Following the devastating bombings at St Peter’s Coptic Church Cairo, in the precinct of St Mark’s Cathedral Cairo, prayers will be offered for the peace of the world and the Christian community in the Middle East at St Paul’s Cathedral. Candles are available for private prayer throughout the day, and public payer will be led at 12.15pm and 5.10pm.

We were privileged to share in the beginning of the Advent journey with the Primate of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Bishop of Egypt, Most Revd Dr Mouneer Anis. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Egypt and the Christian community in its grief.

Our friend in Christ, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Melbourne, His Grace Dr Suriel Anba, is currently in Cairo, and has sent the following eye witness account:

Today has been one of the most difficult days of my life. Hearing about such barbaric events on the news or watching them on television is one thing but experiencing them firsthand is something else altogether.

Walking up to the Church of St Peter (Botrosiya) in the Cathedral complex and seeing from afar that the roof has blown out made me think, “O My Lord, what lies ahead inside the Church then?” What I saw on Ramsis St made me realise that this is a huge disaster of gigantic proportions. The number of police on the street and the number of protestors who were very sad and chanting.

It was then that I entered the church with some difficulty due to the large crowds. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw next. It was complete pandemonium. Priests, bishops, police, detectives, parishioners, cameras, media, reporters – all in complete shock at the enormity of the barbaric act of terrorism. What alarmed me was how on earth could detectives and forensic scientists collect evidence under such circumstances.

My heart dropped and I could not stop crying from what I was seeing. Then I saw the clock on the wall which had stopped at 9:57 am, the time of the bombing exactly. This moment in time will always be embedded in my mind and heart forever. It is the moment when we gained new martyrs in 2016 and new intercessors on our behalf in front of the throne of God.

Someone then gave me a steel ball which was one of hundreds that were inside of the bomb. I have kept this with me and showed it to His Holiness and will keep it with me always in remembrance of these new martyrs of the 21st century.

I then saw the blood of the martyrs on the floor of the church and it made me think that our whole history is full of such blood throughout 2000 years. This blood is what continues to strengthen our faith and makes the Church continue to stand strong.

After that someone pointed out to me the tissues of the bodies of the martyrs that were plastered on the wall of the church, it was very high up which showed how powerful this bomb was.

I began to try to imagine what it would have been like to be praying in that church this morning. A Sunday morning, families going to celebrate liturgy during the beginning of the holy month of Kiahk before the Feast of Nativity, days that are full of joy. Then moments later the church looks like this? Tears ran down my face, my heart was weeping blood for the families that are suffering and have lost loved ones. Many mothers had lost their lives as the bomb was on the right side of the church where women stand. How many sons, daughters and husbands are suffering and in mourning now?

I looked at the roof that had blown out and I could see the heavens and asked myself, O Lord of heavens, why have you forsaken Your people? Why have you allowed for this tragedy to befall your beloved people of Egypt? Why Lord? I do not understand. Even if my mind cannot comprehend, I will always accept Your will and say “Thy will be done.”

I know that even in the midst of the pain and suffering You are there and will wipe every tear from our eyes and will remove all pain. You will turn every evil to glory just as you did with the Righteous Joseph in the Old Testament.

After this, I along with 3 bishops attempted to visit Demerdash Hospital to visit our sons and daughters who were injured and to comfort the affected families, but the door was locked and we could not get in. Then we heard loud shouting and many young people running and then a gun shot and we were quickly rushed to the cars that drove at unimaginable speeds and almost hitting people along the way trying to get us out of danger.

In the evening, seeing His Holiness Pope Tawadros II upon his arrival from Athens in a state of sadness, pain and sorrow was difficult to see. I greeted His Holiness and passed on my condolences and said to him, may the Lord protect you and keep you for His Church.

Many feelings and thoughts are going through my mind and perhaps these simple words are not that well written but I wanted to write these words tonight before sleeping as a memory of this day that will go down in the history of Egypt and of the Coptic Church.

Yes it is a sad day that such barbarians exist in the world that are willing to do such harm to human beings. Yet we as Christians are people of hope, our hope is Christ. He is our source of comfort, hope and joy. We rejoice for these blessed martyrs and we pray for their families that the Lord may give them comfort and peace.

The Lord give peace and unity to Egypt and strengthen us all to deal with this difficult situation.

The Lord be with you and please pray for me.

+Suriel

Bishop of Melbourne

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