A headline in today’s The New York Times reads, “Egypt’s Christians Prepare for New Political Climate.” Judging by early reports, it appears the results from the country’s elections — which international observers state are by far the most open in decades — will favor the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group once banned by the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Coptic Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 85 million people and are by far the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Copts are fully engaged in Egyptian society — despite decades of discrimination. Torn between the relative stability offered by Mubarak and the necessity for democratic reform, Copts nevertheless played a role in bringing down Mubarak. Copts, too, have formed political parties they hope can influence the laws and governance of this strategically important nation. And they have rallied together to pray, reflect and repent.
According to materials sent by a retired Canadian diplomat, some 70,000 Copts —Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant — gathered for a 12-hour vigil in the Cave Church of St. Simon the Tanner on 11 November. Millions more followed the event live on satellite television and through the Internet. The Cave Church, which lies in the foothills of the Mokattam Mountains that overlook Cairo, is actually a network of churches and shrines carved out of the rock near a densely populated neighborhood that is home to the garbage pickers of Cairo, or zaballin.
“The prayer meeting that started at 6 p.m.,” read one report, “continued uninterrupted till 6 a.m. the following day. … This was a significant event on multiple levels. It was the largest Christian gathering in the modern history of Egypt. It brought together for the first time all Christian denominations, Coptic Orthodox, Catholics and all branches of the Protestant and Evangelical churches.”
Prayers were offered for the “healing of the land and for God’s intervention to save the country from a disastrous famine as the Nile [river] is drying up at an alarming rate.
“The focal point of the gathering was repentance and forgiveness. The leaders of all the churches came together in unprecedented unity to lead thousands of people in worship and prayer for Egypt.”