“Lord, where are you going?” “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”
In the apocryphal “Acts of St. Peter”, it is reported that Peter started to flee Rome at the time of Emperor Nero’s persecution. Saint Peter realizes that he is on his way to make the same mistake that he made at the time of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ and abandon his Church in a moment of danger. The Apostle Peter sees a vision of the Lord on the Appian Way. Christ is entering the City of Rome as St. Peter is trying to exit it. The Apostle asks Christ, “Domine, quo vadis?” “Lord, where are you going?” And the Apostle Peter receives the chilling answer, “Eo Romam iterum crucifigi.” “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”
We do not know how true this account from the apocryphal book is. I do think however, that the meaning is not foreign to our Faith.
During this past week, I thought that I could only save my sanity, which was suffering from a broken heart, by escaping somehow and not dealing with anything or anyone. I looked at myself and asked myself, “Philarete, quo vadis?” Are you desiring to run away from the battle that belongs to you? If our Lord is going to Rome to be crucified again can I be willing to escape my own cross?
The Holy Church has lived a 2000+-year history full of political leaders. Some were even tyrants. The Christian Church was scattered over the then-known world and in every place a different leader. Perhaps even a different tyrant in each and every place at times. But the Christians were of one mind – live for Christ, love Christ and His Holy Church. There was no need for them to discuss if your tyrant is better or bigger than my tyrant.
If we look around, there is not even ONE True Orthodox leader of any country. Perhaps some appear as “World Orthodox” Christians but that even is debatable. Not one of these leaders though belongs to the ranks of True Orthodox Christians.
We are here to be crucified with Christ!
What makes us worthy of any kind of martyrdom, large or small? Our Christian spirit! If that Christian spirit is missing, then any trials that we may have will not have a crown of reward.
On our Church calendar on February 9th, we read the life of the Holy Martyr Nicephorus.
The Holy Martyr Nicephorus lived in the city of Antioch of Syria. In this city lived also a presbyter named Sapricius, with whom Nicephorus was very close to; so much so that they were considered brothers. They quarreled because of some matter, and as often happens between very close friends, their former great love changed into great hatred.
Nicephorus at some point, came to his senses, repented of his sin, and asked Sapricius to forgive him. Sapricius, however, did not want to forgive him.
At this time – the Emperors Valerian (253-259) and Gallius (260-268) (two different emperors!) began to persecute Christians and the Priest Sapricius was brought before the court. He firmly confessed Christ, underwent tortures, and was condemned to death. As they led Sapricius to execution, Nicephorus tearfully implored his forgiveness saying, “O martyr of Christ, forgive me if I have sinned against you in any way.”
The priest Sapricius remained with an unforgiving and hard heart, and even as he approached death he refused to forgive his fellow Christian. Seeing the hardness of his heart, the Lord withdrew from Sapricius’ heart, and would not let him receive the crown of martyrdom. Priest Sapricius suddenly became afraid of death and agreed to sacrifice to the idols. In vain did Nicephorus urge Sapricius not to lose his reward through apostasy, since he already stood on the threshold of the heavenly Kingdom.
The Holy Martyr Nicephorus then said to the executioner, “I am a Christian, and I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. Execute me in place of Sapricius.” The executioners reported this to the governor. He decided to free Sapricius and to behead Nicephorus in his place. Thus did Saint Nicephorus inherit the Kingdom and receive a martyr’s crown.
If we refuse to love and forgive each other and if we refuse to ignore the tyrants then we will not be deemed worthy to receive a crown of martyrdom. If we remain in love, patience, and understanding, then we will be worthy of suffering for Christ. Then will we be worthy of following Him into the Rome of our hearts where He is being crucified once again for our love.
Yes, where am I going? Where are we all going? Christ is entering the city to be crucified again and we are leaving the city to stand up for things that are not important to our salvation. Are we fleeing one tyrant to serve a much worse one? Will our lack of love make us unworthy of martyrdom?