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The gunman, while reloading his handgun, ordered the students to stand up and asked if they were Christians, Boylan told her family.
“And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,'” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying her account.
“And then he shot and killed them.”

As shared on Facebook by Pastor Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of His saints.

Psalm 116: 15

“This is true faith, a living confidence in the goodness of God.”

 Martin Luther

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Cyril (826-69) and Methodius (c. 815-85) were brothers who came from a Greek family in Thessalonica. The younger brother took the name “Cyril” when he became a monk in 868. After ordination, Cyril became librarian at the church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople. In 862 the brothers were sent by the emperor as missionaries to what is now the Czech republic, where they taught in the native Slavic tongue. Cyril invented the alphabet today know today as “Cyrillic,” which provided a written language for the liturgy and Scriptures for the Slavic peoples. This use of the vernacular established an important principle for evangelical missions.

In an article in the May/June 2013 edition of Touchstone, “The Thessalonian Brothers:  The Legacy of the Mission of Cyril and Methodius 1,150 Years Later”, on the way to Rome in 867, the brothers stopped in Venice,

“…to debate Western clerics who insisted on the tradition of using only Hebrew, Greek, and Latin for worship, which the Slavonic sources deride as the “trilingual heresy” or “Pilatian heresy” (after Pilate’s use of those three languages for the sign on Christ’s cross (John 19:20) ).  (Cyril) is said to have responded with St. Paul’s words:  “that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil. 2: 11)  

Further, it is written in Revelation 14: 6,

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 

There are 5 other references in Revelation to “languages” or “tongues”.  Cyril and Methodius translated the Bible for the Slavic people to read it.  Constantine (“Cyril”) was quited talented.  He became a libarian, then a professor of philosophy, then a monk and  eventually a missionary.  Methodius was a ruler of a Slavic province, then a contemplative monk and then with his brother Cyril a missionary.  The two missionary brothers were sent to Moravia where they began to translate invented the alphabet that bears Cyril’s name to this day:  Cyrillic and in the map below you can see how extenstive their alphabet was used.

Many worry that when the Bible is translated something is “lost in translation”, but that is not necessarily trueas we see in history the “eternal Gosple” proclaimed to “those who dwell on earth”.  The “eternal Gospel” has been translated into most of the languages on all the continents of earth.  The Word of God is translated so  we are “translated”, changed by the Gospel of grace for sinners through Jesus Christ our Lord.  We thank the Lord for ministry of Cyril and Methodius and for all missionaries and Bible translators.

The countries that use the Cyrillic alphabet officially and those who use it as a secondary language.

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This past week Sunni militants have taken over the 2nd largest city in Iraq.  The following quote is from a recent letter from Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Najeeb who lives in Mosul.  The full article is in First Things and can be found with this link.  As he asks:  pray for them.  

Bad news. I write you in a situation of violence in Mosul that is very critical and even apocalyptic. Most of the inhabitants of the city have already abandoned their houses and fled into the villages and are sleeping in the open without anything to eat or drink. Many thousands of armed men from the Islamic Groups of Da’ash have attacked the city of Mosul for the last two days. They have assassinated adults and children. The bodies have been left in the streets and in the houses by the hundreds, without pity. The regular forces and the army have also fled the city, along with the governor. In the mosques, they cry “Allah Akbar, long live the Islamic State.” Qaraqosh is overflowing with refugees of all kinds, without food or lodging. The check points and the Kurdish forces are blocking innumerable refugees from entering Kurdistan. What we are living and what we have seen over the last two days is horrible and catastrophic. The priory of Mar Behnam and other churches fell into the hands of the rebels this morning. . . . and now they have come here and entered Qaraqosh five minutes ago, and we are now surrounded and threatened with death. . . . pray for us. I’m sorry that I can’t continue . . . They are not far from our convent. . . . Don’t reply. . . .

“We are not protected by anyone, just the prayers . . . we need your prayers . . . I believe in the power of prayers . . . they can change the mind of persons . . . I ask in the name of all Christians in Iraq . . . to pray for us.”

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Intro:   Polycarp’s martyrdom on this date around AD 156 deeply impressed the nascent Church and can not be glossed over.   Polycarp was a link between the time of the Apostles and post-apostolic era.  He was martyred when he was 86 years of age by being burned,and when the flames did not hurt him, he was stabbed in the heart.  Eyewitness accounts said the smell was of baking bread.  His name means, “much fruit”.  Below is a short bio from The Apostolic Fathers edited by Jack Sparks of the Eastern Orthodox Church:

“Take the oath and I will let you go,” said the proconsul. “Revile Christ.”

“I have served Him eighty-six years,” replied Polycarp, “and in no way has He dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

Thus the aged and much revered bishop spoke, in full knowl­edge of the outcome. His martyrdom was sealed. His life had stretched from the days of the apostles till the middle of the second century, and on a February day in about 156 he moved on with honor to the church enrolled in heaven.

We first meet Polycarp as the relatively young bishop of Smyrna when the aging Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to mar­tyrdom. It was in Smyrna that Ignatius made that famous rest stop on his final journey, and Polycarp was the only individual on record to whom the great martyr ever addressed a personal letter. In the years that followed, Polycarp gathered Ignatius’ letters and passed them on to others.

Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyons in the latter half of the second century, tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of the apos­tle John and indeed knew others who had seen the Lord in the flesh. The witness of Irenaeus is important because he appar­ently grew up in Smyrna. What he says of Polycarp indicates that the bishop of Smyrna was most concerned about the pres­ervation of the orthodox faith. One incident he reports demon­strates the severity of Polycarp’s attitude toward heresies and heretics. Polycarp, says Irenaeus, once met the heretic Marcion on the streets. “Do you recognize me?” asked Marcion. “In­deed,” replied Polycarp, “I recognize you as the firstborn of Satan!” (Adv. haer 3:3,4).

Though Irenaeus hints at several letters by Polycarp, only  one has come down to us. That letter is to the church at Philippi and reflects the same concern for truth and orthodoxy we have already mentioned. His letter is filled with, indeed almost made up of, quotes from the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles of the New Testament, as well as the letters of Clement and Ignatius. Some critics have sneered at Polycarp because he is so uncreative and offers no new theological insight. We can be glad he was the way he was. Through Polycarp we have not only a link with the ear­liest days of Christianity, but a faithful transmission of apostolic doctrine as well. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.

Near the end of his life Polycarp made a visit to Rome to dis­cuss with Bishop Anicetus a number of church matters, appar­ently including the date of Easter. The Eastern churches were still celebrating Easter on the exact date of Jewish Passover, while Rome was using a specified Sunday each year. Neither agreed to change, but their fellowship was not disturbed. Before he left Rome, Polycarp, at the invitation of Anicetus, led in the celebration of the Eucharist. The two men parted in full agree­ment to leave their respective traditions as they were.

Last of all we have an eyewitness account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. Perhaps by request, the church at Smyrna pre­pared a full account, to be sent to the church at Philomelium and other places. This clear and simple testimony of the martyrdom of an aged saint should bring tears to the eyes of any believer. Some have questioned the record because of the miraculous ac­count of the means of his death. But there is great danger in rejecting a miracle on the grounds that “such things just don’t happen.” Some have done so and thus have rejected the mira­cles of the Scriptures.

Polycarp’s last prayer is characteristic of the man and a clear testimony of his faith. He concluded with, “I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ your beloved Son through whom to you with Him and the Holy Spirit be glory now and forever. Amen.”

Below is a selection from The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  Please note that the first Christians were accused of “atheism” because they would not sacrifice to the false god of Caesar, and so they were considered as not believing and thus imperiling the ‘divine’ order of the Empire and the Emperor.

“…the police captain, Herod, and his father, Nicetes, met (Polycarp); they transferred him to their carriage and sitting down beside him tried to persuade him, saying: “Why, what is wrong with saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and sacrificing, and so forth, and thus being saved?” At first he did not answer them, but when they persisted, he said: “I am not going to do what you advise me.”  Since they had failed to persuade him, they uttered threats and hurriedly pulled him off so that as he was descending from the carriage he scraped his shin. And without turning around, he walked along briskly as though he had suffered no injury. As he was led into the stadium with the uproar so great that it [the announcement of Polycarp’s apprehension] was not heard by many….

 Now a voice from heaven came to Polycarp as he was entering the stadium: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” (Josh. 1:6,7,9.) No one saw the speaker, but many of ours heard the voice. And then as he was brought forward, there was a great uproar now that they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended. So when he was brought forward the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp; and when he admitted it, he tried to persuade him to deny, saying: “Respect your age” and all the other things they usually say: “Swear by the Genius of Caesar, change your mind, say, ‘Away with the atheists.’ ” Polycarp looked sternly at the whole crowd of lawless heathen in the stadium, indicating them with a wave of the hand, groaned and looked up to heaven, and said: “Away with the atheists!” When the proconsul persevered and said: “Take the oath and I will let you go; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied: “I have served him eighty-six years and in no way has he dealt unjustly with me; so how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?”

 Since he persisted and said: “Swear by Caesar’s Genius,” he answered: “If you vainly expect that I will swear by Caesar’s Genius, as you suggest, and pretend to be ignorant who I am, listen (to what I say) openly: I am a Christian. If you want to learn the teaching of Christianity, name the day and hear (about it).”  The proconsul said: “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied: “To you indeed I have considered myself accountable; for we have been taught to render fit honor to rulers and authorities appointed by God in so far as it is not injurious to us [cf. Rom. 13:1,7;1 Pet. 2:13ff]; as for these, I do not consider myself bound to make my defense before them.”

Comment:  Note that what the Christians were asked to do, burn a little incense to Caesar and swear by him is really a ‘small thing’, as it was pitched toward the Church.  As the proconsul said, what is wrong with saying, Caesar is Lord?  Indeed!  It might seem such a small thing to “go with the flow”, do what others are doing which seems so much fun and the like.  But it’s not a ‘small thing’ and Polycarp knew what it meant:  denying Jesus Christ who saved him.  

I like Fr. Sparks’ comment that Polycarp’s one letter shows he was not creative.  He quoted the Bible. No, he was not creative. He was a loyal disci­ple of Christ and the apostles.”   I took a course in seminary, “Creative Ministry”.   We make ministry ‘creative’?  No, the Lord does.  He re-creates us through His Ministry of Word and Sacraments through His called pastors and bishops.  Polycarp was not creative:   he was faithful.  He was a faithful servant of Jesus.  Satis est.  That is enough and Christ will fill us by His grace for us sinners.

Let us pray:  O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to Your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for the Faith, give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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“Precious in the sign of the LORD is the death of His saints”-Psalm 116: 15

The Appointed Lessons:  2 Chronicles 24: 17-22;  Psalm 119:  137-144;  Acts 6: 8-7:2a, 51-60;  St. Matthew 23: 34-39

Stephen was one of the first 7 deacons chosen by the Holy Spirit in the prayer of the Church to wait on tables for the widows in the first Church so that the Apostles could devote their ministry to the Word. Stephen’s record is in Acts 6: 1 through 8: 3.  But the deacons also preached the Word:  they fed the people bread for their bodies and the Bread of life for their souls.  Stephen knew the Bible’s history of Israel and probably pointed out to a synagogue that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and nothing we can do can save us: it is by His crucifixion and resurrection we are forgiven through faith alone. So the synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6: 7) were furious at him and accused him: “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.

The freedmen, or literally, the liberated ones, were possibly descendants of manumitted slaves.  So maybe for them to hear that they will be freed freely in Jesus Christ would have been galling and going against the ‘freedom’ they had sought in their own synagogue. But here was a man full of the Holy Spirit who was in love with the One born yesterday Who alone can free, what no law could free.  We could sing today, On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Himself:  Jesus Christ. In fact it is recorded that Stephen’s face shined like an angel’s (6: 15).  “Angel” means “messenger”.  Stephen was a messenger of the message of glad tidings of Jesus Christ.

When Stephen was brought in for investigation he preached the history of Israel as the prologue.  “Prologue” is literally, “before the word” as here  the Word (in Greek “logos”, as in John 1: 1-14 ) before the Word became flesh.  St. Stephen preached truthfully the Bible  and the way the Lord faithfully in His mercy showed Israel His path and they rejected it again and again.  And the greatest of these rejections was Jesus: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” It was the truth and the truth hurts, and it enraged them and they stoned Stephen to death. His last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  The same words as Jesus spoke from the Cross.  Now, even the official church eliminates those who preach and teach the Word of God, regarding marriage, abortion,the Law of God,  not by stoning anyone to death, but by turning their hearts to stone and asking like Satan did in Genesis 3:  “Did God say…?”

We spend much energy decrying commercializing of the season up until the 25th, but we forget about the days following beginning today:  December 26th.  This is from ancient usage the day to remember Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  The day after Christmas is usually noted in our time as the time to return to the malls and return the gifts we do not like, or do not fit.   On December 27th, the Church remembers and gives thanks for St.John,Apostle and Evangelist.  He wrote the 4th Gospel and was the only one of the 4 Evangelists who was not killed but according to tradition lived to great old age.  Then on the 28th, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children under the age of two that Kind Herod murdered in order to kill a rival to his throne who was born on December 25th. Remembering that the word “martyr” literally means witness:  

Stephen was a martyr in will and deed;  

John in will but not deed

and the Innocents in deed but not in will.  

Yet all were witnesses  in some way to Jesus Christ and He protected them all:  Stephen, John and the children of Bethlehem. These first days of the 12 days of Christmas receive a different understanding in the truth of the Scriptures, of God’s Word and it is sobering and enlightening. Our priorities are awry, to say the least as we still “shop till we drop”. We speak much about love and love has gone awry.  Here is Stephen in the grips of “love’s pure light” in serving his neighbors and in that service preaching the truth of His Word. We do not even want to face social discomfort in speaking of Jesus.  We need this martyr, his witness in these dark days in order to say no to the world and our yes to Christ as all the promises of God find their yes in Him ( 2 Corinthians 1:20), for the increase of His Church.  It might cause rage, and for many it won’t be rage, but the peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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In the Two Year Dailty Lectionary, the Gospel Lesson for today is St. John 20: 1-18, the narrative of the Resurrection. Pr. Scott Murray, has another cogent reflection, this one on the reality of the Resurrection in the historical life of the Church, which includes the persecuted Church from his A Year with the Church Fathers:  Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year. Then I have an additional reflection.

Meditation
Christianity stands or falls on the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If there is no resurrection, neither the life nor the truth of the faith survive.

The faith that disbelieves the resurrection of Christ is of no value when the gun is put to your head and the question is asked, “Do you believe in Jesus?” Christian martyrs confessed that Christ was Lord and God when faced with death, rather than fail to confess the living Lord. Who in his right mind dies a literal death for a mythical faith? If Christ’s resurrection is a myth, then I might be excused for declining to die a very literal martyr’s death. A mythical martyrdom is the only one called for by a mythical faith. Yet uncounted thousands with joy embraced the tools of slaughter when brought to the arena, and thanked the living Lord for the privilege of dying for the sake of the name of Christ. If I have a living Lord, what is the worst that my enemies can do to me? Send me home to live with Him. What is the downside to this proposition? Cynical mythologization never survives faithful martyrdom.

All the apostles, save John, died a martyr’s death. Why? Because they had seen the risen Lord. The apostle Paul proclaims the truth of his Gospel and proclamation because the risen Lord stands behind it, bringing to fulfillment the Word. This same Lord still reigns in His Church through His Word. We are not left alone in a world of oppressive mythologies. He is still the living Lord who triumphed for our sakes. He lives that we would live. So live!

Post-script:  Someone could point out that radical Islam too has it’s martyrs, they are willing to die for their “real” faith”, and many think a martyr is a martyr.  First in radical Islam, martyrdom is actually willful and active  suicide, accompanied by the death of others. In Christianity, the Christian martyrs were killed to expel them from body politic.  It was a passive act.

Second, in Islam in general, it is taught that one so martyred assures himself of a place in heaven by his work of death.  Not so Christians:  we do not believe that by so being martyred, we assure ourselves of heaven.  We are given the hope of the life to come, not by what we do, but by what Jesus Christ has done in His death and Resurrection, that is the forgiveness of sin, justification by faith.  Eternal life is gift, never a work.

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