By Martin Roth, BosNewsLife Senior Columnist
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife Columns)– As 2015 drew to a close, church leaders were expressing grave conc
erns about the future of Christianity in the Middle East. But such fears might be exaggerated, claims a writer for a British Christian website.
As evidence he cites Egypt’s Coptic Christians, whose “faithful piety” means “there are almost certainly more committed believers in Egypt than there are in the UK!”
It’s a valid argument, and it struck a chord, as my pastor asked me to preach one of our church’s sermons during the Christmas period when I spoke at length on the Coptic Church.
The topic of my sermon was the visit of the magi – the three wise men of Biblical tradition – to the infant Jesus, a story I used to illustrate the theme of trust.
Gospel writer Matthew said it was the visit of the magi that alerted King Herod to the birth of Jesus, prompting Herod to order the slaughter of all boys aged under two years in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
ESCAPE ROUTE KNOWN
But an angel of the Lord had already warned Joseph to flee, and he escaped to Egypt with Mary and the baby Jesus.
Though the Bible says nothing about the “Holy Family’s time in Egypt”, the Coptic Church believes it knows the route of their journey. “Today many of these places are famous pilgrimage sites,” I told my congregation in Australia.
I discussed the Coptic Church as it is among the finest examples of a denomination that has trusted God despite centuries of hardship.
The Egyptian church has been persecuted since its reported foundation by Gospel writer Mark, soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the crackdown continues today.
Yet, throughout history, church members have chosen death rather than renounce their faith in Christ. Is this trust in God the reason why the Coptic Church has survived and flourished while Christianity was being wiped out in many of the neighboring countries of the Middle East? I feel it might be.
SPECIAL “FAITHFUL PIETY”
In my sermon I mentioned what could be termed the “faithful piety” of the Church. I live in Melbourne, Australia, not far from a large Coptic monastery that serves as their local headquarters. They have their own bookstore that is open on Sundays. Some years ago I went there to buy books to use as background for my writings.
I met a senior priest who gave me pamphlets about the Church. Then he left and came back with a loaf of the monastery’s communion bread, which he presented to me. It was a round, flat loaf with a cross stamped in the center, representing Jesus, surrounded by twelve smaller crosses, for the twelve apostles.
The priest explained that the bread is made each Saturday by priests who pray and chant Psalms throughout the whole baking process. It is round because that represents Jesus, who is eternal, without beginning or end. And each loaf is pierced five times, to symbolise the three nails of Jesus on the cross, the spear that the Romans pierced Him with and the crown of thorns on His head.
The priest said it was made of wheat and yeast only to represent the ‘manna’ that God gave the Israelites each day in the Sinai Desert, which was intended as their daily sustenance. The bread never contains salt, as this would give it some taste and might also help preserve it. It is made to be without particular taste, and to be eaten immediately.
As we enter 2016 we see Christianity under threat in many places, not only in the Middle East. I suspect some of us might be tested as never before. Do we have the same strong trust in our Savior that has been shown over many centuries by Egypt’s Coptic Church?
(Martin Roth (www.authormartinroth.com), BosNewsLife’s Senior Columnist and Special Correspondent is an Australian journalist and a former Tokyo-based foreign correspondent. He is the author of “Journey Out Of Nothing: My Buddhist Path to Christianity” and of the Brother Half Angel series of thrillers, which focus on the persecuted church. BosNewsLife Columns distributes opinionated columns and commentaries providing a fresh perspective on issues in the news. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BosNewsLife News Agency or its parent company.)