Palm Sunday proved to be another blood stained day in Egypt’s history. Attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta area killed more than 40 people and injured more than 100.
St. Mark’s Cathedral was host to one of the attacks that day. Located in the Abbassia district of Cairo, St. Mark’s Cathedral is the largest in Africa. The building is named after the apostle Mark who is the author of the New Testament book bearing his name. It’s also the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Egypt. Sadly Egypt’s Christians are no stranger to persecution. In fact, the land where St. Mark’s Cathedral stands today is the same place where Christians were persecuted and buried centuries ago. Early church history tells us that Mark died a martyr’s death in Alexandrea, Egypt. He is credited with founding the Coptic Christian church.
Standing guard outside of St. Mark’s Cathedral on Palm Sunday was a gatekeeper by the name of Naseem Faheem. Video footage from moments before the blast shows Naseem refusing entry of a young man trying to enter the grounds by bypassing the metal detector. Moments later the explosive laden man detonates the explosives he wears strapped beneath his clothing. Killing himself, — a martyr of a different kind. Naseem saved untold lives by his actions that day.
For the families of those who perished the pain and suffering is raw and painfully real. A familiar cloud of grief settled into the country that day, — once again. The blood of the martyrs is not unfamiliar to Egypt, or the Middle East. It’s the same ground that soaked up the living blood of Jesus Christ so many years ago. The birth place of Christianity — people of “the way,” are well acquainted with the price of their faith.
All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 the Message
Following her husband’s death, Naseem’s widow sat down with Amr Adeeb, a prominent talk show host in Egypt. What Amr listened to as the young widow spoke took his breath away — literally. Listening to Naseem offer forgiveness to her husband’s killers left Amr speechless. Viewers listened, and watched, along with Amr as Naseem offered forgiveness, to those responsible for the death of her husband.
“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said Naseem. Sitting with her children beside her she continued, “I’m telling him, May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.”
“Egyptian Christians Are Made of Steel. They are made of a different substance.”– Amir Adeeb, Egyptian talk show host.
Naseem, shared words similar to the words Jesus spoke while suffering and dying on the cross, “Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34-35 the Message.
Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” Corrie Ten Boom
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Palm Sunday attacks and called Egypt’s Christians “our priority and our preferred prey.” God’s people are “made of a different substance.” In the face of evil — they retaliate with forgiveness.
In 2015 Libyan Islamic State militants released video footage of the martyrdom of Coptic Christians in Libya. The footage of their martyrdom included a caption that read — “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” The 21 men who knelt before their executors that day refused to recant their faith, even when faced with death by the sword. The world watched as the 21 martyrs for Jesus Christ uttered their last words on earth; “Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Their martyrdom sparked the Bible Society of Egypt’s biggest campaign ever. A Bible tract was created and sent to print within 36 hours following their public executions. Titled “Two Rows by the Sea,” it carried a message of hope, comfort, and forgiveness. The tract was a sought after resource in bringing comfort to both Christians and Muslims alike.
Shortly after the death of all 21 Coptic Christian men, a brother of two of the men spoke to a reporter with Sat 7 during a weekly worship program. He thanked his brother’s killers for including the men’s declaration of faith in the video released of their execution. He went on to call the martyred men, — “a badge of honor to Christianity.”
Yes, “Egyptian Christians are made of a different substance.” The fires of persecution have produced the finest of gold. Their’s is forgiveness in the face of great evil and deep sorrow. A material death’s sting cannot touch. Jesus rose from the darkness of death in sweet victory, — so it is with our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters.
Precious in the sight of the LORD, is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15 ESV