Page 1

Vol: 5 Issue: 9

Tute 1728 / Sept 2011

Martyrs for the sake of Chastity By: Bishop Youanis Two eminent phenomena distinguished the Christians of the early generations of Christianity, these are the desire for martyrdom and the love of chastity and virginity. We find the dominance of these two phenomena over the believers an ordinary matter which keeps pace with the deep spirituality they enjoyed and the wonderful sublimity they attained by scorning the flesh and whatever was material. Where there is martyrdom, there should be chastity. There is no martyrdom with spiritual dissolution, moral deterioration and man's bondage to the lust of the flesh. The history of martyrs is full of marvelous examples of the heroes of purity and chastity who preferred facing death to defiling their bodies. Idolaters and their governors were overwhelmed by filthy lust in a shameful manner. They were astonished at the chastity of Christians specially the females who “could not even listen to the threat of pagan governors to rape them. So they bore all kinds of torture and deadly punishment.” Eusebius, the historian who lived amidst persecutions says: “Women were no less brave than men in defending the teachings of the Divine Word as they participated in the struggle with men and obtained an equal share of crowns for the sake of virtue. When they took them for immoral purposes, they preferred surrendering their life to death to surrendering their body to immorality”. Hence, it was clear to the pagan governors that falling into sin was worse than death for Christians. Hence, they imposed it as punishment especially on virgins, women and some youths. A Chaste youth: During the persecution raised by Emperor Decius (249-251), when one of the pagan governors failed to divert a Christian youth from his faith, he delivered him to a prostitute to make him fall into sin. The woman could not find any means to achieve her purpose, so they tied the


youth his body, hands and feet to a bed. The woman used her repulsive methods to excite him. As the youth could not find any way to escape from this evil and as he was keen on protecting his chastity from being defiled, he bit his tongue by his teeth and spit it with a flood of blood on her face. She became terrified at this horrible scene and escaped. As for him, he preserved his chastity. Butamina, the Chaste Virgin: During the persecution raised by Septimius Severus, the Egyptian virgin, Butamina, bore the severest kinds of torture. The historian Eusebius says about her: “She is still famous among the people due to the several pains she bore for preserving her chastity and virginity as she was in the stage of mental and physical maturity. As she bore a lot for the sake of Christ's faith, she suffered from different kinds of indescribable tortures. Finally she was burnt with her mother, Marcella. It is said that after torturing all her body cruelly, the governor called Akila threatened her finally to deliver her to the wrestlers to defile her body. When she refused a judgment was rendered against her at once and she was driven to death by Basil, an army officer. When the soldiers tried to hurt her and insult her with obscene words, Basil sent them away. He was tenderhearted and sympathetic with her. It was decided to kill her by pouring boiling tar on her limbs. She cried saying to the governor: “I implore you, by the head of the Emperor whom you fear, not to make them unclothe me. Let me descend into the tar bit by bit, so that you may see what forbearance is granted to me by Christ who you do not know.� To this extent of caution, shyness and love of chastity, this virgin refused to have her clothes stripped off and her body disclosed. The reward of Basil, the soldier who defended her, was that she promised him that she would remember him before Christ when she would reach Him. She appeared to him in a revelation after her martyrdom and stood beside him for three successive nights crowning him and saying that she begged the Lord for his sake and that he would shortly follow her. This actually happened some days after the martyrdom of Butamina as Basil confessed Christ and was decapitated with the sword. Theodora, the Chaste Virgin: She was martyred in Alexandria in the era of Diocletian when she was seventeen years old because she preferred the life of chastity and virginity. Theodora was descended from a noble family and was beautiful in appearance. The governor ordered her to offer incense to the idols; otherwise she should be punished by being put in a brothel. Due to her adherence to chastity she refused his speech and said that she was sure that Lord Jesus should save her. Page 2


She was saved from this temptation at the hands of the Christian youth, Didymus, who disguised himself in the uniform of a soldier. He was the first person who entered her room. She did not know him and the plan was to exchange her clothes. Theodora went out disguised in the uniform of a soldier and nobody could discover the matter. Didymus remained in the room until his matter was revealed. He was driven to the governor and sentenced to death for his conspiracy. On the way to the execution place, Theodora saw him and knew his story. She went through the crowds and caught him saying: “I do not accept that you take my place in martyrdom. I only agreed that you preserve my chastity.� The matter was discovered and they obtained the crowns of martyrdom together. Death is preferred to defilement: As a result of the violence of persecution, especially in the era of Diocletian, the Church history witnessed for the first time Christian virgins who preferred death to avoid the shame which the authorities were willing to bring on them. (From: Martyrdom in Christianity, By: The late Bishop Youanis)

Right: A group of Boys taking a retreat at the monastery

Left: A Group of Girls spending the day at the monastery Page 3


Who is a Martyr ? By: Fr Anthony St Shenouda “The Martyr is the one who conducts himself according to the commandments of the gospel in the Love of the Lord.” Clement of Alexandria The Coptic Church has a very close relationship with Martyrs, to the extent that its church calendar that starts on the 11th of September is called the year of martyrs. Mostly because of the fact that the Coptic Church offered martyrs throughout the history, not only during the reign of Diocletian when many where martyred for their faith, but also during the middle ages until our present day. Every year passes by the church adds to the huge list of martyrs new saints that are martyred during that year. Last year the church added over 20 new martyrs. This year on the 1st of January the church added another 24 martyrs, after the church bombing in Alexandria. Not to mention the many separate incidents of persecution that takes place everyday. So why does the church give such reverence to these martyrs? The answer is in the meaning of the word. Actually the Arabic (Shaheed) captures the meaning of the original Greek word better, which is “witness.” A martyr is a witness to his great love for God to the extent of giving up his life for Him. A witness to Christ’s resurrection and His conquering of death. A witness to the apostolic life, who counted their life cheap for their great love for Christ the King. To us Christians this might sound normal, yet for a non Christian it is madness. Therefore, the martyr challenges the upside down understanding of life and death, and power and weakness, and makes people wonder and reconsider their values. Many visiting priests from Egypt have testified to the number of people who flocked to churches last Christmas liturgy (7th January) only 6 days after the bombing in Alexandria and despite the bomb threats that where announced to all the Coptic churches. A priest from Cairo from a church with 12 priests celebrating the liturgy, testified that all 12 priest spent half an hour giving communion, with some of the priests going out of the over crowded church to the congregation standing in the streets to give them communion. In Alexandria, in the same church where the bombing took place and the blood of the 24 martyrs still on the outside of the walls of the church, the congregation that attended the Christmas liturgy was double that of any previous feasts. This martyr spirit was also alive and active in our churches in Australia, especially where there were bomb threats during the Christmas liturgy. Many of the priest testified that they have not taken so many confessions,especially from youth, as they did during that week. This contagious spirit of the martyrs makes a greater witness to the Page 4


Christian faith more than any other kind of preaching. It makes people wonder, what are the motives behind these courageous acts? What do they gain from their martyrdom? It was the same degree of wonder that people had when they heard of the lives of St Anthony and the other desert monks. Why would a rich young man with a promising future ahead of him sell all his belongings and goes to the desert? What would he gain? Why would saints like Sts Maximus and Domadius, St Arsanious and Annasimone leave their lavish lives in the palaces to live the harsh life of the desert? The conversion of many of the pagans to the Christian life started by this wonder; wonder at the courageous spirit of the martyrs, “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:35) and the monks who loved their God so much that they wanted to give their life to him, and obeying his commandment which says: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor… and come, follow Me.” (Mat 19:21) To witness for Christ – or to be a martyr - you do not have to be a monk or be killed for Christ. As the meaning of the word entails you have to witness to the Christian life through your actions, and speech. When you do not cheat in an exam or your tax, when everyone does, you are witnessing (a martyr) for Christ. When you choose not to use foul language in an environment where it is the norm, you are being a martyr for Christ. When you fast despite the delicious new burger at MacDonalds that is often offered during great lent, and the offer usually ends during holy week, you are a great martyr for Christ. Because it is for your great love for Him that you choose to willingly obey Him rather than to conform to the wrong values of society around you, therefore fulfilling the gospel commandment “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mat 5:16) Therefore, the real definition of a martyr is not nessecerly the one who gives up his life for the Lord but it is the one who shows in his actions the Christian love to others as St Clement of Alexandria says that: “We call martyrdom perfection not because a man has reached the end of his life as others do, but because he has displayed the perfect work of love.”

A Group of Boys from St Abanoub church having a retreat at the monastery

Page 5


Monastic Life as Spiritual Martyrdom By: Edward Malone O.S.B. By the time of St. Athanasius (295-373) the concept of spiritual martyrdom had become fairly uniform and definite. From the first remarks of St. Athanasius about the spiritual martyrdom of St Anthony to those of Sulpicius Severus about the martyrdom of St Martin of Tours, the requirements for spiritual martyrdom remain rather constant. The requirements are chiefly two: there must be the express desire of martyrdom and to this desire must be joined some sort of suffering patiently borne for the love of God and, in imitation of Christ and the martyrs. The suffering required for spiritual martyrdom may arise from the voluntary practice of the exercises of ascetical life, and in this form it appears most often in the writings of Athanasius, Pachomius, Macarius, Diodochus of Photice, and the other Greek monastic writers. Such suffering may also be the result of the activities of external agencies as for example, the ill will of evil men, or the envy and hatred of the evil spirits. But even the suffering resulting from natural bodily ill is sufficient for spiritual martyrdom, provided that it is patiently borne, with the proper motives, and in imitation of Christ and the martyrs. In the course of the present chapter it will be shown that the, voluntary practice of asceticism in the monastic state was looked upon as a spiritual martyrdom from the time of St Athanasius to that of Sulpicius Severus. St. Pachomius and the Substitute for Martyrdom Although St. Pachomius had no opportunity to go in search of real martyrdom as St. Anthony had done, his substitution of the austerities of the ascetical life for the sufferings of martyrdom is no less clear. So too is the fact that he undertook these austerities for the love of God and in imitation of the sufferings of the martyrs. In the Arabic life of the saint it is related that when his severe fasting had begun to impair his health, his disciples prevailed upon him to partake of a larger measure of food. This relaxation did not improve his health, however, and his sufferings continued. Reflecting upon all that the martyrs had suffered for Christ, Pachomius reproached himself for his weakness, and for his inability to suffer such an illness for the love of God. He finally decided to return to his former way of life, and he told his disciples that if some of the martyrs had been made to suffer all sorts of tortures for Christ, Some of them being cut to pieces or decapitated, the monk should be able to bear the slight bodily sufferings that resulted from his ascetical practices. Having reflected seriously on these things himself, Pachomius decided to resume his former austerities and to trust in Christ as the martyrs had done. Page 6


That the austerities of the ascetical life supplied for the sufferings of martyrdom was given a sort of divine approval through a vision which Pachomius received shortly before his death. He had been lying ill for a long time, enduring great suffering, and it was thought that he would soon die. One day God gave him a vision in which he saw himself journeying to heaven. As he was on the point of arriving at the gate of life an order came from above that he was to return to the earth. Pachomius was very much grieved about this for he had caught a glimpse of the beauty of the heavenly regions and he was reluctant to leave them. But while he was grieving over this command, a luminous figure appeared to him and consoled him, saying that he must return to earth, for it was necessary for him to endure a “little martyrdom” before the Lord should call him. At these words, the heart of Pachomius was filled with joy and he returned to earth willingly “for he desired greatly to be a martyr to Christ.” It might be asked, why was the “little martyrdom” assumed to referred to the practices of the ascetical life in the vision. Pachomius himself is our authority for this assumption. Shortly before his death he called his disciple Theodore to him and. recalled for him the details of the vision. He recounted how he was met at the gate of life by a luminous figure who consoled him and told him that he must return to earth, since it was necessary for him to endure a “little martyrdom” before the Lord visited him. Then he told Theodore, “by the grace of God I have accomplished the confession of martyrdom” of which I was told in the vision, for “now I think the days of my death are near.” But no vision or special command of the Lord was necessary to convince Pachomius that a man might become a spiritual martyr through the observance of the practices of the ascetical life. He made it abundantly clear in his instructions to his monks that anyone who wishes may become a spiritual martyr, and that this could be done through observing the rules of the monastic community. He explained this clearly to one of his disciples who had asked him to pray that God might grant him the grace of martyrdom: And there was also there among those who were very famous a certain brother who cultivated the ascetic life by himself, and when he heard of the divine rule of our holy Father Pachomius he entreated him to receive him in the monastery; and when our abba had received him, and he had passed a little time with the brethren, he desired greatly to bear witness (i.e. to become a martyr)… but our abba admonished him that he should not permit this thought to enter his mind again, and said unto him, “Brother, endure the strife of the monks mightily and blamelessly, and make straight your life in the way which will please Christ, and you will have companionship with the martyrs in heaven.” (From The Monks and the Martyr: The Monk as the successor of the martyr By: Edward E. Malone, O.S.B.)

Page 7


A Group of boys from St Mary’s Church

A Group of boys from St George’s Church

A Group of youth from the Syrian Orthodox Church visiting the monastery

Bishop Daniel Ordaining Young Deacons

Page 8

pimonakhos Vol 5 Issue 9  

During the month of September we celebrate the Coptic New Year which is associated with the Martyrs. The life of martyrdom is not as we ofte...