As Christians around the world inaugurate with Palm Sunday the holiest week of the Christian calendar, together with my fellow board members, with the President of Solidarity with the Persecuted Church and his staff, and above all as a priest who had the privilege of being associated with the Church in Egypt, I want to express solidarity with the Christians of Egypt in the loss of life and the suffering they confront in these most holy of days.
More than 2000 years ago, the Christ Child, with Mary and Joseph, fled to Egypt in the face of the mortal threat that Herod the Great posed as he sought to kill the Child. Jesus and the Holy Family, during this time of persecution, sanctified both Egypt and the continent of Africa by their presence on its soil, as they awaited the moment when they would return home to Nazareth.
Today, tragically, it is His followers whose blood is being shed in that land that is particularly special in terms of human civilization and culture, as well as its religious significance to all of us Christians.
I must think back to the years in which I lectured in theology…conscious of the tremendous and irreplaceable roles played by Egypt and her people from our earliest days and down to the present moment.
Alexandria was central in the development of Christology and the Church’s reflection and contemplation of the Lord Jesus — the Second Person of the Trinity who assumed a human nature in the womb of Mary in the miracle of the Incarnation. Indeed on Palm Sunday we celebrate the very being and presence of Christ. The development of our understanding of the person of Christ and his relationship with both mankind, and The Father and Holy Spirit would not be what it is today of not for the work of early Christians in Alexandria.
As a priest, I have many times been busy on Palm Sunday in preparing and presiding at the liturgy — it is a very special one with unique elements. It requires preparation and attention as it unfolds, often with many details capturing our thoughts and needing to be tended to in those final moments as the ceremony begins and then as it continues.
The photos forcefully brought back to me the horror that these moments could evoke as the priests and those in attendance confronted a nightmare from one heart beat to the next. Sadly, too many hearts ceased beating. Their precious lives have ended and their loved ones will never be the same for this loss. The injured will never be the same and neither will their families for having endured such trauma. The destruction is devastating.
I invite all the readers of Solidarity with the Persecuted Church’s blog to join me in remembering this holy week those who went to church on Palm Sunday to pray to God and honor Him — to join those who across the centuries have hailed with the waving of palm branches and cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and who instead have lost their lives or seen their lives radically and unalterably changed.
We must not lose sight of how Egypt, from the dawn of Christianity, has been a singular place in terms of our own history as a Christian community and in terms of the rapport that has marked the Christians of Egypt in their diversity and the co-existence that has marked Egypt and her cultures.
While none of us has the power, single-handedly, to push back the darkness that has taken possession of so many hearts of so many people in our world today, each of us can light a single candle…in our lives and by our actions…that brings the blessing of light and warmth, instead of simply cursing the darkness we see around us.
Let us give thanks to God for the shepherds that He has placed over the Churches in these moments of persecution and assault — the Patriarchs, Bishops, Priests, and all church leaders who serve these communities with such evident love and commitment. And to the friends and benefactors who are committed to helping our brothers and sisters in these most ancient Christian communities.
I wish each of you a blessed and grace-filled Holy Week. As I assure you of my prayers, please find a place in your prayers for all Christians celebrating the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and above all in places where they share experience of betrayal, violence, suffering, and the persecution that Christ himself endured on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
By Father Rodger Hunter-Hall