The Coptic martyrs

The pictures are circulating again today. It’s an anniversary, you see, and here’s the story. In February 2015, the daesh (aka. ‘Islamic state’) murdered twenty-one men on a beach in the Libya. If they thought they would score brownie points for it with the Islamic world, they gave new martyrs to the Christians – men who clearly gave their lives for their Christian profession. The happiest part of this great tragedy, from the point of view of evangelisation and witness, was the bringing forth once more to the eyes of our (mostly) safe and secure Western societies the vision of the martyrs of the earliest Christian years, which are usually consigned to the shelves of the history section of our local libraries, if they are at all there. When we hear about the martyrs at daily Mass (because you don’t mostly hear about them at Sunday Mass), the priest doesn’t often give us the entire story, and the martyr of the calendar is forgotten when we have left the church. We can never forget that Christians have given their lives for Christ and the Church regularly for every century since the origin of the Church.

Tomorrow, for example, we have a whole list of Coptic martyrs in the martyrology (but not in our diocesan calendars), so you wouldn’t know about them unless you read a Latin martyrology (2004 edition) or were steeped in the history of the early centuries of the Church. Here is the entry, translated from the Latin:

“In Caesarea in Palestine, Saints Elias, Jeremias, Isaias, Samuel and Daniel, who being Egyptian Christians when they had willingly administered the faith to men sentenced to work in the quarries in Cilicia were arrested and, Firmilianus presiding and the emperor Galerius Maximianus ruling, horribly tortured and struck down with the sword…”

Roman martyrology, February the 16th

Cilicia is the south-east of Asia Minor, which was then a Greco-Roman province and is today called ‘Turkey.’ These Copts were brave fellows then, as they are today. Where you may see men in white jumpsuits on the beach in Libya, I see men in white gathered around the throne of the Lamb in the book of the Apocalypse of S. John (aka. Revelation). The one man of the twenty-one who is given to have not been a Copt died in solidarity with them, and he will have his reward also. This Christ promised the Church when He said that

“He who gives a prophet the welcome due to a prophet shall receive the reward given to prophets; and he who gives a just man the welcome due to a just man shall receive the reward given to just men. And if a man gives so much as a draught of cold water to one of the least of these here, because he is a disciple of Mine, I promise you, he shall not miss his reward.”

Gospel of S. Matthew, 10: 41-42