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« Well, This is New | Main | ’Reformation Day Reflections’ »

October 31, 2006

For All the Saints: How Can I Blaspheme my King?

Since tomorrow is All Saints Day, I was reflecting this morning on that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us, people who followed Christ, many even unto death. This morning on my way out the door I grabbed my copy of The History of The Church written by that great early historian, Eusebius, who lived between AD 269 and 339. If you've never read much about the early church, I commend this primary source to you. It will give you a greater level of appreciation for what amazing sacrifices were made so that we could know the Gospel these 2000 years after Christ. One story in the history is that of the martyrdom of Polycarp. I offer it as an encouragement to greater faith and courage in whatever you may be facing today:

Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, "Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!" No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, "Have respect to thy old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as]," Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists." But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, "Away with the Atheists." Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, "Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;" Polycarp declared, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"

And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, "Swear by the fortune of Caesar," he answered, "Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them." The proconsul replied, "Persuade the people." But Polycarp said, "To thee I have thought it right to offer an account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me."

The proconsul then said to him, "I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou repent." But he answered, "Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous." But again the proconsul said to him, "I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent." But Polycarp said, "Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt."

While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium thrice, "Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian."

You can read more of the account of Polycarp here or by purchasing the History of the Church by Eusebius.

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Katharine Eastvold

I really appreciate your observance of All Saints' Day. It's an occasion that really has fallen by the wayside due to the completely secularized festivities of Halloween. It's hard to remember that what is now called Halloween really originated as a misunderstanding (and conmingling with old pagan beliefs) of "All Hallows' Eve."

Rather than saying, "We don't celebrate Halloween," I've started telling my toddler that Oct. 31 is All Saints' Eve, that we celebrate it by dressing up in decent and non-scary costumes (and eating chili - a family tradition), and that many other people call it Halloween and do some of the same things, but also some things we disagree with.

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