On Holy Thursday Copts visit and pray in seven Coptic Churches after Mass4.

They practice their religion just like us.  Their traditions are just like ours.  They are Christians—they are us.  Coptic Christians are being crucified, shot, and beheaded by ISIS.  Women and girls are being raped, forced into marriage with ISIS fighters, sold into sex slavery, and worse. We must get this message out.  Share it.  I would even urge you to watch the video of the massacres.  It’s easy to turn away, but we must see and we must speak up.  In the words of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who preached against the Nazis and was later hanged in 1945, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us innocent.  Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

This weekend, our church will be selling pins and wristbands with the Arabic letter N or ن for a small price, but what a big message it sends.  We stand with the persecuted Christians.  We are people of the Cross.  We follow Jesus the Nasarean.  We belong to a large family of Christians that come in a variety of colors.  We are many but we are one.  I urge you to go to your Pastor and let him know it’s time to speak out and educate the congregation against these evil acts being done to our brothers and sisters simply for the crime of being a Christian.  Don’t let another day go by without taking a stand against evil because one day our grandchildren may ask us, Grandma? Grandpa?  Where were you?  Did you know?  Did you do anything to stop it?  Will you hang your head in shame or will you answer proudly, yes, I was there.  Yes, I knew.  Yes, I stood.

1 Encyclopedia Britannica, Egypt From The Islamic Conquest to 1250

2 The History of Coptic Christians in Egypt, an Overview of the Coptic Christians of Egypt, Lara Iskander and Jimmy Dunn

3 The History of Coptic Christians in Egypt, Coptic Sacraments, Coptic Services, Lara Iskander and Jimmy Dunn

4 The History of Coptic Christians in Egypt, Celebrations and other traditions, Lara Iskander and Jimmy Dunn