For Those Twenty-One Christians Martyred: A Reflection
On Ash Wednesday, I was browsing Facebook, and came across a friend's post:
(...) To tell you the truth though, it wasn't until last night that I could even bring myself to read about it and actually watch it happen. And then I almost couldn't believe my eyes. One by one, down the line, their heads being cut off. These men, my brothers, giving up their lives for Christ. Martyrs. (...)
She was writing about the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were executed by ISIS as depicted in a video released by the Islamic State. I'd been seeing the thumbnails of the video passed around on Facebook and Twitter, but I had not dwelt at all on the event.
This was the first time I had thought in this way. My brothers? Twenty-one of my brothers? I decided to find the video online and watch it. I decided that sharing in my tiny, insignificant way, I could honor them, at least more than I was in scrolling past pictures of their last moments alive on my feed.
It took me about ten minutes to find the video on my phone because the gruesome video keeps getting taken down around the web. As the video started, I thought I had once again clicked a wrong link. The high-definition video started with a logo and a title. Dramatic music was playing. There were shots of waves crashing into rocks on the Mediterranean. And then it started, tall figures dressed in black, leading men in orange jumpsuits and shackles.
A man spoke to the camera in clear English, with subtitles in both English and Arabic. Multiple cameras recorded the event, and the video was cut well, panning past these twenty-one men, whispering prayers, “Lord Jesus Christ.”
Then all of a sudden, they were pushed down to lay on their bellies. Their heads were sawed off with large knives. Their heads were placed on their shoulder blades.
I felt sick. Horrified. Truly, I cannot express it. And I cannot fall asleep nor wake up without remembering their tears, and their prayers, and their blood, and their lifeless bodies.
I don't know if I am justified in calling these men my brothers. I have learned of the Coptic Orthodox Church only recently, and our beliefs differ considerably. I am not in communion with the Egyptian church, nor do I have any substantial understanding of them. Regardless of our differences, I can never hope to have the same courage that these men displayed, nor do I put myself at any risk to my life when I attend church on Sundays.
But their brutal murders pain me. Their spirits encourage me. The strength of their testimony brings me hope.
In Revelation 13:14 (RSV) Saint John the Divine tells us: "I heard a voice from heaven, saying, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.'
'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors.'"
A prayer* for Milad Makeen Zaky, for Abanub Ayad Atiya, for Maged Solaimain Shehata, for Yusuf Shukry Yunan, for Kirollos Shokry Fawzy, for Bishoy Astafanus Kamel, for Somaily Astafanus Kamel, for Malak Ibrahim Sinweet, for Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros, for Girgis Milad Sinweet, for Mina Fayez Aziz, for Hany Abdelmesih Salib, for Bishoy Adel Khalaf, for Samuel Alham Wilson, for Ezat Bishri Naseef, for Loqa Nagaty, for Gaber Munir Adly, for Esam Badir Samir, for Malak Faraq Abram, for Sameh Salah Faruq, and for the martyr whose name we do not know.
Almighty God, with whom the souls of the faithful departed are in joy and felicity, we give thanks that it has pleased you to deliver these, our brothers, from the troubles of this sinful world.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies and giver of all comfort, deal graciously, we pray, with those who mourn, that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love.
O God, in whose power it lies to bring good out of evil, and to raise up life from the dead, grant us a patient faith in time of darkness, and enlighten our understanding with the knowledge of your ways.
Lord of compassion, whose hand is always stretched out in mercy and grace, we pray, as Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Now to him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with everlasting joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.