In his recent book, "Fleeing Herod," the Australian writer James Cowan retraces the steps of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt following Joseph's dream warning him about Herod's intentions toward the infant Jesus.
Cowan admits in the prologue that current events in Egypt made him even more conscious of Egypt's history and "the millennia of knowledge embodied in its sands."
Cowan's guide on his journey is a fourth-century text written by a Coptic Pope, Theophilus of Alexandria, entitled "The Visions of Theophilus." Along the way he meets monks, nuns, pilgrims and the then-Coptic Pope.
Whether or not we believe the fourth century reference of Mary being under an Egyptian tree, Coptic belief is undeniable: "Egypt [is] central to the birth of Christianity."
Thus, Christians must be concerned about what is happening to Coptic Christians today.
Since Matthew chapter 2's quoting of Hosea – "out of Egypt I called my son" – Egypt was at the heart of the Christian story. It provided sanctuary for the Holy Family. And later produced some of the Church's greatest minds: Tertullian, Origen and the great defender of orthodoxy, Athanasius.
The father of monasticism, Anthony, was Egyptian, and, for much of the Church's early history, Alexandria was the mind and soul of the faith.
Many don't realize that Egypt was Christian for six centuries before the coming of Islam. We call the descendants of those Christians the Copts. For fourteen centuries they and their ancestors have kept the faith even when life would have been easier if they hadn't.
Little has changed. Today, they face what Nina Shea has called a "Jihad." The chaos in Egypt, like the chaos in Iraq and Syria, has made it "open season" on the country's Christian minority. As Shea writes in National Review "The [Muslim] Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party has been inciting the anti-Christian pogroms on its web and Facebook pages."
For those unfamiliar with the term, "pogroms" were the anti-Jewish attacks in Tsarist Russia that killed thousands and led to the emigration of millions of Jews to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Brotherhood would love to see the Copts do likewise.
If they succeed it will be in part because Christians in the West did nothing. Right now, the mainstream narrative about Egypt depicts the Brotherhood as the victims. It is far more concerned with the impact on Egyptian "democracy" than the fate of Egyptian Christians, or that of any Egyptian that doesn't want to live in a theocracy.
They are not telling the story, so we have to. They are not urging our leaders to protect Egyptian Christians, so we have to. We cannot stand by in silence while yet another ancient Christian community is threatened with extinction.
Of course, that requires understanding that these are ancient Christian communities in the first place. Many American Christians knowledge of church history barely goes back a century. You might say we have evangelical Alzheimer's. Because we are unfamiliar with the past, we are ignorant of our debt to those who went before and their descendants.
In Cowan's book, then-Pope Shenouda, who spent the early years of his papacy under house arrest, tells him that it "seemed that [Herod] feared the presence of a lowly peasant family in his kingdom more than he did his enemies." Today's tyrants fear the presence of Christians in their would-be kingdom.
It's time for us to repay an ancient debt.
Call or email your representative in Congress. Contact your Senators. And the White House. The U.S. must speak out and condemn the targeting and murder of Egyptian Christians.
Come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary. We'll link you to Nina Shea's article. We'll also show you how you can reach your elected leaders.
We'll even provide a sample message.
And of course, we must pray for our brothers and sisters in Egypt.