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Understanding the motives for martyrdom in Christianity
“Martyrdom in Christianity,” Anba Youannis
“The Spiritual Values of the Nayrouz,” Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty
“Of whom the world was not worthy. They wondered about in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews )
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
the new schism in
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
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.
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The Altar In The Midst Of
By Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church
By the end of the second
century, Christianity was well established in
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
Commencing from 202 AD and
continuing for seven years, the
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
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
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.
In the fifth century, an archimandrite
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
Two years after the council
“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
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
In a later session of the
Council, at which the Egyptian delegation was not present, the supremacy of the
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
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
For a period of almost 150
years under the rule of nine Byzantine emperors,
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
Throughout that period, the
Coptic language remained the language of
The Christian face of
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
Throughout its persecution,
the Coptic Church has never been controlled, or allowed itself to control, the governments
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.
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Church Calendar: Coptic New Year is on Thout 1 (September 12)
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
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
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.
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.
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first last .
Verse to memorize:
Of whom the world was not worthy. They wondered about in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
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 ______
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:
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:
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:
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