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Types of Martyrs


Understanding the motives for martyrdom in Christianity


  “Martyrdom in Christianity,” Anba Youannis

  “The Spiritual Values of the Nayrouz,” Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty

Memory Verse:

“Of whom the world was not worthy. They wondered about in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:38)


      The martyr is the true Christian who dies to the world in his lifetime, and when he dies, he lives forever. He is a unique heroic model that we should follow.

Before Martyrdom

      People who became martyrs died to social status and love of money. Such things did not have power to tempt them. They abstained from mortal earthly matters and realized that they did not belong to this world. Comfort, living in ease, luxury and earthly joy did not appeal to them or attract them.

      They died to passions and desires and crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts; thus, they were able to shut the lions’ mouths that were attacking externally because they defeated the hyenas which were creeping internally (we mean the desires of the flesh which fight the self). But the proud and the greedy could not resist the arm of martyrdom.

Lesson Outline:

I. Martyrs for Keeping the Faith

      Emperors not only wanted to kill Christians, but they also decided to destroy Christianity. So they tortured Christians to compel them to deny their faith (Examples from Church history: St. George, St. Mina the Miraculous, St. Philopateer Mercurius [Abu Seifein], St. Dimyana, etc.)

Examples of those attempts:


  Promises of false, earthly glories

  Torture and repeated promises

  Resorting to psychological oppressions and compelling parents and relatives who were unfaithful to make attempts to convince the faithful to deny the faith out of pity, especially by tormenting children in the sight of their mothers. But martyrdom was the only desire of those Saints. Nobody could change them and nothing could move them. St. Polycarp, Bishop of Izmir, when commanded to deny Christ, said, “I have been serving this Master for sixty eight years and He has been kind to me, so how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The Emperor ordered his soldiers to burn him; fire surrounded him but did not harm him. A soldier stabbed him, and the blood put out the fire. The people were astonished at what they saw and glorified God for the firmness of those martyrs.

II. Martyrs for the Faith

      Persecutions continued during the fourth century, owing to internal schisms inside the Church. The Arians stirred a fierce storm of persecution against the Orthodox people. George, the Arian Bishop, prearranged with Sepertian to make a great massacre in Alexandria. After the Arians took possession of all the Orthodox Churches, the people denounced them, preferring to pray in the graveyards. This heretic bishop besieged the congregation who were praying and set fire around the place. The women were slapped in the face till their faces became swollen. Men were beaten with palm leaf stalks that were full of sharp thorns. Many men died; others took a long time to heal.

      After the new schism in Chalcedon, Anba Macar, the old Egyptian bishop of Phau, one of the three saintly Macarii, was martyred. When the king’s messenger ordered him to sign the documents of the erroneous creed (the Tome of Leo), he refused to sign and encouraged the other faithful people to keep firm in the faith. The messenger kicked him with his foot so violently that the man fell down dead due to his old age.

      Pope Dioscorus was deposed and exiled. His beard was depilated, and he was struck on the mouth until his teeth broke. He collected his teeth and hair and put them in a bottle, which he sent to Alexandria with a letter in which he wrote, “See how I endured for the faith.”

III. Martyrs for Chastity

  Martyrs preferred to die than to lead a defiled life. We read about a young man whom they tied to a bed and induced a woman to tempt him to sin. The young man bit his tongue and spat blood in her face. Seeing the blood, the woman ran away in horror.

  We also read about St. Potamina, when it was decided to pour boiling water over her naked body. She pleaded the governor saying, “By the head of the emperor whom you fear, do not allow them to strip off my clothes but let me get down into the fire step by step, little by little, so that you may see the power of endurance given to me by He whom you do not know.”

  In the story of Perpetua’s martyrdom, historians refer to the purity of this martyr. When they threw this saint to a wild ox, which attacked her so fiercely that she fell half dead on the ground, even then she did not forget to cover her body with her torn cloak.

  There is an interesting story about a virgin who lived in the eighth century. The soldiers looted a convent near Ackmim, in Assiut. To protect her vow of virginity to the Lord, a young and beautiful nun told the soldiers that she had oil which had a great power; it could protect them from the strikes of the sword. When they did not believe her, she spread some oil on her neck and asked the strongest of them to strike her neck with his sword. When he did so, the soldiers realized the trick when, to their surprise, saw the nun’s head cut off. It was clear that the virgin martyr insisted that she would not defile herself.



  Make a research on one of the martyrs. It would be better if the martyr is your church’s advocate or your own advocate.

  Draw a picture of one of the heroic stories you listened to in this lesson.

  Prepare a play to be presented in the Nayrouz Celebration.

  Learn some verses from chapter eleven of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

v v v

The Altar In The Midst Of Egypt


By Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church

      By the end of the second century, Christianity was well established in Egypt, although pockets of paganism continued to co-exist with the new Faith. By 190 AD, the Church of Alexandria was exchanging Paschal epistles with the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch concerning the date of Easter, and there were about forty dioceses under the Patriarch of Alexandria in the North of the country, in the Delta area. By 202 AD, there were also Christians in the whole Thebaid, in Upper Egypt, 800 km up the Nile Valley. In his Festal letters, Saint Athanasius mentioned that there were also Christians in the small and large oases in the heart of the desert.

Church of Martyrs

      Historians have named the Coptic Church the “Church of the Martyrs,” not only because of their great number, but also because of their desire for martyrdom. When prevented from worship, they did not hide in the catacombs but worshipped openly, and many went from place to place, seeking the crown of martyrdom, not considering it death but rather an entry into the new life.

Waves of Persecution

      The first wave of persecution took place in the first century, when Saint Mark the Apostle was martyred in Alexandria by the pagan Egyptians.

      Commencing from 202 AD and continuing for seven years, the Church of Alexandria also suffered persecution under the reign of Septimus Severus, who, when he visited Egypt and found that Christianity had spread, ordered the ruler to increase the persecution and prevent preaching at any cost. Consequently, the School of Alexandria was closed and its dean, Saint Clement, was compelled to flee.

      During the reign of the Roman Emperor Decus, an edict was issued to re-establish the state religion by any means. In 257 and 258 AD, Emperor Valerian issued edicts to destroy the Church, leading to the arrest and exile of Pope Dionysius of Alexandria.

      In 302 AD, the Roman Emperor Diocletian began his persecution of Christians by dismissing from the army every soldier who refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods. On 23 February of the following year, he issued his famous edict against the Christians. It was his belief that if he could crush Christianity in Egypt, it would be easier to eliminate it from the rest of the world. Hence the persecution of the Christians in Egypt was more intense than in any other country - about 800,000 men, women and children were martyred in Egypt.

      In constant commemoration of these great heroes of Faith, the Coptic Church commences its calendar form 248 AD, the year of Diocletian's ascent to the throne, calling the year “Anno Martyrii” which means “Year of the Martyrs.” Throughout these waves of persecution, many spiritual leaders devoted themselves to strengthening the martyrs and confessors, visiting them in prisons and accompanying them in their trials - even to the place of execution. Some of them cared for and buried the saints' bodies and having been eye-witnesses of their trials and sufferings, wrote their biographies.

      Among the most well known of these martyrs were: Saint Mena the Wonder worker, Saint Rebecca (“Refka”) and her five children, Saint Catherine, and the Thebean Legion (numbering almost seven thousand soldiers) who, led by Saint Maurice, refused to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods and were all martyred in Switzerland. The list of the martyrs of the Coptic Orthodox Church is endless.

The Schism

      In the fifth century, an archimandrite of Constantinople named Eutyches began a heresy, denying the human nature of our Lord and saying that His body was but an ethereal body which passed through the womb of the Virgin Saint Mary.

      Subsequently, a local Council was convened by seven bishops, led by Flavianus, Bishop of Constantinople, and supported by the Tome (exposition of the Dogma) of Leo I, Bishop of Rome, which condemned Eutyches as a heretic. Eutyches appealed to all the bishops of Christendom, as well as to Emperor Theodosius the Younger, with the result that a second council was convened in Ephesus in 449 AD; it was attended by 130 bishops, under the presidency of Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria together with the Juvenal of Jerusalem and Domnus of Antioch. Eutyches submitted a full written confession, affirming the Nicene Creed, and was thus acquitted. The bishops who had passed a verdict on Eutyches, based on Leo's Tome, were excommunicated. Later however, Eutyches proclaimed his heresy once again, and this time he was condemned and excommunicated by a local Coptic council.

      Two years after the council of Ephesus, in AD 451, another Council was convened by Emperor Marcianus at Chalcedon. This Council was characterized by political factors, leading to prejudices and conspiracies against the Church of Alexandria and against its patriarch, Pope Dioscorus.

      Politically, Alexandria was only a city under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire whose capital was Constantinople, Rome being the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Theologically and ecumenically however, the patriarchs and popes of Alexandria played a leading role in the first centuries of Christianity; thus, others envied them and began to create trouble, saying that the Church of Alexandria had nothing to do but collect bishops for ecumenical councils and preside over these councils. By the time the Council of Chalcedon was convening, there was much prejudice against the Coptic Church. At the Council of Chalcedon, the Coptic Church was misquoted, and its teachings were wrongly deemed as being Eutychian. The Patriarch of Alexandria was accused of being Eutychian because he had presided over the second Council of Ephesus which had absolved Eutyches, despite the fact that it was a Coptic council which had later condemned the heretical teachings of Eutyches once he returned to them. Furthermore, it was Pope Dioscorus who, in defending his Orthodox Faith, gave his famous analogy:

“If a piece of iron, heated to white heat, be struck on an anvil, and although the iron and the heat form an indivisible whole, it is the iron which receives the blows and not the white heat. This unity of the iron and the white heat is symbolic of our Savior’s Incarnation, whose Divinity never parted from His Humanity, not even for a, moment, nor the twinkling of an eye. Yet though His Divinity parted not from His Humanity, their union was without mixing or fusion, or change, like unto the union of the iron and white heat. This unity is defined as "The One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate" and is synonymous with Saint John's saying, “The Word became flesh.” As for me, I steadfastly uphold the Faith of the Orthodox Church, the one, holy, Universal and Apostolic Church. Neither Eutyches, nor any other person, can make me swerve from this holy Faith.”

      When Pope Dioscorus' Orthodoxy could not be questioned, other accusations were raised, focusing on political issues such as the question of preventing Egyptian corn from being sent to other parts of the Empire. Neither Pope Dioscorus nor the civil judges were present when the council handed down the verdict deposing him, mainly for having excommunicated the bishop of Rome. The verdict was passed down in his absence because he did not appear at the Council session after being summoned three times, although he was under house arrest at the time. Regardless of all this however, Pope Dioscorus could neither be stripped of Ecclesiastical honor nor excommunicated because of his proclaimed Orthodoxy.

      In a later session of the Council, at which the Egyptian delegation was not present, the supremacy of the Church of Constantinople and Rome was granted over the Church of Alexandria. The Egyptian Church was labeled as “Monophysite” because of its emphasis upon the “One Nature of Christ” (although this title was misinterpreted as covering either one of the Human or Divine natures of our Lord and ignoring the other) and based on the false assumption that the Coptic Fathers accepted the Eutychian view.

      Historical facts and the Liturgy and doctrines of the Coptic Church prove the true Orthodoxy of the Coptic Church until this day. Furthermore, it is now admitted by those who once accused the Coptic Church of being “Monophysite,” that is, believing in only one nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, that it was a misunderstanding arising from a problem of semantics, and the Coptic Church is now being referred to as “Miaphysis,” that is, recognizing both natures of our Lord as being joined inseparably in the “One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate.”

      In the absence of the representation of the Church of Alexandria, the Council of Chalcedon passed statements concerning the two natures of Christ, and other ecclesiastic laws, which are not accepted by the Coptic Orthodox Church and the other Oriental Churches, such as the Syrian Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic, the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Indian Orthodox, and the Eritrean Orthodox Churches. Therefore, the Council of Chalcedon resulted in the first major “schism,” or split, of the undivided Christian Church. Today, however, most scholars have agreed that the unfortunate events and decisions at the Council of Chalcedon were based upon misunderstandings and misinterpretation of terms and words, rather than a question of Orthodoxy, and agreement has now been reached regarding the Nature of Christ between the Oriental family of Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and also the Catholic Church.

      Unfortunately however, the events of the Council of Chalcedon were to have long-standing and far-reaching effects upon the Coptic Church, which suffered greatly at the hands of the Chalcedonian rulers, and from that time, she remained isolated from the rest of the Christian World until the 20th Century.

      Pope Dioscorus was exiled to the island of Gangra, off the coast of Asia Minor, where he died. During his exile, he led many to the Christian Faith and returned numerous heretics to Orthodoxy. In his See in Alexandria, a Melkite (Greek) Patriarch was imposed but was not accepted by the people of Alexandria, who preferred to remain loyal to their exiled Patriarch. At this time, a wave of persecution arose in Alexandria, during which an estimated 30,000 people lost their lives. The “non-Chalcedonian” Coptic Church continued to suffer persecution at the hands of the Byzantine rulers, and the rift within the Apostolic Churches widened.

      For a period of almost 150 years under the rule of nine Byzantine emperors, Egypt experienced periods of fluctuating peace and oppression. After the death of Emperor Anastasius however, an era of Byzantine persecution and oppression began, lasting for almost 120 years. During this period, patriarchs were banished, substitutes were placed on the Patriarchal See, churches were destroyed, and people lost both their lives and possessions. Emperor Justinian closed all the churches, placing guards on them, and persecution against the Coptic Church continued. As a result, Egypt was reduced to an impoverished state, while the rest of the Byzantine world enjoyed luxury, freedom and wealth.

The Arab Conquest

      When Islam entered Egypt in the seventh Century, Pope Benjamin I, the 38th Patriarch, had been away from his throne for 13 years; another patriarch had been non-canonically ordained in his place and given authority over all the Coptic churches with a view to destroy the Copts, the so-called “Monophysites.”

      For the four centuries that followed the Arab conquest of Egypt, the Coptic Church generally flourished, and Egypt remained basically Christian. This was due, to a great extent, to the fortunate position that the Copts enjoyed, for the Prophet of Islam preached a special kindness towards Copts, saying, “When you conquer Egypt, be kind to the Copts for they are your protégés and kith and kin.” The Copts were therefore allowed to freely practice Christianity, provided they continued to pay a special tax, called “Gezya,” that would qualify them as “Ah1 Zemma,” protégés (protected). Individuals who could not afford to pay the levy, however, were faced with the choice of either converting to Islam or losing their civil right to be “protected,” which in some instances meant being killed. Despite additional costly laws that were imposed upon Egyptian Christians between 868 AD and 935 AD, under the Abbasid Dynasties, they prospered, and the Coptic Church enjoyed one of its most peaceful eras.

      Throughout that period, the Coptic language remained the language of Egypt, and it was not until the second half of the eleventh century that the first bilingual Coptic-Arabic liturgical manuscripts began to appear. The adoption of the Arabic language as the language used by Egyptians in their everyday life was so slow that even in the 15th century the Coptic language was still largely in use. Up to this day, the Coptic language continues to be the liturgical language of the Church, and is still used as a living language by a small but very dedicated number of individuals and families.

      The Christian face of Egypt started to change by the beginning of the second millennium AD when the Copts, in addition to the “Gezya” levy, suffered from specific limitations, some of which were serious and interfered with their freedom of worship. For example, there were restrictions on the reparation old churches and the building of new ones, as well as other matters such as: testifying in court, public conduct, adoption, inheritance, public religious activities, and dress codes. Slowly but steadily, by the end of the 12th century, the face of Egypt changed from being a predominantly Christian to a predominantly Muslim country. The Coptic community occupied an inferior position and lived in some expectation of Muslim hostility, which periodically flared into violence.

      The position of the Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of the Mohammed Ali dynasty. The Coptic community ceased to be regarded by the state as an administrative unit. In 1855 AD, the main mark of the Copt's inferiority, namely the “Gezya” tax, was lifted. Shortly thereafter, the Copts started to serve in the Egyptian army. The 1919 AD revolution in Egypt witnesses to the harmony of Egypt's modern society. Today, it is this harmony which keeps the Egyptian society united against the religious intolerance of extremist groups, who inflict upon the Copts persecution, terror and violence.

      Throughout its persecution, the Coptic Church has never been controlled, or allowed itself to control, the governments of Egypt. This position of the Church concerning the separation between State and Religion stems from the words of our Lord Himself, Who says, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21).

      Regardless of all the centuries of persecution which the Coptic Church has lived, it has never forcefully resisted authorities or invaders and was never allied with any power, for the words of our Lord are clear "Put your sword in its place, for all who take by the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52); at the same time, we are taught that our strength and success lie in our spiritual lives in this world, which will lead us to an everlasting life in the kingdom of God.

v v v

Coptic New Year

Church Calendar:   Coptic New Year is on Thout 1 (September 12)

Golden Verse:

v “If indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”  Romans 8:17

v “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”  Philippians 1:29

Lesson Goals:

v A story about a martyr (class Saint)

v A short history about Coptic martyrdom


v The Story of the Copts by Iris Al Massry

v Introduction to the Coptic Church by Fr. Tadros Malaty

Lesson Notes:

1.     The Coptic Martyrs:

a)     The Coptic Church is called by historians “the Church of the martyrs.”

b)     The number of Egyptian martyrs exceeds those of all other countries combined.

c)     During the rule of Maximinus, 840,000 Egyptians were martyred.

d)     The Egyptian Church is the only Church that lived with martyrdom continuously.

2.     The first martyr is St. Stephen; read about him in Acts 6 & 7.

3.     The last martyr (relatively) is St. Peter, the seal of martyrs and the 17th Pope.

4.     Three Periods of Martyrdom:

a)     Martyrs of Faith:

1.     Ten periods of persecution started by Nero in 64 AD; the last one was during the era of Diocletian (284 AD).

2.     Persecution continued during the rule of Maximinus (305 to 311 AD).

3.     Persecution ended during the rule of Constantine the great when he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, proclaiming religious freedom.

b)     Martyrs Against Heresies:

  The period of persecution following the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD)

c)     The New Martyrs:

  The periods of persecution during Islamic periods:

§  Caliph Al-Hakim (996 to 1020 AD)

§  Caliph Al-Nasser Ebn Qalawoon (1293 to 1341 AD)

  The Muslim historian Al-Makrizy reported extensively about those periods of persecution.

5.     What do we learn from martyrdom?

a)     Martyrs declare their faith and confess their belief in God.

b)     They share the pain and suffering with Christ.

c)     They care more about their eternal life than worldly pleasures.

d)     Their fear of God overcomes their fear of human sufferings.

e)     We should also notice the blessings of martyrdom that helped the growth of the Church.

v v v


 NAME: ____________________________
first                                        last                                                       .

Types of Martyrs

Verse to memorize:

Of whom the world was not worthy. They wondered about in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11:38

1.     Martyr” comes from the Greek word which means

a) Saint         b) Suffering       c) Death         d) Witness          e) Victory

2.     People who became martyrs abstained from earthly matters such as ______

a)     Luxury

b)     Earthly fun 

c)     Living in ease

d)     Love of money

e)     All the above

3.     Name three Saints who were martyred for keeping the faith:

a)     _________________________

b)     _________________________

c)     _________________________

4.     Among those martyred for the faith of the Church are ______ (circle all that apply)

a)     St. Dioscorus

b)     St. Cyril

c)     St. Athanasius

d)     Anba Macar

e)     St. Gregory

5.     List 2 type of martyrs that you learned in this lesson:

a)     _________________________

b)     _________________________

6.     Mark each  sentence with a “T” if it is true or an “F” if it is false:

a)      Martyrs declare their faith and confess their belief in God. [     ]

b)     Martyrs do not share the same pain & sufferings of Jesus Christ. [     ]

c)      Martyrs fear men more the God. [     ]

d)     Martyrs help a Church grow in number. [     ]

e)      Martyrdom is a punishment from God on a Church. [     ]

f)      The New Martyrs are those persecuted during the Islamic period. [     ]

g)     The last period of Christian persecution was in 64AD, during the reign of Nero. [     ]

h)     The Coptic Church lives with martyrdom continuously. [     ]

7.     Briefly tell a story of a Saint who was martyred for chastity:

Prepared by Dr. Raif Yanney, St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, Bellflower, CA, U.S.A.

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