(First published on the Faith & Chelsen: Tackling Tough Topics in Church and Culture blog on Patheos. We cannot forget these courageous followers of Jesus, so once again we are posting this story. Since this time we have met some of the family members of the 21 martyrs through the movie CHRISTIANS IN THE MIRROR. If you have not seen it, make it a point to do so – to honor these Christians and their families as well as the other persecuted brothers and sisters featured in the film. And please pray that the body of the 21st martyr, Matthew Ayairga, from Ghana, will be allowed to go to Egypt to be buried with those of his brothers.)
Their minds were free. their hearts were brave.
They kept their promise to the grave.
(“The Greater Tide,” Attalus)
“Let no man write my epitaph.”
That’s not much of a problem when it comes to 21st century martyrdom. Memorials and tributes to today’s Christians who have died for the faith is definitely a niche market. A small niche market.
For instance, on Friday night, February 26, at 7PM, a group gathered outside The White House for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the brutal murder of the 21 Christians by ISIS in Libya on February 15, 2015. Outside of the DC NGO/Religious Freedom and Human Rights community and the Coptic Church, do many people remember that it was just over a year ago that the Islamic State slaughtered 20 Copts from Egypt along with an African man who, witnessing their faith, chose Christ and death over Islam on a Libyan beach?
Perhaps there will be a similar vigil in April. The 19th of that month is the anniversary of the death of some 30 Ethiopian Christians by ISIS on the bloodstained Libyan beach.
I always think of the persecuted members of the Body of Christ when we pray with the Book of Common Prayer:
For all who have died in the communion of your Church,
and those whose faith is known to you alone, that, with all the
saints, they may have rest in that place where there is no pain
or grief, but life eternal, we pray to you, O Lord.
Those whose faith is known to You alone, O Lord. Those whose persecution and martyrdom is known only to You, and to the angels who wait to greet those faithful ones as they would conquering heroes. Because they are. Conquering heroes.
Some of those persecuted or who have died for the faith are known. Some are even the subjects of books or films. The Coptic Orthodox Church canonized the 21 Christians murdered by ISIS as martyrs and saints. The icon created by Tony Rezk, at the top of this post, is the official image “to commemorate their supreme witness.”
But how many emaciated North Korean Christians have died in the DPRK’s nightmarish labor camps and gas chambers (yes, you read that right) with no one to write their epitaph? And who, in this age when visiting Cuba is now the sexy thing for American presidents and everyone else to do remember the defiant shouts of “Viva Cuba! Viva Christo Rey!” that sprang up in Cuban prison yards until they were silenced by the firing squad?
There will be martyrs’ crowns for all of these faithful ones from all over the world, known and unknown, in heaven. But what tribute is there on earth for the millions who remain faithful unto death?
Davey told me that he was “deeply moved by the accounts of those who died in Rome.” In fact, one of the Martyrs of Lyons, tortured and killed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, was Attalus, for whom the band is named.
“It’s important for Christians, especially in the West, to look back at those countless individuals who paid the ultimate price, because we still stand on their shoulders,” says Davey. And, he added, that is is also important “to see how other Christians around the world are paying that price still today.”
The song that Davey wrote some years ago (featured on an EP by the same name in 2010), is now featured on Attalus’ first studio album Into the Sea, (Facedown Records, 2015). “The Greater Tide” echoes powerfully the martyrdom of all of those who have died for the sake of the Cross, but particularly the men on the Libyan seashore:
(To read about the song “The Greater Tide” and how it relates to the 21 Martyrs and to all Christian martyrs through the centuries, continue here)