by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Once again, I took down all the Halloween decorations late last night. This morning I nailed up a long white ribbon over my front door. A white ribbon isn’t as dramatic as jack-o-lanterns and skeletons and candy. But I like its simplicity. Like the martyrs who go before us, they are hidden and nameless for the most part. Their blood is the seed of the gospel. Today is All Saints’ Day.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann says we in America (the western mind) misunderstand what a martyr is. We think a martyr is a someone who died for their faith. But he says we are all martyrs because a martyr is first a witness. Think of Stephen:
“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7)
Stephen is a witness to Jesus. He tells not only his private story but the story of the whole Hebrew nation. A martyr “sees.” Do we see Jesus? Can we say
“Look! I see the heavens open and Jesus feeding the children in Haiti! …I see girls with fistulas being cured by Jesus! …I see my brothers and sisters in China secretly worshipping our Father! …I see water for the thristy, I see the Living Water! …I see special needs children loved …I see someone standing up for the poor inner city students who want to attend a suburban school and get out of a dropout factory!”
Schmemann: “A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions…” (p.113 Life…)
What a difference this view is from our simplistic and truncated view of the Christian as someone who just mentally agrees only with the doctrine of atonement as salvation. We say ‘a Christian is someone who has managed their sin problem properly.’ That is sad. That is dead. However “true” it might be, it is dead. No wonder secular folk do not want to become Christians – there is no Life exhibited by those who say they are believers. The average Christian in America basically looks just like a secular person… same tastes, same entertainment, same affluence, same vacations, same acquisitions… Where is the witness? Where are the martyrs?
We should think of ourselves as witnesses first. We see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father! We are martyrs because our old life has died and we are hidden inside the mysteries of the Unbidden G-d.
Contrast the Christian martyrs with our secular heroes. For secular heroes we put up statues and monuments, plaques and medals; arenas are named after them, their faces go on coins and bills. We have solemn holidays for them. All this secular honor is nice and appropriate of course. Many secular heroes are even Christians.
But those who live and die for their faith are martyrs. Our story is simple and silent. Our graves are mostly unmarked. We cry out, “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do!” We intercede for our persecutors’ salvation. We forgive them. We are Christians – we have no enemies. For seculars all glory is fleeting. For Christians witnesses our honor comes only from our eternal Lord.
I hope nobody notices my little white ribbon. Yet it is my small rebellion. I want my neighbors to know I celebrate All Saints’ Day. I love this day. Perhaps someday I too will join them; and I pray like St. Therese d’ Lisieux that I might achieve great sainthood by becoming nothing, a grain of sand trampled underfoot and forgotten.