THE HOLY MARTYRS
WE MUST EMULATE THEM
Countless brave and holy martyrs have willingly given up their live out of great love for Jesus Christ. Some were new to the faith yet they immediately gave up their lives for the sake of the Truth which came down from heaven. Others, even in ripe old age willingly offered themselves as a sacrifice to the Lord.
Every type of torture and death, known top man, has been used, such as being skinned alive, burned to death, hung by the neck, pierced with a sword and drowned. To describe the pain caused by these torturous deaths is not possible, for it is beyond description. Many in the world have undergone such torture and pain, not for Christ, but due to the malignancy of man, pass out and become unconscious, unable and unwilling to bear the painfulness.
Many of the Holy Martyrs felt no pain but were filled with joy, for they had such great love for Christ. Their love was like unquenchable flames, causing their pain to be diminished or to vanish from their extreme love and devotion. This great love is what made their suffering bearable, and they beheld their future which filled them with great hope as they were being put to death.
“St Ignatius," says St. John Chrysostom, “put off the body as easily as a man takes off his clothes.” He urged the lions to eat well and completely devour him. His love was like fire and lightning. But Ignatius was not without fear. He feared the fellow Christians who would try to prevent him from being fed to the lions. Asking their forgiveness, he said: "I know what's good for me."
As they led him to the lion’s to be devoured, Ignatius boldly turned and addressed those present:
“Men of Rome, witnesses of my contest: you ought to know that neither have I committed a criminal, act nor have I transgressed in anything deserving death. I, however, receive this sentence today voluntarily and with rejoicing, that I might attain to the true God for whom I thirst and yearn to enjoy; inasmuch as I am God’s wheat, ground fine by the teeth of the wild beasts that I might become pure and unblemished bread.”
With love and extreme joy in Christ, the numberless holy Martyrs were enabled to endure what man simply cannot endure. They received crowns of glory for sure, but that was not their motivation. Nor was their motivation promises of the kingdom of heaven and the hoped for blessings. Their motivation was undying , pure and indestructible love that burns in their hearts like a roaring fire. They loved not what God gave them but God, because He is good and worthy of our love.
Ignatius was one of many but an outstanding martyr, who considered himself unworthy of this blessing. Humility is characteristic of genuine Orthodox Christians.
The Holy Martyrs stand before us as witnesses that we also must sacrifice ourselves for Jesus Christ. This may not be by physical torture and death, but it may come in the form of temptations, which we must oppose vigorously, for we pray for it, saying: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
Without going to the sword of martyrdom, we can do violence to ourselves. We can keep the fasts and have a firm rule of prayer, We can read the Bible every day and listen to what God has to say to us. We mus not allow our spiritual nature to starve to death, but we must feed it with healthy spiritual food, as we feed the body each day with material food. The soul \being of immense value deserves our constant attention. Christ came to bring our souls up to heaven and eternal life, and we should share His desire for us, lest we show ourselves to be unworthy and be cast into to outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let us become martyrs by conducting our daily lives according to the laws of Christ, not according to the laws of this world.