THE celebration of the Coptic Orthodox Church's Nayrouz Service,
when martyrs and confessors are commemorated, took on an extra
poignancy this year, as worshippers remembered the victims of
escalating persecution in Egypt.
The service, which also marked the beginning of the Coptic New
Year, was held for the second time at St Margaret's, Westminster,
and presided over by the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox
Church in the United Kingdom, Bishop Angaelos.
"We, within our tradition, within our heritage, have lost
millions of those who have died for their faith and who continue to
die for their faith," he said. "The concept of martyrdom is not
just one of the past. It is now, not just in Egypt. . . And many
are martyrs not because they choose to cause destruction but they
are martyrs because their lives are taken, because they will not
give up what they believe."
An information sheet accompanying the order of service listed 89
churches, homes, properties, and businesses attacked in Egypt in
one eight-day period last month.
The patron of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Baroness Cox,
addressed the congregation at the end of the service. She chose to
highlight the persecution of Christians in Egypt through individual
stories. Wahid Jacob, a young Christian deacon, had been executed
after his impoverished family failed to raise a $170,000 ransom,
his body left in a field, bearing the signs of severe torture.
Cyril Joseph, a six-year-old boy kidnapped last May, had been
killed despite his family's paying £30,000 to his abductor. Lady
Cox also spoke of hundreds of Christian girls abducted, and forced
to convert and marry.
She concluded with words of hope for the persecuted Church:
"Yes, stones do cry out, churches are destroyed, but the Christians
return and worship in the ruins. . . We thank God for the courage
and faithfulness of your people. As they do indeed hang on, learn
from the past, learn in the present, and move to God's future. And
we pray for them as they continue to hold their frontline of faith
and freedom for the rest of us."
The service was conducted in both English and Coptic, the
indigenous language of Egypt which is an extension of the Pharaonic
language. An all male-choir sang hymns accompanied by the rapid,
rhythmic clashing of small cymbals, and the sweet small of incense
spread through the church before a litany for the departed was
sung. Icons of both Mary and Jesus were displayed at the front, and
the congregation stood for almost the entire service.
Greetings were sent by both the Queen and the Archbishop of
Canterbury, who acknowledged the "inevitable anxiety" with which
the Church faced its new year.