Can I get a witness?












I don’t know if you heard the recent news about the convert that was beheaded by muslim extremists.  Given our rather protected and cultured way of life, it comes as shocking news to many of us that even today people are dying for the Faith. Certainly, most of us will never have to die a cruel death as a martyr. We know that life can be uncertain, but we do not expect physical death as a consequence of our witness. It is more likely that we will die from cancer or some affliction of old age than for what we confess. However, this event reminds us that the age of the martyrs has not ended. Christians are dying and will be killed for the Faith.

Yet, the way we use the word “martyr”, we might think that it just means to die for something. In fact, the word “martyr” is translated as “witness.” Anytime that we can witness for the Faith it is martyrdom, especially in this present world

As a group, the New Martyrs of Russia are representative of all of us -some were monastics and ascetics, some were clergy or hierarchs, but most of them were laypeople who had families and worked jobs. In other words, they were just like us. When it came to the ultimate sacrifice, they found the courage to be a witness for Christ. Some were shot, hung, or poisoned, and many were sent to prisons where they died from hunger or exposure. Some managed to live until they were released, and went on to serve the church in other ways. These living martyrs we call “Confessors.” Today, many of these confessors have now died and left us. There were a treasure, a blessing to the Faith, but often they escaped our attention.

Such a cloud of witnesses (millions) may overwhelm us. Where did so many find the courage? By comparison, what is the witness of my life? I would like to believe that if faced with a life and death decision for Christ, I would choose Christ. Oh, I like to believe it, but then I have trouble deciding on whether to go to Church or not, or keep the fast or not, or even to pray or not.

What we need to change is the belief that martyrdom is only real when it is done under extreme circumstances. With the seduction of our material well-being, the advances of science, and the atmosphere of religious pluralism and secularism, being a witness for Christ seems more a matter of wading through gray and muddy water than making a clear witness. Most of us live a lifestyle that is no different from our neighbors, so we wonder if we witness to the truth of Christ at all. Then there is the fear that if we do witness, we will be seen as being a fanatic or worse.

Indeed, it is a difficult world in which to witness. Listen to the wisdom of an Elder:

The Holy Fathers prophesied about the last generation, saying to each other in wonderment: “What have we achieved?” One of them Abba Ischyrion, a great Elder, replied: “We have fulfilled the commandments of God.” The others said: “What about those who will come after us, what will they do?” The Elder answered: “They will accomplish half of our work.” And again the Fathers asked: “What about those who come after them?” Abba Ischyrion replied: “the men of that generation will accomplish no work at all; temptation will come upon them. But those who are found worthy in that epoch will be greater than us and our Fathers.”   – from the Evergetinos

Think of it. If we can attain to any holiness in this present age, we can be greater than the Fathers who have gone before us. How is such a thing even remotely possible?

Anyone who hangs around Orthodoxy soon realizes that the Faith is ascetic. The Lord commanded that we pick up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Him. This command alone gives us plenty of material for a witness to the world. The Church tries to help us by giving us disciplines that will help us to separate from the world. Certainly, things like prayer, fasting, and attending service help us personally, but they also give a witness to those around us. Our Orthodox piety says that there is another reality beyond this world, and we are called to live in that reality.

Is it difficult to do this today? Yes, it is difficult, but then it has always been difficult. The New Martyrs of Russia show us that as difficult as it might be, it can be done. They were not special people who had some monastic or spiritual calling from the time they were born. They were common folks like you and me. They waded through the muddy water of the 20th century and they show us that while we wade through the mud of the 21st century, we too can be witnesses of the Faith.

The age of the martyrs has not ended. We may not be asked to die for the Faith, but if we try to live for the Faith, we too are witnesses and martyrs.

Can I get a witness?

Holy saints, martyrs and confessors of the Russian church, pray to God for us.

One Response to “Can I get a witness?”

  1. Fr Richard Says:

    Amen and Thank you Father John for this timely reminder.

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