"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Monday, December 13, 2004
The Real One (Part 2)
faith Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English feith, from Old French feid, foi, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust -- more at BIDE
1 : belief and trust in and loyalty to God
2 : the measure of a man
Even with the oils and spices, a dead body would start to stink after just a little while.
The place was the town of Myra, also known as Smyrna, near the Mediterranean coast of what we now call Turkey. It was the year 280AD, and it was hot and sweltering.
Acolytes carried away the body of the bishop, who had just passed away after many years of being wise but frail. The priests had gathered to choose a new bishop, here in the evening when it was cooler. Candles burned and lanterns were lit, and their flickering flame cast dancing shadows on the walls as the temperature slowly fell, fanned by the breezes from the Mediteranean.
For hours the priests asked for the Lord's guidance, considering first this candidate then that candidate for bishop. Finally, unable to reach concensus they adjourned to sleep, and decide on the choices they had discussed.
That night, one of the priests had a vision in which an angel appeared to him, telling him that the new bishop would be named Nicholas, and he would be the first person to walk into the church the next day. He awakened the other priests and told them of his vision, and they agreed to meet at the church before dawn.
In the last hours of the night, they gathered. And they waited.
As the first rays of the rising sun lit the horizon, the door to the church creaked. The priests sat stone still, not even daring to breathe. Slowly, the massive wooden door opened, and there framed in the fiery sunrise was a young man. He was dark skinned, very slim, and had dark hair and dark eyes, and was dusty from his journey. Yet, even before he spoke, the priests knew there was something special, something God ordained, about this one.
"Hello, I've just arrived here from Patara." His voice echoed in the cavernous stone room.
"You are welcome, and God's peace and blessing to you, young man," said the priest who had seen the vision. "May we ask your name?"
"I am called Nicholas."
The Roman centurion read the edict with distaste. Up until now he had liked most of the reforms that Emperor Diocletian had instituted. A return to the glorious days of Rome, he said. A return to days when morality ruled men's lives and work and family were important. What man would not agree to that? But this new edict, this was different and it left a bad taste in his mouth. Unconsciously he spat, and the dust poofed up where his spittle hit the dry road.
"What does he think he is doing, Hadrianus? The people will revolt against such cold blooded treatment, and the Christians have done no wrong, not that I know of."
"They are too peaceful to do anything about it, Flavius. Besides, all they have to do is sacrifice a cow or two to Apollo and it will all be over and they can go back to their cult or whatever it is. Simple."
"I don't know, Hadrianus. I have a bad feeling about this."
"What? Flavius, afraid of bloodshed? Surely not!"
"No, of course not. But I take little pleasure and less honor in tormenting and killing the innocent and the weak. But I am a soldier. My job is not to make edicts, but to carry them out."
Flavius called for the formation to resume, and Hadrianus fell back into line with the rest of the soldiers. They continued their march through the Spring sunshine to Myra, edicts in hand.
In the middle of the town square, the centurion stood on a marble dias and read the edict to the astonished townspeople.
"Here is the edict issued by the Emperor Diocletian in the 19th year of his reign. Churches belonging to the cult called Christian shall be razed to the ground, all copies of their scriptures destroyed by fire, those Christians who hold positions of honor degraded, and the household servants, if they persist in the Christian profession, shall be deprived of their liberty. Also it is commanded that all rulers of the Christian church in every place be put into prison, and shall be persuaded by all means available to offer sacrifice to the Emperor and to Apollo."
Bishop Nicholas stood quietly with the priests, listening to the proclamation. "Go peacefully and with faith and steadsfast heart, my brothers," he said to them, fixing each of them with a kind, sure look. They were quickly surrounded by soldiers and taken to the nearby prison, and locked in cells.
From this day began one of the darkest periods in history. The edicts and then persecution of Christians spread throughout the Roman empire as fast as the soldiers could carry them, and churches burned from horizon to horizon. Soon after followed torture of the most horrible kinds, and from Britian to Alexandria there were martyrs beyond count, all willingly going to their death.
Each day, Flavius would walk among the prisoners. He was amazed at their courage, their faith. And especially the faith and courage of their young bishop, Nicholas. He would always see Nicholas holding some of the children or perhaps comforting a mother, sister or daughter of someone who had recently been put to death. Nicholas would usually share his meager ration with others, sometimes not eating for days at a time and giving away all of his food.
Hadrianus was talking to an older woman. "Woman, all you have to do is to sacrifice this dove to Apollo, and all of this will be over." She had already been tortured, her hair was matted with blood and her body covered in bruises. It looked as if one of her arms had already been broken, and it was obvious where the hot brands had burned her flesh.
"No," she said, simply and resolutely. She would not bend,she had a strong faith.
"Take her," Hadrianus said with resignation as Flavius walked up. Soldiers yanked her off by her chains, and Flavius watched her go. "She will be dead by this time tomorrow," Hadrianus said.
"I know," said Flavius. "I want to know why these people will willingly die for this cult, and never lift a hand to stop us."
Hadrianus looked at where the woman had gone moments before, and was quiet for a minute. "Me too, Flavius, me too," he said softly.
It was two years later when the herald rode into Myra on his muscular, armored steed.
He went immediately to the square in the center of town, and waited a few minutes for the townspeople to gather. Flavius, Hadrianus and other solders went too. They were used to new edicts from Diocletian, each more terrible than the last. Lately they had been executing babies because their parents would not offer sacrifices in their names to Apollo.
"Hear the Edict of Milan," the herald said in his clear voice. "Citizens of the Ceasarium, your Emperor Diocletian and his Co-Emperor Maximius have stepped down from power."
'What's this?' Flavius thought to himself. 'Stepped down?' He looked at Hadrianus, eyebrows raised. "News to me too," Hadrianus whispered.
"Emperor of the Ceasarium is now Constantine, son of Constantius. This is his decree."
"I served alongside him in Britain," Flavius whispered to his friend. "He's a good man. His father never married his mother Helena though, she was only a concubine."
"All edicts issued by Diocletian against those of the Christian order are revoked. All prisoners in every town are to be released immediately. All confiscated lands and property are to be returned."
There was a great deal more, but this was the meat of it. Hadrianus almost ran to the prison, with Flavius close behind.
There, inside, was what they had seen every day for two years. Hungry, starving men and women, and now children too. Dirty, beaten, bruised. And smiling. Always smiling.
"You are free." Flavius took the keys and opened the locks.
"We beg your forgiveness," Flavius said. "This has been an evil thing."
The bishop, Nicholas, came to him. Nicholas had aged ten years in the past two. He was skin and bones. His hair was turning gray. His skin was ashen. Yet, he reached out his hand, touched Flavius' cheek, and said "May God bless you, God bless you."
Flavius, centurion, killer, fell on his knees, tears dripping from his eyes into the dust. Hadrianus, he noticed, had already done so. "Teach me of your God, Nicholas. Teach me of him."
"I will, dear brother. First, our God is a God of love..."
(continued in part 3)
A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner, neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties, and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude or the voyager. The martyrs of ancient times, in bracing their minds to outward calamities, acquired a loftiness of purpose and a moral heroism worth a lifetime of softness and security.