Today at General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, the Center for Christian Spirituality hosted a Quiet Day, offered by GTS alum the Rev. Jay Rozendaal. We spent time thinking about Christian martyrs, perhaps an odd topic, but not if you think that November is, as I've mentioned, a sort of mini-season of its own, wedged between All Saints' and Christ the King Sundays, that celebrates those who have died and looks ahead to the end and to the death of all things. We contemplated the first martyr, Stephen, and explored some of the issues around martyrdom and what it means. I was struck by the fact that martyrs seem to be nonviolent and hopeful. We struggled a bit with the tentative observation that there do not seem to be any Christian martyrs who killed themselves for the faith, but allowed others to do it. Of course, the word "Martyr" comes from the Greek and originally meant merely "witness," and of course that's what St. Stephen did. It only later came to connote one who dies for the faith.
At the conversation at the end we talked about "white martyrdom," which originally meant the ascetic practices the desert fathers and mothers took on after Christianity became legal and "red" martyrdom ended for a time. We noted that in this post-Constantinian age, that the little martyrdoms of confronting the culture from a Christian perspective are growing. Fr. Jay made the, to me, astounding point that of the estimated 45 million Christian martyrs since the Ascension, perhaps 26 million - certainly more than half - occurred in the 20th century. I was really taken aback by that observation, and I will try to follow up on it. But the fact remains that there are Christians right now in this day and age who are being persecuted, some unto death, for their faith. Martyrdom is not something quaint and far away - it is very near to us right now.
Almighty God, who gave to your servants boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.