Why Being a Christian still matters:  Martyrdom in the 21st Century

The news constantly provides harrowing details of countless Christians being persecuted in various countries around the world.  We may lament the case but may become jaded to the continuous news of such events since they normally (or so, we think!) occur far from our homes and the security of our comfort zones.  It is a worrying fact, corroborated by the news statistics, that attacks on Christians have increased during the recent years.

It seems that in the light of the recent invasions by the self-styled ISIS and their eventual defeat (by the way, I still refuse to call them IS in their claim for Islamisation of the Middle East because that would mean succumbing to their senseless claim to an imperialistic outlook), thousands of Christians of Ancient Churches with which we are little acquainted have been displaced, rather than submitting to the will of the tyranny to convert.  The brutal murder of the Coptic Christians (together with  Matthew Ayairga, from Chad, who was purportedly impressed by the faith of the others) in February 2015, recorded on the camera, shocked the world.

We may lament the case but may become jaded to the continuous news of such events

However, this terrible indictment against Christians is not restricted to the Middle East.  As the report of the Aid to the Church in Need, Persecuted and Forgotten? findings (2014-2017) illustrate, the persecution of Christians spans the majority of the continents.  Members of the Boko Haram group have been carrying out kidnappings and attacks of Christians in Nigeria for years.  India and Pakistan are still home to attacks levelled against various Christians.  Discrimination against Christianity, described as “a foreign infiltration,” is carried out in China; the list is endless.

Somewhat more worryingly for the average Christian in the so-called Western society are the terrorist attacks carried out against Christians in Europe and the Americas.  Amongst other examples, the gruesome murder of 84-year-old priest Jacques Hamel in Rouen, France, in July 2016, sent shockwaves throughout the world.  The wave of attacks on church congregations in the United States are a constant reminder of the fragility of the freedom to express one’s religious faith.

The wave of attacks on church congregations in the United States are a constant reminder of the fragility of the freedom to express one’s religious faith

And yet the perpetrators do not distinguish among Christian Churches and ecclesial communities.  It does not matter to them if the victims are Roman Catholics, Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, Evangelical, and so on.  The numerous slain and persecuted Christians hail from the various Churches and ecclesial communities.

In speaking about ecumenism, that is, the movement for Christian Unity at the end of September, 2016, Pope Francis stated that there is another form of ecumenism which characterises our contemporary age: ecumenism of blood. “When terrorists or world powers persecute Christian minorities or Christians”, he observed, “they do not ask: ‘Are you Lutheran? Are you Orthodox? Are you Catholic? Are you Reformed? Are you Pentecostal?’ No. ‘You are Christian’. They recognise one only: the Christian.”

It does not matter to them if the victims are Roman Catholics, Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, Lutheran, Evangelical, and so on

In the Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, on the 12th February, 2016, the two Church leaders decried the waves of attacks on Christians, vehemently stating: “We bow before the martyrdom of those who, at the cost of their own lives, have given witness to the truth of the Gospel, preferring death to the denial of Christ. We believe that these martyrs of our times, who belong to various Churches but who are united by their shared suffering, are a pledge of the unity of Christians. It is to you who suffer for Christ’s sake that the word of the Apostle is directed: “Beloved … rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:12–13).

In the face of our claims that religion and values are being eroded in Western society, we witness thousands of Christians who are ready to face death rather than give up their identity.  Their embracing of the Christian ideal entails the recognition that the Christian faith surpasses mere existence amidst the tumult of materialism or the extreme harshness of everyday life.  Rather, Christian faith transforms all facets of the person’s life in each person’s life real meaning, a meaning that, if needs be, has to be paid for with the ultimate price.

Their embracing of the Christian ideal entails the recognition that the Christian faith surpasses mere existence amidst the tumult of materialism or the extreme harshness of everyday life

The invitation to the Word of God is not restricted to the theologians or some elite group but, rather, it is open to those who are prepared to live it fully.  Even in the contemporary world, ravaged as it is by the plagues of the extremes of relativism, fundamentalism, consumerism, poverty, indifference and injustice, this message is still relevant to the sheer numbers of Christians from all walks of life who are ready to thread the ultimate path in order to treasure the richness of their identity.

Tertullian’s adage that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians” rings truer than ever today.  Maybe, we can state that the blood of countless Christians constitutes the leavening in a Church plagued by the weakness and sinfulness of humanity.  Yes, being a Christian still matters in the contemporary world.  It is a testament to the promise made by Christ that: “I am with you always. to the end of the age.” (Mt 28, 20)

This message is still relevant to the sheer numbers of Christians from all walks of life who are ready to thread the ultimate path in order to treasure the richness of their identity

In our faithful commitment to the Good News we may not necessarily follow this path, but we can still be witnesses in our spheres, where we can effect change through seemingly ordinary acts.  The way we can do this is by living a genuine Christian life.  We may not need to do extraordinary acts, but we can transmit our faith simply by the joy of being Christian, by holding steadfast to the Good News.  We can cite many examples of such acts around us. Again, they attest to the fact that being Christian in the 21st century does matter.  Let us not forget that St Ambrose’s words, speaking in his time, still ring true today: “How many today are Christ’s secret martyrs, bearing witness to the Lord Jesus!”

Dorianne teaches English at a secondary school and she is currently doing my PhD in theology, on ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. She was involved in catechism with children and adolescents for many years and she currently coordinates the theology course within the PFI Institute. Dorianne is a member of the Malta Ecumenical Commission and also secretary to the Draft Writing Committee for the material to be prepared for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for the year 2020. She is actively involved in her parish, in the Sunday School, where she coordinates and facilitates catechism for the parents.

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