|21 Coptic Orthodox Christian Martyrs|
While most often we think of martyrdom as dying for our faith, and rightly so, there is a part of martyrdom that doesn't always include violet death. There is a part of martyrdom that kills the spirit. There are many places in the world where life as a Christian is so difficult that death would be a welcome alternative. But it doesn't always come. Life continues in an endless stream of threats of death and of constant and cruel marginalization. Living life under those conditions and not surrendering is a true defense of faith. Under those conditions being able to recite a list of proof texts is not going to get you anywhere. The apologetics of real life suffering and perseverance is the modern equivalent of the Maccabees in the Bible and the early Christian converts that we know about in Palestine and Rome.
We have to ask ourselves the question about how we would behave under such circumstances. We must ask ourselves just what it is that we understand when we say that we want to defend our faith. The defense of the faith is much more challenging than being able to trade proof texts with someone of a different opinion. The defense of faith is complete and total dedication to the God in whom we believe. It is the result of selling all that we have and giving the proceeds to the poor. When we have defended the faith bravely, we just may not be around to celebrate the victory here on earth. I suggest that you read the book of Revelation to see the role that martyrs play.
To make a final point, I will dare to say that in this country (USA), and in others around the world, the defense of the faith may come to require us to break away from the attachments that we have to government benefits. There may come a day when we will have to stop taking government grant money to our schools and hospitals if we are to continue as Christian caregivers of education and health care and other activities. Are we ready to do that? Will we ever be ready? What if these institutions will be taken away from us? Are we ready? There are countries in the world today,and we know them well, where the Church has lost a lot of privileges and property. That too is a kind of martyrdom and we have to be ready to confront it. Are we?
Finally, I say that the defense of the faith is a spiritual strength that comes from the Holy Spirit. This strength is promised to us by God through His promise to Isaiah in chapter 41 and by Jesus Himself when He told His apostles "... 10"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him. 11"When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say." (Luke, chapter 12) On that day, and it comes to all of us in one way or another, at one time or another, from someone or other, the defense of the faith resides in the strength of the Holy Spirit not in the verses that we have memorized from our apologetics experiences.
The best way to prepare to defend the faith is to maintain an very, very close relationship with our loving God and His sweet and tough mother.
True enough, we may not ever have to die for the faith, but that's not a sure thing. Stay ready.
When you hear that I have died, don't cry, just thank God and add a little prayer that I am indeed with Him. In any case, I insist on having a dry-eyed funeral.