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May 17, 2019


The Mirror Has Two Faces, by Lola

No one can accuse the Copts of being cowards, but no one can absolutely maintain that they are always brave. In things spiritual, they are brave, and no Church has been more courageous than the Coptic Church in witnessing to Christ. The annals of the Universal Church attests to this – the Coptic Church, which is the Copts who believe in Christ, has provided more martyrs than any other Church for the cause of Christianity, and its label as the Church of the Martyrs is a well-deserved one. But the Copts have not shown a similar bravery in the sphere of the temporal. And no one can claim that bravery is just confined to the spiritual field. We have failed to protect our homeland, our nation, and our beloved in the face of attacks by enemies, and how many enemies surrounded, and still surround, us.

So, the Copts are selectively brave; or, if you want, they are selectively coward. Brave and coward as the situation determines. Why is that?

In matters spiritual, the Copts can sacrifice life and body, property and career, to witness to Christ. In the face of those who order them to deny Christ, they will defy the order. Even when they are not apprehended by the authorities, they would go to the powers that be that is persecuting the Christians, and in boldness, declare to them: “Anok pe ipchristianos (I am Christian)”. Thuis is when they know perfectly well that the consequence of this daring act of defiance would be execution by beheading. Our history is full of such acts of bravery, not only during the Great Persecution of Emperor Diocletian but throughout our history, well into the Islamic period, when this brave act is often taken by Copts who had for some reason converted to Islam and then renounced it: those latter martyrs – so called, neo-martyrs – saw their defiance as an act of cleansing off their sin of having betrayed Christ in the past by accepting Islam.

But in temporal matters, the Copts have not shown bravery – they have cowed to the enemy and the prospects of losing life or limb. Consequently, they paid in men, women, and children, and property, land, and country. And they remained without autonomy or independence even in their religious freedom. We can fight in wars of others but can’t fight in wars to protect ourselves and nation. This is a situation that creates weak nation – nations that are considered an easy prey by foreigners and the enemy. It is for this that the Muslim leader, ‘Amr in al-As, who invaded and occupied Egypt: “Egypt’s land is gold in value; its Nile is a wonder; its women are toys; its men are slaves to the conqueror; and it belongs to whoever conquers”.

We can easily understand the selectivity here: it is a function of our ideological deficit. While Copts were very clear about Christ’s injunction: “But whoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven,”[1] they were not very clear about using force to defend one’s own family, nation, and country. When it is about other wars, we are told that we must be obedient to civil authority, whatever and whoever that authority is; but when it comes to fight for ourselves and nation, we are told not to resist evil. This is what I call ‘the ideological deficit’, for I think it is due mainly to our failure as a nation and Church to develop a theological and philosophical narrative to justify resistance of evil when it is directed against others not our very own selves.

We left our people in confusion and disarray, and when they are in immediate need to act based on ideological – theological in this sense – conviction to face up to outside threat, they could not find a ready and easy answer from their spiritual leaders to how they should act.  This is, I imagine, what the Coptic rebels in the Last Great Coptic Uprising against Islamic rule, in 832 AD, faced: they lacked guidance and direction from the Church, and they felt betrayed by their religious leaders.

This is the basis of the problem, the cause of our enslavement – the theological deficit and inadequacy of our religious leaders in addressing the important question of facing up to outside bullies of our nation. They restricted their interest in religious freedom, and when they reduced their demands to that level, they neither safeguarded their temporal freedom nor their religious freedom. The acquiescence which the Coptic Church showed when the Arabs invaded Egypt in 640 AD, on the promise of protecting religious freedom (which implies taking away any other freedom and right), ended with all the misery that we witnessed, and which spared none, whether in the religious or temporal sphere.

The lesson is to develop a political philosophy of resistance, based on theology (for we ARE religious), which is clear and acts as immediate guidance to what to do when we are faced with aggression.

My contention is that bravery or cowardice in any single situation, whether spiritual or temporal, is a function of our minds: of what we think is right.


[1] Matthew 10:33 (KJV).

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