The blood of martyrs water and nourish the Church throughout the ages. In our modern era in the West we often forget how many of our brothers and sisters in Christ were tortured, beaten, or killed for their belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior. While the amount of persecution aimed at Christians in the West is increasing, the Church around the world suffers from attacks from Islamists, secularists, and many other stripes of the forces of Satan. The suicide bombings in Russia by jihadists, the beheadings of Syrian Orthodox clergy, the massacring of South Sudanese Christians, and countless numbers of martyrs demonstrate that the world is once again turning on the Faithful, but this is simply a return to the way things used to be.
New believers to the Church here in America seem to not understand the legacy of suffering and sacrifice that makes up the history of Christendom. From the beheading of John the Baptist, the crucifixion of Christ, the martyrdom of almost all of the twelve disciples, and the persecution of all believers by the Roman and Jewish power structures, being a Christian was far from easy.
The holding of Divine Liturgy in the catacombs below the bustling streets of Rome to the spread of house churches and other private gatherings led to a culture of Christians who truly understood that they must be willing to give up any creature comfort or selfish desire if they were to follow Christ. In the early days of the Church there were no “cultural Christians” as we have in the modern era. You couldn’t show up to liturgy for a few hours on Sunday and call it a day in the beginnings of the Church, you were hunted by the State and always only one step away from adding your name to the blessed list of martyrs.
The persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire began to diminish after three centuries of widespread murder with one of the greatest pair of Saints of the Church, St. Constantine and his mother Saint Helena. Saint Constantine set the precedent for a true and loving Christian monarch who promoted Christendom and all her values while still accepting the freedom of conscience of those who chose to believe in the old gods of the Empire. Constantine created a situation in which the Church was able to organize and begin to spread the Gospel far further than it ever had before. Christians looked to Emperor Constantine and his blessed mother as being their true and rightful leaders and it seemed that the Roman Empire would be a protector of Christendom, this too soon was found to be untrue.
The rulership of Julian the Apostate two generations after Saint Constantine demonstrated what happens when a leader abandons his people and the one True God to worship himself and his greed. Julian decided that he should reconstitute the widespread persecutions of Christians from the top down. Under Julian’s reign, the pagan temples were reopened, pagan festivals were sponsored by the government, churches were looted, and Christians were once again under the boot heel of a tyrannical regime.
Much like in our modern era, public education was a tool of the regime to advance their agenda and disenfranchise dissenters. Emperor Julian declared that Christian teachers and students would not be allowed to learn and of the non-Christian sources of Rome’s past. This created a situation in which the study of math, science, history, and philosophy were essentially off limits to Christians. This was contrary to Constantine and other Roman rulers’ position that while Christianity should be at the forefront, we cannot cut ourselves off from our past and our lineage. A Roman Christian should know the Gospel, know the theology of the Faith, but still know the history of his people and who his people are.
The Christian perspective in regards to both Tribe and Tradition is one of respect and understanding. Just as I stood side by side with comrades who were pagan at the Leif Ericson march and recently was reading Plato, I can still be entirely Christian and devoted to my Faith while understanding the context of the past and have respect for those who are not Christian. Emperor Julian, however, understood that through control of the schools and the media, Christians could be iced out of mainstream society.
In the midst of dealing with heretics and problems within the Church, Emperor Julian released formerly imprisoned bishops who spread dissent and lies within the Church. As we see with modern Zionist-Christianity, the enemy of the True Faith likes to spread lies and deceit throughout the Church in order to pervert it and its message. The Arius heresy was the “worship Israel” of the day as a way to subvert and corrupt Christendom to bow to the desires of the elites.
Arrests of Christians and public mockery of the Faith became commonplace under Emperor Julian and his power hungry collaborators. Julian wrote and disseminated propaganda not only attacking Christianity, but Emperor Constantine and his legacy. Julian strove to destroy everything Christian through cultural control and removal of Christian symbols throughout the Empire while advancing an agenda of self worship, hedonism, and depravity.
…sounds familiar to our current situation.
The life of Saint Theodoret is a testament to the dedication of Christians while under persecution. Emperor Julian decided that to fill the government coffers and to enrich himself he would create a policy in which Church property would be confiscated. To advance his agenda, Emperor Julian appointed a nephew of his (also named Julian) to implement these plans. The seizure of Church property and then a government edict that banned priests and other members of the religious life from practicing the Faith or being part of any government position led to priests of the age making a very difficult decision, obedience to God or obedience to men.
Theodoret was a priest in Antioch who was charged with not only leading a spiritual community of believers, but protecting and keeping the sacred vessels and relics of the area. Theodoret did not give in to government pressure and continued preaching the Gospel and spreading Christianity throughout Antioch and the surrounding provinces. Theodoret took his celebration of liturgy to the public and converted a great deal of the populace even while he was supposed to be “banished” by the local authorities.
The local ruler, Count Julian, had Father Theodoret beaten, put in chains, and dragged before him. Expecting to find a broken man who was willing to give up his Christian beliefs, Count Julian found a man dedicated and steadfast to his Faith and his flock.
One of the charges levied against Theodoret is that under friendlier Christian regimes he had led attacks on pagan temples and destroyed a great many statues and other pagan icons. Instead of apologizing for his actions of cleansing Antioch from the poison of the enemy, Theodoret attacked Count Julian and his uncle for turning their backs on the one true Faith. As Count Julian defended his betrayal of Christendom and his uncles’ policies, Theodoret spoke to the Count about the coming death of his uncle. Speaking in a loud prophetic voice, Theodoret declared that “O most wretched man, you know well that at the day of judgment the crucified God Whom you blaspheme will send you and the tyrant whom you serve to hell.”
With that, Theodoret was dragged off to the torture chambers of Count Julian. After extensive beatings and torture, Theodoret would not recant or give up his Faith so Count Julian ordered him to be executed. Theodoret went to the executioner’s block as a true martyr, willing to give it all for the faith.
The sacrifice of men like Theodoret led to the mass conversion of even more citizens of Antioch, and the Church began to grow faster than it ever had before. As Theodoret had said, Emperor Julian was struck down in a battle not long after Theodoret had prophesied that he would be sent to Hell for his blasphemy and persecution of the Church. The wicked were punished and the martyrs were honored, and the Truth of Christendom overtook the Empire.
Only a little over a decade after the persecution of Christians under the tyrant Julian the Apostate, Theodosius the Great announced an edict that all Romans should become professing Christians. Although the road was long and covered in suffering and sacrifice, Christianity had arrived as being a force to be reckoned with. The sacrifices of all the martyrs and the steadfast example of men and women like Saint Theodoret of Antioch built the foundation for which the Church was was to be built. Their honor, courage, and sacrifice should stand as an example to us in the modern era, the going may be tough but the promise of Heaven and the duty to our Tribe and Tradition must bring us forward to be willing to give it all for the Faith.
As our movement struggles to find direction and a rallying cry, I say that we all should turn to the blessed cross of Christ and declare to the world “In hoc signes vinces”, In This Sign You Shall Conquer. Martyrdom is a true honor, the closest a human being can get to understanding Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. When the elites come for us with their tanks and guns, do not be afraid, for if they strike you down, you will be in good company in Heaven.