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The story of martyrdom in the history of the early church is the story of early Christianity and its spread across time and everywhere. It illuminates the way to the kingdom with the light of true faith granted to us from the Father through His only begotten Son. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This great love was manifested on the cross, as He made Himself a sacrifice of atonement for the whole world, in order to bestow salvation and eternal life to all who believe in him and want to live a life of holiness. The pure life, deeds and virtues of those martyrs are luminous before our eyes, encouraging us to walk in their footsteps to enjoy our eternity.

The heavenly crowns, prepared for the martyrs, are the crowns of martyrdom, victory, chastity, ministry, giving, sacrificial love and witnessing to Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us to bring us holy and blameless before Him in love.

The Christian martyrdom is a practical proof on the truthfulness of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). Justin Martyr says: “Here you can clearly see that when our heads are cut off and we are crucified, thrown away to the wild beasts, or tied by chains, and put into fire, and suffered all kinds of torture, we do not leave our faith. But as far as we are punished by these tribulations, more Christians are added to the believers in the name of Jesus Christ. The vinedresser cuts vine branches bearing fruit, even to let other branches grow, and this process makes it livelier and more productive. This is what happens with us. The vine implanted by God our Savior, Jesus Christ is His people.”

Many believed because of the sufferings of the martyrs and their death, including the miracles accompanied martyrdom, and how much they have shown of steadfastness and patience. It is not exaggeration if we say that Christianity has spread to the whole world by the martyrdom of the saints, more than the preaching of ministers.... For the blood of martyrs flourished the seeds of faith. So, this faith grew and brought forth the fruits worthy of the kingdom of God.

The early Christian believers had gained many souls through their death more that that they gained through their lives or their miracles. Those martyrs had presented a practical proof of the truthfulness of the teachings of Christianity and the possibility to gain its virtues. As metals are examined by fire, so also the virtues are examined by sufferings and tribulations. Martyrdom proves the authenticity of the virtues taught by Christianity, embodied in both the confessors and the martyrs, who was not deviated from their virtuous life by their powerful excruciating pain.

Eusebius, a Church historian who lived amid persecutions, says on chastity and purity of virgins and women: “Women were not less than men in defending the teachings of the divine word, as they participated in the struggle, side by side with the men. They also received with them an equal share of crowns for their virtues. When they pushed for filthy practices, they preferred to hand over their lives to death rather than delivering their bodies to uncleanness!”

The question before us is what prompted those Christians to suffer such horrifying sufferings? The answer to this question, which seems odd on our minds and on our understanding, is:

(1) Christianity presented a new concept for suffering:
The pain of the flesh itself is no longer an issue, but it has a spiritual concept associated with love - the love of Christ! We observe love in the person of Christ who preferred to suffer for the sake of His beloved to save them from their eternal death. The taste of pain has changed; and the cross of shame and suffering became the cross of glory and victory, but rather the means of glory and victory. The cross for us, Christians, became the symbol of love that overcame death and conquer hell, and mocks the shame and pain.
Suffering for Christ’s sake became a spiritual gift... “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). By such suffering, we share with Christ, His suffering and His glory as well, as St. Paul says, “If indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:17)... “I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).
If Christianity is love, so dying, because of it, is the summit of sacrificial love, according the expression of Clement of Alexandria, “Martyrdom is not just shedding of blood, nor is it just a verbal recognition of Jesus Christ, but the practice of perfect love.”