The 350 Martyrs (Part 3): The Spiritual Message

The bottom line is that we can be satisfied that the tradition of the Maronite Church is genuine. There was a tragic slaying of more than 350 monks in 517, for no reason other than their devotion to the true faith. It is sobering to reflect that we are living in an age when Christians are suffering more persecution than ever before in our history. Here in Australia we have been safe, but this can no longer be assumed. As I write, churches and cathedrals are being burnt down in Europe and the USA. Statues of saints are being torn down in a wave of diabolic hatred. We have tended to pass over Our Lord’s statements and predictions of persecution, but we can do so no longer:

·       “Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

·       “Amen, I tell you,” said Jesus: “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the gospel will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, along with persecutions and to receive eternal life in the age to come”. (Mark 10:29-30)

·       “Remember the word that I said to you: “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you …” (John 15:20).

Persecution is a reality. We do not seek it. But perhaps we shall be asked to accept it. The mystery we need to approach with wide open eyes, and to surrender ourselves to, is the mystery of sacrifice. In each celebration of the Divine Offering (the Divine Liturgy, the Mass), Our Lord offers Himself to the Father. This finds a perfect and classic formulation in the magnificent prayer qoorbono r.gee.go, “Pleasing oblation …” wherein we pray: “O Lord, you are the pleasing oblation who offered yourself for us. You are the forgiving sacrifice who offered yourself to your Father. You are the high priest who offered yourself as the lamb. Through your mercy may our prayer rise like incense which we offer to your Father through you.” We can and should seek to join ourselves to the offering of the Lord. We have nothing worthy to offer to God, but if we join our voluntary and intentional sacrifice of our lives to the Lord’s oblation of Himself, then it rises to heaven on the back of His sacrifice, and may be accepted for His sacred sake.

When we ponder the 350 Martyrs, we have to ask ourselves: “Am I prepared to give my life for the Lord, as they were?” They did not know they were going to their deaths, but they knew there was tremendous hostility against them, and they did not change their lives or their opinions because of that. The very fact that they were holding to their faith placed them in opposition to some determined and ruthless enemies.

The memory of the Martyrs should enliven in us the realisation that there is more to life than a long life. It is the quality of our lives that counts, and what can give quality to our lives but the search for holiness?

Holiness is the quality of God: it is the approach to his goodness, truth and beauty. Because we must travel to Him and His Kingdom, we cannot specify the route we will take. The way is in his hands. We can only choose to walk it, or not to. And if we do accept, then our choice must be unconditional.

Let us always remember the 350 Martyrs. May their prayers be with us.

Joseph Azize, 4 April 2017 revised 24 July 2020

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