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The 21 Martyrs of Libya: Videotaped Instantaneous Sainthood

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The 21 men of Libya are men of valor and courage. We need to respect them for who they are and what befall them. The 21 martyrs of Libya are to be commended for allowing those of all beliefs, nationalities, and political platforms to bear witness to instantaneous sainthood through videography. In today’s contemporary world bearing witness to murder can easily be accomplished with malice aforethought.

Malice aforethought is a premeditated state of mind to harm another in a most desecrated bodily way. Beheading occurred in Biblical antiquity and was considered one of the harshest of punishments such as that of St. John the Baptist. King Herod took the life of St. John the Baptist–in particular he had him beheaded. The king then took the head put it on a platter and placed it in the midst of a party.

King Herod’s reckless indifference to human life fulfilled no land gain to his kingdom, improved no relations between countries, and did not gain him wealth. It actually did not gain him the admiration of a woman he was ardently seeking to secure. All it accomplished in the historical sense was to display before the world a malignant heart.

We recognize that the extremeness of taking human life through murder disrupts orderliness of society. Look at the world’s war torn lands, lands that can no longer produce crops, roads that can no longer promote transportation, children that live in fear for their very lives. Women who are desecrated because of their faith– Of what greater good can this serve?

The 21 martyrs of Libya travelled to Libya to support their families. They did not go for riches to secure. They did not go to ensure a college fund for their children. Rather they travelled to Libya out of the need to provide the necessities for their families. What father would not want his children to have the basic fundamentals of life? These 21 Coptic men are to be commended for their desire not to let their families succumb to poverty and its devastating nature.

Rather they evaluated and by choice determined their families were worth the risk that could confront them in Libya with the ever-growing extremist activity. These 21 martyrs were not going to desk jobs, were not recruited for a specialized skill set but rather were voluntarily travelling to Libya most in hopes of construction type labor. Hard working, devoted family men, who carried no weapons, and were not involved in any activities considered taunting the extremists to the beheading which awaited each of them.

Many believe the stories of our saints to be over exaggerated and beautified. The martyrdom of the 21 of Libya is a living history today of the more than 2000 years of Coptic Christianity and the history it holds so dear. Before God and before the world-it is common knowledge that the blood of these 21 martyrs survives and flows in their sons and daughters as history aligns itself once again.

As horrifying as the scene and the beheading must have been, they will be forever immortalized in Coptic History, perhaps even one day honored through a book such as the Synaxarium.

“Those holy martyrs who were once with us, are now seated with Christ. They are sharers in His kingdom and partakers with Him in His judgment. They act as His judicial assessors.” Dionysius of Alexandria (c.262).

Stories will grow of their courage, of their steadfastness, of their love of the Lord first and then of their families. Let us not destroy their great reputations by angry, hating hearts. Rather let us pray for those who seem to have a need to kill, to hate, and to live their lives accordingly. Is it truly a wise God’s will to murder a certain sect of people-if it is then why create them at all?

Sometimes I believe the challenge of understanding martyrdom is two fold; first to bring honor to our Lord through a willingness to die for our beloved Coptic Christianity; second it is to spread our faith through the world with the blood of the martyr. This includes our enemies.

The military has the job of securing peaceful time; we have the job of praying for them and those who disrupt peace through murder. While turmoil will always exist in this world, and grieving to following it we must not lose sight of the men that died because they were Christian. Christian to the end of their world, Christian’s who were martyred and began life in the eternal world.

As with the all knowing, all-purpose of our Lord Jesus Christ this too must have a meaning. God calls all throughout martyrs to repent, to change, and to reform into that person we are all created to be. To show compassion and love even unto those who persecute us.

“In the baptism of blood, life itself is laid down. Thus, love covers the multitude of sins” (Tertullian (c.213)).

Our beloved St. Moses the Strong killed Christians by his sword and he now has monasteries that bear his name. St. Paul stood nearby and watched the stoning of St. Stephen and perhaps even threw a stone. Lest we forget, our Coptic Church honors St. Paul by the addition of his name to the Holy Apostles. Reformation is a mighty act. Conversion to Christianity is a greater act.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not act as a soldier, was not vindictive, nor did he take a single life while on this earth. Rather he gave life to all those who would believe upon Him. He chose disciples that were prayerful not those who were warriors. He chose those men who would run from a fight rather than be on the front lines yelling and throwing stones.

While this seems cowardice it must also be realized that a greater strength of man evolved-Our Lord also chose those who could be baptized with the baptism of blood,

“But Jesus answered them and said, ‘you do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22)

What is the message these martyrs confirmed? The 21 martyrs of Libya could drink of the cup and be baptized with the blood. Further by the advent of videotape, these martyrs in a single moment of time with a single event spread the Holy Gospel to the entire world. AND THE WORLD LISTENED. They earned their heavenly reward, drank from the cup and were baptized with the blood in the most brutal of actions-and much more than this, they proved to be worthy of sainthood in a single day forever captured on videotape without dispute.

Praise be to God!

May we all pay homage to these 21 martyrs of Libya in our Great Fast Prayers, their families who continue the same strength of bloodline and pray for those whom despise us and persecute us for HIS NAME SAKE.

— His Grace Bishop Youssef
Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

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