From Cairo to Rome and beyond, the reaction to the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS has been swift and profound: anger and condemnation, sadness and solidarity. Yet, as I have thought over this horrific event, another emotion has swelled within in me: pride. For while the Islamic State considers itself to be following in the footsteps of its religious founder and leader (see here,  here and here), the 21 Egyptians were undoubtedly following in the footsteps of theirs.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.”


So the prophet Isaiah foretold the character and fate of the Messiah, seven hundred years before Jesus fulfilled these words by his death on the cross. Like the Egyptians, Jesus allowed himself to be murdered, refusing to meet violence with violence, knowing that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18.36), placing his faith and hope in God alone. 

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus taught his followers that it was not the strong in spirit – but the poor, not the bold – but the meek, not the victorious – but those that mourn, who were blessed by God. Jesus spoke of a faith in God so deep that his disciples should “not resist an evil person.” If they were slapped “on the right cheek,” they should “turn the other cheek also.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus said, and he stayed true to his word, even unto death.

St. Paul continued this radical pacifism, writing to the persecuted church at Rome,

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12.17-21).

It is because of passages like these that Christians, in spite of continuous and widespread persecution during the first few centuries AD, resolutely refused to react violently. And, miraculously, their numbers grew at such a rate that they peaceably took over the Roman Empire in just under three centuries.

We live in the midst of uncertain times. A holy war is being waged, whether or not we in the West admit it. Come what may, it is my prayer that Christians will place their faith in God and follow the example of Jesus, the apostles and the 21 Egyptian martyrs.