Holy Coptic chants solemnly resonate,
somnambulant Eastern liturgical drone:
heaven’s hope echoing off stone church walls.
Cassocks, candelabras and kiot*, gold-tinted.
Altar and icons by incense clouded,
praying priests half-hidden by holy haze,
God’s grace spice-suffusing the sanctuary.
At midnight mass, Caesar’s dark legions came
smashed the sacred, bolted doors,
slashed with indiscriminate swords,
pagan fury spat with blood-drunk blasphemies;
sacrilege in St. Theonas’ sanctuary,
dozing pigeons scatter in frenzied flight.
Virgin Christians stripped by sadistic soldiers,
raped, vainly shielding votive bodies
with mere tatters of white garments;
men murdered, javelin pierced, intestines
spill from sliced stomachs, slithering like snakes,
screams intermingle with the recited Psalm:
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever…”
Failed arrest of the antagonist, Athanasius:
dogmatic theologian, belligerent Egyptian,
iconoclast, midget bodied bishop –
escape managed amid murderous affray.
Fifteen years of desert exile followed,
then that triumphal procession to Alexandria,
seated on an ass, the beast of burden.
palm-branches uplifted in an arc
welcoming their holy hero,
imitating another man’s entry:
Christ, compelled to complete salvation story.
‘Jesus is God!’ – his divisive doctrine declared,
life and death statement, spoken and sung,
crucible-crafted by prophetic priest, Athanasius,
biblically patented from antiquity to eternity…
Athanasius – Christian theologian, Church Father, chief defender of Trinitarianism (against Arianism). Noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.
*Kiot – a special wooden box with a hinged, framed glass door in the front, usually a case for an icon.