Christmas, Martyrdom and Liturgy

Christmas, Martyrdom and Liturgy


The relationship between Christmas, Martyrdom, and Liturgy might seem as a stretch at first, but in light of the recent bombing at St. Peter’s Church in Cairo, one may begin to draw a connection between the icon of the Feast Day and martyrdom.

In the Christmas icon, the iconographer has chosen to draw a relationship between the swaddling clothes that Jesus was wrapped in at his birth and the linen cloth that he was wrapped with at his burial.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus makes this connection: “He was wrapped in swaddling bands at his birth, but at the resurrection, he released the swaddling bands of the grave.

Another detail that points to the death and resurrection of Christ in this icon is the open cave, which is not historically accurate of the Christmas narrative in the gospels, yet it represents the burial of Christ in a cave. The cave is open to emphasize not Christ’s death but His resurrection.

Jesus is placed where the animals were feeding, which represents that Jesus is food that gives life to whoever eats Him. As St. Cyril said, when we eat Him, He turns our animal nature into human nature.

In recent years it seems very common to hear of a terrorist attack at a Church, an attack that claims the lives of many Christians during the Liturgy. This harsh reality makes the relationship between Christmas and martyrdom even stronger.

• Dec 1999 — During the New Year Liturgy in the city if El Kosheh in Upper Egypt — 21 Martyrs lost
• Jan 2010 — During the Christmas Liturgy in the city of Nag Hamady in Upper Egypt — 11 Martyrs lost
• Dec 2011 — During the New Year Liturgy at the Church of the Two Martyrs in Alexandria — 23 Martyrs lost
• Dec 2016 — Most recently, during the Liturgy at the Church of St. Peter in Cairo – 27 Martyrs lost

A song dedicated to the latest Martyrs of St. Peter’s Church in Cairo describes the event from the point of view of the Martyrs. The composer expresses the reception of the Martyrs in heaven and describes the first question asked by the angels:

The angels asked me what it’s like
To have the Living God inside
The Gospel, the Body, and the Blood
Jesus, we are finally One

About author

Father Anthony St. Shenouda

Rev. Anthony is a Coptic Orthodox monk from St. Shenouda Monastery in Australia. He completed his Doctor of Philosophy on the subject of the Arrow Prayer in the Coptic Tradition. In the monastery, Father Anthony collaborates with many young people to produce Orthodox books and music.