“So teach us to number our days
that we may gain a wise heart.”
– Psalm 90:12
I remember seeing the news of Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt on my phone while I was in Poland.
I had not been to Egypt before but of course the photos gripped me.
That was a year that the Western and Orthodox calendars synced up and so Christians worldwide were commemorating on the same day Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem before his Passion.
That suicide bombers charged into two Alexandria churches on this date and in this way indicates that their intent was to wreak not only destruction but desecration.
What was the impact of looking at the those photos on my phone in a small Polish church?
Well, the day eventually came that I had an opportunity to travel to Egypt and, in particular, to Alexandria and when I did, I knew where to go.
I learned about the Alexandria church bombings before I learned that St. Mark established the church there and that the Coptic Orthodox church traces its roots to St. Mark, who was their foremost evangelist.
When I visited Alexandria, I made sure to visit Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral which is said to stand on the site of the church founded by St. Mark in the first century. The current pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark had celebrated the Divine Liturgy there just before the 2017 bombing.
A colleague of mine recently asked me about how and why I get so much out of travelling, and I think it has something to do with all of this: By marking time, I am not a stranger in the world.
When I travel, I do so in such a way that involves me with a tradition. What makes my personal experiences meaningful is seeing how they fit in with what preceded me and with what will follow.
This approach involves a posture of reverence and curiosity.
I have heard some people speak about visiting places as if it is sheer conquest. E.g., “I did the pyramids.”
But only if a place instead does something to us have we ourselves been truly marked by it.
April 25th is the date of St. Mark’s martyrdom and is his feast date in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. (The Copts venerate him on May 8th.) Today the Copts are also celebrating Palm Sunday.
Today may have felt completely ordinary but I think that attention to such details as these is the very stuff of learning to number our days.
Photo: Visiting Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria during Coptic Christmastime in January 2020