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Leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church are thoughtful and selective about their direct interactions with government. On the Julian calendar’s Christmas Eve – January 6 2018 on the more widely accepted Gregorian calendar – His Grace Bishop Mina of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Diocese of Mississauga, Vancouver and Western Canada issued a statement to Canada’s Prime Minister on behalf of the Coptic Community.
Coptic Christians are devoted. The North African church was founded in the middle of the first century, separated from the Western and Eastern Churches in the middle of the fifth century, and has lived in the light of persecution – not the shadow, but direct persecution – since the Arab Muslim conquest of Egypt in the middle of the seventh century.
Copts in Egypt constitute both the largest Christian population in the Middle East and the largest minority religious community.
In February 2015, the world was shocked by video of 21 men in orange jumpsuits being beheaded by black-clad masked executioners on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Twenty had been easily identified by their executioners by the crosses tattooed on the inside of their right wrists, the sign of Christ’s ownership and of membership in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The same sign is now often confirmed at the entrance to Egyptian church buildings as a security measure. The 21st man is said to have converted to Christianity that moment, on that beach, because of the unwavering witness of the other 20.
Faithful. And fearless.
Part of Coptic faithfulness is expressed through prayer for the political leaders of their nation in every liturgy, that is every congregational service and the daily private prayers of every priest.
Part of Coptic fearlessness, facing fear with faith, is the willingness to stand up publicly in grace for truth.
The following message from Bishop Mina was read aloud in the Church of Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius in Mississauga, Ontario, with several federal cabinet members in attendance:
The Feast of the Nativity is a feast of Hope, Joy and Peace. We proudly say with the Prophet Isaiah “for unto us a child is born.” He is not any child and His birth is not like any birth. This birth is the very moment that our journey to salvation was re-established through a baby born in a manger. His birth is a great example of humility as He chose to humble Himself because of His love for all of humankind. Through His Birth, salvation became attainable for those who believed in His name and sought repentance.
As Christians, we are always taught to show love and pursue peace. However, we are also taught to stand up for the truth. Many of us have seen a recent picture, where the Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his brother are (each) wearing a sweater that depicts Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with an emoji of a smiley face seated at the last supper. The depiction of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at the Last Supper is a symbolic and deeply cherished image in our faith. We are all shocked and extremely saddened to see anyone, and especially the leader of our very own country, disparaging our Lord in such fashion. As a Coptic Orthodox community, we patiently waited for news that this image was fake, but it never came. We find ourselves today firstly praying for our Prime Minister, which we do in every liturgy, for God’s wisdom and enlightenment. Secondly, we understand that we all make mistakes, but when we do, we must stand up and apologize for the very mistakes we made. Thirdly, we are reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:23, where the Apostle Paul says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”
This is the very enlightenment that we pray for God to show the Right Honourable Prime Minister. We are very proud Canadians and particularly proud of our right “to freedom of conscience and religion” that all Canadians are afforded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, with these rights comes a responsibility to respect one another. We cannot force anyone to worship in a particular way, but we must at minimum be afforded the decency of respect of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Mr. Prime Minister, if the picture is real, we forgive you, but you should know that you hurt many of us deeply. We expect better from our leaders. Think of the example you set to many people throughout Canada. We pray that you see the error in your ways and apologize to all of us who are offended for this reckless lapse of judgment. We truly are grateful for all Canadians, Christians and non-Christians, who have shared their concern and voiced their displeasure. Without common respect of ALL faiths, we will fail as a society.
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Regardless of this sad incident, we will not dismay or despair as the Feast of the Nativity is about the birth of Emanuel, which means God with us. With God on our side, we know the forces of evil will never prevail.
We sing with the angels and say aloud with all our hearts, louder than ever before, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward man.” (Luke 2:14)
May all our hearts be lifted in praise on this very special day for the wonderful gift of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and the joy He brings to our lives. May God Bless the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau, and each of us and fill us with Love, Joy and Peace all of the days of our lives. Merry Christmas.
The message is respectful, honouring of the Prime Minister’s position, and unhesitating in challenging an insult to Christianity, without returning insult for insult. Bishop Mina’s words, like those of St. Paul when he stood before Governor Felix and King Agrippa declaring his Roman citizenship, are shared by Bishop Mina as a Canadian and with conformity to the message of God’s grace and God’s truth in Jesus Christ.
Several statements on the Trudeau sweater from other Christian leaders have made me cringe. Their remarks reminded me of the comment, “When you mix religion with politics you get politics.”
Bishop Mina’s words, however, remind us Canadians can mix sincere religion with loyal citizenship. Christians can speak truth to power without compromising the humility, grace and love that are the hallmarks of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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