When Palm Sunday Became Bomb Sunday: How Copts Confront Persecution

April 10, 2017

Fighting radicalism with radicalism might appear counter productive to some, however, according to Coptic tradition, it is that very ideology that has preserved the faith of Egypt’s Christians since it’s establishment as one of the first ancient churches by the Apostle St. Mark.


No parent expects to celebrate a holiday picking up the pieces of their child’s body after worshipping together. No child expects a safe place designated for family and worship to be the very place the most horrific nightmare could take place. Yet, Tanta and Alexandria, two cities in Egypt with flourishing Coptic communities, faced this very tragedy on Palm Sunday. The holiday symbolizes triumph, and for any human attempting to process such an inhumane incident, triumph is the last word that comes to mind. Yet, many Copts, though undeniably heartbroken to lose loved ones in the name of extremism and through a lens of hate, maintain a supernatural peace that has kept their consistently targeted community alive for generations.


Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”


The above Biblical scripture is the ethos of the martyrdom mentality that fuels the Coptic community. Rather than choosing to concentrate on villainizing the enemy, which in this recent case, is a group of fanatics affiliated with ISIS, Egyptian Christians are often raised with a heavy focus on the afterlife. (Ironically similar to their Pharaonic ancestors-though centered on different beliefs.)


Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”


It’s hard to believe that a person of faith, in the 21st century, would have to take the above scripture of “losing your life” in a literal context, yet the Coptic narrative tells us otherwise.

If it’s not ISIS, it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, if it’s not the Brotherhood, it a new branch of fundamentalism developing nearby, with the Coptic community, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, as the prime target. Though religious tension persists, Copts are far more conscious today to cast all Muslims as fanatics. The recent Egyptian revolution, for example, showcased one of the greatest feats of Muslim/Christian solidarity and cooperation. It is thus, specifically through spiritual eyes, that Copts find great honor in the notion of sacrificing one’s physical body, to preserve one’s soul in eternity.


Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”


This focus on forgiveness and a sense of blind faith is so prevalent that you will often find Egyptian Christians with Coptic crosses tattooed on their wrists, the same area where it is believed Jesus received nails to be crucified. The custom began long ago as a way, sometimes forced, to distinguish Christians from Muslims, but the significance has evolved. The idea serves as a reminder of not just the power of the crucifixion, but also a public display of commitment to one’s spiritual identity. That way, if radicals threaten Christians and inquire about their religious background, even fear could not stop them from denying their faith.


It is a public submission, to the point of death. It is a confident certainty in the temporary nature of this life, and the eternal promise of the next. It is a declaration of heavenly citizenship. And though there is much work to be done by President El Sisi to enforce heavy security efforts for the many Christian communities throughout Egypt, the Coptic response, in many ways, is just as radical as the terrorists, but this time, through a lens of forgiveness, through a lens of love.