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Copts remember victims

20 September 2013

yohanna photography

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.

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