Agape, Chionia, and Irene
Greece • April 3, 304
Agape, Chionia, and Irene were the daughters of pagan parents living in Thessalonica, but they came to faith in Christ and collected copies of various New Testament books until Emperor Diocletian issued a decree in A.D. 303 making it a capital offense to possess any portion of the Christian Scriptures.
Dismayed, the girls fled to the mountains and lived in a cave where they could study the Scriptures in peace. An older Christian woman visited them each week, brought whatever they needed, took their handiwork back to town to sell, and distributed any excess to the poor. One day a spy followed her to see why she made so many trips up the mountain, and he discovered the girls praying in their cave. Somehow he overcame them, bound and dragged them down the mountain, and turned them over to Governor Dulcetius.
Suspecting that the sisters were Christians, Dulcetius tried to get them to eat food offered to the Roman gods. They not only refused; they also abandoned their former timidity and boldly announced that they were Christians. The governor then questioned them about why they wouldn't comply with the emperor's edict and the laws of the land. Agape said, "I believe in the living God, and will not by an evil action lose all the merit of my past life." Her sister Chionia replied in much the same way, and Irene explained that she disobeyed the laws because she did not want to offend God.
Then the governor tried to get the sisters to reveal where they had hidden their books and papers, but they would not tell him. "Who drew you into this persuasion?" asked the governor.
"Almighty God," answered Chionia.
"No, no. I want to know who induced you to believe this."
"Almighty God and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ."
"You think you can defy the just commands of our emperor, but you shall receive the punishment you deserve. I sentence Agape and Chionia to be burned alive for disobeying the emperor and professing this rash and false religion, Christianity."
The sentence on the two older sisters was carried out on March 25. Possibly because of her youth, Irene was returned to prison.
Within a few days, the authorities found the hidden Scriptures, and the governor again examined Irene. "Your madness is plain, girl, keeping so many Scriptures of the impious Christians. If you have not taken warning from the punishment of your sisters, your punishment is unavoidable. But even now I'll pardon you if you will worship the gods. What do you say? Will you obey the orders of the emperors? Are you ready to sacrifice to the gods and eat of the victims?"
"By no means, for those that renounce Jesus Christ, the Son of God, are threatened with eternal fire."
Then the governor, hoping to obtain the names of other Christians, tried to get her to reveal who had influenced her and told her to hide the Scriptures or even who knew that they possessed them.
Irene replied, "Nobody but the Almighty, from Whom nothing is hid: for we concealed them even from our own domestics, lest they should accuse us."
The angry governor then condemned her to a slower death, to be exposed naked in a soldiers' brothel with only one small loaf of bread per day. But Irene was miraculously protected from molestation until her sentence was changed and she was condemned to death. One version says she was burned as her sisters had been. Another says that before the flames reached her, she was shot through the throat with an arrow on April 3, 304.
THEY BROUGHT THE APOSTLES IN BEFORE THE COUNCIL. "DIDN'T WE TELL YOU NEVER AGAIN TO TEACH IN THIS MAN'S NAME?" THE HIGH PRIEST DEMANDED. "INSTEAD, YOU HAVE FILLED ALL JERUSALEM WITH YOUR TEACHING ABOUT JESUS, AND YOU INTEND TO BLAME US FOR HIS DEATH!" BUT PETER AND THE APOSTLES REPLIED, "WE MUST OBEY GOD RATHER THAN HUMAN AUTHORITY...." AT THIS, THE HIGH COUNCIL WAS FURIOUS AND DECIDED TO KILL THEM. ACTS 5:27-29, 33
Rome • ca. 304, honored January 21
In Greek, the name Agnes means "chaste," and in Latin, the word agnus means "lamb." On the walls of the catacombs near the road known as the Via Nomentana in Rome is a faded painting of a young girl with a lamb at her feet. The girl in the painting is Agnes, one of the most beloved martyrs of the primitive church.
By means of a military overthrow, Diocletian became emperor of Rome in 284 and immediately set about restoring the empire's former glory and unity. Christianity was well established by then, however, and hindered the revival of the pagan religious practices. Caesar Galerius, Diocletian's powerful lieutenant, convinced him that he had to purge the empire of Christians, and so in 303 he began the last and fiercest of the persecutions of Christianity by the Roman emperors.
Agnes was a young believer of only about twelve or thirteen who it is said had determined to remain a virgin as the bride of Christ, a not uncommon vow among believers of that time. According to records from as early as the fourth century, suitors from prominent Roman families became angered by her refusal to wed and denounced Agnes to the prefect of Rome as a Christian.
The judge at first tried to cajole and entice her to recant, but Agnes paid no attention, repeating that she could have no other spouse than Jesus Christ. He then threatened her, displaying such instruments of torture as iron hooks, racks, and fire, but the young woman expressed no fear.
Seeing that he was getting nowhere, the governor threatened to send her to a brothel. Agnes reportedly responded, "You may stain your sword with my blood, but you will never be able to profane my body, because it is consecrated to Christ." This so infuriated the governor that he immediately sent her to a public brothel with the instruction that anyone was free to abuse her. Tradition says many young men went to take advantage of this offer, but upon seeing her, they were all afraid to approach her—all except one, who when he reached out was instantly blinded by a flash and fell to the ground. Agnes, who had been singing hymns, took pity on him and by prayer restored his sight.
When the governor heard that all respected her, he was even more frustrated and condemned her to be beheaded. According to Bishop Ambrose, writing in 377, Agnes was transported with joy on hearing this sentence and still more at the sight of the executioner. She "went to the place of execution more cheerfully than others go to their wedding."
Her body was buried near the Via Nomentana, a short distance outside Rome. A church was built on the spot in the time of Constantine, and the body, which has been preserved, is that of a young girl about thirteen who suffered decapitation.
SEED OF THE CHURCH
Ambrose wrote: "At such a tender age a young girl has scarcely enough courage to bear the angry looks of her father and a tiny puncture from a needle makes her cry as if it were a wound. And still this little girl had enough courage to face the sword. She was fearless in the bloody hands of the executioner. She prayed; she bowed her head. Behold in one victim the twofold martyrdom of chastity and faith."
GOD BLESSES YOU WHO ARE HATED AND EXCLUDED AND MOCKED AND CURSED BECAUSE YOU ARE IDENTIFIED WITH ME, THE SON OF MAN. WHEN THAT HAPPENS, REJOICE! YES, LEAP FOR JOY! FOR A GREAT REWARD AWAITS YOU IN HEAVEN. AND REMEMBER, THE ANCIENT PROPHETS WERE ALSO TREATED THAT WAY BY YOUR ANCESTORS. LUKE 6:22-23
The Establishment of the Early Church
Before returning to heaven, Jesus told his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, everywhere" (Mark 16:15).
Nothing has brought more persecution to Christians than their efforts to obey this command. In fact, except for the Reformation, all major waves of persecution of Christians throughout the centuries correspond to the church's evangelistic surges or a counter attack to earlier evangelism.
Jesus wisely warned his followers that this would be the case:
Beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and beaten.... And you must stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. This will be your opportunity to tell them about me—yes, to witness to the world. When you are arrested, don't worry about what to say in your defense, because you will be given the right words at the right time. For it won't be you doing the talking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, fathers will betray their own children, and children will rise against their parents and cause them to be killed. And everyone will hate you because of your allegiance to me. But those who endure to the end will be saved.(Matthew 10:17-22)
Jesus said, "When you are arrested" (emphasis added), with no question in his mind that this would be the fate of his followers. But he also identified the reason: "Everyone will hate you because of your allegiance to me" (v. 22).
In the book of Acts, we read that the church grew from 120 to 3,000, then 5,000 men (not including women and children). Then "crowds of both men and women" joined. At several points thereafter, we read, "the number of believers greatly increased." Some estimates suggest there may have been as many as 20,000 believers in Jerusalem at the time of Stephen's martyrdom and the subsequent persecution from which "all the believers except the apostles fled.... But the believers who had fled Jerusalem went everywhere preaching the Good News about Jesus" (Acts 8:1, 4).
Persecution followed them just as Jesus had predicted it would, first in the form of Saul of Tarsus and his posse tracking down and arresting Christians to bring them back to Jerusalem for imprisonment, and then as both Jews and pagans resisted the gospel in the towns and cities around the Mediterranean to which the Christians had fled.
After Herod executed James (Acts 12:2), the apostles and other leaders also dispersed from Jerusalem. Tradition (and in some cases Scripture) identify these destinations:
|• Bartholomew||Caspian Sea|
|• James the Greater||Spain|
|• Jude Thaddeus||Persia|
|• Paul and Peter||Rome|
|• Simon the Zealot||Syria|
Rome was remarkably tolerant of foreign religions but not of any perceived threat to its authority. Though law-abiding by precept, Christians faced two problems. First, Rome tested the loyalty of its subjects by requiring emperor worship, and faithful Christians refused to worship any false gods. Second, Christians went even further. They declared Jesus their King (Acts 17:7), which was seen as a direct challenge to Rome.
Nevertheless, intense persecution was not constant during the reign of the fifty-four Roman emperors from a.d. 30 to a.d. 311. Instead, it came in waves or at the whim of regional governors. In fact, it wasn't until a.d. 249-251 that Emperor Decius made an empirewide attempt to wipe out Christianity. The emperors most responsible for persecuting Christians were...
Approximately a hundred years earlier, Tertullian in his Apology had written, "The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed," and certainly that was proving true throughout the Roman Empire. By 311, many executioners had literally grown tired from all their work. Galerius, successor to Diocletian, finally admitted defeat in trying to stamp out Christianity.
The dousing of the flames was greatly aided by Constantine, who in an attempt to gain control of the empire, tried to eliminate his rivals. One night he had a vision of a glowing cross in the sky bearing the words, "Conquer by this." He interpreted it as a good omen and had the conjoined letters P and X (used by the early church to represent Christ) emblazoned on his imperial banner. On October 28, 312, he defeated Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge, a dozen miles up the Tiber from Rome, and thereby became sole master of the Western Empire. His victory favorably inclined him toward Christianity (though he resisted baptism until a few days before his death in 337), and he issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which mandated toleration of Christians.
Though Licinius, then emperor in the East, subscribed to the edict, he continued vigorous persecution of Christians in the East for a season. However, by a.d. 324, Constantine was sole emperor and the flames of persecution were almost out.
Believing that Christianity would die out if its leaders were killed, imprisoned, or banished, the Roman government initially targeted the bishops, pastors, and other leaders, leaving pagan mobs to attack the common church members. One report describes the fate of Quinta, a female convert: "Next [the mob took her] to the idol's temple and tried to make her worship. When she turned her back in disgust, they tied her feet and dragged her right through the city over the rough paved road, bumping her on the great stones and beating her as they went, till they arrived at the same place, where they stoned her to death. Then they ran in a body to the houses of the Christians, charged in by groups on those they knew as neighbors, raided, plundered, and looted."
As has been true throughout the history of the church, some believers in the early church could not stand such pressure and compromised their faith. However, once the persecution subsided, many desired reinstatement in the church. What was the church to do with those who had lapsed in their faith?
During the first centuries, the church did not quickly grant forgiveness to those who had apostatized or committed such grievous sins as murder and adultery. Penance was public and lasted a long time, and those who were welcomed back into the fellowship were received "as though they had risen from the dead," said Origen. No clergy who sinned grossly were admitted again to their office.
However, during the "great persecutions" of the middle and end of the third century, thousands—possibly the majority of Christians—sacrificed to false gods and received a libellus, a receipt certifying their compliance with government edicts. Others bribed officials for a libellus even though they hadn't sacrificed. Consequently, the churches had to agonize over what policy to practice with those desiring reinstatement, especially after others had endured torture or death for refusing to apostatize.
In Spain, where persecution had been severe and feelings ran high, the Council of Elvira excommunicated those who had actually sacrificed to pagan gods while they reinstated after penance some novitiates who had only purchased a libellus.
In Asia Minor the church was more tolerant, saying the laity could be readmitted after a period of three to five years of penance. Some lapsed clergy were allowed to keep their office but not to celebrate the sacrament.
In Rome a bitter struggle persisted between followers of Novatian—who had no mercy for those who had denied Christ under persecution—and Bishop Miltiades (and other bishops) who were more forgiving.
In Egypt, Bishop Peter of Alexandria recommended leniency so the church wouldn't completely lose those who had lapsed, while Bishop Meletius wanted severe punishment so the church wouldn't lose its integrity. This disagreement ultimately led to a split in the Egyptian church.
The North African church also split over the issue, though it was more sharply focused on those who had surrendered the Scriptures.
The seeds of bloody conflict were sprouting within the church as well.
The acquisition and preservation of wealth. By the end of the fourth century, the church was sufficiently accepted within the empire to become politically powerful and wealthy. Benefiting from imperial buildings donated to the church for religious use, this period began an extensive building program with impressive churches springing up throughout the empire.
The centralization of authority. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" asserts, "The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered." However, in the New Testament church, it appears that though the apostles encouraged, debated, and even admonished one another (cf. Paul to Peter, Galatians 2:11), they did not presume to rule over one another.
While Bishop Clement of Rome wrote a letter correcting the church in Corinth in a.d. 96, it does not prove he had any more churchwide authority than did the apostle John or than Paul had some thirty years before, who exercised apostolic oversight far more actively than did Peter.
About a hundred years later, when Bishop Victor of Rome declared that Easter should be celebrated on Sunday rather than Nisan 14, whichever day of the week it fell, most other bishops went along, but not the churches in Asia Minor. They said no.
In fact, it wasn't until the issue of repentant apostates arose that the bishop of Rome really attempted to assert authority over the other bishops. However, their lack of responsiveness to Rome's authority is evident in the variety of regional policies previously outlined. Still, the authority of the bishop of Rome was consolidating and growing.
The reliance on force. The church also enjoyed the protection of the state and then began collaborating with the state in wielding the sword against "heretics."
All three of these seeds become bloody points of contention a thousand years later.
Sudan • February 22, 1990
Abuk Ajing was only fourteen when the government's Islamic forces swept through her village in 1990. For months—years—the Sudanese government had been unleashing its troops on the villages and towns of southern Sudan, forcibly removing people from land wanted for agriculture or oil and torturing or killing those who resisted. Government forces kidnapped young women and forced others to accept Islam—or face torture, mutilation, or death.
Many of the villagers fled to safety, but Abuk was not able to escape. Soldiers grabbed her and said, "You will come with us."
Fearing what would happen if she was taken away from all she had ever known, Abuk boldly refused. "No! I will not."
Angered at her refusal, the soldiers demanded that she repeat the creed of Islam: "There is one God; Allah is his name, and Muhammad is his prophet."
Most Sudanese Christians know that such a day will come: Convert to Islam—or suffer the consequences. Had Abuk's Christian family talked about what to do? what to say? But now she was alone, surrounded by hard-faced men with guns. All she had to do was repeat those words, and maybe they would let her go.
Yet again Abuk exhibited a boldness unusual for a young girl. "No! I will not."
The soldiers reacted savagely. Ripping off her clothes, they tied her with cords so she could not move. Helplessly, she watched as they drew their long knives and held them in one of the village fires until they were hot and glowing. Oh Jesus! she prayed. Help me to get through this torture!
Again and again the hot knives were applied to Abuk's chest, shoulders, and back. Unbelievable pain wracked her young body. Jesus, help me to endure! When the soldiers tired of their handiwork, they beat the helpless girl until she fell unconscious and then left her for dead.
Ten years later, in 2000, two American mission workers visited Abuk's village and noticed an attractive young woman with a toddler on her hip. Her face betrayed suffering beyond her years, beyond anything the two foreign women could imagine. Would she tell them her story?
The young woman nodded and gave her guests two broken chairs outside her mud hut, while she sat on a piece of tin. The little boy in her arms hid his face, as if the white faces of the visitors looked like ghosts.
With the help of an interpreter, she began to speak. She was twenty-four years old. Her name was Abuk Ajing. At the age of fourteen ...
At the end of the story, Abuk gently pulled down on the top of her dress, revealing the deforming scars the scalding knives had left on her chest. Without proper medical care, her scars are often infected. She lives with continual pain.
But she does not speak as though she wishes she had answered differently. There is determination in her eyes, a well of self-discipline in her spirit. This is what it means to be a Christian in Sudan. There comes a day when one must choose: Embrace Islam and deny Christ ... or refuse to deny Christ and embrace suffering.
SEED OF THE CHURCH
God has not forgotten us. Evil is departing and holiness is advancing. These are the things that shake the earth.
HYMN BY SUDANESE CHRISTIAN MARY ALUEEL
WITH THE STRENGTH GOD GIVES YOU, BE READY TO SUFFER WITH ME FOR THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOOD NEWS. 2 TIMOTHY 1:8
Britain • 304, honored June 22
There was a Roman town in Britain known as Verulamium, some twenty miles northeast of London. There the Roman soldier Alban had been assigned. One day a Christian priest came banging on his door, seeking refuge from persecution that had broken out in the region. Alban admitted the man, who was supposedly named Amphibalus, and the two began to talk.
Alban was impressed by the priest's piety and wisdom and asked about the Christian faith, which was still a novelty in this Roman frontier. After hearing the gospel explained over two days' time, Alban became a Christian and was baptized.
In the meantime, the pagan governor of Verulamium heard that the priest was hiding at Alban's house and sent guards to apprehend him. When Alban saw the men coming, he threw on Amphibalus' habit and answered the door after instructing the priest how to escape out the back. Because the disguised Alban was hidden under the cowl, the guards immediately assumed that he was the man they sought and brought him bound before the governor, who was at that very time making sacrifices to Roman gods. Of course, when Alban's cloak was removed, it was obvious they had the wrong man. In a rage the governor ordered Alban to make sacrifices himself to the gods or suffer death.
According to the report by the Venerable Bede (ca. 760), when Alban refused, the governor asked, "Of what family and race are you?"
"How does my family concern you?" answered Alban. "If thou want to know what is my religion, I will tell you. I am a Christian and am ready to do a Christian's duty."
"But what is your name? Tell me immediately!"
Alban shrugged. "My parents named me Alban. But more important, I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things."
"Well, if you want to live, you'll sacrifice to the gods right now."
"These sacrifices which are offered to devils do no good. In fact, hell is the reward of those who offer them."
The governor then ordered Alban whipped, hoping to shake his faith with pain. But he endured it bravely, even acquiring new resolution from his suffering. So the governor sentenced him to death.
On the way out of town, across the river, and up to the hilltop where Alban was to be beheaded, Alban explained the reason and his new faith in Christ to his executioner and to a large number of spectators who accompanied them. So persuasive was his testimony that the executioner threw down his sword and resigned, asking to become a Christian on the spot, even if it meant death.
Another man was then detailed to take over, and both men were beheaded. According to some reports, the volunteer went blind after committing the deed.
The priest, upon hearing of Alban's predicament, hurried back to Verulamium hoping to intercede by turning himself in, but he was too late and was stoned to death a few days later about four miles from town.
These were the first three Christians known to have been martyred in Britain.
SEED OF THE CHURCH
Alban's body was buried in a nearby cemetery, and after Constantine legalized Christianity in 313, the local community recalled Alban and erected a small church in his honor. Constantius, the first historical authority to mention Alban, tells us that St. Germanus visited it in 429 (Life of St. Germanus of Auxerre, 480). In 793, King Offa of Mercia built a monastery there, and during the Middle Ages, St. Alban's ranked as the premier abbey in England. In 1077, a great church was built on the site, which now serves as the cathedral of the diocese of St. Alban's. In time, the town that grew up around it was called St. Alban. Nearby Verulamium died out, though its excavated ruins can still be seen.
YOU MUST STAND TRIAL BEFORE GOVERNORS AND KINGS BECAUSE YOU ARE MY FOLLOWERS. THIS WILL BE YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO TELL THEM ABOUT ME—YES, TO WITNESS TO THE WORLD. MATTHEW 10:18
England • April 19, 1012
Square-sail ships, manned by horn-helmeted, warrior-oarsmen known as Vikings, were raiding England unchecked in 953 when Alphege was born to a noble Saxon family near Bath (Somerset). While still very young, he renounced the world and, against the wishes of his widowed mother, became a monk at Deerhurst, in Gloucestershire.
After a time, he moved on to Glastonbury, where he was selected as prior. But the distractions of this position were too many, and he left to become a hermit near the hot springs in Bath. So many of his disciples followed him that Dunstan, the primate of all England, asked him to become abbot of a nearby community. Following the death of Aethelwold, bishop of Winchester, in 984, Dunstan again prevailed on Alphege, this time to quit his solitude and accept the bishopric of Winchester. He provided so liberally for the needs of the poor that there were no beggars in the whole diocese of Winchester.
At the same time, the Vikings marauded England's coast, sometimes with fleets of over three hundred ships.
Recognizing Alphege's gifts, King Ethelred of England commissioned him to negotiate with Anlaf and Swein, the Danish invaders. The king was ready to pay tribute to ward off the raids, but Alphege thought it better to try to convert the Vikings with the gospel of Christ. He succeeded with Anlaf, who became a Christian and never invaded England again. Alphege also brought the newly baptized King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway to a peaceful meeting with King Ethelred and to his confirmation at Andover.
In 1006, Alphege was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, but shortly after that more Viking attacks ensued, as Danish raiders, who had not been party to the previous peace agreements, overran much of southern England. In 1011, they laid siege to Canterbury itself. The English nobility tried to get Alphege to flee to safety, but he refused. Saying it was the part of a hireling to abandon his flock in the time of danger, Alphege remained and personally conducted the city's defense. The city held out for three weeks against overwhelming odds until a traitor opened the city gates. Led by Earl Edric, the Vikings burned the cathedral, plundered the city, and took many of its citizens as slaves, including Archbishop Alphege.
The captives were held near Greenwich for seven months as their captors tried to extort the highest ransom possible for their release. During this time, the Viking army suffered an epidemic of fatal dysentery that they came to believe was God's judgment for how badly they had treated the archbishop.
When they released him from the dungeon in which he had been held, he went about praying for them and giving his enemies bread. It is said that whoever ate the bread recovered, and the epidemic ceased. Finally, the English paid forty-eight thousand gold crowns in ransom for the release of the prisoners. But when the Vikings demanded an additional three thousand for Alphege's release, he refused to allow this added extortion of his people.
Incensed at Alphege's defiance, the Danes got drunk and on April 19, 1012, dragged him to the scaffold, pelting him with ox bones and stones. Their leader, Thorkell the Tall, tried to save Alphege, but by then it had turned into a mob scene. Weakened, Alphege fell, and Thrum, a Dane who had come to faith in prison and been baptized, killed him with an ax to end his suffering.
Later, Alphege's body was transported to London and buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral with great reverence. After the Dane Cnut (Canute) became King of England in 1016, his pious wife persuaded him to make reparations by moving the remains of Alphege from London to Canterbury, where he built a high and costly altar over Alphege's new grave.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP. A HIRED HAND WILL RUN WHEN HE SEES A WOLF COMING. JOHN 10:11-12
Andrew the Apostle
Achaia • ca. 60, honored November 30
Every time we meet Andrew in the New Testament Gospel accounts, he is bringing someone to Jesus. A fisherman by trade, he was initially a disciple of John the Baptist, along with John, the younger son of Zebedee. When Jesus began his public ministry, the Baptist said, "Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about" (John 1:29-30). Immediately Andrew and John ran after Jesus and spent several hours talking with him. Convinced that this was indeed the Promised One, Andrew hunted up his younger brother Simon (later called Peter) saying, "We have found the Messiah!" And he brought his brother to meet Jesus (see John 1:41-42).
Later, as one of Jesus' twelve disciples, Andrew was present when a huge crowd came to hear him speak (see John 6:1-15). "Feed these people," Jesus said, testing his disciples to see if their faith had grown after witnessing the many miracles he had already done. But, like most of us would be in that situation, they were astonished, and they thought he was asking the impossible. Andrew, however, brought to Jesus a young boy who'd brought a lunch. "There's a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with all this huge crowd?" (John 6:9). But that was enough for Jesus. He took what Andrew (and the boy) had brought him and fed the entire crowd of five thousand men plus women and children.
Toward the end of Jesus' ministry, during that fateful week before Passover, several Greeks who had heard about Jesus approached Philip, one of the Twelve: "Sir, we would like to meet Jesus." Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus. Jesus didn't avoid what was ahead. He said, "The truth is, a kernel of wheat must be planted in the soil. Unless it dies it will be alone—a single seed. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. ... All those who want to be my disciples must come and follow me" (John 12:20-26).
Jesus had promised to make Andrew a "fisher of men"—a calling that Andrew embraced fully after witnessing the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As the apostles scattered throughout the known world to preach the Good News of Jesus, Andrew preached in many different countries and Roman provinces, ending up in the city of Patras in Achaia around A.D. 60 (Martyrs' Mirror says A.D. 70). Maximillia, the wife of Aegaeas, the Roman governor, was converted to the Christian faith through Andrew's testimony. Outraged, Aegaeas had Andrew brought to him and threatened him with death by crucifixion if he did not stop preaching this Jesus.
Andrew was not deterred. Wasn't the heart of his preaching the cross of Jesus where his Lord and Savior had suffered and died to take away the sins of the world?
The governor arrested the apostle and sentenced him to death by crucifixion. Tradition says he was bound—not nailed—to an X-shaped cross to prolong his suffering. But coming near to the place of execution, Andrew cried out, "O beloved cross! I have greatly longed for thee. I rejoice to see thee erected here. I come to thee with a peaceful conscience and with cheerfulness, desiring that I, who am a disciple of Him who hung on the cross, may also be crucified."
Andrew hung on that cross two—some say three—days. But he was not silent. As long as he could speak he taught the people who stood around the cross, telling them the truth about Jesus. At the end he cried, "O my Lord, my God! Whom I have known, whom I have loved, to whom I cling, whom I desire to see, and in whom I am what I am."
VOICE OF THE HERO
Had I feared the death of the cross, I should not have preached the majesty and gloriousness of the cross of Christ.
—Andrew the apostle
IF YOU REFUSE TO TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME, YOU ARE NOT WORTHY OF BEING MINE. IF YOU CLING TO YOUR LIFE, YOU WILL LOSE IT; BUT IF YOU GIVE IT UP FOR ME, YOU WILL FIND IT. MATTHEW 10:38-39, (SPOKEN BY JESUS WHEN HE SENT OUT THE TWELVE)
Andronicus, Tarachus, and Probus
Turkey • October 11, 304
Following the death of Emperor Valerian in 260, Christians enjoyed an extended period of relative peace. Christians could still be arrested and executed—particularly if they were discovered in the army—but churches grew and Christianity spread from the cities to the small towns and countryside.
However, beginning in 270, the philosopher Porphyry began an intellectual assault on Christians, claiming they "were the inventors, not the historians, of those things they record about Jesus." His attacks increased in the 290s.
Diocletian seized the throne in 284, determined to restore traditional values and order to Rome. Administrative uniformity and fiscal stability were achieved, but he soon discovered that the Christians stood in the way of reviving the old Roman values and religion. Caesar Galerius, his strongly anti-Christian lieutenant and successful military officer, pushed Diocletian to rid the empire of Christianity. He began by rooting all Christians out of the army and civil service by 302. Then on February 23, 303, the Feast of Terminalia, honoring the Roman gods of the fields, what became known as "the great persecution" began. Churches were destroyed, Christian services banned, and the Scriptures were seized and burned. Christians lost their jobs and their civil rights.
Diocletian at first attempted to bring off this purge without bloodshed. However, when Diocletian grew ill in 304, Caesar Galerius issued an edict that everyone in the empire was required to sacrifice to the gods on pain of death.
In Cilicia, a province in what is now southern Turkey, three Christian friends were brought before Governor Maximus in Tarsus. The youngest of the three was Andronicus, who came from one of the leading families in Ephesus. Tarachus was a sixty-five-year-old retired military officer. Probus had left a rich lifestyle to serve Christ.
"I cannot renounce the law of God," said Tarachus when ordered to sacrifice.
Shocked, the governor said, "There is only one law, the one we obey."
"Oh, but there is another," replied Tarachus, "and you transgress it by adoring your own handiwork, statues of wood or stone." For this impudence, he was struck on the mouth and beaten with rods.
Probus also refused to sacrifice and was cruelly tortured. "Look at your torn body," said the governor. "The ground is covered with your blood!" "The more my flesh suffers for Jesus Christ, the more my soul acquires strength and vigor," responded Probus.
When the governor threatened the young Andronicus, he said, "I would rather see my body cut into pieces than lose my soul." He was tortured on the rack, and salt was put into his wounds.
The governor then moved on to Mopsuestia and then Anazarbus, bringing the three Christians with him and publicly examining them in each city with increasing tortures, hoping to intimidate other Christians. Finally, unable to walk, these faithful martyrs were thrown to the wild beasts in the amphitheater, but none of the ravenous animals would touch them. A large bear that had earlier that day killed three men was loosed on them, but neither it nor a ferocious lion would touch the prisoners. In exasperation, Maximus ordered gladiators to behead them, which they did on October 11, 303.
During this persecution the church grew all the faster. People began to reject the cruelty done in the name of their old gods and asked what was so good about Jesus Christ that his followers prefer him more than life?
On his deathbed in 311, Galerius realized that it was impossible to stamp out Christianity. He revoked the edicts of persecution and even asked that the Christians pray for him. His repentance was too late to save his life. He died six days later.
WHEN HE GOT THERE, [THE KING] CALLED OUT IN ANGUISH, "DANIEL, SERVANT OF THE LIVING GOD! WAS YOUR GOD, WHOM YOU WORSHIP CONTINUALLY, ABLE TO RESCUE YOU FROM THE LIONS?" DANIEL ANSWERED, "LONG LIVE THE KING! MY GOD SENT HIS ANGEL TO SHUT THE LIONS' MOUTHS SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT HURT ME." DANIEL 6:20-22
Antipas the Faithful Witness
Turkey • ca. 68, honored April 11
When Jesus dictated his evaluations of the seven churches of Asia Minor to the apostle John, he sent this message to the church at Pergamum (now Bergama in Turkey): "I know that you live in the city where that great throne of Satan is located, and yet you have remained loyal to me. And you refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you by Satan's followers. And yet I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate . .. some Nicolaitans among you. . . . Repent, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth" (Revelation 2:13-16).
There is no other mention of Antipas in the Bible or by ancient historians, but church tradition—along with known history of Pergamum—provides considerable detail.
Antipas is said to have been an accomplished dentist, who continued practicing medicine—along with faith healing—after becoming a Christian. His faith and compassion were sufficient for the apostle John (traditionally recognized as the overseer of the Asian churches) to install him as bishop in Pergamum.
Pergamum was regally situated on a lofty hill about sixteen miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Even though it was not on a major trade route, Pergamum was one of the most well-planned Greek cities of its time, with a theater, a temple dedicated to Athena, an amphitheater, a racetrack, and one of the finest libraries in the world. On the hillside was an awesome, forty-foot-high altar to Zeus that looked like a great throne surrounded by an impressive frieze depicting the epic world of heroes and gods (still visible today). All day this altar smoked with perpetual sacrifices to Zeus.
Pergamum considered itself the custodian of ancient Greek religion. Possibly this is why Christ said it was "where that great throne of Satan is located." In any case, church tradition tells us that the demons that the citizens of Pergamum worshipped had appeared to them and told them that they could no longer make Pergamum their home (or throne?) or accept the people's sacrifices because the power of Antipas was casting them out.
Antipas was therefore arrested and delivered to the governor, who tried to convince Antipas to toss just a pinch of incense into the huge, red-hot brass idol of an ox used for continual sacrifices. "After all," he argued, "the old ways are better than your new religion." Antipas refused, which angered the governor so much that he had Antipas cast into the oven himself. While the door was still open, Antipas could be heard praying to God, glorifying his great power, and thanking him for being worthy to suffer.
There is some controversy as to when all this occurred. Some sources say Antipas died under Nero's persecution, possibly about A.D. 68. Others say he wasn't martyred until about 95, during the reign of Emperor Domitian, who was the first emperor to officially title himself "God the Lord," certainly a satanic claim. However, John probably wrote his Revelation by 96, making it hard to imagine that the Pergamum church had gone so far off track as to tolerate the Nicolaitan heresy in only one year. The Scriptures identify Antipas as "faithful," so we know he had no part in the heresy. And the Scriptures also imply that he inspired the rest of the church not to "deny" Christ under persecution, demonstrating his influence. Therefore, it seems more likely that Antipas was martyred on the earlier date, which would have given some twenty-eight years for error to creep in.
ABOVE ALL ELSE, GUARD YOUR HEART, FOR IT AFFECTS EVERYTHING YOU DO. PROVERBS 4:23
Armenia • April 24, 1915
Caught between the Ottoman (Turkish) and Russian empires, Armenians long struggled to retain their national identity. Armenia was one of the first nations to accept Christianity in the fourth century; in the nineteenth century, evangelical missionaries brought renewal and fresh life to the ancient Armenian Church—though missions faced major obstacles both within and without the church. With old traditions threatened, the Church patriarch banned Bibles and other books brought by missionaries. At the same time, laws under the ruling Turkish Muslim government forbade the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity, under punishment of death.
In 1856, these laws were suddenly lifted, and for a few brief years Armenia enjoyed complete religious liberty. Even the secretary to the ruling sultan became a Christian. But the Ottoman Empire was in serious decline, losing all its conquests in Europe and Africa. In order to maintain control of its shrinking territory, the Ottoman government once again cracked down on its ethnic minorities, effectively shutting down the aspirations of Armenians for full political participation.
During the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909), systematic massacres of the Armenian population cost an estimated 300,000 lives. But even this was not good enough for a group known as the Young Turks, who seized power in a coup and set up the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), advocating an exclusively Turkish state. As World War I loomed, the Young Turks found a perfect cover to implement a genocidal program, secretly adopted by CUP and aimed at the Armenian population. Their "justification": some Armenians had joined the Russian army as soon as it crossed the Ottoman frontier. Ethnic "removal" was necessary to suppress "revolutionary Armenians."
First, Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army were disarmed and assigned to labor battalions in order to prevent a coup or backlash; many were then killed. On April 24, 1915, a long list of Armenia's intellectual and business leaders were rounded up and executed. That date set in motion a widespread deportation of the remaining Armenian population. Women, children, and the elderly were driven from their homes with only the clothes they were wearing. Forced to march into the desert and denied food and water, many fell under the scorching sun. Others were attacked and butchered by local bands of Kurds. Some women were simply raped and killed; others were forcibly placed in harems and made to accept Islam—or be killed.
It is estimated that 600,000 died on April 24 alone. By the end of the ruthless massacres and death marches in the desert, one and a half million "Christian Armenians" had died—out of a total population of only two and a half million. In the midst of the slaughter, America's ambassador to the Ottoman empire, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., sent a desperate cable: "A campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion."
A young Armenian dragged herself into an American relief camp just inside Russian territory and collapsed in relief. A nurse quickly brought her food and water and asked if she was in pain. The teenager shook her head. "But I have learned the meaning of the cross," she murmured. At the nurse's perplexed look, the girl exposed her shoulder. The shape of a cross had been burned deeply into her flesh. Then she told her story.
Rounded up with others in her village and separated from home and family, she was asked to choose: Muhammad or Christ? "Christ, always Christ!" she replied. Seven days in a row she was asked the same question, and her reply was always the same. And each time she answered, part of a cross was burned into her shoulder. Finally she was told that the next day would be her last chance. If she chose Muhammad, she would live; if she chose Christ, she would die. But that night, hearing rumors that Americans were close by, she escaped to safety. "That," she finished, "is how I learned the meaning of the cross."
"IF ANY OF YOU WANTS TO BE MY FOLLOWER," [JESUS] TOLD THEM, "YOU MUST... SHOULDER YOUR CROSS, AND FOLLOW ME. IF YOU TRY TO KEEP YOUR LIFE FOR YOURSELF, YOU WILL LOSE IT. BUT IF YOU GIVE UP YOUR LIFE FOR MY SAKE AND FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOOD NEWS, YOU WILL FIND TRUE LIFE." MARK 8:34-35
England • July 16, 1546
In The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain wrote, "One summer's day [Tom Canty] saw poor Anne Askew and three men burned at the stake in Smithfield, and heard an ex-Bishop preach a sermon to them which did not interest him."
Twain's book may have been fiction, but the martyrdoms of Anne Askew and her three companions were real enough.
As the youngest daughter of Sir William Askew of Kelsey, in Lincolnshire, Anne was well educated for a woman of that time, and through studying the Scriptures, came to a strongly held faith of a Protestant persuasion. However, when her oldest sister, who had been engaged to marry a harsh and bigoted old man, died, Anne's father required her to take her sister's place. Out of obedience, Anne tried, but the arrangement was a disaster, and she finally fled to London to sue for divorce.
While in London, Anne became involved in the circles of John Lascelles, a Protestant leader and gentleman of the court and household of King Henry VIII. Through him Anne became acquainted with some of Queen Catherine Parr's ladies and may even have attended some of Catherine's Bible studies.
Though King Henry had instigated his break with the pope—to pursue his matrimonial capers—he still considered himself a faithful Catholic in doctrine. When he set out to invade France in 1544, he named Queen Catherine, his sixth wife, as regent, an expression of great respect and trust. However, Catherine was not inclined to submit to the influences of Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesly and his ally, Stephen Gardiner, the conservative Catholic Bishop of Winchester. So when the king returned, they set about undermining his trust in his wife. Their intent was to prove Catherine's Protestant leanings.
Anne Askew spoke freely of her own biblical convictions, and it was not long before she was arrested on the charge of holding heretical opinions against the Six Articles, especially concerning the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Under many examinations, Anne acknowledged her doctrinal variance from the Six Articles, especially her doubt that the bread and the wine turned into the actual body and blood of Christ. During one bizarre grilling, the Lord Mayor of London asked her, "What if a mouse were to eat the sacred bread after it was consecrated? What shall become of the mouse, thou foolish woman?"
"What say you, my lord, will become of it?"
"I say that mouse is damned!"
"Alas, poor mouse," Anne replied quietly, but she would not name or implicate anyone else. And that was what Wriothesly and Gardiner were after.
They put her on the rack and nearly pulled her apart, Wriothesly himself turning the wheel and threatening her. Finally, they gave up and sentenced her to death.
At the age of twenty-five, she was burned at the stake on July 16, 1546, along with John Adams, a tailor; John Lascelles, a courtier of King Henry; and a minister from Shropshire, Nicholas Belenian. Maybe Mark Twain's Tom Canty was not there, but a very large crowd witnessed her peaceful surrender and later read the final prayer she wrote just before being taken from her cell to the stake.
VOICE OF THE HERO
O Lord, I have more enemies now than there be hairs on my head. Yet, Lord, let them never overcome me with vain words, but fight thou, Lord, in my stead! For on Thee cast I my care. With all the spite they can imagine, they fall upon me, who am Thy poor creature. Yet, sweet Lord, let me not set by them that are against me, for in Thee is my whole delight. And, Lord, I heartily desire of Thee that Thou wilt, of Thy most merciful goodness, forgive them that violence which they do and have done unto me. Open also Thou their blind hearts that they may hereafter do that thing in Thy sight, which is only acceptable before Thee and to set forth Thy [truth] aright without all vain fantasies of sinful man. So be it, O Lord! So be it!
Pastor Emmanuel Allah Atta
Pakistan • October 28, 2001
Sarapheen met her husband, Emmanuel Allah Atta, for the first time on her wedding day, July 7, 1973. As the custom in Pakistan dictates, her parents arranged her marriage. As nominal Christians, they chose a young man also from a Christian family. But Sarapheen soon discovered that her new husband wanted to become a pastor and dedicate his life to serving the Lord Jesus Christ. A new excitement percolated within Sarapheen's spirit. She wanted to join her husband in serving the Lord. Shortly after they were married, Emmanuel led Sarapheen to personal salvation in Christ.
The next few years were challenging for the newlyweds as Emmanuel went to seminary, then an evangelist training school in Hyderabad. He was ordained in 1985, and became pastor of the Church of Pakistan, a Protestant congregation that met in St. Dominic's Catholic Church in Bahawalpur. For many years, Muslims and Christians lived peacefully side by side in this city—even though the Catholics and Protestants together comprised a mere 3 percent of the population in Pakistan.
In the meantime, children were coming along in the Atta family—eventually five daughters and one son. "We had a pleasant marriage," says Sarapheen, "and because we often prayed together, we never fought. Our life together was fantastic. My husband was very kind, and he never abused me in married life. He was a good example of a pastor. I will never forget his kindness, and I will miss him."
Had a pleasant marriage? Will miss him? Hidden in the past tense lies Sarapheen's new reality—a reality that took them by storm on October 28, 2001.
The Protestant congregation met for the "early" service at St. Dominic's Church. The praise and prayer service had been so joyful, the service was running late. Pastor Emmanuel did not mean to delay the Catholic mass, but he couldn't cut his sermon short. The whole world was anxious in the wake of the Islamic terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11—just a month and a half earlier. Tensions had increased between Muslims and Christians in Pakistan. Fervently, he encouraged his congregation of seventy-five persons to "pray without ceasing" during the troubled times ahead. "As you faithfully pray," he said passionately, "you will grow closer to God and stronger in spirit."
As he concluded his sermon shortly before 9:00 A.M., three men dressed in long, black shalwars and brandishing Kalashnikov automatic weapons stormed into the church and up the aisle. "Throw your Bible down!" one of them ordered Pastor Emmanuel.
The pastor pulled his Bible close to his heart and turned away. "I will not!"
"Allah Ahkbar!" shouted the gunman. "God is great!"—just as he opened fire with his automatic weapon, pumping bullets into the pastor's back. The pastor's long white robe grew red with bloodstains as he fell to the floor.
The other terrorists opened fire on the congregation, pumping over five hundred rounds into the screaming crowd for six long minutes. When they finished their vicious work, fifteen church members were dead, plus a Muslim security guard who'd been standing watch at the front gate. There was no discrimination among the victims. The beloved pastor, men, women, children, a two-year-old child ... dead.
Sarapheen's face crumples when she talks about the death of her beloved husband, but the tears include tears of joy. "Our Lord told us that in his name we would suffer," she says. "It is an honor and privilege that my husband is a martyr for Jesus."
Four-year-old Kinza says her daddy looked right at her as he fell to the ground "and went to sleep." When asked where her daddy is now, Kinza says simply, "He's in heaven with Jesus."
VOICE OF THE HERO
Please don't despair because of what they are doing to me here. It is for you that I am suffering, so you should feel honored and encouraged. When I think of the wisdom and scope of God's plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit.
—EPHESIANS 3:13-16, THE TEXT FROM WHICH PASTOR EMMANUEL PREACHED THE MORNING HE DIED
China • August 15, 1900
Shansi Province in northern China crouches between the Yellow River on the west and a rugged mountain range on the east. Of the 188 foreign missionaries—adults and children—killed in the Boxer Rebellion during its reign of terror at the turn of the century, 159 were killed in this one province alone.
Here the Boxers operated with impunity, with the belligerent blessing of Governor Yu Hsien, a noted Boxer sympathizer. But local officials were often more protective. In July, as mob violence escalated in Taiyuan, the capital city of Shansi Province, a small group of missionaries—seven adults and three children—took refuge in Fenchow, where the magistrate was known to treat foreigners kindly. They hoped for the best... but expected the worst. One of the missionaries, Lizzie Atwater, had recently married Ernest Atwater, a widower, who had been left with four young girls. Pregnant with her own child, Lizzie wrote to her sister from Fenchow: "They beheaded thirty-three of us last week in Taiyuan." Two who died in the massacre were her own step-daughters, Ernestine, age ten, and Mary, age eight, who were away at school.
On August 3, 1900, Lizzie wrote what would be her last letter to her family:
Dear ones, I long for a sight of your dear faces, but I fear we shall not meet on earth.... I am preparing for the end very quietly and calmly. The Lord is wonderfully near, and He will not fail me. I was very restless and excited while there seemed a chance of life, but God has taken away that feeling, and now I just pray for grace to meet the terrible end bravely. The pain will soon be over, and oh the sweetness of the welcome above!
My little [unborn] baby will go with me. I think God will give it to me in Heaven, and my dear mother will be so glad to see us. I cannot imagine the Savior's welcome. Oh, that will compensate for all these days of suspense. Dear ones, live near to God and cling less closely to earth. There is no other way by which we can receive that peace from God which passeth understanding... I must keep calm and still these hours. I do not regret coming to China, but am sorry I have done so little. My married life, two precious years, has been so very full of happiness. We will die together, my husband and I.
I used to dread separation. If we escape now it will be a miracle. I send my love to you all,