For the context of Mr. Rizkalla’s addendum see our letter to the editors of August 2, of which the writer is but one of several who voiced similar questions. Rightly does Mr. Rizkalla remind us that it is precisely through the united acclamation of the local faithful that God begins to manifest His saints and glorify those who are His own. God reveals them to the Church as saints precisely because we on earth need them, their witness, their holy example.
There seem to be a number of concerns that the title martyr was given hastily, or unjustifiably, in my “Anba Epiphanius the Neo-Hieromartyr,” since “[t]he identity and motive of the murderer are unknown as of yet, despite the speculations of many.” Perhaps an explanation of its use here is in order to assuage concerned readers.
Those who have lived under the yoke of persecutory regimes and in antagonistic milieus are all too familiar with cases of people who suddenly disappear or die inexplicably. Enquiries into what happened may follow, but ultimately get swept under the rug as unsolvable, much to the sorrow of those impacted, who desire closure. Despite the mystery that surrounds the details pertaining to these injustices, people somehow know deep inside what happened.
It is certainly not prudent, or desirable, to speculate on what happened to Anba Epiphanius. However, his troubled environment is known to most who are familiar with the situation in Egypt and the Church there. My eulogy may have given a mere passing glance at what the bishop had to endure personally, and could have seemed as nothing to the casual reader. Nevertheless, those who have similarly suffered—directly, or indirectly—simply knew what had happened. That would explain the widespread sharing of Anba Epiphanius’ murder on social media and elsewhere.
Let us return to the question, “Is Anba Epiphanius a martyr?” The monks at the Monastery of St. Macarius the Great and the rest of Scetis would answer with a resounding Yes. Already they call him—who witnessed (literally, “martyred”) to the Faith of his fathers until his last breath—the Fiftieth Elder-Martyr of Scetis. (See here for a brief account of the 5th-century Forty-Nine Martyrs of the Coptic tradition).
The call for temperance in referring to persons as saints is indeed justifiable. Nonetheless, God will not reveal them from afar, in the midst of a thick cloud, and with thunder and lightning. No, we are not in the business of manufacturing saints. Rather, it is our conviction that they will be glorified by the (local) Church—the body, flesh, and bones of God’s beloved Son (Eph 5:30)—whose members from the bottom up will acknowledge and cry Axios—worthy indeed are these holy persons.
Through the prayers of the Cross-bearing Anba Epiphanius the Neo-Hieromartyr, O Christ our God, have mercy on the whole world, especially remembering all those who suffer for Your Name’s sake!
Ramez Rizkalla is an MTh student at Euclid University in Washington DC and St. Gregory Nazianzen Institute for Eastern Christian Studies in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.