In recent years, as antique tensions have eased between Catholics and Protestants, we seem to be a little more comfortable in agreeing that there are some folks who deserve to be recognized as very special servants of God: people who are rare role models, beacons of grace, miracles of holiness.
It may interest you to know that one of our Valley neighbors has an uncle who will soon be officially declared a “saint” by the Roman Catholic Church.
I have a friend in Grottoes, Dominik, whose uncle Flavyanus Mikhayil Melki was “beatified,” that is, declared to be an especially blessed Christian, as of August 29th, 2015.
Bishop Melki was born in Lebanon in 1858. He went to serve the churches around Gazarta, in what is now the nation of Turkey. One hundred years ago, when the Ottoman Turks were killing and driving into exile many Armenian and Syrian Christians, Bishop Melki was ordered to convert to Islam or die. When he refused, he was tortured and then decapitated.
Some time in the next few years, the Catholic Church will probably take the next step and “canonize” Bishop Melki as a “saint,” because he died as a “martyr” for his faith.
In a sermon he gave on Sunday, August 30th in Rome, Pope Francis mentioned the “beatification” of Bishop Melki, and then went on to say, “Today too, dear brothers and sisters, in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, Christians are being persecuted. There are more martyrs today than in the first centuries. May the beatification of this Martyr Bishop instill in them comfort, courage and hope, but may it also be an incentive to legislators and governments that religious freedom be assured everywhere. I ask the international community to do something so as to put an end to the acts of violence and oppression.”
My goal is to be a martyr, too. How about you ?
The original meaning of that word, “martyr,” is a witness or a testimony. “Martyr” is most commonly used to describe someone who is killed for refusing to give up her or his faith— but the main meaning of the word remains. Whether we are able to live out our days in peace or, God forbid, someone kills us because we are followers of Jesus, our whole lives must give testimony to
1. who Jesus Christ is to us: Lord and Savior
2. who we are in his service: faithful imitators
Jesus stated clearly the characteristics we must exhibit as his witnesses: you can read these throughout the gospels.
Jesus’ “Beatitudes” are well known (Matthew 5): they describe the way we must live in God’s blessing: poor in spirit, compassionate, humble, seeking righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and making peace— in addition to remaining faithful to him in the midst of persecutions. Jesus tells us to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”
Jesus constantly insisted that we must put God first with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
And Jesus repeatedly endorsed the Golden Rule, which comes to us from Leviticus 19:18:
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
For background reading about Bishop Melki: