“Among everyone there is now a sense of melancholy,” he said. “The bombings are part of a larger trend where things are just crumbling.”
Following the bombings, the government reimposed a state of emergency (in effect almost every year since the 1980s), expanding police and military powers. Ali connected the mood to the crackdown on activists and the deteriorating economy, but said the Coptic state of depression was more acute.
Many Christians supported current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after the popular military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned President Mohamed Morsi in the hope they would be protected, he said. However, such support has not been provided.
But even in death, the Copts forgive.
For example, the night of the bombings, Orthodox priest Boules George said he thanks and loves those who did this crime. Speaking to a congregation in Cairo’s Cleopatra neighborhood, his words were broadcast on the popular Coptic TV station Aghaby.
“I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is,” said George, addressing the terrorists. But then turning to the church, he said, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them?
“If they know that God is love and experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”
Clearly the Coptic heritage and Jesus’ teaching have an impact on the aggrieved. But will the “never” ever come? Is the scandal of forgiveness wasted?
Soul and Church
Forgiveness is necessary for the individual to overcome the pain of trauma, said Ehab el-Kharrat, a licensed psychiatrist, former member of parliament, and an elder at Kasr el-Dobara Evangelical Church (KEDC) in Cairo. But the traumatic impact and subsequent forgiveness have also overcome Coptic lethargy, reviving the church.
“The Coptic community is definitely in defiance,” he said. “The services of Holy Week have doubled in attendance, and the churches are flowing out into the streets.”
Under heavy security presence, the traditional Easter Eve service passed peacefully. As per Orthodox tradition, priests in a darkened sanctuary quietly reenacted the Resurrection with an icon of the buried Christ. Previously entombed on Good Friday, light then burst forth as the curtain to the altar was opened and an icon of the risen Christ was paraded through the church.
But the Coptic defiance is not only against an enemy outside, according to Bishop Thomas of Qusia. It is also against the Enemy within.
The Libyan martyrs were a turning point, he said, as Copts watched the victims call out to Jesus in their moment of death. In his Orthodox diocese 170 miles south of Cairo, many have since repented of sin and changed the focus of their life, making faith a priority.
“Martyrdom is linked to the Christian life. To carry your cross and follow him,” said Thomas. “Since we are united to Christ, in this life we are his image.
“As he forgave, so must we.”
The martyrs have set an example, he said, but have also left a great responsibility to the church. Christians must fight fear, keep their joy, and strive for justice. While the struggle is not against flesh and blood, forgiveness does not mean giving up one’s rights.
“It is nice to hear about national unity and that we are all part of one family,” Thomas said. “But it must be based in equality and citizenship.”