Martyrdom as the fruit of Faith.. to keep Orthodoxy and Apostolic succession Continuing.
[Article written in remembrance of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox brothers and sisters who were killed and wounded in Oromo region]
From its inception, Christianity has been a religion of pure sacrificial love. While Christ's love to humankind led Him to suffering and death; Martyrs follow His footstep to have a fellowship in His suffering so that they may be glorified with Him. “Martyrdom is the continuous participation in Jesus' Crucifixion”. In Orthodox Church, Martyrs enjoy higher status than a saint, and are ranked a bit lower than the Apostles. In the book of the Acts, St Luke described perfectly how the Lord welcomed the Martyrs to heaven by standing up from His throne [Acts 7:55]. St. Ambrose said that the Lord sits in His throne to judge but stands as the one battle, gives help, and welcomes the martyrs. Martyrdom is the final act of witnessing to the Lord in this world.
The following are a few examples of how martyrdom has impacted the Holy Church throughout history …
Martyrdom as evidence for the authenticity of Christianity. The Church began as a community of martyrdom. The faithful were running toward persecution and were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”. All martyrs had nothing to gain but everything to lose in this world. But their bold and unwavering witness to the One who gave them life became the seed for the Church to flourish. Therefore Tertullian went as far as to say, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”.
Martyrdom is a way of life imitating the Lord even unto death. The Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it”. Martyrs are a living bible that follows the Word of God to the letter so that people could learn from them easily. St. Ignatius asked the Romans: ‘permit me to be an imitator of my suffering God”. Martyrs usually have the habit of praying for the salvation of the same people who are torturing and killing them, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. This prayer is the perfect imitation of the Lord, and also an irresistible invitation to the soul of the perpetrators and general people.
Martyrdom has motivated so many to protect the Orthodoxy of the Christian faith. Martyrs were very strong and non-compromising in keeping the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in word and action. They were always ready to sacrifice themselves to ensure the preservation of the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”. St. Dioscorus was bitten and they smitted his mouth, and plucked out the hair of his beard for standing for the orthodoxy of the faith. He then took the hair and the teeth that were knocked out and sent them to Alexandria saying, "This is the fruit of Faith.". This courageous stand has motivated and encouraged the faithful to protect the faith even up to death.
Martyrs have been playing a great role in maintaining and protecting the orthodoxy of the Christian faith which in turn helped the Church to grow throughout the world. Martyrs have shown the radical devotion to the graceful calling of their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, wholeheartedly in witnessing uncompromisingly the orthodox faith in its entirety including- in maintaining the faith, rite and practices that was handed down to us since the beginning by Our Lord Jesus Christ. Martyrs “died in faith, confessing ...that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.. some were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trials of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth...Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a [heavenly] city for them”. They have left us a strong life experiencing heritage through the Church to imitate them so that we too could have the reward of the crown of incorruption and eternal life.
To the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, We all share your grief and join with you in fervent prayer for the families and friends of all those killed, who are our brothers in Christ. We pray that these new martyrs will intercede for us with the Lord of mercy.
Holy New Martyrs, pray for us!