This week, Our Lord and His Church gained 21 new martyrs.
These martyrs were Coptic Orthodox Christians, members of the ancient church of Egypt. There is nothing unusual in that. Not only is Christianity the most persecuted religion in the world, but the Church of Egypt has a long history of persecution. In the 3rd Century, Tertullian wrote,
If the martyrs of the whole world were put on one arm of the balance and the martyrs of Egypt on the other, the balance would tilt in favor of the Egyptians.
17 centuries later, and after 14 centuries of Muslim persecution, that is probably still the case.
What is unusual is how these martyrs have been embraced by all Christians, whether Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal or Presbylutheran. They have even been honoured by groups that, under any other circumstances, do not believe Coptic Orthodox Christians are Christians.
This is what Pope Francis calls the ecumenism of blood.
In a 2013 interview with La Stampa, Pope Francis was asked about ecumenism and responded by talking about martyrdom.
Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians.1
Less than a month ago, at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, he took up the same theme, speaking of the martyrs of today:
They are witnesses to Jesus Christ, and they are persecuted and killed because they are Christians. Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong. They are Christians and for that they are persecuted. This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood.2
The Church has always held that the witness and prayers of the martyrs is powerful. It was also Tertullian who famously said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
In a particular way, the blood of martyrs today unites Christians because it reminds us of the unity we already have through the Precious Blood of Jesus. If our persecutors simply see us Christians, then maybe we need to start seeing each other as Christians. We don’t have to pretend that real differences don’t exist — because they do. But far more important is the reality that we are Christians.
If you want proof this ecumenism of blood is already working, look at the Southern Baptists. Before these 21 Copts were martyred, confessing Christ with their last breath, the Southern Baptist International Mission Board listed Coptic Orthodox Christians as non-Christians in need of being “reached” by the “gospel”.
Since their martyrdom, that is no longer the case. As one angry blogger noted, “the [Southern Baptist Convention’s] International Mission Board has scrubbed all articles relating to Coptic Christians and their status of being unreached, lost, or in need of evangelism.”
And yep, he’s angry about that because obviously Copts believe in salvation-by-works, “aggressively denying salvation by a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ”. (Except, yeah… they don’t. I would find that hilarious if it weren’t so spectacularly wrong.)
But when the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention heard about their martyrdom?
This breaks my heart; 21 Christian men who stood strong for the Lord are beheaded. This moves me deeply. pic.twitter.com/JTWh1pJxjc
— Ronnie Floyd (@ronniefloyd) February 15, 2015
This is the ecumenism of blood.
It is a call to mourn our divisions and to love our brothers and sisters who are suffering for the sake of Christ. As Pope Francis said to the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians,
The ecumenism of suffering and of the martyrdom of blood are a powerful summons to walk the long path of reconciliation between the Churches, by courageously and decisively abandoning ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit.3
After all, those who persecute us do not care whether we are Catholic, Coptic or Calvinist. They only care that we dare to call Christ our Lord.