Happy Easter from ScholarLeaders! As we rejoice together in our risen Lord, Dr. Wageeh Mikhail, who leads our Catalytic Ventures – Religions program, reflects on Christ’s ultimate victory over sin and death.
Before joining ScholarLeaders, Wageeh directed the Center for Middle Eastern Christianity at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (a VSI client school). Wageeh has published and spoken widely on medieval Arab Christianity, and also guides ScholarLeaders on Christian-Muslim relations. He received a LeaderStudies scholarship for his PhD at the University of Birmingham, UK. Wageeh and his wife have two sons.
Wageeh shares the following reflection:
As a young boy, I had much fun going to Sunday School. I would see my friends there, play games and sing songs, and watch biblical stories shown on an old carousel slide projector. My world was easy and without worry. This innocence lasted until Muslim fanatics attacked my church in 1984 and brutally killed Mr. Samir Abd Al-Masih, my Sunday School teacher. I will never forget that terrifying moment.
Growing up, the presence of armed police officers at church was a reality for me. I vividly remember looking at their machine guns with wonder and fear. During Christmas and Easter, their numbers would double, if not triple. SWAT teams and fortified police vehicles would come to guard the church building.
Even now, when I go to church to celebrate Christmas or Easter, the sight of heightened security would remind me of the possibility that something could go wrong. As recently as 2016, a suicide bomber killed 29 Christians and injured 47 others at the Botroseya Church in Cairo.
Although these events are terribly tragic, I think of Tertullian’s words, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The long history of anti-Christian persecution in Egypt since Roman days has not wiped out Christianity. Indeed, one could argue that it has strengthened the Church and caused it to take root in the country. This perspective has exceptionally important implications for the Church’s life and mission. Time and again, God has redeemed evils to strengthen the Church in Egypt.
As we celebrate Easter, we are reminded of the barbaric attack on Christ, though “he committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (I Pet. 2: 22). Christ was crucified! This terrible means of execution was reserved for notorious criminals in the Roman Empire. Christ’s life should not have ended on a cross. Yet, Christ’s death became our source of life. On the cross, Christ put death to death.
In 782 AD, the ʿAbbāsid Caliph al-Mahdī (r. 775–785 AD) invited the Patriarch of the Church of the East, Timothy I, to a theological debate. The Caliph objected to the cross because, to him, it was a sign of death. The Patriarch replied, “As we honor the roots because of the fruits that come out of them, so also we honor the Cross as the root of which the fruit of life was born to us, and from which the ray of immortality shone upon us.” This truth offers hope to those who have suffered due to the attacks in Egypt. Their loved ones have not lost their lives in vain. Rather, their witness has even strengthened the Church.
Let us celebrate Easter by remembering the life that was given to us through the death of Christ. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!