While Egyptian Christians face ongoing strife in their Muslim-majority nation, there are signs of encouragement as leaders of five different Christian groups begin meeting for the first time to forge a way forward together.
Evangelical, Anglican, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox leaders met Monday in Cairo for the first gathering of the United Council of Egyptian Churches. Coptic Pope Tawadros II led the group, which was the dream of his predecessor, the late Pope Shenouda III, to promote dialogue and unity.
Details are scant thus far as media was not invited, but according to an early report from Ahram, “[C]hurch officials who attended the meeting voiced optimism as to the council’s mandate, adding that they expected to face obstacles — which they planned to overcome — based on their differences.”
While these differences are real, the strife driving Christians together is equally real. A few days before the council, for instance, just sixty miles to the southeast, Muslim villagers in the town of Tamiyyah attacked the Church of Mar Girgis (St. George) for the second time in just over a month.
After assaulting parishioners with stones and knocking out church windows, the mob stormed the building. Inside the nave and sanctuary, they destroyed crosses and icons and caused the ceiling dome to cave in, according to a report by Morning Star News.
The attack was unprovoked. “It was an ordinary day, starting with the liturgy and Sunday school,” said one parishioner. “While we were sitting [after liturgy], we saw all these people” — estimates peg the mob at twenty to thirty strong — “coming like they do on the television at Tahrir Square, coming to attack the church.”
“Christians don’t feel secure at all, especially now,” said Fr. Rafic Greiche in an interview with Vatican Radio about the attack. “We have a lack of security, and the people are demoralized.”
Swarms of the scared and dejected are just leaving the country. “The Arab Spring has become a Christian Winter,” said Brian Stiller, global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. “Egypt faces an exodus of its Christian population similar to those that have already been seen in other Middle Eastern states in the grips of Islamist governments. This will be tragic for Egypt.”
Indeed ever-more Coptic Christians are seeking asylum in the U.S., Europe, even Russia. Anywhere it seems is better than Egypt under the thumb of the Morsi government and rogue vigilantes enforcing arbitrary and brutal consequences for confessing Christ.
For the Christian leaders in the newly formed council, it seems that one of the most important outcomes of their labors is renewed hope as they work to follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition to bear one another’s burdens.