In today's gospel for the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the Good News to all creation. He promises them these will be the signs that will accompany those who believe: that in his Name they will not only be able to cast out demons, heal the sick and speak new languages, but will be able to pick up venomous snakes and drink poison. This and similar gospel passages have unfortunately been taken literally by some Christian believers as an invitation to test their faith by handling snakes or drinking poison.
But as I was pondering the gospel for today's feast, I recalled that St. Mark, who tradition tells us founded the church of Alexandria, Egypt is loved and venerated by Egyptian Christians. For many years I have been edified by the example of the Coptic Orthodox, who have experienced 15 centuries of discrimination and at times, outright persecution, first by their Christian and then Muslim rulers. Yet despite repeated provocations, (and inevitable lapses due to human weakness), as a community they seem not to been poisoned by hatred of their persecutors. Nor have they violently attacked the persons, homes or places of worship of their Muslim neighbors. Through the grace of God and their own commitment to the gospel values of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and non-violence, Egyptian Christians have been protected from the deadly poison of resentment, hatred and the desire for revenge that is so corrosive and soul-destroying.
My prayer is that Christ will continue to sustain and protect our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt and that I might imitate their example.