frgavin on November 21st, 2010

The Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson
Bishop Anderson

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

When we think of the word “martyr,” we might well think of Emperor Nero throwing Christians to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome, or other horrible fates that befell the faithful in the early centuries of the Christian church. Others might recall the Huguenot persecutions in France, or the torture and executions of Anglicans in England under Queen Mary. The original meaning of the word “martyr” in Greek meant “witness,” and the extreme form of witnessing to one’s faith in Jesus Christ often meant suffering death on behalf of one’s faith in him.

In today’s world which is often hostile to the message of Jesus Christ, Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith in very large numbers. In total numbers, today’s martyrs may exceed on a yearly basis the martyrdoms of earlier times. From Islamic countries where Christians may be hunted down by mobs and just killed, to trumped-up charges which allow for Sharia execution, or Christian children stolen to be raised as Muslims, to situations in Hindu areas where Christians are persecuted or killed, the number of those faithful to

Jesus unto death continues to climb. No one should deliberately seek martyrdom and death for their faith, but blessed are those who persevere in their Christian faith, even if death is the price, knowing that the Church is built on the blood of the martyrs.

In the dictionaries in general use, the term “martyr” has a first meaning of giving one’s life for a cause, and a second usage, to suffer or be persecuted for one’s cause or belief, but short of death. In this lesser meaning of the word, the Anglican realignment in North America has a book full of names of churches, dioceses, bishops, priests, deacons and laity who gave up church property, cemeteries with graves of loved ones, or were sued by a hostile TEC and experienced the hardships that such litigation puts on one financially and in employment, family life, and personal health.

Just recently, orthodox Anglican churches in the Canadian diocese of New Westminster lost an appeal over property ownership. Whether they will be able to appeal to a higher court and prevail, or whether they will lose their buildings and cemeteries isn’t known yet, but they were willing to put it all on the line over the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the authority of Holy Scripture and the disciplines that these bring to our ecclesial and personal life in Christ. Canon Phil Ashey’s Anglican Perspective video this week comments on this recent ruling in Canada.

In Virginia, the Anglican District of Virginia is facing more litigation over their buildings and cemeteries, some of which are pre-Diocese of Virginia, pre-State of Virginia, pre-USA, and are of a colonial time frame. The graves in the cemetery may be two hundred years old or two years old, yet they represent our deposit of faith when laying our loved ones to rest in the hope and belief that in Christ Jesus the dead will rise again.

Whether the newer grave is of husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, the faithful Anglican who puts even the hallowed ground of these earthly remains at risk of seizure so that the true faith in Jesus Christ is not compromised, is a martyr in the secondary sense. It is finally better to lose the earthly bodies of our beloved dead than to lose our souls and the souls of our living loved ones, both for the present and the future. Live and witness to your faith such that the glory is for God and the light is for the world.

For those of us in the United States, we will be giving thanks to God for his many blessings on this coming Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, but we invite the rest of our readers and the world to join us on Thursday in pausing and remembering God’s many acts of mercy and kindness, his provision and blessing, and thanking him for all that he has done for us. Next week, therefore, I will be not write my usual weekly column, but will return the following week.

May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ bless, preserve and keep you.

The Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson, Sr.
President and CEO, American Anglican Council

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