Orthodox Catholic Perspective of Martyrdom

“But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Lk 21:12–19).

The recent beheading by ISIS of twenty-one Coptic Orthodox Christians has emotionally and spiritually disturbed me far more than I initially realized. How does one reconcile such a brutal massacre and comprehend the ruthless and pitiful souls who are so darkened that their lives are spent taking the lives of others—and worse, believing that they are doing this with the blessing of God?

Martyrs of Libiya 2

“Then I saw thrones, where they took their seats, and on them was conferred the power to give judgement. I saw the souls of all who had been beheaded for having witnessed for Jesus and for having preached God’s word, and those who refused to worship the beast or his statue and would not accept the brandmark on their foreheads or hands; they came to life, and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev 20:4).

A few days ago I emailed a respected friend the following words: “The ubiquitous rise in persecution of Christians triggers in me a bit of apocalyptic pondering.”  He wisely responded: “Why. It has always been thus…”  No truer response could have been offered. Throughout the history of the Church, the blood of the martyrs has been the foundation of the Church. The saints prayed for their torturers and relentlessly clung to Christ.

Martyrs of Libiya 3In the daily reading of the Lives of Saints, we have heard many times “…and after many and various tortures, finally they cut off their holy heads and they received the crown of martyrdom. May their prayers be with us and glory be to God forever…”  Today we are confronted with this grim reality, when for the first time, we have videos that show how gruesome and heinous it is to hate and to murder another human being. Never before have we visibly witnessed the faith, courage and valor necessary to kneel down and await the fatal blow of a blade to one’s neck, while the executioner declares that he views you and your God as filth. One of the captions their murderers wrote says, “these insisted to remain in unbelief”. It is no longer a mystery to me why the Church sings the praises and honors the martyrs above all the saints. It is now more understandable to me why we sing doxologies for them and praise them in our services. Such a tragic event wrenches our hearts but also lifts our heads with pride.

Christ calls us to live according to a higher standard than that of a secular and faithless world. He commands that we love our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, and bless those who curse us. From childhood I was taught our Lord’s commandment to forgive those who hate and persecute us. Can we truly love our enemy? Can we do good to them and bless them? Can we follow the example of our Lord and say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) and mean it.

The following are the names of the Orthodox Christians recently killed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya, according to a list provided to The WorldPost by a Coptic church representative in Minya:

1. Milad Makeen Zaky
2. Abanub Ayad Atiya
3. Maged Solaiman Shehata
4. Yusuf Shukry Yunan
5. Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
6. Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
7. Somaily Astafanus Kamel
8. Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
9. Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
10. Girgis Milad Sinweet
11. Mina Fayez Aziz
12. Hany Abdelmesih Salib
13. Bishoy Adel Khalaf
14. Samuel Alham Wilson
15. Worker from Awr village
16. Ezat Bishri Naseef
17. Loqa Nagaty
18. Gaber Munir Adly
19. Esam Badir Samir
20. Malak Farag Abram
21. Sameh Salah Faruq

Let us pray for the blessed repose of these new martyrs and that their families be consoled with heavenly consolation. Even as the saints often appeared after their deaths to comfort the faint-hearted, let us pray these families receive the same grace. And may we bear witness to the truth in both our way of life and our way of death, earnestly begging God to grant us equal strength if we are ever called to face what they did.  I firmly believe that the twenty-one men who were beheaded for the sake of their Christian Faith have been warmly welcomed into God’s embrace. Pray to the Lord on our behalf, O courageous and valiant heroes, the New Martyrs of Libya, that we may be forgiven our sins!

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