Life, joy and hope in the midst of temptations, trials, death
Neither the tomb, nor death could hold the Theotokos, / Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions. / For being the Mother of Life, / She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb.
(Dormition of the Mother of God, Kontakion, Tone 2)
Today is the eve of Dormition, that curious celebration of the Mother of God’s death and departure from us. Within this feast is the central mystery of Christian faith, that nothing terrible in this life can overcome the indestructible power of divine life that we taste now and that it is our hope to share fully in God’s Kingdom.
As it happens the regular epistle and gospel readings from the lectionary underline this message. Saint Paul talks about the predictable temptations and trials we all face, but that God helps us find a way through. As a friend of mine posted on his office door, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” This is the message of the Cross.
In the gospel the Lord sharply rebukes Peter, the leader of the apostles, precisely because he was fantasizing about an easy path. “But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’” The way of Christ is not just to accept the Cross, but to choose it. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
This path is full of paradoxes. But it is the experience of Christians throughout the ages that if this way of the Cross is chosen, we will find a source of inexhaustible life, joy and hope, even in the midst of death.
Persecution of Coptic Christians
Dismay over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East was at the top of the agenda when the leaders of the Orthodox Churches met in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus recently. Yesterday I came across news reports from the BBC that underscored how dire the situation has become in Egypt as Coptic Christians are persecuted and murdered. One of the latest victims was a ten-year old girl who was shot at point-blank range because she was from a Christian family.
The BBC report cites the Cairo representative of Amnesty International, who fears further eruptions of local persecution against Coptic Christians. In early July Amnesty issued a report on this describing some of the horrors the Copts are enduring and calling for the Egyptian government and police forces to protect them from mob violence.