WHY I WRITE
I hesitate to add my own voice to the chorus of people responding to ISIS’s recent video of the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya.
I hesitate because the story is new. The blood hasn’t dried on the beach yet. How can I even begin to process this event?
I hesitate because the story is old. Every Divine Liturgy (the Orthodox Church service), we read the day’s entry from the Synaxarium (the Lives of the Saints). We all know this story. Christian under tyranny of the enemy. Holds fast to faith. Tortured. Beheaded. Crown of Martyrdom. (Today, it reads, with no irony, “[The governor] ordered that the head of St. Paul be cut off at the seashore.”)
I long ago released the urge to have the visceral “Let’s go kill all the people who did this” response. I am too tired now for that. I have to point out a different direction of thought. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing at all?
THE MASKED MEN
If you saw the video (I did not and have not even linked to it here because I understand it is insanely graphic) or stills taken from the video, you will notice that while all the martyrs’ faces are visible, the executioners have their faces covered. I think perhaps this serves two purposes. The first is for ISIS to appear as the terrifying face-less bogeyman of this decade. The second is so that no one person bears the guilt of these deaths. It is not so-and-so who beheaded the man before him; it is ISIS as a whole.
Unfortunately, no amount of face covering can remove individual guilt. There is a person behind each mask, an individual with a story. I am not the type to believe that all the psychopaths of the world just happened to gather on the beach for this massacre. The story is more complicated than that. I’d like to believe the person behind the mask has a name. I’d like to believe the person behind the mask has a family. I would like to believe that he will be haunted by his guilt.
Did he know the name of the man he killed? Did he see in him a man much like himself? How will he explain his actions to his conscience each morning satisfactorily? Does he know he ripped a hole in his soul? Can he feel his humanity seeping away?
Did he do it for money? Did he do it for a sense of “purpose”? Did he do it because all the other guys were up for it, in a show of male bravado? Did he do it because he was bored? One day he leaves his childhood home for a more exciting life as a “warrior”; the next he’s on a beach taking part in horrors his heart may never process?
I am sincerely concerned about the individual executioner. The man he beheaded is dead and warmly welcomed into the Father’s embrace. The martyr’s family will be cared for by the Church and dearly cherished by God every day for their sacrifice. The Church everywhere will reel, but most of us will continue to live our cushy lives.
The executioner lives. The pallor of the murder he committed will lay over him. The shadow of God’s vengeance will trail him. The stench of blood will never wash out of his fingernails. Will he go mad with the pulse of the martyr’s heart ringing in his ears?
Yet that is not my wish. My wish is that the name of Jesus Christ, shouted by those killed, worms its way into his brain, works its way to his heart, spreads like fire through his nervous system. until he sees Him shining in glory before him. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Christ knows his name. Christ knows his heart. Christ sees his face. The Lord will reach out to him. Over and over.
Christ reaches out to us. He demands we live to a standard higher than that of our enemy. He demands that we LOVE our enemy, that we do GOOD to those who persecute us. He demands that we BLESS those who curse us.
God is testing YOU, dear reader, and me. Can we love this enemy? Can we do good to them and bless them? Can we follow the example of our Lord and say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) and mean it?
Today is the first day of Lent for the Coptic Orthodox Church. We have a long journey to the cross and the thorns. A long journey to the glory of the Resurrection. Can we turn our hearts and minds to worship the Creator in truth, by obeying Him?
“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” Luke 6:46