Happy and Blessed New Year 1726 AM (Age of Martyrs)…

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to arrange a calendar, the Alexandrian Calendar; this became the Julian calendar when it was adopted in the west under Julius Caesar.nile

The original Calendar was organised by astronomy which was considerably accurate and was developed to aid in agriculture.

The calendar we use is derived from a Catholic Pope Gregory of the 16th century, known the Gregorian calendar.  The western calendar was based not on the stars but on the cycle of the sun.

The Julian Calendar Day is made up of six hours, as we see in our Agpeya prayer book.

Friday marked the first day of the Coptic Year of 1726 am. 

In the year 284 AD, a very wicked emperor of Rome named Diocletian led a campaign of terror aimed at stamping out Christianity, wherein genocide was unleashed against the Church of God and so began the great persecution of Christians throughout the known world.

In memory of the honour of the blood of martyrs, we began our calendar at this point.  Consider that the Fathers of the Church never did anything without reason, and this date is no exception.  It is a call to remind us that true Christianity involves taking up one’s cross and denying self.  For some, this led to martyrdom.  Prior to the New Year we celebrated the feast of the martyrdom of St John the baptist, whose own sacrifice for pointing to the truth of the coming Kingdom of the Messiah was continued on in the life of the Church by the Apostles, when, like Christ, they were prepared to lay down their lives because of the great love they had in Christ, as well as their confidence in him.

Consider the witness of the confessors as well.  We mentioned already the apostles who were all except for one martyred. 

IgnatiusWatching some sports like football finals we see passions run high and the competitors give there all in their chosen sport.  The crowd’s passion too is caught up with the immense pressure on the players, and some thousands of people have their lives intertwined with the hopes and dreams of the players and the fellow supporters.  Spectators curse opposition players and referees, and cheer on their own favourite players as if their life depended on it.  Unfortunately, for some people, this is the extent of their lives.  Yet, consider for a moment what it was like in the Ancient Roman Empire.  They too held games, although we know that a great many of them were far more bloodthirsty than our modern sports.  Consider to the Coliseum of Rome.  The ground itself to the very grains of sand is hallowed by the shedding of Christian blood in the most awful of circumstances.  Imagine what they went through, the fear, the pain, the emotions considering their loved ones, and yet with boldness and great love for Christ they gave all for their love of Christ.  Some modern groups think it wrong to honour them, let me say it is wrong to not honour them!  For who could be more Christlike than one who gave up their lifeblood for His sake, just as He poured out His blood for the salvation of the world?

Some people think we worship the saints.  This is a misconception and misunderstanding of the way we act as Christians.  We believe wholeheartedly our family as the body of Christ extends beyond the grave into life eternal, and those holy ones who are part of the mystical body intercede for us before the throne of God.  St Augustine answered critics in his day about this very topic as follows…

Chapter 27.—Concerning the Nature of the Honor Which the Christians Pay to Their Martyrs.

But, nevertheless, we do not build temples, and ordain priests, rites, and sacrifices for these same martyrs; for they are not our gods, but their God is our God.  Certainly we honour their reliquaries, as the memorials of holy men of God who strove for the truth even to the death of their bodies that the true religion might be made known, and false and fictitious religions exposed.  For if there were some before them who thought that these religions were really false and fictitious, they were afraid to give expression to their convictions.  But who ever heard a priest of the faithful, standing at an altar built for the honor and worship of God over the holy body of some martyr, say in the prayers, I offer to thee a sacrifice, O Peter, or O Paul, or O Cyprian? for it is to God that sacrifices are offered at their tombs,—the God who made them both men and martyrs, and associated them with holy angels in celestial honor; and the reason why we pay such honors to their memory is, that by so doing we may both give thanks to the true God for their victories, and, by recalling them afresh to remembrance, may stir opolycarp martyrdomurselves up to imitate them by seeking to obtain like crowns and palms, calling to our help that same God on whom they called. 

Celebration for the commemoration of martyrs in the early Church usually took place at their graves. So the ancient church of Smyrna annually commemorated its bishop St. Polycarp (a disciple of St John the Beloved apostle and evangelist) and valued his bones more than gold and gems, though with the express distinction: “Christ we worship as the Son of God; the martyrs we love and honor as disciples and successors of the Lord, on account of their insurpassable love to their King and Master, as also, we wish Kosheh2to be their companions and fellow disciples.”

The history of martyrdom does not however end in the early Christian centuries.  To this very day the Coptic Church finds blessed and holy martyrs amongst its ranks when Christians are called to die for their love of Christ and receive the eternal crown of martyrdom…

Perhaps this year we can increase our reading of the lives of the Holy Martyrs, Confessors and Anchorites of the Church and our resolve to follow their example in our own lives… 

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