No tears, outrage or condemnation marked a church ceremony Sunday in Scottsdale to remember the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians shown beheaded last week in Libya.
Instead, a leader of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in south Scottsdale rejoiced in the courage and faith of those Christians shown beheaded in a video released Feb. 15 by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS.
"We don't mourn them," Father Marcus Mansour said. "Today is a day of celebration."
The church held a memorial service attended by up to 300 people, a capacity usually reserved for Christmas and Easter services. Many attendees came from other metro Phoenix Orthodox churches. Each of the slain men was remembered on the green front lawn of the church with his own white cross topped with a gold, metallic crown. A lit candle and a vase with red and cream-colored roses sat at the base of each cross.
The 45-minute service consisted of standing and singing prayers in English and in the ancient Coptic language. Deacons in the church held photographs of the slain men at the altar.
The Coptic Christian Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world and consists of native Egyptian Coptic Christians. The church calendar is called the calendar of martyrs, and the church has feast days for martyrs. Those gathered Sunday inside the church, with its walls adorned with martyrs and saints, saw the service as an opportunity to exalt a cornerstone of their religion.
"When we remember the martyrs, we learn from them," a church program read. "We learn how to be firm in the faith, how to take pain lightly, no matter how severe it becomes and to meet death with courage."
Irene Youssef, 14, said word of the video — released via Twitter, and showing hostages in orange jumpsuits, facedown and beheaded by masked men in black — was horrifying.
"I was just crushed. It was so hard to hear," she said. "But I grew in my faith. I felt at peace. We won't forget about it soon, but these people — these martyrs — basically got a straight shot to heaven."
During the service, Church Deacon Andrew Ibrahim read an anonymous poem with words that captured the congregants' feelings toward the video's row of militants in black and Christians in orange.
"One row spewed retched, contemptible threats; the other spread God-given peace and rest," it read. "A question: Who fears the other? The row in orange watching paradise open, or the row in black with minds evil and broken?"