Thanks to the work of Emporer Trajan and a governor in his Empire, Pliny the Younger Christians in the Roman Empire went relatively unscathed for several decades in the early second century. The official position of Rome starting in the mid-110s declared Christianity “to be illegal, but hat members of the faith were not to be sought, but killed if the charge was proven.” The not being sought part was huge.
Anyway, by the mid-170s the political climate toward Christianity was beginning to heat up again. At first it was mostly political persecution; Christians were excluded from Roman homes, public baths, and the marketplace. Tensions grew, however, and insult throwing turned into fists and stone. Homes were broken into an vandalized. Christians were drug from their houses into the marketplaces where they were questioned, beaten, and sent to prison. Slaves were stolen from their masters and, under threat of torture, made to say that Christians were engaged in acts of cannibalism, incest, and other perversions, until, finally, the crowds clamored for Christianity to be wiped out.
In the city of Lyon a missionary center that had drawn many Christians from around the Empire in what is now France, the anger toward Christians fell squarely on the shoulders of a small group that included a Deacon, Sanctus, a recent convert, Maturus, a disciple, Attalus, and a slave, Blandina. According to the 3rd century historian, Eusebius, the group was arrested and tortured. Balndina, the only woman of the group, was thought to be the weakest, but sustained such torture that “even her executioners became exhausted 'as they did not know what more they could do to her.” She remained faithful and repeated the same answer to every question, “I am a Christian, and we commit no wrongdoing.”
After their frustration with Blandina, the Roman authorities became so enraged that they scheduled a public games during which Blandina, her companions, and many others were to be tortured and killed. Blandina was bound to a stake and wild animals were set on her, but according to legend they did not touch her for days. In the final day of the event, having been forced to watch her the sufferings of her companions, Blandina was beaten, branded, tied in a net and thrown to a wild bull who gored her with his horns, but only died upon being stabbed by her tormenters with a dagger. Of her, Eusebius wrote, “Blandina, last of all, like a noble mother who had encouraged her children and sent them ahead victorious to the King, hastened to join them.”
As I've said before, we, as 21st century Christians living in Foley, Alabama has no real clue what it is like to be persecuted for our faith. When we stand to recite the Creed and say proudly that “We believe” we don't do it with the fear of torture and death in our hearts. And yet, each of us knows what it is like, as the author of First Peter writes, “to suffer various trials.” Life isn't easy, it is rife with frustration and heartbreak, and yet, because of our faith in and the faithfulness of Jesus we, like Blandina and her companions, know what it is like to receive the great mercy of God.
We live, born anew, with the hope of that imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance of the Kingdom of God; an inheritance that is available to us right here and right now. An inheritance given to us not upon the death of our Father, but upon our death to our self. An inheritance given to those who take up their cross and follow Jesus on the road to Calvary. An inheritance given when we choose to be martyrs, witnesses, to the God of all Creation, the God of provision, the God of love who's love is self-giving and overflowing.
“I am a Christian and we commit no wrongdoing.” May our faith be so rooted in the love of God and the pursuit of his Kingdom that we might say, with true conviction, those powerful words of Blandina. Amen.