Archbishop Justin’s speech to mark Coptic Orthodox Contemporary Martyrs Day

15 January 2021 • Persistent link:

Speech given by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a webinar to mark the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of London’s Contemporary Martyrs Day

Your Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, your Eminences, your Graces, your Excellencies and, collectively, dear sisters and brothers in Christ.

In November 2015, at the opening service of the General Synod of the Church of England, we had the privilege of Father Raniero Cantalamessa, now a Cardinal, preaching at the main service in Westminster Abbey in front of the Queen and the General Synod. Memorably he described persecutors as the great ecumenists, for he said they do not ask when they kill us, are you Orthodox or Catholic or Anglican or Protestant or Pentecostal? They ask only are you Christian?

And the reality of the ecumenism of blood is felt on this day as we commemorate the modern martyrs. It reminds us, and I’m reminded too by a fellow bishop in the Church of England who is themselves from a family where there is a modern martyr, that ecumenism and solidarity are with the persecuted, for we are united to them by their blood. It is not just something we feel for the persecuted nor that we stand to the towards the persecuted. ‘With’ is the key word and if we are going to be with them, whether it is the 21 martyrs in Libya (and I still remember the horror of that news) or whether it is in Nigeria or so many other parts of the world, we are there to listen as well as to speak; more to listen; to be in solidarity with them.

I was reminded earlier today by my colleague Father Will Adam of 1 Corinthians chapter 12. There the theme of St Paul’s writing are gifts, the gifts of the spirit which mean that one part of the body cannot say to another ‘I have no need of you’. But when one part of the body is in pain, neither at that point can any other part say I have no need of you, for we cannot ignore the pain.

And when we listen to the martyrs in the ecumenism of blood, when we allow the Spirit of God who has sustained them to speak to our hearts we hear voices very often ignored. For with a few exceptions such as the two bishops martyred in Syria a few years ago, the voices of the martyrs are usually those who are normally unheard. We stand by the mass graves of farmers who would never normally have their voice heard round the world, but in their martyrdom their voices echo in our hearts. They remind us of Philippians chapter 2, that because Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped he humbled himself.

The martyrs are those who are humble, who are poor, who are usually ignored, they are often in neglected circumstances and except in the mind of God their graves are either unknown or quickly left behind.

I’m so grateful to His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos for this day. For in that we remember those who lead us; who are welcomed before God; who are those who speak to us most clearly of the incarnation and of the cross and of the resurrection; who call us forward in imitation and with solidarity. Thank you.