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Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Christian Martyrs Last Prayer

Feast of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

A great number of Christians perished at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero during the terrible persecution that lasted from 64-68 A.D. This was the first of many major persecutions of the newly founded Church at Rome. The holy men and women who first died for the Gospel of Jesus Christ are also called the “Protomartyrs of Rome.” Some were burned as living torches in the Emperor’s gardens; some were crucified; others were fed to wild animals. Many died even before Sts. Peter and Paul, and therefore it is said of them that they are the “Disciples of the Apostles … whom the Holy Roman Church sent to their Lord before the Apostles’ death.” God used the sacrifice of these holy men and women, who suffered like their savior Jesus Christ, to lay the indestructible foundation of His Church. Their bold witness for the Christian faith as they endured a brutal death won many converts and caused the Church to grow and spread throughout the world.

The feast day of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church is June 30th.

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The martyrs gave their blood for truth, and you are not able to come to church? They gave their lives for Christ, and you cannot make a small journey for him? But you say, ‘I am a sinner, I cannot come.’ Then come, and cease to be one!”

Saint John Chrysostom

First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

These early Christians were the first persecuted in mass by the Emperor Nero in the year 64 A.D., before the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. Nero was widely believed to have caused the fire that burned down much of Rome in that same year. He blamed the fire on Christians and put them to death, many by crucifixion, being fed to the wild animals in the circus, or by being tied to posts and lit up as human torches.

These Holy martyrs were called the “Disciples of the Apostles” and their firmness in the face of their gruesome deaths were a powerful testimony that led to many conversions in the early Roman Church. These were all early Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” Romans 15:20. Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in 57-58 A.D.

There was a large Jewish population in Rome. Probably as a result of Controversy between Jews and Jewish Christians, the Emperor expelled all Jews from Rome in 49-50 A.D. Historians tell us that the expulsion was due to disturbances in the city, “Caused by certain Christians”. It is believed that many came back after the Emperor’s death in 54 A.D., because Paul’s letter was addressed to a Church with members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.

In July of 64 A.D., more than half of Rome was destroyed by fire. Rumor blamed the tragedy on Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace. He shifted the blame by accusing the Christians. According to the Historian Tacitus, many Christians were put to death because of their “hatred of the human race”. Peter and Paul were probably among the victims of this time. Eventually Nero was threatened by an army revolt and condemned to death by the senate, and committed suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 31 because of these, the first of Christian martyrs being falsely blamed.

Practical Take Away

Wherever the Good News of Jesus was preached, it met the same opposition as Jesus did, and many of those who began to follow him shared his sufferings and death. Notice how no human force could stop the Spirit unleashed upon the world through the Christians? They only became stronger witnesses to the faith. Pope Clement I, third successor of St. Peter writes, “It was through envy and jealousy that the greatest and most upright pillars of the church were persecuted and struggled unto death… First of all, Peter whom because of unreasonable jealousy suffered not merely once or twice, but many times, and, having thus given his witness, went to the place of glory that he deserved. It was through jealousy and conflict that Paul showed the way to the prize for perseverance. He was put in chains seven times, sent into exile, and stoned; a herald both in the east and the west, he achieved a noble fame by his faith.” We too, can follow the examples of the Great Saints that went before us, paving the way of our faith that has stood the many centuries of time. Don’t forget to call upon the First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church on this their Feast Day – as they are always willing to help us, if only we call upon them for assistance.

Credit: As published, from Newman Connection, http://www.newmanconnection.com/faith/saint/first-holy-martyrs-of-the-holy-roman-church.
Nero’s Torches is an 1876 painting by the Polish artist Henryk Siemiradzki. It is also known as Candlesticks of Christianity. It depicts a group of early Christian martyrs who are about to be burned alive as the alleged perpetrators of the Great Fire of Rome, during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Triumph of faith by Eugene Thirion

First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, Faithful Witnesses of Jesus Christ and His Church, pray for us.

Be not afraid!  And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always.  Holy Family pray for us.  Amen.

The Holy Family, Murillo
The Heavenly and Earthly Trinities (c. 1675-82) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682)

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