It may seem somewhat strange for GetReligion to feature a religion-news "think piece" during the middle of the week.
However, this is not an ordinary week. For churches around the world this is Holy Week -- this year on both the liturgical calendars of Eastern and Western Christianity.
Then again, this is certainly not an ordinary Holy Week for believers in the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt. And how will that affect the celebration of Pascha (Easter in the West), the most important feast day in Christianity?
The bombings on Palm Sunday (click here for earlier GetReligion coverage) have led to a sad, yet totally understandable, decision by Coptic leaders in part of Egypt. Here is the top of an Associated Press report:
CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptian churches, in the southern city of Minya, said on Tuesday that they will not hold Easter celebrations in mourning for 45 Coptic Christians killed this week in twin bombings of churches in two cities during Palm Sunday ceremonies.
The Minya Coptic Orthodox Diocese said that celebrations will only be limited to the liturgical prayers "without any festive manifestations."
Minya province has the highest Coptic Christian population in the country. Copts traditionally hold Easter church prayers on Saturday evening and then spend Easter Sunday on large meals and family visits.
Yes, the family festivities are important. However, this also means that there will be no dramatic liturgical processions through public streets in the dark night of Good Friday. There will be no processions with candles through those same streets around major churches in the final dramatic moments before midnight, as Holy Saturday turns into Pascha (Easter), with the constant singing of hymns proclaiming, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in tombs bestowing life!"
It's hard to explain why this is so important in ways that transcend mere symbolism.
Journalists really need to read up on this. I suggest that they start with this new piece posted by The Atlantic, written by Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. He also teaches at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. The double-decker headline:
What Palm Sunday Means to Egypt’s Copts
Christianity was born in pain in the country. An attack on a holy day is another bloody symbol of its beginnings
The essay starts like this:
O-sana va-sili too Esraeel
At Saint George Church, a Coptic church in Tanta, Egypt, the deacons were finishing the final vowels in Evlogimenos (the Hosanna to the King of Israel), when the bomb exploded, leaving 28 worshipers dead and many others wounded. Shortly afterwards, a suicide bomber, failing to enter Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, where the Coptic Pope was leading the liturgy, detonated his bomb outside the church, leaving 17 people dead. A joyful day, one where Coptic children compete to turn their palm fronds into the most beautiful of shapes, suddenly became the deadliest day of attacks on this ancient community.
The twin bombings were hardly the first attacks against Egypt’s Coptic Christians. Nor are they likely to be the last. In recent years, Copts, who constitute more than half of all Christians in the Middle East, have been setting the grisliest of records, with each new attack claiming more victims than the one before.
The key to this piece is that Tadros -- author of "Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity" -- can explain what is happening in Egypt in both political and, well, sacramental terms.
Did the bombers know the symbolism of the rites that they were, literally, blowing up? Tadros notes this connection between the rites and the wrongs, in a way that I have yet to see mentioned in any mainstream coverage. Read this carefully.
Blessed is the man You choose, and cause to approach You, that he may dwell in Your courts.
-- Psalms 65:4
Palm Sunday is a day of contradictions in the Coptic calendar -- a day of joy as the Lord enters Jerusalem, a day of preparation for a week of sorrows as the faithful follow Christ’s every step on the road to the cross. But the most extraordinary event occurs immediately after the liturgy. The deacons replace the red stoles on their tunics with darker ones, and the rite suddenly shifts from the joyful sha’aneen, (or, Hosanna), to a general funeral for all living Copts. The verses from Psalms 65 are followed by the Pauline Epistle from 1 Corinthians 15, which promises resurrection of the believers. As the Church fixes its gaze on the death of its savior, no funerals are held for Copts during Holy Week; the general funeral prayers on Palm Sunday are meant to bless all those who die.
Yes, journalists, read that again. Then continue reading:
Christianity was born in pain in Egypt, its message of hope bathed in blood. Fleeing persecution in Israel, the young Jesus found refuge in the country. Yet suffering and martyrdom would become the central features of the Church his disciples would found. Saint Mark the Evangelist, who introduced Christianity to Egypt, shed his blood on the streets of Alexandria, and countless Copts followed him as they clung to their faith in their redeemer in the face of endless persecution. That initial blow, struck by Roman Emperors, was the first of many. The names of rulers may have changed, from Roman and Byzantine emperors to Muslim caliphs and governors, discriminatory laws changed from the Muslim rules of Dhimmitude, to the exacting, oppressive laws of Egypt’s present-day rulers, but the nature of the Coptic plight has not.
Through it all, Copts clung to their church. As everything from employment opportunities to roster spots on soccer teams were closed to them, the church became more than a house of worship, providing health care, private education, even sports venues. A Coptic nation exists today -- but it does not seek independence.
What unites Coptic believers? Suffering.
There is a reason that many generations of Copts have tattoos on their wrists, over the ulnar artery. To remove those Coptic cross -- while trying to force Copts to convert to Islam -- their persecutors pretty much need to go ahead and kill them.
Read it all. It is safe to say that there will be more news in the Middle East during Holy Week.