The Enduring City: A Lament and a Prayer for the People of Egypt

In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border.  It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the Lord because of oppressors he will send them a savior, and will defend and deliver them

In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying “Blessed be Egypt, my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.

Isaiah 19:19-22, 24-25

 

This blog is dedicated to things eternal, and so I do not comment on contemporary affairs too often, but the ongoing violence in Egypt against Coptic Christians has lead me to reflect, and to write. This article in the Wall Street chronicles the destruction of one of Egypt’s oldest Christian churches, one that has survived the ravages of time. The author is an Egyptian and I am sure, a Christian, and the article is one of lament for the passing of a cultural heritage that has lasted for so long, as well as for those Christians still remaining in Egypt. Many are choosing to leave their homelands, as have so many throughout the Middle East in recent decades.

I mourn with the author the loss of such monuments, and the people who have lost life and property in the violence.  (I should point out that many Muslim have defended their Christian neighbors, as can be seen from many pictures circulating the internet; the violence, I fear, is largely political in nature.) I never know how to feel when thinking of people so far away, whose experiences are so much more dire than my own. I know that as a Christian, I am united with them, even if imperfectly, but it seems a bit presumptuous to me to identify too readily with those who have suffered so much, when my life is practically Edenic. It is rather in the hope we share, me and those poor suffering people, that I would rather focus on, an eternal hope.

You know, if you have read any of my blog posts, my love for the beauty of the liturgy, and my sorrow that people in my own country and in the Latin Church of which I am member seem not to care too much about it. Well, I do not spend much time despairing over this, for the same reason that I believe the Copts will survive, even flourish, after this terrible ordeal is over. As great a loss as it is, to have one’s heritage taken from you, smashed, destroyed, despised, and as great and important are the beautiful temples we build to God, there is something even more beautiful than this, the faith that inspired these buildings, these ways of living that sustain them. These visible beauties of the Church have their origins in the invisible beauty of God, which he reveals to us by faith. And that faith will survive these calamities in Egypt, and those who have suffered will have the prayers of many to aid them in this perilous journey; those who have died, will have their intercession. At least, they will of me. And so what was built once, may be built again, as long as this faith is nourished, and I do not know it, but I believe it, that God will hear the cries of the Egyptian Christians, and they will flourish once again.

When I as yet had no faith in God, I remember reading Plato’s Republic for the first time; how he talked of the perfect city, and when Glaucon, Socrates’ student, protested that the city they were discussing did not exist anywhere on earth, Socrates replied there was a pattern of it in heaven, which one could behold, and beholding, order one’s life after its pattern. And whether or not, Socrates said, it existed in fact or ever would, was no matter, since the just man would “live after the manner of that city, having nothing to do with any other.” What joy it was to find this confirmed in the Letter to the Hebrews, that those with faith in God “looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” because “here we have no lasting city, but we await the city which is to come.” It is in that faith and with that hope that I live, and hope to die, and with which I pray for the Christians of Egypt, and for all Egyptians who have suffered there in these recent days.  May God come quickly to their aid, and grant them the peace and justice that has thus eluded them.

 

 

Alypius Minor

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~ by Alypius on August 26, 2013.

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