Grace and the Last Words of Early Church Prisoners

Grace and the Last Words of Early Church Prisoners

Grace and the Last Words of Early Church Prisoners.

“The glorious company of apostles praise you. The noble fellowship of prophets praise you. The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.”  (from the Te Deum, a poem of praise by Nicetus, 414 AD, modern day Serbia).

1st Century

St. Stephen in Jerusalem – “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!… Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Don’t charge them with this sin!” (Acts 7:54-60).

St. James the Just – “I beg you, Lord God our Father. Forgive them, for they are unaware of what they are doing.” 

St. Peter in Rome – “I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me… Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and in the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 1:13, 3:18).

St. Paul in Rome – “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed, the time of departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. And now the prize awaits me, the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

2nd Century

Shamuna of Syria – “You are God of all, and to you belongs glory and praise, because it has pleased you that we should carry on to its close the conflict we have entered and that we should receive at your hands the brightness that shall never fade away. God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in peace receive our spirits to yourself.” 

Sharbil of Syria – “Christ, be merciful to me, as you were merciful to the penitent thief. Receive me, like those who have turned to you, as you have turned to them. I have entered your vineyard at the eleventh hour, deliver me from judgment. Let your death, which was for the sake of sinners, restore me to life again in the day of your coming.” 

Clement of Rome – “Lord, we beseech you to help and defend us. Deliver the oppressed, pity the poor, lift those who have fallen, be the portion of those in need, return to your care those who have gone astray, feed the hungry, strengthen the weak, and break the chains of the prisoners. May all the people come to know that you only are God, that Jesus Christ is your child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture. Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant, we pray, that we might be grounded and settled in your truth by the coming of your Holy Spirit into our hearts.” 

Ignatius of Antioch – “My desires are crucified, the warmth of my body is gone. A stream flows whispering inside me: Deep within me it says, Come to the Father. Near to the sword, I am near to God. In the company of wild beasts, I am in company with God. Only let all that happens be in the name of Jesus Christ, so that we may suffer with him. I can endure all things if he enables me. I am God’s wheat. May I be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts until I become the fine white bread that belongs to Christ.” 

Polycarp of Smyrna – “Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Child Jesus Christ. I bless you that you have thought me worthy of this day and this hour, that I may be able to share in the number of the martyrs, to drink from the cup of your Christ, that I may rise and live forever, body and soul, in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit. May I be admitted with those martyrs to your presence this day, as a welcomed and acceptable sacrifice. You have made my life a preparation for this; you let me see that this was to happen, and now you have brought it to pass, for you are the true and faithful God.” 

Justin Martyr – “I ask nothing more than to suffer for the cause of my Lord Jesus Christ. If I can do this, then I can stand in confidence and quiet before the judgment seat of my God and Savior, when in accordance with his will, this world passes away.” 

Apollonius the Apologist – “I enjoy life, but love of life has not made me afraid to die. There is nothing greater than life – that eternal life which gives immortality to the soul of the righteous.” 

3rd Century

Hippolytus of Rome – “Christ is risen: The world below lies desolate. Christ is risen: The spirits of evil are fallen. Christ is risen: The angels of God are rejoicing. Christ is risen: The tombs of the dead are empty. Christ is risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers. Glory and power are his forever and ever. Amen.”

Arcadius of Caesarea – “Lord, teach me your wisdom. Let all my members truly belong to you in this time of sacrifice. You alone are the true God, for you alone I will suffer and die. To die for you is to live.” 

Cyprian of Carthage – “Good God, may we confess your name to the end. May we emerge unmarked and glorious from the traps and darkness of this world. As you have bound us together by charity and peace, and as together we have persevered under persecution, so may we also rejoice together in your heavenly kingdom.” 

Montanus of Africa – “We all have the same spirit, and this is what unites us in our actions and all that we do together. This is the bond of love that puts evil to flight and that which is most pleasing to God. It is by our praying together that we receive what we ask. These are the ties that link our hearts together, and make mere mortals the children of God. To inherit your kingdom, O God, we must be your children. To be your children, we must love one another.” 

Genesius of Rome – There is but one king I know. It is he that I love and worship. If I were to be killed a thousand times for my loyalty to him, I would still be his servant. Christ is on my lips. Christ is in my heart. No amount of suffering will take him from me.” 

4th Century

Shenoufe of Egypt – “I bless you, Jesus. To you belong all blessings. I bless you, Jesus. You are the only begotten of the Father. I bless you, Jesus. You are the true vine, the crown upon the throne of the Father. I bless you, Jesus. You walked upon the water, and your feet remained dry. I bless you, Jesus. You made the bitter waters sweet. I bless you, Jesus. You are the unmovable rock. I bless you, Jesus. You command the angels. I bless you, Jesus, and your good Father, in whose hands is our breath, and who gives us life. For yours is the power and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Julitta of Caesarea – “Let the estates I own be ravaged, or given to others. Let me lose my life, and let my body be destroyed. Rather that than I should speak one word against you, O Lord, who made me. If they take from me a small portion of this earth and its wealth, I shall exchange it for heaven.”

Severus of Thrace – “I ask you, Lord, do not count me unworthy of the suffering that has been endured by my brothers. Allow me to share the crown with them. Allow us to be together in glory as we have been together in prison. Allow me to find my rest with them, as we have confessed your glorious name together. Amen.” 

Philip of Heraclea – “Lord, you have shown me what I must suffer. As a dove descending, offering me food that is sweet, so I know that you have called me and honored me with a martyr’s death.” 

Thelica of Africa – “Thanks be to God. O Christ, Son of God, deliver your servants by the power of your name. O God most high, do not consider the actions of my persecutors as sin. God have pity upon them. Lord, for the sake of your name, grant me the strength to endure what I must. Release your servants from the captivity of this world. My God, I thank you, though I cannot thank you as I should.” 

Jonas of Beth-Lasa – “Our life is seed, sown in the earth to rise again in the world to come, where we will be renewed by Christ in immortal life. I did not frame this body, nor will I destroy it. God, you gave me life, you will also restore it.” 

Peter of Alexandria – “Jesus Christ, Son and Word of God, hear me, your suppliant. Silence the storm that rises against your church; let the pouring out of my blood, as your servant, be a seal of the persecution of your flock.” 

Saba the Goth – “Blessed are you Lord, and may your Son’s name be blessed forevermore. I can see what those who persecute me cannot; On the other side of this river there is a multitude waiting to receive my soul and carry it to glory.” 

Methodius of Olympus – “Blessed Father, eternal, binding all creation together by your strength, taking the heavens as your abode. May we also pass beyond the gates of life, welcomed by you, O Father, and your Son.” 

5th Century

James Intercisus – “This death, which seems so terrible, is little enough to gain eternal life. Savior, receive a branch of the tree. It will decay, but will flower again and be clothed with glory. The vine dies in winter, yet revives in spring. Shall not this life which is cut down rise again? My heart rejoices in the Lord, and my soul has exalted in your salvation.” 

A Word of Encouragement from St. Paul: 

“What then can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or difficulty? Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, danger, or the sword? We are put to death all the day long for your sake, as Scripture says, ‘We are prepared like sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet despite all that happens to us, victory is ours through him who loves us. For I am fully assured that neither life nor death, nor powers in the world, nor out of the world, nor the heights nor the depths of the universe, no, nothing in all that is created can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

Last Word:

“Seeing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us set aside every weight and all that hinders us, and run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1).

(Reference, Prayers of the Martyrs, by Duane Arnold, 1991).