Today is the commemoration of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, both of whom were martyred under the persecution of the Emperor Septimus Severus in the early third century. Perpetua was a noblewoman and Felicity was her slave. They, along with others, including Rusticus and Saturnus, were martyred in the arena. A beautifully moving account of their deaths is provided for us this morning in the Office of Readings.
In praying this office today, I cannot help but reflect on how so very similar their deaths were to the deaths being experienced by contemporary Christians in the Mideast. We hear in the news of Christians being thrown from high places, being decapitated with knives and swords, being burned alive. How can we not be moved, deeply, in our spirits, when we read of the Coptic Christian men martyred en masse recently?
What Felicity and Perpetua and so many others experienced in the third century is being repeated, almost identically, in our world today. I see no difference at all. The Romans may be gone, but another empire has replaced them, and is persecuting Christians once again.
My friends, do not fall into lethargy. Do not assume you are insulated and far from such persecution. It could well be the case that you too may face persecution and death for your faith. We deacons, priests and bishops must especially be prepared. There are no blood martyrdoms (yet) in this country, but spiritual ones will be required each and every day. We all have a choice to make, i.e., do we offer our lives for the sake of the Gospel and our faith and love of Jesus Christ OR do we abandon him and pursue what the world would want us to pursue?
Here in the United States and the western world we are constantly being pressured to abandon our faith, to deny the truth of the Gospel. So many of us are doing just that in our pursuit of New Age religions, paganistic practices and philosophies, Buddhism, secularism, and hedonism. Each time we are confronted with those subtle or not so subtle demands from society, we must remain strong in faith and in our knowledge of the truth. To do so is not being fundamentalist or rigid; it is being faithful and true. The devil and his companions are busy at work setting the stage for more intense tests and trials. Resist him.
I only can hope that my readers never have to face a blood martyrdom. (I am aware that people from all over the world log on to this weblog, so perhaps some of you might have to face such a martyrdom.) I do know, though, that all of us who remain faithful will be faced with a spiritual martyrdom. I pray we remain close to the Lord when this time comes.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us!