Liturgy Of The Dead

We still do not know the cause of the shooting at the wedding in the St. Mary Coptic Church in Cairo. Until we do it is best to withhold all speculations, although the odds-on favorite is a hate crime. It is difficult to get angry at the killers. Anyone that far gone into the pit of hate that they willingly spray bullets into a Church wedding is beyond our anger. In fact, anger is always best reserved for those from whom we have the highest expectations. There is little value in anger at the Egyptian police or the various organs of the state.

The day after the wedding the same church saw the prayers for the dead, which are also meant to comfort the living. It was a wrenching affair that achieved half of its purpose, if barely. The living, it seemed, were beyond consolation. There was little the officiating Priest or Bishops could do to comfort the congregation, some of whom jeered at the thanks offered to the police. In the last decades the Coptic Church assumed the leadership of the community in all aspects; the spiritual which is its duty; the social which was thrust on it by the failure of the state; and the political which it occasionally sought and ultimately bore as the secular leaders were made irrelevant by the death of politics in Egypt. The Copts, especially the poorer ones, gladly accepted that leadership, for which there was no realistic alternative. All this begs the question of whether the Church hierarchy is now tasked with doing the impossible, and of what relief can it be offered.

Three months after the July 3 events it is still impossible to criticize Pope Tawadros II presence on the stage with General Sisi and Sheikh Al Azhar. It is, however, possible to think of an alternative history. In that history the Pope would have indicated his support privately but refrained from the public display to lessen his political burden, one that he insisted he did not want in the first place. He could have also indicated privately that while disapproving of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, and not wishing them an exclusive role in running Egypt, he could not sanction the killing of either the innocent or the guilty. In doing so he would have assumed the role of a father to the Muslim Brothers, of whose behavior he surely disapproves, but whom he must love as children of God. It is a tough task, fit only for a Patriarch. Would such a stance have lessened the attacks against the Copts?  Probably not. Would it have made the state serve them less? Possibly. The current feeble efforts can still be weaker. It would have placed the Pope among the ranks of the most exceptional men of the new century, and possibly given a template for reconciliation to the hardened hearts of the Egyptian political class. There is no doubt of the risk of such actions toward the Copts of Egypt, but maybe it is time for the Coptic Church to aim wider than just Egypt, and higher than just its needs. It would also have been Christian in the literal sense; the sense that Christ’s ministry aimed for the fallen and deluded.

Lurking under such a fantasy is the question of the Coptic Church near mystical attachment to Egypt. It is from such attachment that the Pope must have felt compelled to stand on the stage on July 3. Except for the 5% or 10% of the Copts who immigrated, and even for most of those, the love for Egypt, a country that regularly kicks them in the teeth, is unalloyed. It is churlish to question that love, but not unseemly to try to direct it to better ends.

These are difficult words, and perhaps lesser courage is necessary to utter them from a distance. But what conquers anger except hope, and what can we ask from those we trust and respect but the most difficult.  And how can we comfort the living when their pain seems senseless and unearned, other than with the will to prevent future suffering.

 

— Maged Atiya



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