Georgia stands in front of the 21 martyrs’ coffins in Al Our.
Today’s guest post comes from Georgia Hanna, a fellow who attended The 21 in June of 2022. We asked Georgia to write about her time in Egypt and share the parts of her experience that stood out the most to her. In today’s post, Georgia shares what she learned from her visit to the church in Al Our dedicated to the 21 martyrs.
Before this trip, the notion of Martyrdom, and the relationship between life and death in the Bible always perplexed me… one verse in particular: “For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. So, then death is working in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). No matter how much time I spent reflecting on this verse, I only truly began to journey through its meaning and be touched by its value once I visited the 21 Martyrs’ church. For all the majesty of the sculptures, stained glass windows, and iconography; none of it compares to the hall in which we saw the 20 coffins laid. On entering, a powerful silence rested upon us. The heavy reality of the Martyrs’ courage had evoked a shared spiritual awareness of the true power of the Coptic faith.
The Martyrs’ bodies were consecrated within the altar, leaving their coffins on display alongside their stained, orange jumpsuits. Given the circumstances, I expected to feel a poignant sorrow. But strangely, with each passing minute that drew my gaze deeper and deeper, into the minutest details of each casing; I felt a gentle shift in my heart, then a profound and distinct sense of solemnity. Every stain and every tear marked a measurement of their complete resignation to God’s will, and fervent Holy Spirit. A Spirit so profound it radiated in the deep inward parts of every Christian who entered and gave the hall an astounding air of dignity.
Yet, my mind couldn’t dismiss the stark contrast between this tender feeling I was experiencing, and the act of violence that’s aftermath laid in plain sight. Confused, I cast myself into an inward silence to entreat an answer from God. It was in the instant my gaze met with the altar, a gentle whisper arose from the depths of my mind the words of the Angel at Jesus’ tomb asking, “‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’” (Luke 24: 5). In that moment, I understood why I saw no despair on the faces of the families of the 21 Martyrs. The dignity I had felt when looking at those empty coffins that laid in perfect solitude, echoed the same dignity of Christ’s vacant tomb after he had risen. You really had faith that they had truly been resurrected with Christ. Their coffins were not a symbol of death or a reminder of the terrorists; in their true light, they were like the carriages that lead you to the gates of Heaven, and a reminder of the fortitude of the Coptic Orthodox Church, a people that have persevered despite the countless attacks and persecution.
So, what did Paul mean in 2 Corinthians? I think I finally understand. We must lend our lives over to the Lord so fully that in the deepest inward parts resides our own empty coffins. So that, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).