The 21– Muhammad’s answer to the people of the cross…

“Life itself, without faith, would have been worthless to them. It would be mere existence–
an existence more lowly than that of the animals, for animals are perfect in and of themselves, but humans are imperfect;
their aim for perfection requires divine assistance.”

Martin Mosebach author of the book The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs


(book cover)

My friends at Plough Publishing have gifted me with another tantalizing morsel
book for perusal and review.
Well, my publishing friend actually was offering several books for sharing but I requested the hard copy of
but one book—
The 21.

It is the story of those murdered and martyred Egyptian Copts on a Libyan seaside in 2015,
at the hands of ISIS—a story that continues to haunt me.

And it seems that I am not alone in feeling haunted by the memory of this heinous act.
The German author, Martin Mosebach is haunted as well.

Obviously, in order to delve into the story, Mr. Mosebach watched the full video of the beheadings
that was still floating around out there somewhere in cyberspace…that odd juxtaposition of
both space and time where nothing seems to die despite any and all humans involved either eventually
or having long since died.

At the time, as well as now, I did not nor do I care to watch such.

There have been many highly publicized videoed beheadings…
all carried out in the name of Allah by ISIS over past 5 or 6 years, but I have not watched them.

And yet oddly millions have been drawn to watching as if having bought a ticket to some macabre
Hollywood blockbuster…mesmerized by the unthinkable…
The unthinkable of one human being ending the life of another human being–
A life that is literally being held in the hands of an executioner…
or better put, a life’s head pulled up by the hair, all in order to sever the neck and eventually
the head more readily from its body.

Mosebach notes in his book how the original ISIS video actually cut away from what became an extended
as well as messy time the executioners were having in literally cutting the heads from the bodies…
not neat and quick as say the swift effortless job of a guillotine.
And it was very apparent that for the sake of the video’s shock value and propaganda,
the executioners desperately needed, as well as wanted, to look as professional, in control
and as efficient as possible.

A messy beheading can give the impression of being amateurish and ISIS wants nothing
to do with appearing amateurish or not being in complete control—as that feeds into their
desire to always appear large and in charge.

After watching the video and studying the odd camera image of the captors marching their
prisoners to the shoreline while appearing as black-clad giants
next to their captives who were wearing the unmistakable orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the Islamic
prisoners at Gitanomao, as each captive appeared small and less than–

Mosebach was moved by the posturing of the captors mirrored by the near emotionless
and oddly resigned yet the serene sense of their captives.
Prayers could be seen and heard flowing from the lips of the captives as well as the offered
praise for Jesus Christ despite knowing their fate was soon to be grisly.
There were no cries for mercy or of fear …but only controlled prayers to Jesus.

Early in the book Mosebach wonders aloud whether or not martyrdom and Christianity must
always go hand in hand…as he inquisitively muses
“as long as there are Christians there will also be martyrs?”

Mosebach knew that he must make his way to Egypt to visit the
homes and families of these martyred men.
And that he desperately needed to know more about the Copts and the Coptic faith.

The Copts are as old as Christianity itself–for they are some of the earliest known followers
of the Christian faith. Coptic actually means Egyptian—so these are Egyptian Christians.
They originated in the city of Alexandria and claim the author of the book of Mark,
that being John Mark, as their founder and first ‘bishop.’

Long before there was a Latin West or Eastern faith, long before there was
an East and West spilt in the faith, there were the Copts.

According to gotquestions.com,
Prior to the “Great” East/West Schism of A.D. 1054,
the Coptics were separated from the rest by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451.
The council met to discuss the Incarnation of Christ and declared that Christ was
“one hypostasis in two natures” (i.e., one person who shares two distinct natures).
This became standard orthodoxy for Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic,
and Protestant churches from then on Coptic understanding is that Christ is one nature from two natures:
“the Logos Incarnate.”
In this understanding, Christ is from, not in, two natures: full humanity and full divinity.
Some in the Coptic Orthodox Church believe that their position was misunderstood at
the Council of Chalcedon and take great pains to ensure that they are not seen as Monophysitic
(denying the two natures of Christ), but rather “Miaphysitic”
(believing in one composite/conjoined nature from two).
Some believe that perhaps the council understood the church correctly,
but wanted to exile the church for its refusal to take part in politics or due to the rivalry
between the bishops of Alexandria and Rome.
To this day, 95 percent of Christians in Alexandria are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

It is interesting to note that when the Coptics were under the rule of the Roman Empire,
they suffered severe persecution and death for their steadfast faith and beliefs in Christ while
refusing to worship emperors. However, by A.D. 641,
yet another tribulation began when the Arab conquest took place,
overthrowing the Romans’ rule in Egypt and, at first, relieving the Coptic Church from persecution.
What appeared to be their liberty and freedom became yet again bondage.
The societal strength and control of the Arabs caused the Coptics to endure a major language and
culture change as well as confront the Islamic faith. Unfortunately,
over the centuries, Christianity lost foothold and most Coptics converted to Islam.

I am only to page 26 in the story and Mosebach has not yet traveled to Egypt—
so I am hopeful to read a story rich in history, Faith, resilience, forgiveness and above all Hope—
Hope despite the choking backdrop of Evil.

Some of his words prick the skin.
I find it difficult reading the words written by those who are not Americans…
those who write about America and our politics…
words about our leaders, our actions, our lack of action,
our complications in world affairs…
because like most Americans, I like to think our hearts are in the right place but I also know that
our National actions and reactions are deeply complicated by our politics.
Actions and reactions that fail not only our hearts and our people but fail those of our world.

I think as Americans we tend to feel a responsibility, albeit it a false responsibility, to
make the world a better place and to be the quintessential Superman for those in need.
We sometimes fail…we fail others and we fail ourselves.
So it does hurt reading the words of those who keenly notice.
But as they say, the truth can often hurt.

Throughout his quest, while seeking truth and information, Mosebach is moved by what he
actually does find…
that being a deeply sincere forgiveness found in the hearts of the Copts.
A century’s long-oppressed people who can find the capacity to truly forgive those
who have brutally killed their own families.

Unlike those of the Islamic State who seek misguided bloody, torturous and grisly revenge…
the Copts literally embrace the words of Christ…to forgive one’s enemies, no matter what.
For it is in forgiveness that we find our true liberation and hope.

Their faith goes beyond what we think of Christianity in the West.
That of an ever-growing, feel good wannabe that is polarizing and lukewarm at best.

The Copts seem to understand that our Faith transcends this earth.
Life on this earth is a blink of an eye that matters not…what matters is Christ and Christ alone.
Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll offer more as I progress as time allows but for now, I will leave us with the
words of Mr. Mosebach…

Much as the brutal nature of their deaths and the firmness,
even stubbornness with which they confessed their faith seem to match one another in context,
we find their fate equally eerie.
Hasn’t the Western world, with its openness toward discussion and dialogue,
long since overcome such life-threatening opposites?
We live in an era of strict religious privatization and want to see it
subjected to secular law.
Society seems to have reached a consensus to reject proselytizing and religious zeal.
Hadn’t all that put an end to the merciless, all-or-nothings alternatives or believe or leave,
renounce your faith or die?

Here is a link to Christianity Today and a story about the Copts and forgiveness.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/april/forgiveness-muslims-moved-coptic-christians-egypt-isis.html

looking forward rather than at now…

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in
carrying it.
God is helping us.
And in God who is comforting us, as St. Paul says,
we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….