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World News

Archbishop Angaelos reveals how martyred Coptic Christians changed his life and inspired his tattoo

by Marcus Jones

Archbishop Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, has revealed the reason why he decided to get a cross tattooed on his arm.

He's been speaking at an event to mark Contemporary Martyrs Day when those who've recently been killed for their faith are remembered.

The memorial day is held on the anniversary of the killing of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of Islamic State in Libya in 2015.

Pictures of them in orange jumpsuits were shared online showing them being killed and brought to life the reality of many believers around the world who are targeted because of their faith.

"The balance of power tipped on that day," Archbishop Angaelos said. "Where was the power? In the masked men, afraid to show their faces, or those who knelt with dignity with strength, in humility but powerfully and who witnessed to their faith to quite literally their last breath. 

"It was such an example to all of us on that day. It changed my life. 

"Many of you will know that Coptic Christians have a tradition of of having crosses tattooed on their wrists. This comes from a time of persecution. I grew up in Australia, I didn't have one. But after that day, I thought, if they could witness I could. It changed me. And it became a mark in my life and a day I will never forget."

Archbishop Angaelos was joined by senior church leaders from across the UK for a Contemporary Martyrs Day online service.

Those gathered heard contributions from Pope Francis, Pope Tawadros II as well as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Reflecting on martyrdom, leader of the Coptic Church Pope Tawadros II said:  "It is true that we are proud of the Faith of all martyrs, who can face death with courage to witness to their Faith, yet we cannot by any means tolerate persecution, a word that should be wiped out of the dictionary of humanity. We also have great faith in the value of human life, which is a gift from God and no man has the right to end human life by any means.

"It is well understood by all Christians that witnessing our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is joyful, even if it is through giving our life. That is why we today celebrate the commemoration of our beloved martyrs of Libya, and all martyrs of Faith with complete understanding of the verse 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain' (Philippians 1:21)." 

Contemplating on the life and witness of the Libya Martyrs, Pope Francis said: "They, are our Saints, Saints belonging to all Christians, Saints of all Christian denominations and traditions. They are those who have washed their lives white in the blood of the Lamb…they have received the greatest gift a Christian can ever receive: to bear witness to Jesus Christ to the point of giving his own life.

"I thank the bishops, and the priests of our sister Coptic Church who have brought them up, and taught them to grow in the Faith. And I thank the mothers of these men, these twenty-one men, who have passed the faith to them…in a dialect which goes beyond languages, the dialect of belonging."

Reflecting on 'the ecumenism of blood', Justin Welby said: "The reality of the 'ecumenism of blood' is felt on this day as we commemorate the modern martyrs. It reminds us, and I am 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, or that we stand towards the persecuted; with is the key word.

"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."

Politicians Lord Alton and the government's special envoy for religious freedom Fiona Bruce also took part in the event along with representatives from religious freedom charities Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Aid to the Church in Need.

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