How To: Become a Martyr
When I was a young boy I had a burning desire to become a martyr for Christ… to pay the ultimate price for the thing I believed in most. Every little boy dreams of being a hero, and this was the version I had come up with.
As I read the stories of the saints who had received unfading crowns and unimaginable glory I was spurred on all the more.
I remember being so enthralled by the account of the cry of the martyrs as the fifth seal was opened in the Book of Revelation:
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. (Revelation 6: 9-12)
Didn’t Jesus Christ Himself say,
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13)
If there was a way to show God how much I loved Him it needed to be a grand gesture, and giving my life for His name fit the bill. After all, I thought, He died for me. Isn’t the only way to respond to something like that to do it in return?
My mind was made up. When I got older I would become a martyr! In the meantime, I was going to ask what things I needed to do to prepare. In so doing, however, I was told that because I lived in America and because this was not the era of emperor Diocletian (who’s made a hobby out of killing Christians) the chance that my dream would be realized was slim. There had to be a way I thought (considering various options like going on a mission trip to a hostile country).
However, as I grew, I learned that there is more than one way to become a martyr. The following is taken from an Irish homily of the seventh century:
Now there are three kinds of martyrdom which are accounted as a Cross to a man, white martyrdom, green martyrdom, and red martyrdom. White martyrdom consists in a man’s abandoning everything he loves for God’s sake… Green martyrdom consists in this, that by means of fasting and labour he frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance. Red martyrdom consists in the endurance of a Cross or death for Christ’s sake.
These are the men and woman who forsake the world for the love of God. They include monks, nuns, and those who renounce everything the world has to offer them so that they can focus their attention on their Beloved. The Bible talks about them as those who “wander in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” because of their great love for Christ the King.
Those who are white martyrs die daily as they consistently choose to live each day for God alone.
These are those people who are constantly striving to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.” They “discipline the body and bring it into subjection” knowing that the body is a good servant but a bad master.
Green martyrs bear fruits worthy of repentance and struggle alongside God’s grace to grow into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ by taking off the old man and putting on the new man. These are the men and woman who take the Lord’s charge to be perfect seriously.
Now we’ve already touched on this one when I told you about my desire as a young boy. Red martyrdom, as the color implies, is to shed your blood or endure a Cross for the sake of Christ.
However, there is another form of red martyrdom.
Ephesians 5:25 instructs husbands to “love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and >gave Himself for her.” Christ died for His bride, the Church, so that we might have an example and lay down our lives for our wives.
In the early Church, crowns were a symbol of martyrdom, and during the Orthodox Wedding there is a crowning ceremony where the priest crowns the bride and the groom. This is not only to symbolize participating in Christ’s Kingship as we are united to Him, but it is also to symbolize becoming martyrs.
The word “martyr” is translated “witness” and so the bride and groom have the responsibility to bear witness to Christ in their relationship and in their life together. As new martyrs, the husband and wife die to themselves and their own will so that they can give of their life completely to the other, and through the other, to Christ.
I will leave you with the powerful testimony of a Muslim who converted to Christianity after seeking the True God. He recounts that in the Islam religion dying for the name of Allah is the greatest honor, and so when Christ revealed Himself to him in a vision, he cried out, “My Lord, my Lord, I will live and die for You”