Thursday, December 9, 2021

Perpetua & Felicity

Martyrdom has been an important model and recognition of the devotion some exemplary Christians have shown.  It is difficult to number them all because while we have the "formal" (my word) ones who have been consecrated and hold a date (of their death, i.e. birth in Heaven) for their feast day, there are untold numbers of others who have been tortured and put to death without another soul being present to witness their devotion. The largest number of martyrs were killed in the first three centuries after Christ's death before Emperor Constantine blessed Christianity as the Empire's official religion. 

Women were not immune from being martyred and there are many.  Two of the earliest women martyred lived in North Africa at Carthage.  In the year 202 CE (AD), two African women named Perpetua and Felicity were put to death in a Roman arena by the sword after wild animals could not be coaxed to attack and eat them. Both women were mothers and part of the torture they were put to endure involved threats to their children.  Felicity at the time was Perpetua's pregnant servant who gave birth to her baby 2 days before her execution.  (The baby was adopted by a Christian family in Carthage.)  

In the United States, we are not used to thinking of Christian persecution, yet religious persecution has occurred in every corner of the world.  Religions foster strong commitment, which often threatens obedience to secular rulers. With Christianity, it may have been the host of martyrs dying that eventually wore away at the moral sense in the conscience of a more ethical Roman Emperor. Constantine. 

One of the Wesleyan hymns, "What Gift Can I Bring," (  has deeper meaning at Christmas time when giving gifts is our common cultural practice.  When the extreme gift of martyrdom is included the awe is profound. Martyrs in the first, second, and third centuries provided a bridge between the Risen Christ and when Christianity gained enough critical mass to be accepted in a good part of what was considered to be "the civilized world" at the time. 

As we prepare through Advent let us ponder the commitment and devotion of the martyrs and the gift they give to all of us still today centuries later.   

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