Holy Coptic Martyrs, Pray for Us!

A truly stunning and beautiful thing happened a couple of days ago:

Pope Francis expressed that desire for greater Christian unity on Thursday during an audience in the Vatican with Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

The Patriarch of the See of St. Mark has spent the last three days in Rome to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Joint Christological Declaration, a milestone in relations between the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

In his address, Pope Francis said 21 Coptic Orthodox martyrs would be inserted into the Roman Martyrology “as a sign of the spiritual communion that unites our two Churches.”

The 21 Coptic Christians—of whom 20 were Egyptian and 1 hailed from Ghana—were beheaded in Libya in 2015 by militants of the so-called Islamic State. A video published by the terrorist organization showed the men praying as they died.

The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates their feast day on 15 February, the date they were martyred.

During their audience, Pope Tawadros gave Pope Francis a reliquary of the Coptic martyrs, for which Pope Francis expressed his heartfelt gratitude.

“These martyrs were baptized not only with water and the Spirit, but also in blood, in a blood that is the seed of unity for all followers of Christ,” said Pope Francis.

A few Reactionaries, ever fearful that Christian love makes them look weak, are scared that this somehow harms the Church instead of seeing the honor being paid to brave martyrs for the Faith. Here, for instance, is the rabid and theologically illiterate Canon 212 website, unable to tell the difference between Protestantism and Copts in its blinding hatred of Francis:

But, of course, there have been non-CatholicArians included in the Roman martyrology for centuries and centuries and the Church seems to have done just fine.

Nicetas the Goth (the Great) M (RM)
Died c. 378. Saint Sabas and Nicetas are the two most renowned martyrs among the Goths. It is interesting to note that Nicetas, an Ostrogoth born along the Danube, should rightly be considered a heretic, yet he is listed in the Roman Martyrology. Through no fault of his own, he and many of his kinsmen and neighbors were converted to Christianity by the Arian Ulphilas. In good faith, he was also ordained as an Arian priest. But doctrinal differences are often forgotten in the name of Jesus. Nicetas was martyred by King Athanaric, in his attempt to eradicate the name of Christ from his territory bordering on the Roman Empire. About 370, Athanaric began a systematic persecution. He caused an idol to be carried in a chariot through all the towns and villages he suspected were sheltering Christians. Those who refused to adore were put to death, usually by burning the Christians with their children in the houses or those assembled together in churches. At other times they were stabbed at the foot of the altar. Nicetas was burnt to death. His body was taken to Mopsuestia in Cilicia, which is why his name is especially remember in the East (Attwater, Benedictines, Husenbeth).

The point is simply this: There are other forms of communion between disciples of Jesus beyond the bureaucratic and this is a healthy step toward restoring recognition of that.

One of the things that Pope Francis is laboring to do in this act is restore to a post-Christendom Church an emphatically pre-Christendom way of thinking about our bonds of Christian fellowship with one another. As the poisonous venom of Canon 212 and similar enemies of the Pope make clear, the motivation of Reactioary Catholics (and other modes of Reactionary Christianity) is to search out every difference and variation among Christians and find in it a pretext for enemity, hostility, and warfare. But this was not always the case. Two examples of an entirely different way can be found in the practice of the early Church to illiustrate my point:

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. (Ac 18:24–27)

Instead of arraigning Apollos as a heretic for not being 100% accurate in his mastery of the gospel, Priscilla and Aquila first love him and welcome his for his obvious love of Christ and then “expound to him the way of God more accurately”. More than this, they commend him to the love and care of the Church with their blessing rather than telling the Church to watch out for this half-cocked heretic. Result: he goes on to become a saint and a fine preacher.

Relatedly, Paul likewise approaches differences, not just in the Roman Church, but in every Church he founds by urging those with different forms piety and culture to see what is best in each other rather then to search out every difference as an occasion for accusation and fission:

As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.

One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So each of us shall give account of himself to God.

Then let us no more pass judgment on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it unclean. If your brother is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let what is good to you be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for any one to make others fall by what he eats; it is right not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves. But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Ro 14:1–23)

The Holy Father recognizes in these incredibly courageous martyrs great disciples of Jesus whose faith in Jesus puts to shame the faith of the Reactionary Catholic Inquisitors trying to bar them from the Roman Martyrology. While these accusers of the brethren whinge and moan and complain about imaginary persecutions from their air-conditioned basements, the Coptic martyrs went to their deaths with courage and love for Christ. The carpers and critics would not even endure a pinprick shedding of blood to protect their neighbor from COVID. These men poured out their life’s blood for love of God and neighbor. So what if they happened to belong to a communion that made a bad call about Monophysitism a millennium and a half ago? How many Catholics (or Coptics) have even heard of Monophysitism today?

For the love of God, let us honor these brave souls loving Jesus with their life’s blood and not invent stupid reasons to deny them honor and fellowship with the rest of the saints and martyrs, particularly if we are citizens of a country that would rather martyr its own holy innocents in classroom after classroom rather than experience the slightest inconvenience to our massive selfishness and narcissism.

So hurrah for these brave and holy martyrs and hurrah to the Pope for honoring them as the lights of Christian courage and faith that they are to our selfish, broken, and fearful culture.


3 Responses

  1. I’ve always said baptism is a great start and ecumenism is above my pay grade. Considered gestures like this are what’s needed — nobody else on earth can make them.

  2. I had an epiphany a few weeks ago. Many people in the world are not in line with Nicaea, i.e. many people don’t actually think Jesus is divine. Jews, for example, and Muslims. Yet – good people all over the world can be found in many widespread faiths. Thus, in their way, they have a relationship with God, and that is what God wants for all of us. So, Holy Coptic Martyrs pray for us indeed! And may Pope Francis be eternally blessed for doing his great work as a bridge builder, even as Jesus was our bridge to God.

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