Sacrifice is one of the most exalted virtues in almost all religions. Abrahamic religions believe in the sacrifice of desire and will to supersede the will of God. The concept of martyrdom, to be killed for the faith, is inspired by the same virtue of sacrifice.
In the early days, the majority of the Jewish population despised Christianity for its differing ideas. Christians were killed, stoned, and burned by authorities. A martyr became a person persecuted for perpetuating and endorsing a system of faith and a set of religious beliefs. The title is designated posthumously with reverence and respect for martyr figures. The earliest martyrs were apostles and saints killed for spreading the word of God.
What is a Christian Martyr?
The word has slightly different connotations in different religions. In Christianity, the concept of martyrdom was different from how it has evolved to be. A Christian martyr is marked by an elevated cause. His actions and deed all serve the purpose to praise God’s religion and follow the teaching of Jesus Christ. The earliest of martyrs were people who struggled alongside Jesus to convey God’s commandments to his people. Read below to understand what is a Christian martyr.
History of the Word
The word martyr comes from the Greek word “martys”, meaning “witness”. A Christian martyr was a person who was a witness to the faith. It was used for a person who would testify for the existence of God. The context of the word didn’t include the possibility of death yet. Since the only testament a Christian could attribute for their faith was to die for it, the word martyrdom received a new definition.
The First Christian Martyr
A Christian martyr is a person willing to die for their faith. The word was initially used for the religion’s ordained preachers or disciples of Apostles and saints. The word today has been mainstreamed to be used for all persons who die in the name of God and his faith.
Scholars today admit that by definition, the first-ever martyr of Christianity was Jesus himself. The early Christians thought the same. For them, the most prominent motif of self-sacrifice was the sacrifice at the Cross.
According to the Bible, St. Stephen is the earliest Christian martyred in 36 CE in Jerusalem. All accounts of his death point that St. Stephen’s last words were a prayer of forgiveness while he was stoned to death.
St. Stephen was a Patron of Deacons and a revered figure in Christianity. His story exhibits the true essence of what a Christian martyr is. St. Stephen’s tragedy paved for the concept of martyrdom within Christianity. From his death onwards, dying in the name of faith became the ultimate act of bravery.
Some popular saints who were martyred for Cross include:
- Saint Lawrence
- Saint Andrew
- Saint Bartholomew
- Saint Sebastian
Early Women Christian Martyrs
Scarce literature on the earliest women martyrs is available. As a recent development, historians have taken to research and reevaluate the contributions of women to early Christianity. There is evidence in the New Testament that there were women among Jesus’ early followers. These included women like Mary Magdalene and Susana. Perpetua was one of the early martyrs who defended their faith openly. Later, St. Lucy and St. Agatha were hailed as prominent Christian martyrs persecuted to death during the Diocletianic and Decianic Persecutions.
The Word of God About Martyrdom
Repeated references to the martyrdom of the Saints and the Believers are present in the Bible. The Bible prophesied bloodshed as a result of perpetuating God’s name. Verses in Luke, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter praise the martyrs who die for Christianity and promise them “great reward’ for their acts in the religion’s favor.
“… if you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” – 1 Peter, 4:2-14.
“… and you shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endures to the end shall be saved.” -Matthew, 10:22.
Types of Martyrdom in Christianity
No prominent accounts on the types of martyrdom can be found in the Bible. Martyrdom is closely related to sacrifice. A Christian can sacrifice more than their life for the betterment of Christianity. The two prominent distinctions in Christian martyrdom are White Martyrdom and Red Martyrdom. Red martyrdom refers to the bloodshed and the loss of life to promote the faith.
The concept and occurrence of red martyrdom aren’t as popular as they were during early Christianity. People have become more accepting of people’s faith and religious practices. Saint Jerome used “White Martyrdom” to refer to hermits living an ascetic life in deserts. Their only aid was God’s remembrance. White martyrdom from then onwards meant refraining from everything a person loves. It came under the cause of “Pro Christo”; pilgrimage for Christ.
Saint Jerome’s life and ideas were an inspiration to many. His idea of white martyrdom bears relevance to many lives. It favors the cause of sacrificing your desires for the love of God, an idea most important than ever. You can still find Christians who engage in the concept of White martyrdom. They refrain from all worldly activities that can take them away from God and His remembrance.
Our Final Thoughts
The definition and the understanding of what is a Christian martyr have shifted over time. It initially denotes a witness to Christianity. With the onset of Christian persecution, the word ‘martyr’ was used for people who sacrificed their lives for the religion. A Christian martyr thus is a person who dedicates his life to the cause of Christ and His teachings.
Modern connotations of martyrdom suggest a lifestyle immersed in constant suffering to achieve an elevated cause. Today’s martyrdom doesn’t involve bloodshed, but suffering remains a cardinal element to attain nearness to God.
As modern-day followers of Jesus Christ, we must learn how to embrace the trials and tribulations of this world as a form of suffering. Only then can we be elevated in our beliefs and Christ-like in our comportment.