Archive for March 7th, 2019

And they have conquered (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Revelation 12:11

About Perpetua and Felicitas and their Companions:

At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that eo their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. No saints are more uniformly honored in all the early calendars and martyrologies than these African martyrs. In 202 the emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity and harsh per­secution ensued. Arrested in Carthage were Vibia Perpetua, a noble­woman from Thuburbo, twenty-two years old; her infant child; Felic­itas, a pregnant slave; Revocatus, a slave; Saturninus; Secundulus.  There were ­all catechumens. Later their catechist, Saturus, was arrested also. While under house arrest they were baptized.After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians. Here is the record of the martyrdom:

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sit­ting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side.. . . but the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to go, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway, was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetua. Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Reflection: An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) famously penned “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  The first church buildings were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicitas  after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.
We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major: visibility with good parking.  Now parking is important and convenient. But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built according to convenience, but to honor the witness of the martyrs. Martyrdom is not convenient, only expedient for the persecutor, or  so such a person, government etc. thinks.

For a long time now we have marketed convenience in our churches. This convenience Christianity was to make it easier for a person to join. I remember an eastern European Lutheran pastor, who served under the atheistic, Communist East Germany, saying he was rather shocked by padded pews here in our country. Now we are shocked that ‘all of a sudden’, Christians are no longer welcome to the world’s table. We issued convenient entreaties for our churches and our services, and ‘ministries’, only to discover no one cared.

Why? As we made church life a bowl full of cherries, so we made convenient the Lord’s precious truths. The invitation on many church street signs has, “Everyone Welcome”. It’s is true, but it became “everyone welcome” without repentence and catechesis (education). The Lord’s Supper became a happy meal, not the giving of His Body and Blood for forgiveness and strengthening of faith and sanctification. Would anyone risk martyrdom for our inalienable right to pot-lucks, picnics and positive experiences? We wanted to fit in and found out we were not faithfully fit. We put the light of the Lord under a bushel basket. Biblical illiteracy is at an all time low.

Perpetua and her companions were bright with Christ’s own light, that is the joy of the grace of forgiveness in the God who died and rose for us all: this is the heart of Lent. I heard a janitor in a Lutheran church in East Berlin, under the thumb of Communism, state that at that time Church does not leave the four walls of the church building. We still do not have those constraints. Maybe Perpetua and her companions were bringing the light of the Gospel outside of their Services where it was lit. Lord, bring forth in our lives a witness to your Gospel, your salvation , to You, O Savior of mankind.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honors, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less signifi­cant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.

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