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

what are you willing to die for

“You cannot turn me from my holy Faith by threats, nor with promises of riches and pleasures.
I will obey your orders willingly, if you will leave me free to follow my religion.
I would rather surrender my head to you than to change my faith.
I was born a Christian, and I shall die a Christian.”

+ St. John the Russian


(lingering pomergarnite / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2018)

The definition of the word martyr, according to Merriam Webster is: a person who voluntarily
suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion.

When we think of individuals who fit that description…we think of those individuals
who reach out to us from various Biblical tales.
We recall the stories of individuals who were tried and sentenced to death
for their faith in God, people like Daniel in the lion’s den—
or of Mesach, Shadrach, and Abednego along with King Nebuchadnezzar who decreed
having them thrown into the furnace…
We think of the stories of those individuals who refused to recant their belief in
the Omnipotent God.

Stories that are both far away and long ago.

And so in turn, we know from our Biblical history teachings that St Stephen was the first
recorded Christian martyr—
a man who refused to renounce his Christian faith, that of his belief in Jesus Christ…
with the near obvious result being his death…
and in Stephen’s case, it was by stoning.

The New Testament is laced with such stories—the stories of those who
suffered and died for refusing to denounce Jesus Christ as the Risen Son of God.

Yet today when we hear the word martyr or martyrdom, our 21st-century minds focuses in
on radical extremists…radical Islamic suicide bombers who offer themselves,
their lives, in order to kill as many other people as possible.
Not like the Christian who simply stands firm in his or her faith.

Christian martyrs are still being killed worldwide…
They die more or less quietly as their deaths are not publicized or are of common knowledge—
in part because they die in places where news of such is very hidden and or controlled.
Their deaths do not make the papers or the evening news.
Their deaths are not the headline gripping stories of deaths carried out by those who
prefer to kill mass numbers of people due to a skewed faith…

Many in the West, members of the Christian faith along with nonbelievers,
erroneously assume that Christian martyrdom ended with the fall of Rome…
due in part because the deaths of martyred Christians
does not make the nightly news or is not sprawled across the headlines.

The tales of imprisonment, tortures, and deaths of today’s Christians are not on the level
of breaking news as are those of the martyred Islamists because of the flip-flopped
extremist’s view of martyrdom.
Whereas the radical kills hundreds in one act—the countless numbers of tortured and
martyred Christians go virtually unnoticed.

However what we do know is that an Islamic Martyr sacrifices self in order to kill
while the Christian martyr is killed because he or she will not recant their faith…
and often is killed because of an attempt to protect others…
certainly not to harm others.

A vast difference.

Today most Westerners, and again that would be both Believers and non Believers,
does not feel a life or death threat or link to or for any martyred Christians
simply because the notion of a martyred Christians is not currently taking place.
Or at least that’s what we assume.

We aren’t still stoning or curcifying a person because they claim to be a Christian,
are we???

But what many in our society do not realize is that just because we live in an oh so
very modern society, there are indeed places still around the globe where Christians
are being stoned to death and even crucified for their faith despite our thinking
such barbarism disappeared eons ago.

Yet we read of IS and of the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians and
we occasionally hear a word of those who are killed for their faith in places
like North Korea, China, Myramar…but not here we will gloat, not where life
is civilized…right?

Yet what we fail to both see and understand is that the persecution of the Christian
in our Western Society is very much real…. however it is more hidden,
more insidious and quietly more subtle than those types of murders and deaths of those
Christians from either our history books or of those in far-flung regions of the world.

It would behoove us to realize that just because we consider ourselves “civilized” and
above the torture and or persecution of individuals for their Christian belief,
we should stop and take notice that there is one who is very much aware of the fact that
there is indeed such persecution taking place…
as such acts are carried out in a much more hidden and sinister type of execution…
And this individual is much more keenly aware of such…much more so than any human being.
And He couldn’t be more excited…

Abba [St] Athanasios, bishop of Alexandria, said:
“One of you often says: ‘Where is the persecution so I can be martyred?’
Suffer martyrdom in your conscience; die to sin;
‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth’ [cf. Col 3:5]
and you will have become a martyr by intention.

Those [former martyrs] fought with emperors and rulers;
you have the devil, the emperor of sin, for adversary and demons for rulers.
For at that time a shrine and an altar stood before them and an abomination
of idolatry, an execrable idol.

Take careful thought;
even today there is an altar and a sanctuary and a virtual execrable idol in the soul.
An altar, that is luxurious gluttony; a sanctuary, the longing for delights;
an idol, the spirit of covetousness.