Friday, February 15, 2019

Martin Mosebach on the Coptic Martyrs of Libya

Today is the fourth anniversary of the martyrdom of a group of 20 Egyptians and one Ghanaian, collectively known as the Coptic Martyrs of Libya, who were beheaded by Islamic terrorists on the Libyan seashore. These men were working abroad to provide for their families, braving the dangerous conditions in Libya; several of them were married, the oldest among them was only forty-six, the youngest twenty-two. The Ghanaian, Matthew Ayariga, was seized along with them, and although he was not a member of the Coptic Church, refused to embrace Islam, even at the threat of being beheaded; seeing how the others prayed and called upon the Holy Name of Jesus as they died, he said of them, “Their God is my God,” and was slain in their company. They were canonized as martyrs by the Coptic Pope Tawadros II very shortly after their death; one year ago, a large church named in their honor was dedicated in the village of El-Aour, Egypt, where thirteen of them came from. Their relics, which were recovered in September of 2017, were brought back to Egypt, and are now housed in this church.

A widely-diffused icon of the Coptic Martyrs of Libya, by Antoun Rezk.
Last year, Martin Mosebach, who is well-known to our readers, published a book about them in German, an account not only of the Saints and their martyrdom, but also of the author’s visit to Egypt and meetings with several members of their families and community. The English translation, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, has just been published today. An essay adapted from the book, typical of Mosebach’s simple and beautiful writing, has just been published on First Things, and is very much worth your time.

“So the martyrs’ family members weren’t surprised when people came to visit. Their husbands, sons, and brothers had experienced the most amazing transformation of all: they had left home as poor migrant workers, and would never return, but had become saints and were now more present than ever, albeit in a different form. They now wore crowns, even though they had only done what was expected of them, and what all their brothers were equally prepared to do. Unexpectedly, this natural fulfillment of duty that would otherwise be taken for granted was surrounded by the greatest splendor—but this served only to prove that little more than the thinnest tissue separates earthly life from the heavenly sphere. One must always be prepared for the possibility that this tissue could tear, letting a golden ray of light fall into the realm of everyday life. Precisely by accepting such a cruel fate, their husbands, sons, and brothers were magnificently exalted. The martyrs’ relatives made no pretense of sharing their late loved ones’ glory, but they did take calm pride in the dead.”

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