The recent unprovoked and targeted murder of Coptic Christians in Libya has shocked many people around the world and caused immense sorrow and pain to their families and communities.
As mentioned in my statement on 15 February, while every life is sacred and every death tragic, the brutality demonstrated in this instance and others like it shows a disregard for life and a gross misunderstanding of its sanctity.
These young Coptic men were working in Libya to support their families in Egypt, and were fathers, brothers, sons and friends. They came from tight-knit but impoverished rural communities; now they will never return. They were breadwinners for their families, who are not only robbed of the joy of their presence but left with a significant financial void.
While their captors sought to humiliate them by saying they were “of the Cross”, these men were faithful witnesses to our Lord Jesus Christ, calling on his name in prayer while their lives were brutally taken from them.
As Christians we glory in the Cross of our Lord, and it is by no means a shame but rather an honour to be deemed his disciples. These men will not be forgotten and their death is not in vain. They are truly modern-day martyrs – those who were killed for their faith and a valiant example to us all.
I have been moved by the breadth and volume of sentiments expressed by so many people wanting to offer their condolences and support for myself and the Coptic community here in Britain. The light of our Lord continues to bring hope and comfort through the Body of Christ and through all who show their solidarity.
We must remember however that it is not only Coptic Christians who are bearing the brunt of this extremist ideology in places such as Libya and Iraq: a broad spectrum of indigenous communities remains under threat because their very existence is a cause of offence to this fringe element.
As we pray for our community we also pray for the families and communities of the numerous journalists, aid workers, medical staff, religious leaders and others who have lost their lives in similar circumstances.
It is equally imperative at this time that we pray for all those who are carrying out these heinous crimes. We pray for a change of heart and an awareness of the immense pain and sorrow that results from their actions. We are reminded in Scripture “…pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). While this may prove challenging, we must continue to be faithful to our Christian calling, as prayer is our most valuable and powerful gift.
Peaceful coexistence is the only true way ahead. We must continue to pray for and support the families and communities of all those who are left behind.
We are launching the WhenLeftBehind appeal in support of the affected families. More information will be made available via @WhenLeftBehind on Twitter andwww.CopticMediaUK.com.
Bishop Angaelos is General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
Above: Copts in Cairo attend a service for the 21 men beheaded in Libya by IS. Photo: CNS/Reuters
It was my great privilege, this afternoon at 5pm in the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, N. Z., to lead the traditional service of Stations of the Cross.
At this commemoration of the journey of Jesus on the Way of the Cross, Christians are reminded of the suffering undertaken by Jesus, Son of God, in order to raise up our fallen humanity, by our resurrection to the sublime nature of the World’s Redeemer.
Pausing for prayer at each station, I was reminded of the recent event of the execution of Coptic Christians from Egypt – who were simply working in Libya to support their families back home. Their killers were a religious sect whose primitive understanding of a Vengeful God caused them to do this act of violence against a group of people who believed in the Loving God, who became one of us in the person of His Son, Jesus.
The tragedy here was that the assassination was allegedly done to please the Universal God; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose life was offered in exchange for our flawed humanity – fallen from grace, but restored by the grace of The One Who created us all.
In our experience this afternoon, in a Christian Church, where there is ample pictorial evidence of God’s loving actions through His only-begotten Son, Jesus; one could not help but identify with His blessed Mother, Mary, whose sorrow seemed to encompass the little band of us gathered to accompany her and her Son in the ancient liturgy of His death in dereliction.
For all who suffer religious persecution – and for those who are misled into being the persecutors – we cannot but echo the prayer of Jesus for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” – for if they did, how could they possibly continue?
Jesu, mercy; Mary, pray!