Saturday, February 5, 2011

Jesus in Egypt

I have been trying to think of something intelligent to say about the situation in Egypt. But the simple fact is that I don't know what is going to happen there.

Egypt is an Islamic country with a large Coptic Christian minority (some of whom are in full communion with the Catholic Church, while others are not but maintain a cordial relationship). The Christian presence in Egypt dates back to apostolic times, and to the great Patriarchal See of Alexandria. Egypt has given the Church some of her greatest saints: St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril of Alexandria. Christian monasticism has its origins in the deserts of Egypt.

But we can go back further. Egypt is holy land. The Chosen People sojourned in Egypt during the days of famine, when the Lord blessed Joseph. The Lord God works wonders through Moses, delivering His people from slavery, parting the waters, leading them through the desert. God gave the Commandments on Mt. Sinai, He fed the people with manna from heaven, and quenched their thirst with water from the Rock. And then, fleeing the wrath of Herod, Joseph took Mary and Jesus to live in Egypt. The footsteps of Jesus and Mary crossed the land that today is clamoring for a new government, for change--with many factions having many different ideas of what that change ought to be. And it must be said that the social and economic conditions that prevail in the modern Egyptian state justify the frustration and protest of the people.

In light of the events that unfold even as I write this, many questions and concerns arise regarding peace, justice, and stability in the Middle East. Without ignoring these issues, my heart--in this moment--focuses on the lives of the Christians and their Churches. What does the future hold; indeed, what suffering must they endure even now.

We know that a Coptic Church in Egypt was attacked at Christmas, and that worshipers were killed and wounded. Virtual war has been declared against what remains of the ancient Chaldean Church in Iraq (the land of Abraham). Arab Christians flee to tolerant countries: Jordan, Syria, and--in large numbers--to our own United States. Christians have been persecuted in Pakistan. It is said that the policy of Islam is to tolerate Christianity, and yet it seems undeniable that the more a country adopts Islamic law, the more difficult and dangerous the lives of Christian communities become. From the flow of events will emerge the future of Egypt; let us pray that the Copts and other Christians in this land will have the peace and security that is their heritage and their right.

The picture above comes from an ancient Coptic icon. I do not need to tell you who it is. He can always be recognized. So many diverse cultures, epochs, artistic styles, but always the same face. Its the face of a real man. From some source or sources (this is another, fascinating topic), artists have learned the particular details of this man's face, and have faithfully reproduced them through the centuries. The real face of that real man. Christianity is the only religion with a human face. Look at Him. Let Him look at you. That is worth more than anything I can say.

Let us pray for Egypt, all its people, and in particular its Christians. Come Lord Jesus.