June 9, 2011

Under The Altar

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained ~Revelations 6:9

Apostle John wrote in Revelation that, in his vision, he heard the voice of the martyrs crying out from under the altar. The first few centuries for Christianity were an exercise in brutality. Christians were battered internally and externally. False teachers distorted the faith and misled the faithful while the Roman Empire made a concerted effort to persecute if not annihilate Christians altogether with torture and death. When local church members were finally able to gather the remains of the church, because often times this was forbidden, they lovingly interred the broken bodies of the fallen brethren beneath their altars. These bodies were a reminder that the blessed departed are invisibly present to join them in worship.

The horrible persecutions of the first centuries ended when, the Roman Emperor Constantine miraculously converted to Christianity in 312 AD. A new distortion of the faith would soon rear its nasty head arising from a priest named Arius. He proposed that, if Christ is a Son of the Father, he can't be the same age as the Father. Arius concluded incorrectly that Christ must have been created by God, at some point before the universe was made. This would make Jesus less than divine and therefore not God, at least not in the way God the Father is.

If this is familiar, it is because this idea is never truly abandoned. It was not abandoned by man nor by the Devil. If man or Devil can discredit Jesus’ divinity, Christianity fails. Even Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 15:13-14

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

As has often been the case many acknowledge Jesus as an exalted man but they clearly stop short of recognizing him as fully God. The teachings of Arius provoked great unrest and controversy so Emperor Constantine summoned church leaders from around the known world to come to Nicaea near Constantinople, to settle this matter once and for all. The Council of Nicaea rejected Arianism and affirmed that Jesus is truly God

"…and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father"

The personages of this council were attested to by the Syrian writer Marutha of Maiperqat. Of the 318 church leaders assembled, it was clear that many of them had been tortured horrendously. According to Marutha of Maiperqat:

The General Council having thus received authority from the king, the fathers directed that there should be gradations in the assembly and that each Bishop should sit in his place according to his rank. Chairs were there made for all and the king entered and sat with them. He kissed the spots which were the marks of Christ in their bodies. Of the 318 fathers, only 11 were free from such marks, whose name were Absalom, Bishop of Edessa, and son of Mar Ephrem's sister, Jonah of Raikson, Mara of Dora, George of Shegar, Jacob of Nisibis, Marouta of Mepairkat, John of Goostia, Shimon of Diarbekir, Adai of Agal, Eusebius of Caesarea and Joseph of Nicomedia. But all the others were more or less maimed in their persecutions [15] from heretics. Some had their eyes taken out; some had their ears cut off. Some had their teeth dug out by the roots. Some had the nails of their fingers and toes torn out; some were otherwise mutilated; in a word there was no one without marks of violence; save the above-named persons. But Thomas, Bishop of Marash was an object almost frightful to look upon; he had been mutilated by the removal of his eyes, nose and lips; his teeth had been dug out and both his legs and arms had been cut off. He had been kept in prison 22 years by the Armanites (Armenians) who used to cut off a member of his body or mutilate him in some way every year, to induce him to consent to their blasphemy, but he conquered in this fearful contest to the glory of believers and to the manifestation of the unmercifulness of the heretics. The fathers took him with them to the Council and when the king saw him, he fell down upon the ground and bowing his head he kissed the “marks of Christ in their bodies," the scars that bore witness to their faith. When Constantine came to Thomas of Marash, he was overcome. The Emperor bowed to the wrecked body and said, "Honor thee, martyr of Christ, who art adorned with many crowns!"

These were men that were not immune to torture and they knew the threat of death. The doctrines we have from the men and woman attest to the validity of the tenets of our faith. If you have any doubt re-read the condition of Thomas of Marash. These people were tortured horribly for what they believed and would not recant. Could you say the same? Could they bury you under the altar for your perseverance in the Faith?

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