Naming another human being is such a huge responsibility. As a late teen I had ‘the baby name list’ ready for when it was needed but I did not anticipate how flummoxed I would be when it actually came round to picking a name. The main thing my husband and I decided was that we wanted to name our child after someone inspirational. When our daughter was born we named her Felicity because she brings such joy to our lives and also because St Felicity was an incredible woman. In the days following Felicity’s birth I reread the account of St Felicity’s martyrdom in 203 AD and was reminded of her ultimate sacrifice. The text is one of the earliest accounts of a woman’s martyrdom and is worth the read. Felicity and her mistress, Perpetua, were thrown to wild beasts because they refused to give up their faith. What struck me was Felicity’s concern that, because she was pregnant and the law forbade the execution of pregnant women, she would not be able to suffer martyrdom with her mistress and fellow catechumens. In the end, she gave birth to a daughter and left her behind as she went to her death.
As I hold my newborn daughter, I wonder if I could continue to confess my faith if it meant losing her. And, if I’m honest, I doubt it. In fact, I think if most modern Christian were honest, the majority of us would shy away and fail to embrace a martyr’s death. The modern Christian has gone soft. Sure, we are happy enough to endure a rainy week in a tent at New Wine with only wetwipes for cleanliness, but when it comes to it, how far are we willing to go for our faith? Has the modern Christian gone soft? Almost certainly.
When I say, the modern Christian, what I really mean is Christianity in the West. Recently the media has used the word ‘persecution’ in relation to Christianity in the UK. We read of Christians fighting for their right to wear a cross at work. Whatever your views on what the practical boundaries of religious freedom are, it would be disingenuous to label such battles as persecution as though they are the same as the suffering of Christians elsewhere in the world. Perhaps we ought to look to the East for inspiration as to what it means to be a diehard Christian. In a country, such as Pakistan, where Islam is the state religion, Christians make up the majority of those in bonded labour. Christian women are often in low paid jobs where many suffer physical and sexual abuse from their employers. These conditions exist even when Christians obey the law which bans proselytising, the consequences for those who attempt to share the hope they have found in Jesus are even more severe- these are diehard Christians.
Pakistan is just one example. In the news we have seen and heard of the destruction of churches in Egypt. Reading the letter from Bishop Mouneer Anis of the diocese of Egypt is heartbreaking. Ancient churches are being systematically attacked by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Throughout the world, members of Christian congregations die because of their faith. They are martyrs, witnesses to something greater, to another way of living.
Over 1800 years after St Felicity’s martyrdom, as a fellow new mother in her early twenties I am challenged by her sacrifice. How much am I willing to sacrifice in the name of Jesus? Am I willing to endure an awkward conversation at the pub when someone finds out that I’m a Christian? Yes, probably. Would I willing to forgo a promotion because it would require me to work in such a way incompatible with a Sabbath lifestyle? Maybe not. What about leaving my daughter to a life without me? Do I trust my God enough to provide for her, comfort her when she cries and help her understand why her mother chose to go to her death? I don’t know. I can only hope that I could if the time came. In the meantime, I choose to pray for the persecuted church around the world. They show us Christians in the West that it is possible to live in such a sacrificial way, it’s not just for Christians of old; a life of sacrifice is not something to be avoided but embraced.