May Martyrs' Witness Bring Full Communion

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Angelus 25 August 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In 2,000 years of history, the supreme trial of martyrdom has often been demanded of Christians. The martyrs of the first Christian age especially, live on in our memory. However, in the following centuries, many also shed their blood for Christ on various occasions, both in the East and in the West. The unfortunate occurrence of the schism between the Churches does not make their sacrifice any the less precious!

Martyrs are revered with particularly deep veneration by the People of God who see in them a living portrait of Christ's Passion. The history of Sts Boris and Gleb which dates to the dawn of Slav Christianity in the Kingdom of Kiev is emblematic. Two sons of St Vladimir, the first Christian prince were assassinated on the death of their father by a usurping brother. The people's faith immediately linked the blood they had shed to that of Jesus Christ, and Boris and Gleb become known as "strastoterpcy", "those who suffer the Passion". A late 11th century account relates Boris' touching prayer before he died: "Glory to you, wondrous Giver of life who has deigned to let me share in the passion of the holy martyrs.... You know, Lord that I offer no resistance.... But you, Lord, see and judge between me and my brother, do not impute this sin to [him] and receive my soul in peace".

What an admirable prayer! It is the face of a humanity that has become an icon of the suffering face of Christ.

2. What can be said of the great experience of martyrdom in which Orthodox and Catholics in the Eastern European countries have shared during this century? Persecuted by an implacable atheistic power, many courageous Gospel witnesses "completed" Christ's Passion in their flesh (cf. Col 1:24). True martyrs of the 20th century, they are a light for the Church and for humanity: "Christians in Europe and throughout the world, pausing in prayer before the concentration camps and prisons, should be grateful for the light which they gave: it was the light of Christ, which they caused to shine in the darkness" (Apostolic Letter for the Fourth Centenary of the Union of Brest, 12 November 1995, n. 4).

The blood of martyrs, Tertullian said, is the seed of new Christians. It is also a sap of unity for the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. If at the end of the second millennium, "the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs" (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 37), we can hope that their witness, carefully gathered in the new martyrologies, and especially their intercession may hasten the time of full communion between Christians of all denominations but above all between the venerable Orthodox Churches and the Apostolic See.

3. May the Blessed Virgin, Queen of Martyrs, obtain for us the inner strength of the martyrs of every age, so that we can offer Christ a clear witness of life. "Martyrdom" means precisely witness. Every Christian without exception is called to this by living his daily life in holiness, ever ready "to account for the hope" that is in him (1 Pt 3:15). May this witness increase in vigour through being offered by all Christ's disciples, united in one heart and soul.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
28 August 1996

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