MASKED gunmen Friday attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christians near Antinoopolis in Egypt ... killing seven people and wounding seven more … in what sadly is a tradition of religious strife dating back more than 3,000 years.
The attackers arrived in three pick-up trucks and opened fire on the vehicles carrying visitors to the Saint Samuel Monastery in the Minya province … where Antinoopolis, Hermopolis and Amarna are located.
This region is midway between the ancient Egyptian capitals of Thebes in the south and Memphis-Mennefer in the north.
This part of Egypt, near the nome sacred to Anubis, has always been a hotbed of religious fervor ever since the days when the "heretic pharaoh" Akhenaten built his capital city here, 20 kms from Antinoopolis.
Akhenaten's religion was brutally crushed by later generations and his city was razed.
Sadly, religious persecution also occurred at Antinoopolis. The modern religion of Antinous honors the first of the many Christian Martyrs of Antinoe, also known as Antinoopolis.
The first of the Egyptian martyrs with whose name and acts we are acquainted was Asclas of Antinoopolis.
The image at left is not Asclas, but is a burial painting of a person whose mummy was buried in the desert of the Fayoum in Egypt, which is the region of Antinoopolis. It is presented here as a contemporary image of what St. Asclas may have looked like.
In the early days of the religion of Antinous, Christians and Jews constituted a major portion of the population of Antinoopolis. After all, the city was the flower of Greek civilization deep in the desert of the Thebaid, and it was a haven for dispossessed and exiled thinkers and theological revolutionaries.
There was a period of time in which Antinoopolis fell under the sway of the fear and violence that had swept across the world. The Christian faith was suffering one of the bloodiest persecutions in its history.
Diocletian had sought to curb the rising tide of Christianity with brutal violence. He issued decrees that all citizens should be compelled to demonstrate their piety to the Roman Gods by offering sacrifice.
It was a direct challenge. Any person who refused was not only insulting the Gods of Rome, but showing disloyalty to the Emperor and to Rome herself.
Such treason was punishable by death. This was a legal way to persecute Christianity, it was not an attack on the Christian doctrine, or its practices, but was an unavoidable line that no Christian would cross.
It is interesting to note that though many of the Christians were executed by beheading or by being shot through with arrows, some were executed by being drowned in the Nile. This similarity between their death and the death of Antinous must have been very moving to the Ancient Priests of Antinous. And it is also interesting that the authorities were not sensitive to the nature of this form of execution in the Sacred City of a boy who had become a god simply by drowning in the Nile.
The first was Asclas, who was arrested and tortured for his faith by order of Arrian, the governor of Antinoopolis who himself would later convert to Christianity. While Asclas was being tortured in prison by hot irons which left his flesh hanging down in strips, Arrian had reason to cross the River Nile to go to Hermopolis on government business.
Antinoopolis lies on the east bank of the Nile (depicted at left in its heyday), and Hermopolis (Sacred City of Hermes) is located diagonally across from Antinoopolis on the west bank of the Nile. But inexplicably, Arrian found he was absolutely unable to leave the water's edge.
Asclas sent word that the governor would never be able to cross the river until he acknowledged Christ in writing. Arrian wrote out the statement, and was promptly able to leave the river bank. He crossed the Nile, and the moment he was on the other side, he ordered that Asclas be thrown into the Nile with a stone tied around his neck, whereupon he drowned.
This story, while odd-sounding to us today, was very clear to Egyptians. Hermopolis is the Sacred City of Hermes/Anubis, or Hermanubis.
This remarkable deity, who lives on in Christianity as St. Christopher, is responsible for conveying souls across the Celestial Nile after death. People in Antinoopolis worshipped both Antinous and Hermanubis.
The miracle of St. Asclan is meant to show that the Christian god is the equal of Hermanubis. Within a few generations, Hermanubis "morphed" into Christopher who, in this early Coptic mural at right, still has canine features. Next time you see a plastic St. Christopher statuette on a taxi dashboard, remember that it is actually Anubis without his doggy ears. He's not carrying the baby Jesus on his shoulders. He's carrying the Boy God Antinous over the celestial Nile to eternal divinity.
Against that background of intermingling spiritual beliefs, the Religion of Antinous acknowledges the suffering of St. Asclas and of all the Christian Martyrs of Antinoopolis out of our Love for Antinous in whose Sacred City they died. Though their faith was in Christ and not in Antinous, we nevertheless honor them and glorify them because they were Antinoopolitans, people of Antinous.
We ask their forgiveness for the murder and persecution of the Christian Martyrs and in their memory ask that we may be free from intolerance and never again partake in the crime of the ancient citizens of Antinoopolis.