Motives of Martyrdom in Christianity

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9)

We cannot understand martyrdom in Christianity, or estimate its sanctity, unless we know the motives that led those holy ones to their death as if it were an enjoyable journey. Early Christians had spiritual principles that changed their outlook for life. Of these principles are:

The Transitory Nature of this Life                      

This world is temporary compared with eternal life. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2Cor. 4:17, 18)

“But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should he as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:29, 30)

They are strangers in the world. They always remember the inspired words of the Holy Apostles, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (2 Pet. 2:11).

St. Paul, after speaking about the heroes of faith in the Old Testament, wrote, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb 11:13).

This world lies under the sway of the wicked one and this life is full of suffering, pain and tribulations: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 Jn 5:19).  “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

By comparison with the other life, it is said: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Re 21:4).

The Eternal Glory of Heaven

They believed that the end of the world’s tribulations lead to great glory in heaven: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (Jn 12:24).

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” (Jn 16:20–22).  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Ro 8:18; see also Rev 7:9-17; 1 Cor. 2:9; and 1 Jn. 3:2).

For all these reasons they abandoned worldly and material things. They followed the wisdom of Job as he said, “And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

They desired and longed for departure and being with Christ. This strong desire was supported by the Lord’s promises: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:2–3)

They did that out of fervent love. Saints and martyrs loved the Lord Jesus Christ and kept the first and the greatest commandment from all their hearts, minds, souls and strength. They applied His words, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

By H.G. Bishop Youannis of Gharbia