Christslave : A Gospel of Lie Storyby Fady Riad / Mystery & Detective
A Gospel of Lie Story
Copyright 2017 Fady Riad
All Rights Reserved
An old, dust-covered copy of The Critique of Coptic Reason (Beirut, 1978), a colossal undertaking whose rarity, acuteness and bizarreness failed to attract scholarly attention or spark the interest of antique dealers, is perhaps the sole surviving testimony to the tragic life of Wahid Abdul Masseih.
The work is in many ways unconventional. It was written by a man who lived in a country where literature was praised in public while shunned in private; it dealt with a subject that was otherwise unexplored by any ingenious mind; and it had a peculiar, labyrinthine structure that blended paragraphs of quasi-scholarly value with autobiographical diary-like entries that screamed with subjectivist pain.
In the first chapter Abdul Masseih utilized the shock approach to alert the reader that “there are more things in scripture and history than those preached by the abounas [Coptic priests].” The chapter starts with a quote from St. Augustine that might be shocking to Copts. “If you expel prostitution from society, you will unsettle everything on account of lusts." The whole chapter is made up of unrelated quotes and facts that Wahid thought would surprise and hook the interest of the Coptic layman. He started by pointing out how the account of creation differed between the first and second chapters of Genesis and elaborated on this point to introduce the reader to the documentary hypothesis (1). He dabbled throughout the chapter with occult themes in the Bible that he claimed were carefully avoided by the priests, like the Urim and Thummim, or Ashmodai’s dislike of fish liver odor as documented in the Book of Tobit (2). He then quoted prominent church fathers regarding the identity of the children of God and the Nephilim in the sixth chapter of Genesis before going on to discuss Origen’s belief in the salvation of the Devil and eventually embarking on Pope Dionysius’ embarrassing comments on the Book of Revelation (3).
One of Abdul Masseih’s most daring endeavors, perhaps, was his refutation of the 1968 apparitions of our Blessed Virgin at Al-Zeitoun. He illustrated how easily the whole affair could have been forged and went on to express his contempt at how low the extraordinarily popular Pope Kyrillos the Sixth had gone in order to extract the papacy from the cradle of filth where the corruption of Yousab the Second had left it (4). “Resorting to the cliché of miracle-working is the filthiest expression of spiritual bankruptcy,” he emphatically wrote in one little paragraph of his book (5).
A good deal of another chapter is aimed at the refutation of the alleged miracles of the late Pope Kyrillos VI. Wahid believes that the pope has become an irresistible religious icon by masterfully personifying a number of powerful archetypes. “He is old and white-haired; a father; an ancient of days, if you like. He has this charming, half-mocking smile by which the laughing Buddha had captivated half the hearts of Asia. At times he frowns sternly at people and rebukes them, at other times he laughs like a child, but most often he does both at the same time. He gives you the impression that he is a man who is shocked by how seriously we mortals deal with our mundane affairs. He stands in front of you but skillfully gives you the impression that he is watching you from afar, that he has retracted his mahatma [great soul] to a remote place inside of himself and has veiled it with a simple persona with which you, earthly man, will be able to cope, a persona that expresses its enlightenment by childish laughter and hides its sanctity with feigned harshness.” In another paragraph, Wahid pokes fun at the Pope’s most famous quote, ‘Kon motmaenan gedan’ [Be very assured, and don’t think about your problems too much], calling it “an invitation to sloth”, and comparing it to “Don’t worry, be happy” of the Indian Guru Meher Baba. The reigning Pope at the time of the publication of the book, Shenouda the Third, didn’t receive much invective. Abdul Masseih simply dismissed him as being a chatterbox “…for it actually surprises me that someone can preach and write all that much without making the smallest mistake or elucidating the simplest of truths.”
In the fourth chapter of his book, Wahid traces the history of what he calls “the sanctification of banality within the Coptic Church,” where he quotes many accounts of contemporary Coptic saints whose evident stupidity was subtly veiled by the elusive term of “simplicity.” Wahid tells us, for instance, about the story of ‘Asaty Mezati’: A great theologian was contacted by God and told that, in spite of all his knowledge, he was not the greatest man in his town. Driven by horror and jealousy, the theologian hurried to the fields seeking the man who surpassed him in virtuosity before the eyes of the Lord. He was shocked at the sight of a poor, illiterate shepherd and quickly asked him about his spiritual practices. The man explained that he loved the Bible but didn’t know how to read it. He added that he couldn’t memorize any prayer, not even the Lord’s Prayer and that he had to content himself with reciting a five-word prayer day and night. Believing the prayer to be of exceptional depth, the theologian begged the shepherd to recite it. With closed eyes and praying hands the shepherd murmured ‘Asaty mezati yarab eghfer sayeati’ [My stick, my goat, O Lord forgive my evil thought]. Wahid contrasts this simplicity, which he asserts to be sheer foolishness in disguise, with the spiritual agnosia preached by the divine theologian Dionysius the Areopagite in his spiritual classic Mystical Theology. “The Areopagite tells us of the divine darkness, a darkness that is not caused by the absence of light, but by the abundance of light. The wise realize that no finite knowledge can delve into the sacred depth of divinity and consequently conclude that these depths are to be approached only through unknowing …. What was once a shrug of the shoulders before the mystery of the ineffable has now sunk so low as to become a celebration of mediocrity, a sanctification of banality, an assurance to the inane that morons like themselves are welcome in the holy city of New Jerusalem.”
Wahid referred with grief to the scarcity of translated early Christian material. "Conspiracy theories usually don't appeal to me, but I am starting to suspect that the Coptic Church has a hand in the present shameful condition of the Coptic library. After all, let's not forget that William Tyndale was burned at the stake for having translated the Greek Bible into English. I have seen piles and piles of Arabic books that glorify alleged miracles and apparitions but not a single book written by Origen or Clement. The Coptic Church knows that theology is dangerous and has consequently kept it out of the reach of the Coptic layman. In the past the Coptic Church had the Gnostic Gospels burned, today they have Justin Martyr and Hippolytus banned. But the Church alone is not to blame; Copts never demanded these books be translated. Copts, virtually all Egyptians, are lazy potato bags who'd rather eat chips and fries in front of their TV sets than read a book. Literacy is considered a luxury.”
Another chapter is dedicated in its entirety to the investigation of the exorcisms carried out in the famous monastery of Mit Damsis. Abdul Masseih elaborately discussed many cases where this practice had led to permanent disabilities. He then questioned and dismissed any possible benefit that the Devil may harvest out of possessing people. “Possessions derive their strength from capturing the intangible in the tangible. You see the poor man turning and twisting without seeing the infernal puppeteer or his sly strings. Why would a possessed man gnash his teeth and foam at the mouth? Why not whistle and snap his fingers? Whenever I watch these cheap performances there calls a voice in my head that tries to fool me into believing that there is a secret reason for every movement that the possessed does. The poor fool themselves into believing that all that they are witnessing are but phenomena of an invisible mystery, that the least action, squeak or phrase uttered by the possessed has its unique and essential place in the economy of the devil. They sense the presence of explanations that cannot be uttered in earthly words, for they believe that they are seeing the reflection of the Devil, the shadow of Satan, without seeing him face to face…. If one of those times a monstrous form emerges out of the body of the possessed, if a roaring beast becomes visible to our eyes, then the veil will be torn and drama will descend to comedy. Yet this doesn’t happen, just as any skillful horror writer seldom describes his monsters in great detail. It is this lack of information that adds up a huge feeling of mystery and importance…. If a devil possesses a righteous man to commit evil, will such a man be punished for acts that he didn’t voluntarily commit? On the other hand, why would a devil posses an evildoer? Is it that the Devil is trying to prevent that man from repenting? Wouldn’t that conflict with one’s free will? Or is it that our abounas are using the Devil, that ingenious, underrated actor, to scare us? After all, we have already been warned by Clement of Rome that ‘God rules the world with a right and