Saul and the Massacre of Maspiro
Fr. Abraam Sleman
Jersey City – New Jersey
I don’t think that I am providing something new when I write that Christians are not given their basic rights as Egyptian Citizens. Neither do they have their rights of liberty, building places of worship or preaching the Bible. The biggest catastrophe is that persecution escalates to the brutal level of killing unarmed Christian Copts with live ammunition and army tanks in Maspiro. But who is behind all of this: is it the former president Mubarak and his regime? Or is it Habib El-Adly and his men? Or is it the military council and its troops? Or is it the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists and their followers? It is my belief that “Saul of Egypt” is the one behind all this.
“Saul of Egypt” is not just a symbolic character out of my invention, but actually he has his existence in the history and in the Holy Bible. ”Saul of Egypt” is every Egyptian person who without realizing holds the thought of “Saul of Tarsus” (Acts chapters 8 &9). Unfortunately, there are currently more than 80 million in Egypt and the majority of them are qualified to be – if not already are – “Saul of Egypt”, unless the miracle happens. Who is Saul? And what is his story?
Saul’s Persecution of the Christians:
Saul’s name is mentioned in the book of Acts of the Apostles. First, it is mentioned at the events of killing St. Stephen, the first martyr in Christianity. It was said that those who were witnessing the killing of Stephen “laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). At that time of killing Stephen, “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1).
Saul of Tarsus rose to attack the churches, dragged many Christians to be imprisoned and killed many of them: “As for Saul he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3). “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).
Saul’s reputation went as far as Ananias the Apostle, and he said to God regarding him: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13).
Thereafter, Saul confessed by himself about what he committed against the church, when he said “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). “I persecuted this Way [the Christians] to the death; binding and delivering into prison both men and women” (Acts 22:4).
At the present day, “Saul of Egypt” does persecute the Christians, demolish their churches, loot their homes, and kill their children, just as it occurred in El-Kosheh, Nagaa Hammady, Abu Qurqas, Mukattam, Imbaba, Maspiro and many more besides these.
There is no doubt that the unfairly shed blood cries out to the Heavenly Father asking for Divine Justice. God said to Cain after he killed his brother Abel “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10-11). The blood of Abel the righteous, the blood of the martyrs of the first church on the hands of “Saul of Tarsus” and others, and the blood of the Coptic Church martyrs on the hands of “Saul of Egypt” is crying out for divine justice.
The Role of the High Priests and the Elders:
“Saul of Tarsus” was not alone in persecuting Christians, rather he threatened and killed many of them using the authority of the high priest. It is mentioned in the book of Acts of the Apostles: “Then Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2).
Thereafter, Saul confessed about the role of the high priest, and said: “I persecuted this Way [the Christians] to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5).
And Ananias the Apostle also refers to the role of the chief priests saying: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name” (Acts 9: 13-14).
At the present day, “Saul of Egypt” rises up to persecute Christians, demolish their churches, loot their homes, murder their children, with the guidance of his elders (Sheikhs), and some authors in the mosques and on satellite channels. At the days of “Saul of Tarsus”, the Jews considered themselves to be the only believers in God and that the Christians are infidels. With sadness, “Saul of Egypt” also thinks that he is the only one who is a believer in one God, and sees others, the Christians, as infidels who deserve to be looted and killed according to the ideology of those who misled him.
In the Old Testament, God warned His people from such deceivers, when He said to the people of Israel “O Israel, your prophets are like foxes in the deserts” (Ezekiel 13:4). Also talking to Israel, He said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Your prophets have seen false deceptive visions; they have not uncovered your iniquity, to bring back your captives, but have envisioned for you false prophecies and delusions” (Lamentations 2:14). Will “Saul of Egypt” pay attention to the lesson?
And in the New Testament, Jesus Christ warned against those deceivers whose works reveal their lies, robbery, violence and killing: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:15-19).
The Thought of Saul:
The teachers and guides of “Saul of Egypt” persisted in convincing him that Christians are infidels because they worship others with God. They do not tell him the truth that faith in the unity of God is an important matter in the teachings of the Holy Bible, and specifically in the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is sufficient to mention that Jesus Christ said in his teachings: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.” (Mark 12:28-30), (Matthew 22:37).
Saul did not comprehend that not accepting Christians and persecuting them is a rejection of God Himself, and persecution of Christ. For the Lord Jesus Christ said to Saul when he was on his way to persecute the Christians “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). He also said “He who receives whomever I send [the Christians] receives Me [receives Jesus Christ]; and he who receives Me [receives Jesus Christ] receives Him [receives God the Father who sent Jesus Christ] who sent Me” (John 20:1,3). “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1).
Behind Saul’s hate and his violence was his lack of faith in Jesus Christ’s name. He confessed to this saying: “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26: 9:11).
“Saul of Egypt” and his elders (Sheikhs) resemble “Saul of Tarsus” and his elders, for they reject the faith that “Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Unfortunately, they do not comprehend that rejecting the faith in Jesus Christ is rejection of God Himself. For Jesus Christ said “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me” (John 12:44), “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me” (John 8:42).
“Saul of Tarsus” had zeal for God but it was with ignorance. For Saul confessed afterwards saying: “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). Also as Saul confessed to the Jews, I witness to “Saul of Egypt” and whoever is behind him that “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 2:10).
The Danger of the Ideology and Actions of Saul:
What “Saul of Egypt” is doing is not just directed against the Christians only, but the matter is more dangerous than that. Is “Saul of Egypt” aware that he is in danger of eternal death – not just for killing the Copts, but primarily because he does not accept the faith in Christ? “Saul of Egypt” falls under the condemnation of God and his destiny is eternal death, not by betraying bullets or by an army tank as he did, but according to God’s justice, unless he obtains God’s mercy. “He who believes in Him [the Son of God] is not condemned but he who does not believe [in the Son of God] is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
The sadness of my heart has no limit – not just for my brothers and sisters who were martyred with the betrayal of “Saul of Egypt” – but also for “Saul of Egypt” himself. How is it that I would not be saddened and the majority of the 80 millions are threatened with eternal death unless they obtain God’s mercy?
Faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of our relationship with God. “This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 11-12).
God’s Mercy for Saul:
On his way to Damascus – while Saul of Tarsus was taking the steps to accomplish his plot against the Christians – was approached by God’s grace, and the Lord Jesus revealed Himself to him. “And as he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. The he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ and he said ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to d?’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do’” (Acts 9:3-6). Also, God sent to him Ananias to add him to the flock of Christ, and Saul was baptized at the hands of Ananias (Acts 9: 1-19).
What is extraordinary about this, is that when the Lord asked Ananias to go to baptize Saul, He described him as a chosen vessel for Him: “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying … Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:11 & 15).
Saul became a preacher after accepting the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem and has come for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’” (Acts 9: 20-21). “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him” (Acts 9:26-30).
It is within God’s ability to reveal the glory of His Christ to every “Saul of Egypt”, and he can become a chosen vessel to carry the name of the Christ. Then he can witness to Him before the entire world, and suffer for the sake of the Christ’s name!!
The Work of Grace:
The story of Saul’s transformation to Paul is the story of the work of God’s grace, and this is what St. Paul the Apostle announced after his transformation: “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed” (1Corinthians 15:9-11). “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners whom I am chief” (1Timothy 1:12-15).
There is blood that cries that is better than the blood of Abel asking for mercy and forgiveness for “Saul of Egypt” and many others, which is the blood of the Son of God “Jesus the Mediator of the New covenant”, the one “that speaks better things than of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of god” (John 3:16-18).
We do not ask God for only our rights as Egyptian citizens, but more importantly we ask that every human see God’s salvation in the person of Christ and accept the faith in Christ … for the sake of the blood of Christ and the blood of all the martyrs we ask with faith that all Egyptians believe in Christ, and there would be no more Saul in their midst who persecutes the people of God. But every one of them becomes a believer in God in the person of Christ, and preaching the name of Christ … Soon we’ll see that fulfilled in the name of Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father. Amen.