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Thursday, April 11 2002

Martyrdom

All the suicide terrorism acts in Israel and their counterparts in American soil and skies the past year raise the topic of a sweet death. I've heard that kind of appellation mentioned of certain kinds of deaths...Romeo's and Juliet's chosen deaths to immortalize their mutual ill-fated love being the most "romanced" ones in world literature, but everything from that to Jonestown and the Branch Dividian cults choosing suicide or suicidal paths are on a wide common spectrum. My freshman poetry teacher at Johnstown College/Pitt in the 1960-61 school year was given to waxing rhapsodic about death, loving the poets who romancitized it. He died (probably not ironically) before the end of the second term.

I never got it. I still don't, but I read a lot of saints' lives and church history and Russian Orthodox literature, and through these sources and some of the recent developments the idea of martyrdom has finally made a bit of sense to me. Not that it should be sought (and the church always has taught that it should not be a choice, while also encouraging those chosen by it to be of great courage and faith, and show surpassing godly grace), but when the circumstances are such that even a small testimony of faith can be fatal, as under the Leninists in pre-World War II Russia*, a mindset in which martyrdom can seem "sweet" and a blessing, can come to prevail. It's not only thought of as glorious in the memorial services after the fact, but as a prospect—something to look forward to—among those who must choose between being silent and being outspoken about their convictions and hope.

There's been a lot of comment about the tenet of Islam that (allegedly—apparently Islamic teaching is not uniform on the topic) teaches that giving one's life in a holy cause is a sure ticket to eternal life in paradise. Christian teaching has similarly held, from the time of the early persecutions in Rome in the first three centuries, that martyrdom was a shortcut to the victor's crown. But as a whole (there are always individual exceptions...but as a whole) the church has never condoned killing others as part of any holy cause. Even under "just war" theories held by most theologies, the killing even in war has to be repented of and confessed as falling short of God's perfect will. No one who has killed, even accidentally, can be a minister of the church's sacraments according to the teaching of the early church, and always the church is reminded of the biblical teaching that God's people are all called to a priestly office in some senses.

Having come this far in my understanding of the "blessedness of martyrdom" during the ancient Romam persecutions and recent Communist regimes, I get at least the beginning of understanding of how people become caught up in the cause that dominates their lives (in Palestine especially) and find death an option. Premeditated murder of uninvolved "innocents," on the other hand, however...I hope I never understand.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

*Stalin needed the support of the Orthodox Russians in the War, so became much more accommodating of those who were left when the war began than he had been between the beginning of the revolution and the German invasion, the yearly martyr counts falling from the hundreds of thousands to "only" thousands.

State mottos (continued)

North Dakota: We Really Are One Of The 50 States!
Ohio: At Least We're Not Michigan
Oklahoma: Like The Play, Only No Singing
Oregon: Spotted Owl... It's What's for Dinner
Pennsylvania: Cook with Coal
Rhode Island: We're Not REALLY An Island
South Carolina: Remember The Civil War? We Didn't Actually Surrender

—Sent by Mike Harrison

Thought for the day

One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.

—A. A. Milne

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