Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Finding Our Way in the Desert

Motherland Lost: 
The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity
Samuel Tadros
Hoover Institution Press. Kindle Edition.

Don’t ask me to explain why I was drawn to this book by Samuel Tadros, except that two articles by him recently surfaced in my “reader” and drew me to the book title. I am glad I bought and read the book, even though I probably have more questions now than before. I hope I am more sensitive to certain issues because of my reading and am surely more sceptical than ever about the mindless way much of western society accommodates itself to what is tagged as pluralism through a brand of tolerance which tyrannically denies truth its primacy and hates Christianity with a stupid darkness, as pagan as it is superstitious, naked as the king in the nursery story, as convinced of the sufficiency of their atheism as he was, vain fool, of his clever tailors’ handiwork.

So much for spitting venom! I’d like to address two sets of questions come to me from Tadros’ story of his people. The first would regard our duties, yours and mine as Christians, to the more than ever endangered first sees in practically all of the lands of Christ’s Church: Antioch, Baghdad, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Constantinople. Naturally, one could take Tadros to task and chide him for capitulating and that would be the end of it. I don’t think I have the wherewithal to challenge his prediction that the Coptic pope will soon have to move Church headquarters outside Egypt, as the Assyrians have already abandoned Iraq. The author seems determined for his Church to find ways to survive in their homeland of Egypt, without neglecting to take on exile as a serious commitment in faith with important ramifications for the survival of a priceless patrimony.

The question “Why leave?” stems from and receives a response in his elucidation of his Church’s inability to face the hostile environment in the Copts’ home of two thousand years. The response to an ingenuous, perhaps, question is no less uncontorted and seems undeniable: "Because we cannot stay." The problem is named “Islamism” or “Islamists”.  

“The Islamists’ goal is not the annihilation of Copts. Copts are not likely to face a holocaust in the future, though local pogroms are all but guaranteed. The Islamists’ goal is to subjugate Copts to their notions of their proper place as dhimmis under benevolent Islamic rule. It is for Copts to accept dhimmitude, live by it, and embrace it. Copts will be allowed to live in Egypt, tolerated as second-class citizens recognizing and accepting their second-class status. Any attempt by Copts to break those chains of dhimmitude and act as equals is frowned upon as an affront to the supremacy and primacy of Islam in its own land.” [Tadros, Samuel (2013-07-22). Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity (Kindle Locations 3038-3042). Hoover Institution Press. Kindle Edition.]

Fighting to hold Christian ground, so to speak, defending the relics of St. Mark and St. Athanasius buried in the Coptic Cathedral and seeing to it that their bi-millennial witness continues on, sort of sounds like a new Crusade and as doomed to failure no doubt as the first edition. I think rather in terms of my own question: regarding our duties, yours and mine as Christians, not only to the more than ever endangered first sees of Christ’s Church, but also to the Church in our midst somehow diminished by our indifference to the political machinations of our own political leaders with no respect for the Gospel.

As Catholics, we know from history that we cannot demand the love and respect of others. Important, to my way of thinking, is that we respect the ancient wisdom of the Church which forbade Christians to provoke or overtly seek martyrdom. Be it clear however, that this is not some anthropological quest to revive "Atlantis" but the recognition that the lot of the Copts, the lot of all the Church's first sees is also our fate to the extent that we can stand up to those who would deny our dignity and equality by imposing something less than the fullness of the truth which comes to us from God. Not so much reviving the unity of cross and crown or throne and altar as fighting the falsehood in the western world which feeds anti-Christian aggression around the globe. {I hope this isn't sounding like a conspiracy theory as I do not want it to be.}

My other question is tied to an invitation I will give to His Beatitude Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church to give the book a read as well. Not so much because I see the Church endangered here in Ukraine, but because his Church also faces the challenge of the Copts, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and others, even without the persecution these others suffer at home. It is not in the case of our Church here so much a case of a shift in the center of gravity, but rather what to do to preserve the faith in the lives of people of Ukrainian descent in big numbers wherever they are found.

Further, Ukrainian Greek-Catholics pose for themselves the question Tadros asks for the Copts: What can the Church offer to the wider world. What is the missionary role of the Church? How can Churches, which up until not that long ago have exercised their role in a more limited sphere of influence (territorial or ethnic), contribute to the great work of evangelization? How today do Churches which have not really done so for a long time respond to Christ's invitation to His Church to go out to all the world and spread the Gospel?

“The Coptic exodus from Egypt will pose a colossal challenge to the Coptic Church. Today the Coptic Church has more than 550 churches outside of Egypt. At a moment in the not so distant future, the center of gravity of the Coptic Church will no longer be inside Egypt’s borders. The nature of this challenge is one the church has never faced before and is currently ill-equipped to address: how to become a truly universal church and open up the Coptic Church to the rest of Christendom while maintaining its uniqueness; how to keep both the Christian faith of the new immigrants who will move to Western countries and the specific Coptic identity in face of an open market competition what does being Coptic actually mean for those living outside of Egypt’s borders; how to provide for the material needs of the new immigrants who cling to the church not only seeking spiritual guidance; and how to cater to the ones who remain and whose lives will be increasingly difficult. These are all open questions that await history’s judgment.” [Tadros, Samuel (2013-07-22). Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity (Kindle Locations 3070-3077). Hoover Institution Press. Kindle Edition.]

Samuel Tadros is not so presumptuous as to say that the special graces his Church received in the 20th Century have prepared the Copts for something more than a rarefied existence in some corner of their homeland until such time as things change. Nonetheless, his book discusses and sorts out issues not all that foreign to our own questions today about where the Church is or should be going.

My own hope and prayer is, of course, that the Holy Name of Jesus be glorified everywhere and in every way. God so loved the world, as St. John wrote. He would never leave His flock untended.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.