In early February, 21 migrant workers were captured by jihadist fighters in Libya. Most of the migrant workers were Egyptian Copts. The fighters, who claim some association to the group which calls itself ISIS, staged a theatrical beheading of the Christians. They videotaped the murders, and published the footage as “a message to the Nation of the Cross…signed with blood.”
This was not an act of aggression against the United States. It was not an act of aggression against Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, or any of the countries bordering the area ISIS claims for its caliphate. It was not an act of aggression against any of the member countries of the United Nations, nor against any one of the 200-something countries of the world with defined geographical boundaries. It was not an act of aggression against any of the temporal powers of the world at all.
Instead, the act was delivered as a message to “the Nation of the Cross”: all those seeking the kingdom of God through the cross. It is a message to those who reserve their highest allegiance for Christ crucified. It is a message to Christians baptized into the death of our Lord, and to those who would lose their lives for Christ’s sake in order to find it.
It is likely that the murdered migrant workers were offered the opportunity to renounce their faith and deny Christ by reciting the Muslim profession of faith, or shahada, and threatened with death if they chose otherwise. Even if a Christian could not bring himself to recite the shahada, one can imagine that he’d be tempted to curse God for the pain and suffering visited upon him by the jihadis. However, these men proclaimed their love for, their allegiance to, and their hope in Jesus even in their last moments. The video shows that the words upon many of their lips were, “Jesus, help me.”
Pope Francis on the incident:
Ecumenism can take many forms. Dialogue, such as we do here at Called to Communion, is part of it. Study of one another’s perspectives and traditions is another. Prayer for and with each other is essential. All of these practices build upon friendship between the baptized who call themselves Christians, united by the common goal of knowing and serving Christ.
The Holy Father speaks here of a different kind of ecumenism. He calls the suffering of Christians persecuted around the world, no matter their particular creed, an “ecumenism of blood.” The love for Christ which led these Copts to submit to execution instead of renouncing Jesus is an ecumenism to which all Christians have access. Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Orthodox, Pentecostals and others can be united in a love for Christ that does not count the cost of confessing Him Lord, and spares not even the life of the body. The doctrinal errors, heresy, schism, doubt, and a multitude of sins – even those which rightly preoccupy us and which we struggle to overcome – are covered, overwhelmed, and washed away by a love for Christ that is great enough to submit to such suffering for the sake of proclaiming His name.
This powerful test of our love for Christ is capable of more than uniting those already baptized. Only twenty of the migrant workers were Egyptian Copts. The twenty-first was a citizen of Chad and a non-Christian who worked alongside them. He witnessed their perseverance in professing their faith, and he was moved by their courage. Like the Christians, he chose not to cower before the threats of the fighters and the fear of death, and reportedly proclaimed to his captors, “their God is my God.” Seeing Christian courage freed even this non-Christian man from fear and drew him into a love that doesn’t stop at death, and surely goes on after it.
May we be united to one another in this love for Christ, this ecumenism of blood, and remember with love all those who confess Christ to the point of death.
Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us to follow Thee not only to the Breaking of Bread but also to the drinking of the Cup of Thy Passion. Help us to love Thee for Thine own sake and not for the sake of comfort for ourselves. Make us worthy to suffer for Thy name, Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Lord and Savior, now and forever. Amen.