I wish you a happy “Feast of Nayrouz”, which the Copts celebrated yesterday. “Feast of Nayrouz” marks the beginning of a new Coptic year. As mentioned in previous articles, the “Feast of Nayrouz” celebrated by the Egyptians is not the same feast celebrated by the Persians. The Egyptian “Feast of Nayrouz” is the feast of blessing the rivers, whereas the Persian word “Nayrouz” means “the new day”. Hence, the Persian “Feast of Nayrouz” is the spring beginning, celebrated on 21st of March.
The Coptic Church has arranged the “Feast of Nayrouz”, i.e. the Coptic calendar of martyrs, to begin with the rule of Roman Emperor Diocletian, whose era was one of the harshest and cruelest eras of persecuting the Christians. Persecution spread across the entire Roman Empire to deter the Christians from their faith. However, the martyrs, especially the fearless Copts of Egypt, had shown great courage, firmness and heroism through their blood, they were never enfeebled by the burdens of pains and suffering, or by the temptations of life delights. The number of martyrs exceeded hundreds of thousands- among which was nearly 800 thousand Egyptian Coptic martyrs!- they all had never cherished their lives, rather they offered them to God as a sacrifice of love, as Saint John the Beloved said in the Book of Revelation: “And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Historians have recorded the cruelty of persecutions, for example, Al-Maqrizi wrote about Diocletian: “He was extravagant in killing the Christians, he was the last idolatrous Roman king”.
Love for God filled the hearts of all the martyrs- be they men or women, children, youth or old people. They despised their life, hurried to offer their witness and courageously declare their faith in firmness that astonished their persecutors. I remember a story recited about roman soldiers who were on their way to kill Christians when they met an old woman leaving her house in hurry despite her feeble body. They were astonished at her hastiness; they wondered what would make an old woman leave her house in such a hurry? They asked her: “Why are you walking in such a hurry, you old mother? Where are you going?” she answered: “All the city’s people went out to meet the coming soldiers to bear witness for their faith in Lord Christ, and I wish to join them, son, to obtain the crown given to the martyrs.” The soldiers were astounded by the Copts who easily sacrifice their life in unparalleled meekness, love and courage.
Martyrdom was not foreign to the Christians, as Lord Christ said: “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” He warned those who pursue the path of faith saying: “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” AlthoughMartyrdom is linked to the death, which is the end of life, it yet has conveyed a deeper and loftier concept of death, as death has become a beginning of a new life: a life that is filled only with permanent comfort, peace and joy in the presence of the loving God; as Saint John the Beloved said in his revelation: “…And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Hence, death has become a bridge taking the martyrs to the real eternal life, deepening their firmness, strength and courage in facing death.
Thus, with the beginning of the martyrs calendar, we remember that great love offered by the martyrs who sacrificed their lives, since “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends”. They loved God, and so are all who love God through obeying His commandments and doing good for all. Happy feast to all of you, and… stories about beautiful Egypt never end!