Egyptian Worship

Isaiah 19:19-21 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them

Four years ago I stood in a dark corner of an ancient Egyptian temple. There, carved into the wall, were a cross and other Christian motifs. Our guide told us that during periods of intense persecution in Roman times, Christians in Egypt met secretly in the ancient temples, which were avoided by others who feared that evil spirits lurked there.

Fifth Century Carving of a Cross in an ancient Egyptian Temple

I was struck by the beautiful carvings and the way the early Christians had reclaimed something seen by others as evil and frightening, making it into a place of worship and light.

Earlier this year I stood with those men and women’s descendants. Little it seems has changed. They may not have to meet in secret places but they still often struggle to meet legally; they face discrimination and sometimes outright violent persecution on a regular basis. One young woman told of how she was turned away when she went to take her final exams at university because the exam monitor noticed her Christian name and her lack of headscarf. Another young woman expressed her fears after a local religious leader had publicly stated that any woman not wearing a headscarf was “asking to be raped”. Would it then be her fault, she asked, if she was sexually assaulted on her way to attend church? A third young woman shared the horror of witnessing the bombing at an Alexandria church last New Year, and the subsequent injustices she personally experienced in the following weeks.

This is a Church that has been tempered and refined by more than 1500 years of persecution. It is a Church that God has preserved and upheld through dark and darker times. It is a Church that is “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Far from it in fact. This Church continues to venture into those frightening and dark places, where others show more hesitation. The young men and women we met have been involved, from the beginning, in the movement for democracy, challenging the dictatorship from the inception of the “Arab Spring”.  They continue to lead, courageously stepping out into the more and more hostile streets in peaceful protest, and have succeeded in unmasking for all Egyptians the true nature of the military junta that now holds power. In response to the horrendous October massacres, when military trucks mowed down peaceful protestors calling for religious freedom and respect for diversity, they called a three day worldwide fast, looking to God to protect and guide them and their country. These past few weeks, they have headed to the front once again in peaceful demonstrations in remembrance of those killed in the October Maspero massacre. Many have been deeply involved in the most recent protests demanding a true democracy which have been met with a violent response.

Many young Christians have given (Mina Daniel) or have expressed their willingness to give (Michael Nabil Sahad) their lives. With the way things have gone this week, it seems likely that more will do so, and this is something that should deeply challenge every one of us.

Many well-meaning but misguided people in the West have expressed the belief that life under dictatorship was “better” for the Egyptian Church. Many, with some valid reasons, are worried that the downfall of the Arab dictatorships will lead to the destruction of the Church in those countries. But now is not the time to give up hope. For over 1500 years, our Egyptian brothers and sisters have kept the flame of faith burning in that part of the world. Those I met this year, tell me that they continue to believe that there can be a democratic and free Egypt where everyone will be free to worship as they please, without fear of persecution.  Not one expressed a desire to return to the days of Mubarak.

This month they go to the ballot boxes in elections that will help to determine the direction Egypt will go. To my Egyptian brothers and sisters, I say, get out and vote. Do not lose hope. We have not forgotten you, and we will not.

To those of us who cannot vote, pray. Pray for this country, beloved of God, home of an ancient and towering Church. Pray for our brothers and sisters there, for their future as Egyptian Christians.