St. Simon the Tanner and Tomorrow’s Prayer and Fasting for Egypt

Khalil Hamra / AP / Washingtonpost.com

Yesterday Egypt saw the worst outbreak of violence since the January 25 Revolution after a peaceful demonstration sparked at least in part by the destruction of a church in Edfu, Aswan.

Earlier today the synod of bishops of the Coptic Orthodox Church called for Christians around the world to pray and fast for three days, starting tomorrow. On the mob confusion that broke out in the midst of the demonstration, the bishops said:

“We ascertain that our Christian faith doesn’t allow us to use violence of any kind.But we also know that strangers implanted themselves among our children and committed acts that are attributed to us. Coptic Christians feel that their problems are always being repeated without accountability and without the due justice of the law.

The holy synod links nonviolence with resistance against injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr and Mohandas Gandhi decided that nonviolence was the answer to injustice because they studied the way of Jesus. His way looks weak, but they concluded that it is really the strongest force there is. The apparent defeat of the cross was the greatest victory of creation. “With nonviolence, defeat is impossible,” Gandhi once said.

For those in Egypt, this might include non-cooperation with evil, even to the point of martyrdom. But those of us outside Egypt have the most powerful nonviolent tool of all: prayer and fasting.

If we answer the call of the holy synod to Christians everywhere, we will move mountains. It’s happened before, as anyone familiar with the story told throughout Egypt of St. Simon the Tanner knows.

After the pope of Alexandria spent three days in prayer and fasting after Egypt’s Qaliph challenged the Christian faith, God sent St. Mary to him in a vision. She told him that God’s answer would come through someone who looked quite weak and incapable:

“Fear not, faithful shepherd, … for your tears which you have shed in this church, and the fasts and the prayers which you and your people have offered up shall not be forgotten. Now, get out through the iron gate that leads to the market-place and, when you are on your way out, you will find a one-eyed man in front of you carrying a jar of water. Take hold of him; for he is the man by whom the miracle will take place.”

That man was of course St. Simon the Tanner. His deep humility, his apparent weakness, and maybe even the fact that he suffered injustice as a poor man under the political system back then with its special taxes, made him God’s perfect person to challenge the power that injustice depends on.

I wonder if the miracle we all desire in Egypt will also take place not through democratic political power, but through God working through the tremendous personal potentials of those who suffer injustice: the Christian, the poor, the fatherless, and the widow. Like poor one-eyed Simon the Tanner, they seem weak. But for this reason they wield the power of the cross.

And though we may also feel weak as the Body of Christ flung far around the world without influence on Egypt’s legal or political system, we have the power of the cross, too.

Our prayer and fasting for the seemingly weakest in Egypt can move mountains.

I’m praying for that. What will you be praying for during these three days?

About Nathan Hollenbeck

Nathan joined Coptic Orphans in 2006. It was his response to a call to help return Egypt’s hospitality to the Holy Family on behalf of Christ Emmanuel and the Theotokos, after they changed his own life as a youth. He has a passion to fulfill God’s command to “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV)