The aftermath of the January 25 Revolution has brought unprecedented hope to all Egyptians, including Christians, but has also resulted in significant challenges. One of the chief challenges has been navigating the increasing incidences of sectarian tension. From one angle, the spirit of Tahrir Square is still evident, as people extol that Muslims and Christians are ‘one hand’; from another, violence has targeted Christian locations. Egyptian Christians have been caught between these two realities, and many are losing heart.
Losing heart, however, is the absolute wrong response, according to Fr. Eliya, a Coptic Orthodox priest of Sts. Mina and Augustus Church, in Dar al-Salaam, Cairo. He outlined a checklist of activity that Egyptian Christians must undertake, in order to live properly after the revolution. Like most Egyptians, Christians were confined to a passive role under the Mubarak regime. This posture must change, and these are the actions that will help change it:
The first and foremost responsibility for a Christian, prayer has power to change realities. The priest spoke that Christians must pray boldly, as did the New Testament church, whose prayers freed Peter from prison, and as did the medieval Copts, whose prayers split Muqattam Mountain in Cairo, demonstrating the power of the Gospel to the oppressive caliph.
2) Allow anger.
But in your anger, do not sin. Many acts of aggression have been suffered by Copts since the revolution; anger is an appropriate response. Yet instead of anger leading to frustration, violence, and loss of hope, it must be channeled. From anger Christians must demand their rights, but if done in anger they risk transgressing both Christian and social bounds.
This must be at all levels, but especially with reasonable and moderate Muslims in order to establish common bonds. Furthermore, it must be with the rulers, so these have contact with the Christian community and know its concerns. Too often it is assumed dialogue falls on deaf ears, or does not result in significant change. Perhaps, but this attitude is self-defeating if the effort is not made.
Under Mubarak, Christians had largely taken cover – socially and politically – under the protection of the church, allowing it to represent them. It is now required that individual Christians emerge from that seclusion and participate in society. They must join political parties and vote in elections. They must be viable citizens. After all, other Egyptians are doing so; their negative inertia risks them being left behind.
5) Be optimistic.
Many Christians look around them at the political situation, and fear the worst. These fears are legitimate legal concerns, but Christians spot the wrong mark. It is not the progress of democracy in which hope is placed, but the sovereignty of God. God is preparing the best future for the church, which may well be greater democracy and freedom, but may also be greater suffering. The personal attitude of each Christian must be positive, reflecting faith in God’s goodness, no matter which way his will leads them.
6) Expel fear.
While fear is natural, it can also be binding. Unsure of the new path to tread, many Christians seem troubled. Yet the Bible says perfect love drives out fear, and this is necessary for Christians to move wholeheartedly in society. Those wreaking havoc in society toward Christians desire to drive them back into the walls of the church, to find safety there. Christians overcame fear to join the revolution and come out from the walls; they must still overcome fear in order to stay there.
7) Be aware.
Fear should not be combated in naïve belief there are no threats. Rather, some do wish to harm national unity. This is not the vast majority, but even those who do are not the enemy; Satan is. Yet the devil’s schemes move against the church and Christians must be vigilant to stand against them.
The above actions reflect spiritual truths, as well as socio-political ones. The spiritual health required for implementation, however, must be nurtured. Within their difficult circumstances, Christians must reflect on God’s character and their own faith needs. The deliberate practice of meditation will strengthen Christians for the challenges ahead.
Some Christians have bad habits, including a negative attitude toward Muslims in general. One specific change is simply to exercise caution in how they feed their mind. While Egyptian Christian satellite channels highlight Coptic concerns in a moderate way, many foreign channels broadcast in Egypt enflame tensions and reinforce stereotypes. Avoid these; do not let the mind be poisoned.
10) Be prepared.
Ultimately, this is for the possibility of martyrdom. The Egyptian church celebrates its history of accepting death for the sake of faith, and modern Christians must not shrink back from the possibility. Yet while this attitude must be present, it should not be foremost. Rather, Christians must consider, if they are to die, they should die having lived correctly.
This checklist does not represent simple spiritual theorizing; it is the message the priest has been preaching to his flock. Whether or not it takes hold is up to his congregation, and beyond them, the Christian community of Egypt. Many points apply equally to Muslims. In times of trouble, there can be a tendency to find hope and comfort in one’s religion. While this may increase religious identity and fervor, it can also divide and isolate. The hope of this list is that the opposite occurs. In this specific case, Christian faith must drive the individual closer, not only to God, but also to society. In post-revolution Egypt, this seems the solution necessary for all.