Friday, June 19, 2015

Martyrs of the Church

The word ‘martyr’ derives from the Greek language, meaning ‘witness’; and a martyr is originally a witness of Christ’s resurrection. In the Gospel of Mark we read: ‘But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate[c] what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore, martyria, witnessing meant that the person defended his faith, his belief in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, refusing to abide by the pagan faith and rules. This martyrdom was a strong indication of true faith, of obedience to the truth of the Gospels and the Life of the Church.

Martyrdom has always existed within the life of the Church, since its beginning. It occupies a central part in the spiritual sphere of the Church, which has been founded not only on the blood of Christ on the Cross, but also on the blood of the Holy Martyrs. Despite Christianity as whole not being, currently, under persecution, as was evident during the early years of Christianity, we still do observe martyrdom in a number of areas, such as in the Middle East, where Christians are persecuted on a daily basis, making it not only a religious problem, a Christian problem, but also a socio-political issue, which has a global affect.
The Holy Martyrs are one of the categories of Sainthood in the Orthodox Church. On All Saints Sunday we sing the following hymn, showing the significance of the martyrs in Orthodoxy: “The Martyrs made the earth heaven by the radiance of their virtues, they imitated the death of Christ, they trod the way which brings immortality, they purified the passions of mortals by the surgery of grace, they competed nobly with their whole soul in all the world: let them be praised.”
Through their deification they reach the deeper meaning of what a human person is, i.e. according to the image and likeness of God, of the Holy Trinity. Christ claims to be the Way. Therefore, if we are permitted to use a metaphorical image, we could claim that the road to Sainthood (and to Salvation, theosis) is like a road. There are a number of routes, lanes and speeds one can take in order to finally reach his destination (theosis). Our lives can also be seen as an ocean, whereby the Saints are islands, scattered here and there, showing us the way and giving us an opportunity to rest. It is interesting how today we have ceased to consider the Saints as our role models; on the contrary, we all prefer to have footballers, models, actors as role models. However, our objective in life, theosis and salvation, can only be reached if we follow the example given to us by the Saints. They are the role models we all need to have if we wish to reach the Kingdom of God.  Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that ‘a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live’. Well, these saintly figures, these Holy Martyrs, died for what they believed, professed their faith in Christ and eventually died for God. They are saints because of their union with God. How many of us today would do this? They are, inevitably, the greatest inspiration for all Christians, who wish to reach their final goal, which for a Christian is the Kingdom of God.

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