Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Easter, the Egyptian-Copts and God's Face


At the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, we heard the story of the Jewish people being kept as slaves in Egypt and that God, desiring his peoples' freedom, after the long and terrible plagues upon Egypt, freed the slaves and wiped out the Egyptian pursuers by the closing up of the Red Sea. This of course becomes the pattern for our own freeing-Passover in Jesus Christ - our passage through the water from the side of the crucified Christ, sign of Baptism, to the inner freedom of God's Children.

But a visitor stopped me after the Easter Mass to tell me about an Egyptian friend who feels so sad every time he hears that Exodus account. Why? Because the Egyptians are depicted as the enemy even of God! We can imagine our own sadness  were the villains the Irish, the Italians, the Germans or the Polish.

What are we to make of it all? Every nation on earth and probably since the time when nations came into existence, has taken a turn being viewed as someone else's enemy. What's troubling is that the Hebrew-Egyptian Exodus account is God's story. But in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) God can be something of a buster at times. God doesn't just defeat the Egyptians, but all the nations that stand in the way of the Hebrew advance. Massive armies fall. It's a blood-bath for many peoples.

But a Jewish Jungian analyst once told me that in the Incarnation, Jesus born of Mary, God seems to change as God turns his face towards us. It's as if God realizes the old tactics of blood and death don't work and God tenderizes and faces us squarely in the Vultus Christi - the Face of Christ. Everything is changed as God looks at us through the merciful eyes of Christ.

Of course, God's mercy is not a new idea. Jewish themes are replete with the beauty of God's mercy - God as the mother bird of the psalms standing over her nest filled with vulnerable chicks, her wings spread to form a shading umbrella over the nestlings against the scorching desert sun (Psalm 91:4).

Perhaps God's got this inner tension that gets worked out in Christ. Folks who remember their catechism will argue, "But God is unchanging." Yes. In God's essence there is unchanging mercy and love, but on the other  hand, God HAS to change, because we change.
Anyway, Egyptian Christians for millenia have been among the most remarkably beautiful disciples in the long line of Christian believers. Father Mark Gruber, O.S.B. is an archaeologist-monk of St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. He spent some time in the Egyptian desert researching stones and ruins, but wound up living with Coptic (Egyptian) monks. He tells the story of this heart-journey in diary form in his book Journey Back to Eden - My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers (Orbis Books 2002). This is one of the best books I've ever read - full of challenge for Westerners. Only silence and awe are fitting responses to the account of the apparition and miracle related on page 111. The book can be gotten inexpensively online.

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