From my article published at Providence Magazine:
“On a day like today,” Fr. Samaan Shehata was murdered in Cairo. The day was October 12, but he likely read those very words in mass just one day earlier, introducing the lives of the saints.
Hunted down and stabbed repeatedly by a Muslim extremist, his name now joins their list. Dozens have preceded him in the last few years alone, gunned down in a bus, bombed in a church, beheaded in Libya.
Godfather to Shehata’s children, Fr. Yuannis Anton said these deaths are a “tax” that Copts must pay for the peace of the church and nation. These are difficult days for Egypt, he said, and the fight against terrorism is a fight for stability.
“In the language of the church, it is our cross to bear,” he said. “But we pray with Jesus not to hold this sin against them. We are not angry nor ask for vengeance, this is not our spirit.”
Similar stances have repeatedly wowed the world as Coptic faithful forgive their enemies. But even when their call instead emphasizes justice, there is an odd sense of jealousy that indwells many in the community.
“I wish I was with him, and lost my life with him,” Fr. Biemen Muftah told C-Sat, who was with Shehata at the time of the murder. “I wish I was as ready as he was, and could be in the place he is now.”
Choking back tears, he said, “We have lost a good priest on the earth, but gained the best intercessor in heaven.”
It is these intercessors Copts learn about “on a day like today,” every time the mass is celebrated.
Called the Synaxarium, the liturgy features daily hagiographic biographies of the celebrated saints of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Read after the Acts of the Apostles and before the Gospel, it features 726 entries, 237 of which involve martyrdom. In daily readings, nearly half the year encourages the faithful to suffer even unto death…
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