Martyrs and the Glory of God

May 22, 2016   Trinity Sunday   Romans 5:1-5

OK, if you really want to address the deeper enigmas of the Holy Trinity, I recommend Augustine’s treatise on the subject. My abridged version goes for over 200 pages, with only half of the chapters. I’m pretty sure nothing is omitted that you would want to cover.But the congregations might find it just a bit more gripping to hear about the comfort, hope, and histories of some who have lived by this faith.

True, the passage from Romans was not written with this in mind. I know that. These five verses, however, do trace the comfort and the hope of those who hold to this faith in the face of opposition. (Where else would “our suffering” come from but from opposition?)

Isolating these verses in the context of Trinity Sunday points to the journey of the faithful, the expectation of seeing the glory of the Godhead, the ascent to the beatific vision. It’s all there—a secure position with God, standing in His presence, joy at the sight of His glory.  Then come the realities of the journey—sufferings, endurance, tested character, and especially hope. This is the true hope, the hope that does not see its destiny but which knows the end of the journey, “the hope of the glory of God.”

How can we rejoice in suffering? The King James is even more harrowing: “We glory in tribulation.” If we can, then we find perseverance, or patience, to hold on. The “character” is really the result of testing, a trial that proves the faith. Paul supports the hope as being reliable because, though the substance is of things not seen, the love of God in the heart of the believer is the assurance of the completion of the journey.

Yes, we could position all this in the eschatological timeframe, the time after the return of the Lord and the establishing of His eternal kingdom. We can, but that leaves us out of the story. Our story, after all, is still being written. We live in the time of “our sufferings” and the testing of our faith meets us daily. The comfort comes by pondering the histories of those who have gone through the testing and found the faithfulness of the Lord beside and before them.

Who tells these stories better than martyrs?  They are the ones who have journeyed to the glory of the Godhead. They have suffered and they have persevered. They have been tested and did not lose hope. From their place in the cloud of witnesses in God’s kingdom they give us confidence as we journey and a glimpse of the glory of the Triune God.


Total numbers:
martyrs since AD 33: 69,420,000
Average per year:       160,000 or 0.8% of all Christians

By the state:               55,871,000
By Muslims:                9,121,000
By other Christians:    5,538,000
In the 20th century:      45,400,000

By major confession:
Orthodox martyrs:      42,798,000
Catholic martyrs:        12,210,000
Anglican martyrs:       1,046,000

Martyrs and the Trinity:
The Christian belief in the Triune Godhead is unique among the faiths of the world. More than mere differences, these are points of controversy. Sometimes the controversy arouses rage, violent rage.

Belief in the Trinity has brought persecution from three sources. First, the State has at times been so threatened by this creed that military force has tried to eliminate the believers. Second, other religions can find Trinitarian faith an odious denial of truth, a false religion that must be buried. Third, disagreements within branches of Christendom have raised such vehemence that the adversaries resort to warfare and murder.

One group of Christians, the Coptic Church, has faced persecution and experienced martyrdom from each of these three sources. Copts were originally Christians in Egypt and faced persecutions from Roman leaders. Later, with belief in the person of Jesus Christ that did not use the language of Chalcedon, the Melkite Christians attacked them. Then facing the Islamic conquests, martyrdom at their hands continued until the recent deaths by ISIS.

Here are the three sources of persecution of the Coptic Christians and their major dates of martyrdom:

By the state, Rome:
200      10,000 deaths, martyrdom of Basilides
305      700,000 Coptics killed, 50% as martyrs. 311 – Patriarch Peter 1, Ieromartyros (“Seal of Martyrs”)

By Christians
338      Arian massacre of Copts and clergy in Alexandria, 500 martyrs
451      After Council of Chaldedon, Coptic churches closed, leading bishop killed, 500 martyrs
631      Melkite Christians persecute Copts for 10 years, killing hermits and ascetics. 20,000 martyrs

By Muslims
832      Caliph Mamun massacres 20,000, all churches demolished
1801    Turks kill continuous stream of Copts, 3,000 martyrs
1981    Muslim Brotherhood kills 1,000
1994    Countrywide violence burns churches, schools, businesses. 1,000 martyrs
2015    ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians. The last words of some of those killed were “Lord Jesus Christ.”

A brother of two of the martyrs said, “Since the Roman era, Christians here have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way. This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.” He prayed, “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught.”

Amen. Comfort, hope, histories, and the glory of God for all to see.



Photo: Indian staff of Christian school in Muslim Kashmir

About Tad

This trip accompanies several of the friends of St. Paul. We will eaves drop on their correspondence, look into their lives and ministries, and find some insights about what they were doing. I suspect that much of what we see will surprise us, some will challenge us, and all will fill in some spots of God's work then and now.
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