This prayer of thanksgiving you absolutely have to know.
“The Christians of Egypt, who have mourned over 120 members in the past year as a result of targeted attacks on churches and individuals, continue to do what they have done for centuries,” said the head of the Coptic Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos. “They are resilient, forgiving, hopeful, and praying for Egypt and its leadership.”
He concluded with the “hope that the extraordinary reaction of this faithful community … might transform the hearts of those who continue to seek its destruction.”
Remarkable acts of Christ-like reconciliation followed each of the string of Islamist murders over the last several years. After coordinated bombings killed 45 worshippers in two churches on Palm Sunday, a Coptic priest in Cairo responded by sending a message directly to the bombers: “Thank you. … We love you, and … we’re praying for you.” The widow of one of the victims showed the terrorists such grace that it stunned the host into a 12-second on-air silence.
Similar examples followed when ISIS murdered 29 Christians on a bus in May, and when a Coptic priest was stabbed to death in Cairo while collecting charity for the needy last October. The Copts even forgave ISIS when militants beheaded 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in 2015.
The loving example of Christ forgiving His persecutors spurs the nation’s Coptic minority to forgive their persecutors at each of the stations along the Via Dolorosa that modern Egyptian life has become. But what continually refreshes their sense of love and gratitude in the face of such adversity?
One answer might lie in the most distinctive of all Coptic prayers: “The Prayer of Thanksgiving.”
The prayer is prayed at every service of the Coptic Orthodox Church. It begins every one of the canonical hours in the Church’s official prayer book, The Agpeya – the Coptic version of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Byzantine Horologion, the Roman Breviary, or the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer is included in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, the liturgy most often celebrated in Coptic churches. It’s prayed at baptisms, weddings … you get the idea.
In fact the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, began yet another funeral for the victims of a church bombing in December 2016 with this prayer.
The prayer is prefaced with an exhortation for everyone to pray gratefully:
Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God – the Father of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ – for He has covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us unto Him, spared us, supported us, and brought us to this hour. Let us also ask Him, the Lord our God, the Almighty, to guard us in all peace this holy day and all the days of our life.
Then the prayer begins:
O Master, Lord, God the Almighty – the Father of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ – we thank You for every condition, concerning every condition, and in every condition, for You have covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us unto You, spared us, supported us, and brought us to this hour.
Therefore, we ask and entreat Your goodness, O Lover of mankind, to grant us to complete this holy day, and all the days of our life, in all peace with Your fear. All envy, all temptation, all the work of Satan, the counsel of wicked men, and the rising up of enemies, hidden and manifest, take them away from us, and from all Your people, and from this holy place that is Yours.
But those things which are good and profitable do provide for us; for it is You Who have given us the authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, by the grace, compassion and love of mankind, of Your Only-Begotten Son, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, through Whom the glory, the honor, the dominion, and the adoration are due unto You, with Him, and the Holy Spirit, the Life-Giver, Who is of one essence with You, now and at all times, and unto the ages of all ages. Amen.
The opening of this prayer imitates the Apostle Paul’s example “to be content” in all of life’s circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13).
Scoffers may mock at the prayer’s boast to defeat the power of the devil, especially in light of intensifying persecution. But the power of Satan lies not in killing the body but in causing the soul to go astray, to hate any of God’s children – even for the most justified of reasons. Instead, thanksgiving becomes the way Christians “tread on serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.”
This prayer helped Egypt’s besieged Christian community weather centuries of violent storms rained upon it by the evil one. Integrating it into our prayer life may give us power to endure our own, much smaller setbacks and discouragements.
Rev. Ben Johnson is senior editor of the Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website and a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His views are his own.