For those who like the subject of Martyrdom


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MARTYRDOM IN EASTERN EUROPE

Michael Hrynchyshyn

«He who loses his life for my sake will find it» ( Mt 10,39). The first follower of Jesus who experienced this timeless investment was deacon Stephen. His epic example was imitated by countless others. This rich harvest of “semen christianorum” prompted Henri Daniel-Rops to label the Christian community of the first three centuries as “The Church of the Apostles and martyrs”. The historian specifies: “In the Acta Martyrorum the reader is struck by evidence of a courage so sublime that, viewed on the human plane alone, it places these tens of thousands of willing victims among the most outstanding heroes the world has ever known … witness given by man to man, demonstrating all that is best and purest in him” (Henri Daniel-Rops, “The Church of the Apostles and Martyrs” vol. I page 246).

Daniel-Rops explains: «The martyrs testified for Christ in two ways: by their words and with their blood … There is something catching about heroism … Nothing links the supporters of a cause together so firmly as the bond of blood: it was the seal that ratified nascent Christianity» (pp. 248-249).

“In our century the martyrs have returned” Pope John Paul II reminds us. There has been an astounding flourishing of the gift of martyrdom in many parts of the world, but perhaps nowhere as abundantly as in the countries of Easter Europe.

«I tell you, life up your eyes and see how the fields are already white for harvest» (Jn 4,35). Indeed, in this century Eastern Europe has yielded an abundant harvest of martyrs. The Church is now faced with the happy challenge of reaping this abundance, which is unparalleled since the persecutions of the first three centuries.

«He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true: “One sows and another reaps”. I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours» (Jn 4, 36-38). Present day leaders of Churches now have the honour and the privilege to gather this treasure and share it with future generations.

For most of the 20th century, Christians in Eastern Europe suffered at the hands of two ruthless persecutors: nazism and communism. Neither of these totalitarian systems planned to kill Christians with a view of making martyrs of them. The intention was to kill the soul rather than the body.

When analysing the historical reality as it transpired, one must bear in mind several categories or distinctions: martyrs sensu stricto, confessors of the faith, and persecuted Christians. At times the lines of demarcation are somewhat blurred.

In the message he presented at Lourdes on August 14th 1983, on the subject of those who were persecuted for the faith, Pope John Paul II enumerates in detail the different categories. The Pope diligently draws attention to the various forms and degrees of suffering or condemnation. He speaks of those who shed their blood, but he also insightfully draws attention to the less striking and less dramatic forms of persecution: those banished from their homeland; those whose civic liberties are curtailed; those who suffer social discrimination; as well as a host of other less bloody forms of suffering. These persecutions cut across all social lines: not only bishops and pastors, but also ordinary lay people, young and old.

A significant dimension of religious persecutions in Eastern Europe is the ecumenism of the gulags. This unique form of ecumenism is without a doubt a great fruit of recent persecutions. Ecumenism of the gulags has played a role in the recognition of Eastern Catholics Churches. Certainly, edifying examples of reconciliation and sharing within the gulags deserves to be made more widely known. These models could serve as examples in the further cultivation of ecumenical relationships.

***«Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses» (Evangelii nuntiandi 41). We live in an age of communication and personal testimony. Many people, believers and non-believers alike, want not only to know the martyrs and confessors of the faith, but also to understand them. Why them and not others? What was their motivating strength? In an age when the meaning of existence has become so important, the example of those who gave up life itself for their reasons for living, offers an irresistible attraction where, amidst hedonism and materialism, doubt and anxiety pre***vail.

Witnessing to the faith amidst persecutions clearly merits more profound analysis. Not a few witnesses of the faith were themselves inspired by other martyrs or confessors. Courage inspires courage and witnesses make witnesses.

Humanly speaking, martyrs and confessor were at a dead end. They knew that the result of their witnessing could only be persecution, imprisonment, suffering, gulag and death. However, the Gospel and not human reason, provides the basis for the martyr’s stance. «Take heed to yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them» (Lk 13,9). «If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you» (Jn 15, 18-19).

Under Communism in Eastern Europe persecution was the daily and “normal” expectation of Christian living. Martyrdom was not a theoretical but a practical challenge. As such, martyrdom was not a special type of holiness, but a basis for all holiness. Of course, martyrdom is a grace of God and no one may simply decide on his own to become a martyr. Rather, martyrdom reminds us that the Cross may not be eliminated from Christian life. Martyrdom, like the Cross, was and remains the decisive test. The recent experience of the Church indicates that all human ideologies - marxism, liberalism - need to be confronted by the Cross. Martyrs and confessors of the faith in the days of Communism dared to do it. Their victory is a gift of God for all of us.

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Martyrs are commonly regarded as models, but they are also signs as well as icons. As such they deserve to be understood and interpreted. They are sources of guidance and spiritual enrichment.


New evangelization stands in greater need of saints than of scientific plans or well-trained professionals***. the blood of martyrs; “semen christianorum” is the source for the Church to draw upon in the challenge of renewing the world by means of the Gospel. Martyrs gave their lives, Confessors exemplify the daily living of the faith, they illustrate two ways of being Christians: both sacrifices are seeds for today and for tomorrow.


#2

Thank you for sharing.
I think that most of us experience 'grey martyrdom" in some form or other in our lives.
And yes, we do need saints, we do need to live according to the Lord’s desires for our lives, rather than just to plan and to talk about the issues.

“Do not let your heart be troubled by the sad spectacle of human injustice, even this has its value in the face of all else. And it is from this that one day you will see the justice of God rising with unfailing triumph.” (Saint Pio) “The longer the trial to which God subjects you, the greater the goodness in comforting you during the time of trial and in the exultation after the combat.”
“The most beautiful credo is that which comes from your lips in darkness, in sacrifice, in pain, in the supreme effort of an unbending will for good. It is this which, like a stroke of lightening, penetrates the darkness of the soul; it is this which in the flash of the tempest lifts you and leads you to God.” (Saint Pio) “By kindliness and loyalty, atonement is made for sin.” [Proverbs 16:6]

Suffering servant of God
Dear Jesus, as Suffering Servant [Isaiah 52-53] You accepted all human weakness and struggle in atonement for human sin. You obtained redemption for all who choose Your ways.

With You, I accept the gifts and burdens of my humanity for the sake of others’ salvation, while I enduring my faults and life’s difficulties, accepting them as opportunities to grow in love and wisdom.

Suffering Servant of God, united with You, I offer the heartaches, failures and misfortunes of others’ lives and mine. Your life in me is my real self that desires and moves towards goodness and others’ welfare. Where we can only experience grief or depression before traumatic and distressing occurrences, empower us with trust in You.

Fulfil Your promise that “all shall be well” that “all manner of things shall be well.” (Jesus to Julian of Norwich) Please grant me confidence in Your merciful action even when all seems hopeless, so that like You, I will obtain numerous conversions in blessing for my life lived in service of You and others.

Jesus, even when I feel devastated or despondent, I desire to pray and try to assist others. Help me to accept humbly, without surprise or disappointment that I seem imperfect and unfruitful, and that life seems dark and gloomy.

Let me live Your dream of me regardless. Let me be the treasure You created me to be, for You and for anyone in my life. Please delight Yourself in me and fulfil Your will in my life despite my inadequacies and trials.


#3

Reparation through suffering

God of all peoples, please receive from all ages the sufferings of the innocent and the contrite, in reparation for the sins of the guilty!
Behold—
the bereaved and the deserted…the hopeless and the despairing…the displaced and the poverty-stricken…the injured and the physically sick…the mentally and the emotionally ill…the retarded and the incapacitated…the frustrated and the afraid…the isolated and the elderly…the addicted, the imprisoned and the persecuted. Behold those young, to old, sinned against by injustice, misunderstanding, abuse and neglect…those whose hearts this world has broken…those crushed by remorse and racked by misery and sin…those with lives empty of purpose—
all persons with suffering within or with suffering imposed from an external source! Please receive their pain, grief and loneliness, their weariness, anxiety or desperation
—in conjunction with the spiritual, mental and physical anguish of Your Son, as reparation for all the sins of humankind.

God, through Your love of Jesus, please bless and welcome the sufferers! Hold them gently in Your arms and comfort them. Heal them, claim them, and fill them with Your life and peace.

Please accept all the undirected suffering of those who do not know God. Receive this suffering in atonement for all offences against You and any person. Allow Your mercy, compassion and power to release humankind from bondage to sin, suffering, and death.
You grant me compassion to desire to bring their pain to Your redeeming grace.

Therefore, gather their tears, those fallen and those unshed. Draw them up into yourself through the sun of divine love, to purify them as a rain of mercy to fall upon the parched souls of humankind. Thus, we may grow in Your love and the earth may be filled with life and fruitfulness pleasing to Your divine purposes.

Our God, out of all the cries and moans and tears, hidden or revealed, from earth’s beginning, please hear our prayer. Joined as one with Your Son we all cry out—“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” Of those who torment and those who pass by uncaring and unseeing, we say—“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do and fail to do!”

With Him we then cry trustingly—“Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!”
God, please listen to our prayer, in union with Your beloved Son whom You raised from death to everlasting glory and joy. In Him who bore all humankind’s sins, please receive all suffering, struggle and sorrow that sin has brought upon our race.

Anything separated from God is meaningless, but in God, all becomes renewed and holy. Please accept from Jesus’ hands the suffering of every person throughout time, held within His own redemptive suffering. This that the whole price of atonement is met, and harmony is restored to Creation in the eternal triumph of Your Kingdom. Thank You, God of our redemption!


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