I came across this icon painted by Nicola Savic, a Serbian artist (click here for source). It depicts the 20 Libyan Coptic Christian martyrs who were beheaded by ISIS this February after refusing to renounce the faith in Jesus. The Coptic Orthodox Church has recognized them as martyrs.
The icon, and the men who died and are represented in it, are consistent with what I have been thinking and writing about the past several months, i.e., martyrdom as experienced by deacons. The martyrdom of which I have been thinking is not so much the blood martyrdom undergone by men such as the Libyan martyrs, but rather the spiritual martyrdom that seems so central to the spiritual life of a deacon who is living his vocation fully, for indeed, a fully diaconal life seems to lead one to a reality unlike what a man has previously experienced before ordination, a reality that can be described as an attentiveness to the Word uttered by the Father that leads the deacon into a purifying presence to suffering humanity. This attentiveness is a death to self and a suffering of the coming of the Word into the life of the deacon, a suffering that impels him to a purifying presence to the suffering of humanity. It seems to be all about presence, to me, and purification, i.e., presence to the Father uttered Word in the power of the Spirit, presence to the Trinity, and presence to Jesus’ suffering in the flesh of humanity in today’s world with all its loneliness and distractions and sin. The emptiness that one must allow in oneself, as deacon, so as to be able to be present to Trinitarian life and human life, this emptiness is a real spiritual martyrdom.
I could go on, but I am only beginning to develop these ideas. I will need to refer you to my next article I hope to have published in the Josephinum Diaconate Review in the near future.
Until then, let us never forget the blood martyrdom experienced by so many in today’s world. Let us pray to them to intercede for us as we face our own call to die for the faith in whatever way necessary, and for us deacons to never fear emptying ourselves so we may remain attentive to the Father and radically available to being sent by him to those most in need of his presence and his purifying love.