April/May 2019 - Vol. 103.
21 Coptic
                                                          martyrs being
                                                          led to their
                                                          execution in
                                                          Libya on
                                                          February 12,
Love Stronger Than Death: 21 Coptic Martyrs
a brief report and interview with Coptic martyrs' families 

 “ISIS thought the killing of our relatives would destroy us. It did not. It revived us.”
- wife of 29-year-old martyr Samuel Abraham

February 15 (2019), marks the fourth anniversary of the deaths of 20 Coptic Christian men from Egypt (Copts are the native Christians of Egypt) and one Christian man from Ghana — all martyred for their faith. Last year, a church, The Church of the Libyan Martyrs, was inaugurated and dedicated to the lives of these men and their resolve to follow Jesus.

In the days and weeks leading up to their deaths, ISIS captors reportedly tortured the men who had traveled the 1,200 miles to Libya to find work and support their families. Militants attempted to persuade them to deny Jesus in return for their lives. They all refused. In fact, during the barbaric execution, the men repeated the words, “Lord Jesus Christ.”

                          father of martyred Coptic son

“When I saw he died with the name of Jesus on his lips, I was very proud. I rejoiced!” – Malak, father of martyred son

“We only knew martyrdom from films, but martyrdom was reintroduced and it strengthened our faith because these people, these martyrs, lived among us.”

For Malak, the reintroduction of modern-day martyrdom on a worldwide scale is especially sobering. He is the father of one of the 21 Coptic Christians killed by Islamic State militants on the Libyan coast. Few will forget the graphic images of the mass beheadings in a video released and paraded online around the world.

Excerpt from Open Doors report
, February 15, 2018 by Lindy Lowry
names of 21 Coptic martyrs

The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs

by Martin Mosebach
Martin Mosebach, an acclaimed jornalist and novelist from Frankfurt, Germany, traveled to Egypt and went to the homes of the Coptic martyrs families. He was started by the faith and serenity Coptic Christians he met with. His interviews and research culminated in the writing of a book, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, published by Plough 2019. The following excerpt is from Chapter 9 of the book.
It had been dangerous to go to Libya seeking work. The Arab Spring had plunged the country into chaos, and public safety was effectively a thing of the past. There had been violence against
Christians well before 2015, including several murders. The priests of one Egyptian diocese – the Holy Metropolis of Damanhur, in the Nile Delta, who also looked after the Copts in Libya – ceased their usual trips, as there was no reliable police force left to protect them. But the families of the Twenty-One needed the money, and going to Libya was a shorter journey and posed fewer bureaucratic difficulties than going to the Gulf States. They were poor – just an inconspicuous little group heading out to look for jobs together. Who would care about such people?

And yet their departure was accompanied by a few premonitions. Twenty-three-year-old Abanub, a young man whose unusual features made it look as if he might be from India, said to
a friend returning home to El-Aour from Libya in 2014 to get married: “You came back here for your wedding this year, but in 2015 we will all celebrate our wedding.” Might his listeners have
been reminded of the “marriage supper of the Lamb” from the Book of Revelation, which all of them would have been familiar with, in which the blood of the sacrifice cleanses the robes of the
righteous until they are pure white? After the fact, that is precisely how his enigmatic words were interpreted.

Girgis (the elder) was also twenty-three and, according to his father, always carried a photograph of two Christians killed in a bombing, saying: “I wish I were with them, and like them.” Sameh phoned his family shortly before being abducted – he had been in Libya for six months already – and asked not only that everyone back home pray for him, but above all that they look after his little daughter.

Issam’s widow showed me a photograph people considered prophetic. During a visit to the Monastery of Saint Samuel, Issam had asked a monk what the future might hold. Issam knelt silently before him, and the monk put his hands around the young man’s neck – that was the exact moment the snapshot recorded. On the night the Twenty-One were abducted, the monk had a dream: he saw Issam and other men tormented by a large hound dog in uniform, and then a dagger suddenly pierced his chest.

Luka’s widow said that once, after hearing a sermon on martyrdom, her husband had said: “I’m ready.” He mentioned having an intuition that martyrdom awaited him. He had often taken walks on the very beach where he was later beheaded. He also had a macabre sense of humor: she showed me a photograph of him lying in a coffin he himself had built. As I left, she gave me
a T-shirt with a print of her husband and Issam, both wearing sparkling crowns.

Malak’s father, a fat, merry farmer in a gray jellabiya, described a phenomenon that occurred the night after the murder: a bright white light appeared in the dark sky, “like a laser cannon.” He and the neighbors spotted it even before news of their sons’ deaths had reached them. He recalled that, throughout the forty-three days their sons had been held captive, the government had kept all the men’s families in the dark, without any news. “We didn’t know how they were doing, but as soon as we saw the light, it was clear: either they’ve been freed, or they’re dead.” He had begun to join our visits to other families, and let others confirm this miracle as well; and indeed, they, too, had seen it. Phenomena involving bright lights are a recurring theme in Coptic narratives, and accompany almost all major events the church has experienced over the centuries.

Coptic icon of 21 martyrs

The miracles didn’t stop, even after the massacre. The little son of Samuel (the elder) fell to the street from the third floor, and his arm was broken in several places. When he regained
consciousness, he claimed his father had caught him, and a few days later his x-rays showed not a single fracture. Samuel’s sister, who entered the door barefoot in a stained jellabiya, confessed that for three days following the death of her brother she had fought with God: “I blamed God!” But then a bright light had appeared in the heavens, Samuel’s face shining brightly from within. “After that, twenty-one crowns appeared around the light. From then on, I didn’t complain anymore.”

Sameh’s son, who fell ill and began vomiting after his father’s death, also saw him again: Sameh had laid his hand on the child’s head and said, “It’s going to be all right,” and the boy had
immediately felt well again.

Ezzat’s mother, a stout woman who had borne seven other children and had a noticeably spirited eloquence compared to most of the people I met here, suffered a severe stroke a while after her son’s death. Ezzat and Saint George had come to her in a dream; her son had laid his hands upon her, and she had been healed.

A childless Muslim woman came to Issam’s mother for help – local Muslims often ask their Coptic neighbors to pray for them: “Your God listens to prayers and works wonders.” She gave the woman one of Issam’s shirts. Maybe the woman wore it when she lay with her husband – who knows? In any case, after fifteen infertile years, she became pregnant twice while in possession of the shirt.

The martyrs had often saved children falling out of windows: after his death, Luka, too, had caught his two-year-old nephew, saving him after he fell from the fifth floor. This served as
confirmation – not just for the families, but also for their neighbors and many others in the surrounding countryside – that the martyrs were indeed now with Christ. Their steadfastness had
led to their sanctification (this is why they were portrayed wearing crowns) and they now served as mediators of divine grace for their fellow human beings on earth.

All of which is why their families didn’t care to remember the grief, pain, and fear they felt during the men’s captivity, nor the tears unleashed by the news of their deaths. In fact, they all went out of their way to avoid leaving me with the impression that the decapitation of their sons, brothers, and husbands had caused them any misfortune. Naturally, they were depressed while
awaiting news, as they had been kept in the dark and could only prepare for the worst. But when they saw the video and knew with certainty what had happened, their confidence had returned: “We now have a holy martyr in heaven and must rejoice. Nothing can harm us anymore.”

This also explains why the families handled the execution video with such apparent ease. There was an iPad in every household where the full-length, uncut, unedited version could be watched.
Malak’s mother was the only one who refused to look at the screen, while all the young men, cousins, and brothers in the household, as they had often done, stared at it, apparently
undisturbed, pointing out the men they recognized. There could have been no better place to watch the video – surrounded by the men’s families and runny-nosed children, in rooms adorned with images of the crowned Twenty-One, while a goat poked its devilish-looking head through the doorway and a calf next door wauled for its mother.

What would the murderers say about their video being shown like this? Would it surprise them to see how unflappable these simple-minded, poor folk were; that these people had managed to
turn an attempt at triggering boundless terror into something entirely different? Would they be able to see that their cruelty had failed to achieve its intended goal, that their attempt to intimidate and disturb hadn’t succeeded?

Gaber’s hunched-over, barefoot mother – whose house had resounded with unidentifiable voices singing a hallelujah at the hour of his death, as her Muslim neighbors also confirmed – was
quick to express her gratitude that her son had become a martyr. Youssef’s family members – his young widow with their little boy, his turban-clad father, his mother holding an icon of her crowned son to her chest – told me, as well as each other, how happy they were when they realized that he was in heaven. Gaber’s family had a similar response.

Hany’s mother also readily admitted her joy, especially with regard to her four little grandchildren: once they’re a bit older, they’ll be so proud that their father is a martyr. Milad’s parents also thanked God for their son’s martyrdom,and the parents of Girgis (the elder) recalled how their son had always wanted to become a martyr. During his captivity they had not prayed for his deliverance, but only that he remain strong. He had remained strong indeed, and was now the family’s pride and joy.

All these words were spoken not with fanaticism or zeal, but rather with serenity and calm.
These were no Spartan mothers celebrating some rigid ideal, but believers whose faith had been
forged and strengthened by adversity. Whereas Georg Büchner’s Danton’s Death features Thomas Payne asserting that pain is the touchstone of atheism, in this case it turns out to be quite the opposite: pain is the touchstone of faith and the revelation of Christ.  

Excerpt from The 21, Chapter 9, by Martin Mosebach, © Copyright 2019, Plough Publishing House, Robertsbridge, East Sussex, UK, Walden, New York, USA, and Elsmore, NSW, Australia.

The 21
                              book coverAvailable from Plough Publishing House and Amazon

Behind a gruesome ISIS beheading video lies the untold story of the men in orange and the faith community that formed these unlikely modern-day saints and heroes.

Acclaimed literary writer Martin Mosebach traveled to the Egyptian village of El-Aour to meet the families of the Coptic martyrs and better understand the faith and culture that shaped such conviction.

In twenty-one symbolic chapters, each preceded by a picture, Mosebach offers a travelogue of his encounter with a foreign culture and a church that has preserved the faith and liturgy of early Christianity – the “Church of the Martyrs.” As a religious minority in Muslim Egypt, the Copts find themselves caught in a clash of civilizations. This book, then, is also an account of the spiritual life of an Arab country stretched between extremism and pluralism, between a rich biblical past and the shopping centers of New Cairo.

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