Feast of the Coptic New Year 1734 AM/Feast of the Martyrs

“Do not love the world or the things in the world… the world is passing away, and all the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever” 1 Jn 2:15-17

Nayrouz is the feast of commemorating the martyrs and confessors. It is celebrated on September 11, which marks the start of the Coptic New Year and its first month Thout.

The most severe persecution of Christians came during the reign of Emperor Diocletian who reigned from 284 AD to 305 AD. This is why from the beginning of the reign of this emperor, the Coptic Church recalculated the Coptic calendar so that the first year of the Coptic Calendar was 284 AD and added another name to the feast of the Coptic New Year, which is, “Year of the Martyrs”.

The martyrs have in the church a special position which is greater than all the saints of the church. It is greater than all the patriarchs and all the monks in the contemplative life.

The martyrs in their martyrdom demonstrated the deepest form of love towards God. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” Jn15:13. The martyrs loved God more than their personal lives, and they laid down that life for Him. In their martyrdom they not only displayed the depth of their love to God, but also the depth of their courage.

It was with courage that they witnessed to Christ publicly even though the consequences of that witness may lead to their death. This is why St. John the Baptist for example, whom the Lord described as, “among those born of women there was not risen one greater than John the Baptist” Mt11:11, was a witness and a martyr at the same time. It is very likely that the term ‘martyr’ came from the term ‘to witness’, to witness to the faith, even if this ultimately lead to the person’s death for the sake of that witness.

The martyrs also have the depth of faith. The faith which they held onto until death and this faith was not stopped by any threats or sufferings. They fulfilled the true depth of our Lord Jesus Christ’s command, “you shall be witnesses to Me” Act 1:8. They were an incredible example to all the generations in witnessing to the faith and being steadfast despite all the torture and persecutions. They are the ones who preserved the faith for us with their blood until it was given to us intact. This is why we consider the martyrs to be the seeds of faith, and the foundation of faith in the church.

It is possible for anyone to witness to the Lord but it is not possible for just any one to die because of their witness to the Lord. They were therefore an example to all the believers in their love, in their faith, in their witness to the Lord and also for their courage.

Martyrdom began from the beginning of Christianity and has remained with her throughout her journey through time. It started from the beginning of Christianity for as our Lord said, “In the world you will have tribulation” Jn 16:33. +He said to them, “the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” Jn 16:2. He also said to them, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” Mt 10:19. When Our Lord Christ called people to Christianity, He did not call them to a path strewn with rose petals, but He told them you will be taking a path containing tribulation and the threat of death.

There even came a time when death was desired by people. It was not just the overcoming of the fear of death but it had become a desire for them to depart this world and be with Christ. As St. Paul says, “having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” Phi 1:23. To the extent that once 30000 Copts went out of Damanhour towards Alexandria seeking martyrdom and they sang hymns and praised God on the way. Death had become a desire to them.

St. John the Baptist was martyred while Christ was still on the earth. It was possible for Christ to save him if He so wished. However Our Lord allowed for him to be martyred so that He can add to St. John’s crowns the crown of martyrdom.

St. John Chrysostom passionately summarizes the death and dying of the fallen martyrs as follows: “The death of martyrs is encouragement to the faithful, daring of the Church, confirmation of Christianity, destruction of death, proof of the Resurrection, mocking at demons, condemnation of the devil, teaching of true wisdom and a pious way of life, instillation of disdain for present material benefits and the path of striving for the good to come, comfort in the face of the misfortunes which befall us, an inducement to patience, instruction in courage, the root and fount and mother of all blessings…The blood of martyrs nourishes the Church much more than the moisture of dew brings gardens in bloom.”

Have a blessed Coptic New Year