Thank you to this wonderful community, which has welcomed Jenny and my two girls our two girls, Abbey and Lily to be here today. A little bit different to the church that we’re used to, just as much noise though.
At Pentecostal church as there is here in the Coptic Orthodox Church, full of celebration, full of worship, full of family and full of praise. It’s truly wonderful to be here with my good friend Bishop Daniel and to also meet the other Bishop Daniel. I don’t know what the collective noun is for a group of Bishop Daniels.
But whatever it is, it’s great to be here with both of you. I have appreciated the prayers and support of the Coptic community throughout my entire public life and that continues to this day. I’m very grateful for it because those prayers I know, are not just offered up for myself, but for my family as well and for our community. As I know you do also for David Coleman as well and his family, Craig and his family, Tom – who I welcome also, from Sutherland Council – and all of those who are gathered here today.
The purpose of the original invitation was extended to be here today to acknowledge and celebrate 50 years of the Coptic Church here in Australia, when Father Mina came here on Australia Day 50 years ago. I think there’s something beautiful about that; greeted a handful of Coptics at the time, full of excitement about what the future would bring for them. And they met – because there was no beautiful Coptic Church like this at that time – so they met in a Salvation Army Hall. And I thought, there is something beautiful about that as well. Because just like where we are today, which was originally built as an Anglican Church and today the iconography and all of the presentation of a beautiful Coptic Church, I think it says a lot about the nature of our multicultural Australia. That whatever foundations we build upon, we built it up to what it is today; which is a tolerant, multicultural, diverse, strong society. Not a godless society, but a society of so many millions of Australians who share a faith and hold a faith.
Faith is a mystery. It’s a mystery to those who hold it and to those who don’t. What do I mean by that? Some think faith and those who hold a faith are about having some set of rules or moral superiority, or they think they’re purer than other people and things like that. But all of us know, those who have a faith, that it’s quite the opposite.
A faith is something that you hold to because you understand – I believe – and you acknowledge the humility of the human condition. You understand the fragility of humanity. You understand it’s weaknesses. You appreciate it’s beauty, it’s strengths. But we also understand it’s susceptibilities and we all have those. Now I have no doubt that who have no such faith can also appreciate these things as well, it’s not exclusive. But it is the thing I think, that draws those of faith, to faith. It is a fundamental understanding of our humanity and it’s fragility. So that draws us as individuals, seeking to understand our own existence, into our relationship in the Christian faith with our God I believe it the same motivation that draws so many others to their faiths.
But the other thing about faith is, it’s just not individual understanding of humanity and fragility and weakness, but it is also about community. In Hebrews it says – and the scholars will differ I’m sure, on who the writer of Hebrews was – but I believe this is Paul and so does Bishop Daniel by the way.
He said; “Forsake not,” in Hebrews, “your meeting together.” And Jesus said; “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with you.”
Faith is also about community and here we are in a community. Because from that community we know we draw strength. This is the wonderful community, it is a strong community, it is a vibrant community. But there’s no community that does not know hardship. There is not a community that does not understand grief. As Bishop Daniels said, it is not uncommon in Egypt for Cops to know the full horror of hate and violence.
It is sad when we hear from Bishop Daniel, that you get used to it. It’s something we could never really get used to, and we hope never to do. But I think that is an honest expression of what is faced by people of religious faith and in particularly the Copts in Egypt. But as we know, I think as we stand here today and we reflect on and remember and pray for and identify with those of another faiths today, those of the Islamic faith, the Copts better than anyone understand I believe, the pain and hurt and the grief that our Muslim brothers and sisters are going through in New Zealand right now and across this nation.
Yesterday I met with the National Imams Council and all I could say to them was to express my profound grief to them, as you have done this morning. As Australians right across this country will be doing; in churches yesterday, in temples, on Friday in prayers in mosques, all understanding our human fragility and how in a moment, innocence can be attacked and lost, by an act of hate.
But you know, when you go back to why Father Mina came here 50 years ago, he came here to preach and to gather together a community of hope. A hope established on this very important point, which is a message to all of those who would choose hate and a life of hate; a life of hate only ends in ruin and suffering. He came here to celebrate, as you and I and all Australians do in the faiths that we pursue, a message of love.
It says; “Do not be troubled by the world, because I have overcome them,” you know that scripture. What is meant by that is that Jesus overcame the hate, with love. That is the message of Abrahamic faiths and I believe many others; a message of love for others.
Now I can assure you and those who would seek to peddle hate and culture hate and ferment hate, in whatever place they are and from whatever motive it comes, that hate will never defeat love, because love is the basis of peace.
That is the victory we declare today over these horrendous and despicable events, in of all places, a place called ‘Christ church’, a place called Christchurch. We stand together, I believe as a world today, in speaking out against that.
So my prayer this morning – I’ll pray again I understand, in a moment – but the one I particularly want to share with you here is the prayers of St. Francis and I’m sure many of you will know it. It is a prayer for a troubled time, which this is.
It says: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Oh divine master, grant that I might not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, and it is in the pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying, that we are born to eternal life.”
That was the prayer of St Francis. I can’t think of any better commendation to all of us as to how to respond and I want to thank the Coptic community for the way you have reached out to our Muslim community. That’s what about country is all about – the respect for each other, the care and love for each other and as I said, this community knows better than most, as well as any other the hurt that they would be feeling now and out of that, we profess love.
So I thank you very much. Peace be with you.