Thursday, 27 April 2017

The great faith of Coptic Christians in Egypt

Like many of you I read with dismay, sadness and anger about the killings of Coptic Christians in Egypt as the congregation of St. Mark's Church, Alexandria, met for worship on Palm Sunday. The intended target was Pope Tawardos II who, fortunately, was not present when a suicide bomber blew himself up killing 45 people and injuring 100 more. What sort of God did that bomber worship who would reward such a despicable act? And what sort of faith not on exonerates such a person but proclaims them a martyr, worth of the highest honour with ticket straight into heaven. If heaven was indeed populated by such people I am not sure I would want to go there.

But underneath all this terrible news I was good to see that light still shines in the darkness. I read that the widow of the Egyptian Christian guard who died protecting Coptic Pope Tawardos II during ISIS' Palm Sunday bombings has said she forgives her husband's killer.

'I forgive you and I ask God to forgive you. I pray that God may open your eyes to light your minds,' the widow of Naseem Fahmi said, in a message to her husband's killers and other's contemplating such violence, according to Open Doors.

'I am sure Naseem has been happy to give his life for Christ,' Samira, who was wearing black in mourning, said. 'When we talked about this one day he said that he would be willing to defend the church with his own blood. Last Sunday he did.

'He told me that he knew me and the kids needed him, but that he also knew that God would take care of us if something might happen to us.'

Naseem was one of the men guarding Saint Mark's church in Alexandria, the seat of the Coptic Pope, last Sunday. When the suicide bomber tried to enter the church, Naseem halted him and asked him to pass through the metal detector first.

There the assailant detonated his bomb. Naseem, a 54-year old father to two sons, was killed in the blast, but his quick intervention saved many.

In two months Naseem would have become a grandfather for the first time. He was also was a committed, beloved church member who served his church for over 20 years

'Naseem's life was at the church, and now his life is in heaven. I know he is in a good place.' Samira said. She added: 'I am proud of what my husband did, but life has become hard for me after his death. He was everything in my life.'

Naseem's brother, Fawzy Fahmi, said, 'After we heard the death of my brother Naseem, we went to the morgue to recognise his body. It was difficult for us to recognise him because the explosion completely ruined his face. In the end we were able to recognise him through a scar in his leg. He underwent a surgical operation on his knee 25 years ago and that helped us to recognise him.

'We have mixed feelings. It is difficult to express what we feel. We live between the sadness of losing our brother and the joy that he went to Heaven. Our only comfort that he is in a beautiful place with Christ now.'

On Monday this week an Egyptian Coptic priest gave an address to the bombers, in which he said he loved them, forgave them and was praying for them.

He said: 'You gave us to die the same death as Christ – and this is the biggest honour we could have.'

I can only marvel at such faith as this, that forgives enemies, and is not afraid to die in the loving service of God. It challenges me to ask myself if I would be willing to do the same. And it fills me with such a great love for all my brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering not only in Egypt, but across the Middle East and indeed the world.

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