Praying For Egypt

It’s been an amazing year in Egypt. Following weeks of demonstrations, finally their leader resigned (or was overthrown) and their Parliament and Constitution were dissolved. Now the people of Egypt can begin to choose their own future. Recent elections are still being certified, but it appears that many posts are going to be held by fundamentalist Muslims. As Americans, we have political and economic interests in Egypt. We’re rightfully concerned about what happens next. As Christians, we should also be aware of the deep roots of our faith in Egypt and the treatment of its minority Christian population. Their faith in Christ is ancient and enduring and they are our spiritual brothers and sisters in a hostile land.
Egyptian Christians are called “Copts” which is the Greek word for “Egyptian.” St. Mark the Evangelist first brought Christianity to Egypt in 42 AD, just 9 years after the Resurrection of Christ. He landed in Alexandria and began to preach the Gospel and to ordain priests and bishops of the Church. After his death, in 68 AD, he was buried in a chapel in Alexandria. The Christian faith grew rapidly and by the 3rd century, Christians made up the majority of the Egyptian population. Some of the best known Church Fathers including St. Clement, St. Athanasius and Origen were Coptic Christians. By the end of the 5th century, there were hundreds of monastaries and thousands of churches throughout Egypt. Many of the important Church Councils which defined our beliefs as Christians were presided over by Egyptian bishops. The Council of Nicaea (325 AD) was led by St. Alexander and gave us the Nicene Creed which we proclaim at Mass every Sunday. Likewise, Coptic bishops presided over the Councils of Constantinople (381 AD), Ephesus (431 AD), and Chalcedon (451 AD). It’s hard to understate the deep and lasting legacy that Egyptian Christians have had on our faith. Yet in the 7th century, Arabs invaded Egypt and centuries of repression and persecution for Christians followed. While Coptic Christians comprise about 20% of Egypt’s population, historically they’ve controlled about half the country’s wealth. This has made them an object of persecution by the Muslim majority. They have long been the subject of political isolation and have been excluded from their share of parliamentary representation. Coptic churches, businesses and private homes have been attacked and vandalized. Physical assaults and attacks are not uncommon. Reports of young Coptic girls being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade are frequent. Christians wishing to build a church must apply for presidential permission. Colleges deny admission to Christians while conversion to Christianity is punishable by imprisonment and torture. As a result, many thousands of Copts have fled Egypt over the last decades. With the political changes currently underway, and violence against Christians on the increase, doubtless many more thousands will flee over the next months and years.
The recent unfolding revolution could be a momentous event in the history of Egyptian Christianity. A true democracy could insure that the rights and dignity of all people are protected and upheld. A political system based on sharia law would make conditions even worse for Egyptian Christians. This ancient land once sheltered our Lord Jesus and His parents when they fled to avoid persecution and death. Egypt hid Christ in her ancient shadows and protected Him from harm. In gratitude and hope, we must pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt. This ancient root of our faith lies at a turning point in history. We ask God to guide her people into the light of democracy and to protect our suffering Coptic Christian family. Amen.
“Rejoice, O Egypt because you have torn open your pagan heart to shelter Christ and receive Him in you, for He will lift you to His house.”
–St. John Saba (7th century)

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. frjuanvelez
    May 31, 2012 @ 16:48:06

    Judy offers us a glimpse of the rich Christian legacy as well as suffering of the Christian Copts. What a reminder for us of the communion of the saints, and of our need to pray and help these brothers in the faith.


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