St. Macarius Coptic Monastery in Existence Since 4th Century Faces Threat of Demolition
Marking just the latest of a long dispute which arose around a road project threatening to demolish an archaeological site, Coptic monks are literally willing to put their lives on the line.
According to Fides, the project to build a road that should unite the city of Fayoum to an oasis area crossing the territories around the Coptic monastery of St. Macarius, threatens an archaeological area that stretches around a church dating to the fourth century.
Ninety-two kilometers from Cairo, the Monastery of St. Macarius is located in Wadi el-Natrun, the ancient Scetes. In Christian literature, the Scetes refers to one of the three early Christian monastic centers located in the desert of the northwestern Nile Delta.
In addition to the monastery itself, the project also threatens its water supply of the monastery and some cultivated areas belonging to it.
The monks, in recent days, launched an initiative of non-violent resistance. They lied in the path of bulldozers working on the project, led by workers who approached the monastery lands shouting “Allah Akbar.”
In the past, the monks submitted various alternative projects to the authorities that would allow the site’s historical and natural heritage to be preserved.
To encourage the search for alternative solutions, the Coptic Church also established an ad hoc committee for this purpose.
In addition, the Ministry of Antiquities expressed its opposition to the project, recommending the archaeological be fully protected.
The monastery was founded in 360 A.D. by St. Macarius the Egyptian, a spiritual father to more than 4,000 monks of different nationalities, such as Egyptians, Greeks, Ethiopians, Armenians, Nubians, Asians, Palestinians, Italians, Gauls and Span-lards. Among the monks are men of letters and philosophers, and members of the aristocracy of the time, along with simple illiterate peasants.
Since the fourth century, the monastery has been continuously inhabited by monks.
NOTE: Though the Coptic Orthodox are not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church, this is an interesting story as there are many Eastern Orthodox Christians in northern Africa and the Middle East where ISIS operates. Also, a few of the Greek Orthodox monasteries in America have militant Muslim camps as close neighbours (i.e. Fethullah Gulen’s compound in Saylorsburg, PA is about 30-40 minutes from Holy Protection Monastery; Islamberg, NY is about 40 minutes from St. Nektarios Monastery; the Squaw Valley Islamic Settlement in Dunlap, CA is right next door to Life-Giving Spring Monastery.) Geronda Ephraim would tell his monks and nuns who he brought here from Greece, “You have come here to die.” He has also hinted and stated outright in numerous homilies to his monastics they are the monks of the last days, the monasteries will be persecuted, and the monasteries will produce many martyrs in the days of the Antichrist. According to Geronda Ephraim, the monks of St. Nektarios Monastery will be the first of his monks to martyr.
There is a grey area in the monasteries concerning the Orthodox teaching on martyrdom. It is evident from the Synaxarion, and Orthodox tradition, that when a non-Christian is martyred for Christ along with other Orthodox Christians, his blood becomes his [orthodox] baptism and he is saved. Years ago, at St. Nektarios Monastery, the abbot was asked about Catholics and Protestant missionaries who are martyred for Christ, yet they are adherents to the wrong faith. He stated that though they are heretics, their martyrdom might account for something, and left it at that. Another monastic stated that even if they were saved, they would be blind due to not having received a proper Orthodox baptism, and though confessing Christ, their doctrine was not Orthodox. As an aside, Geronda Ephraim enjoys the Copts and admires their piety and reverence despite having the wrong faith.
The Coptic Orthodox Church has announced that the murder of the 21 Egyptian Christians killed by the so-called Islamic State in Libya will be commemorated in its Church calendar.
Pope Tawadros II announced that the names of the martyrs will be inserted into the Coptic Synaxarium, the Oriental Church’s equivalent to the Roman Martyrology. This procedure is also equivalent to canonization in the Latin Church.
According to terrasanta.net, the martyrdom of the 21 Christians will be commemorated on the 8th Amshir of the Coptic calendar, or February 15th of the Gregorian calendar. The commemoration falls on the feast day of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
Militants of the Islamic State released a gruesome video entitled “A Message Signed in Blood to the Nation of the Cross” in which they released a warning saying they were “south of Rome.” They then proceeded to behead the Christian men, some of whom were seen mouthing the words “Lord Jesus Christ” moments before their death.
While the killings have stirred fears of the Islamic State’s close proximity to Europe, they have also strengthened many in their faith.
In an interview with Christian channel SAT-7 ARABIC on Wednesday, Beshir Kamel, brother of two of the Coptic martyrs, even thanked the Islamic State for including their declaration of faith in the videos before killing them.
“ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where they declared their faith and called upon Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith,” he said.
Beshir said that he was proud of his brothers Bishoy and Samuel, saying that their martyrdom was “a badge of honor to Christianity.”
Kamel’s interview with SAT 7-ARABIC went viral, receiving over 100,000 views within hours of its posting online. When asked what his reaction would be if he saw an Islamic State militant, Kamel recalled his mother’s response.
“My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [him] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her son entered the kingdom of heaven,” Beshir said.