Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Preparation for Martyrdom

The holy martyr Julian of Tarsus was a young man when he suffered and died for the Christian faith. Born into a family of wealth and influence, from his youth, he was taught the Faith; and so, when the time of his suffering came, he was ready, and despite being taken from town to town and being out to torture in each one, he would not deny that Jesus Christ is Lord. After a year of enduring torments, he was sewn into a sack filled with sand, snakes, and scorpions, and thrown into the sea. He was eighteen years old when he departed this life.

Our holy father John of Shanghai and San Francisco, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, was also born into a noble family; and he also, from his youth, learned the Christian faith, embracing the Orthodox way of life, inspired by the asceticism of the monks he saw living near to his village. His family fled from his homeland during the Russian Civil War for Serbia. He left Serbia for Shanghai when he became a Bishop. Forced to flee from Shanghai once again ahead of the Communists, he led his flock to the Philippines, from where they were resettled, some in Australia, some in South America, and some in the United States. He knew of his impending repose some four days before it happened, and foretold as well the place where he would die. He was seventy years old when he departed this life.

Both of the holy fathers whom we celebrate this weekend experienced what our Lord spoke of in the reading today from the holy Gospel according to St. Luke. Both experienced persecution; both knew that a martyr's death was a very real possibility, and one achieved a martyr's crown.

What about us? Although none of us has been born to a family of power and influence, we live in a time and place with riches and conveniences that we take for granted, which not even emperors had of old – and they could have almost anything they wanted. In addition to the prosperity we enjoy, we also live in a time of relative peace, and in a place where we are not suffering for our faith – at least, not yet. But the words our Lord spoke to warn and to encourage His disciples remain as true today as when He first uttered them. The apostles saw the armies of Rome arrayed against Jerusalem, and their defeat of that city. The faithful were persecuted again and again across time and space – and there are places around the world today where Christians suffer for the Faith, and martyrs are killed all the time. We don't see it happening on the evening news; we don't see it happening in our neighborhoods – but it is taking place all the same, and we are na├»ve if we think that it will never happen here.

What, then should we do? We must be instructed by what our Lord tells His disciples – and we are His disciples if we follow His teachings, and His example. By enduring, we will win our lives. Not in this world, to be sure – but this world, this age, this life will not endure. Only that which is established in heaven will endure. If we will embrace and live the life of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in baptism, fed in us by His Body and Blood, taught to us by the holy Fathers and Mothers, shown to us in the lives of the saints, then our lives, too, will be established in heaven. Above all, it is by so pursuing the life of Christ being expressed in our own that we can endure even betrayal by friends or family, to say with our Lord, "Father, forgive them," even as we are being put to death.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask God for the grace and mercy He gives to us from His love for us, that we may not love our lives in this world, but rather desire the life to come, so that we will not fail in the time of trial, but may also come, with our holy father Julian and our holy father John, to a blessed repose, and a place in His kingdom that shall never end.