HAS MARTYRDOM GONE OUT OF STYLE IN OUR CHURCHES?
(Sunday of All Saints, June 11)
On this first Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate “All Saints,” but the main hymns of the feast mention only the “martyrs” (witnesses). In the main Troparion or Apolytikion of the feast, we sing: “As with fine porphyry and royal purple, Your church has been adorned with Your martyrs’ blood shed throughout all the world…” The Kontakion-hymn also focuses on the martyrs: “The universe offers You the God-bearing martyrs, as the first fruits of creation…” Why this focus on the “martyrs”? For several reasons: 1. They were the first to be venerated as “saints” (meaning “dedicated” to God) in the Early Church, in the times of persecutions against Christians; and 2. Being a “martyr” in the sense of bearing witness to Truth, even when doing so becomes uncomfortable or dangerous, is a “power” with which every Christian, the whole Church, is to be endowed, by the Holy Spirit: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”; the Lord says to the apostles before His ascension, “and you will be My witnesses (μάρτυρες, martyres) in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Bearing uncomfortable, painful witness is to be the norm for the successors to the apostles and the whole Church, not an exception to some preferred, “safer” behavior.
As we chant these hymns to the martyrs this Sunday, we might ask ourselves, Has something gone wrong, because in recent history and to this day our churches in both East and West generally fail to stand up to murderous, totalitarian regimes; also to anti-human, fascist sentiments among our people? Are we more interested in people-pleasing, in “not losing people” (and their donations), while neglecting our difficult responsibility to testify before them to Christ and His truth? We express a concern for “church unity,” but are we more interested in bringing people to *us* than to Him? Help us, save us, have mercy on us, O Lord, and enlighten us by the prayers of Your martyrs, – the ones already in Your kingdom, and the ones suffering at the hands of totalitarian regimes and anti-human thinking in our day.