Thursday, February 9, 2012

February 9 - Apollonia, Martyr, Virgin, Woman of Prayer

Apollonia was a virgin not because she had no desires for or hated men but because she had chosen to remain celibate so that she might more fully devote herself to her Lord Jesus. Those who married took upon themselves vows before God to care for and honor another person--they took uponthemselves another obligation. These vows held sway and often kept married Christians from living in the same sacrificing and devoted way that their celibate brothers and sisters were able to. Apollonia's devotion was highly respected in the Church in Alexandria but was beginning to be a cause for disfavor among the non-Christians in the city. Decius had barely taken power but the people knew he was no friend of the Christians and so they had no fear that he would outlaw their abuse and murder. Further, the thousand year anniversary of the beginning of the Roman empire was taking place. Further still, one of the non-Christian poets had predicted a great calamity within the walls of Alexandria because of the presence of Christians within. With all of these circumstances swirling together in one perfect storm, it came as no surprise when many of the non-Christians joined together as one mob to exact their own brand of justice upon the Christians.

The people of Alexandria got an early start to the Decian persecutions. They seized two well-known Christians and tortured them to the thrill of the gathered crowd. When they grew tired of the couple, they killed them. They burned down the homes of suspected Christians and brutally mugged and stripped any reported Christians they met in the streets. The mob went so far as to kick down the door of the home of a prominent and wealthy Christian so that they might loot and pillage the home.Apollonia was not only celibate but was also a deaconess--all of this conspired to make her a perfect target. They took her to an open place and held her down. They began by pounding her face and mouth with clubs and fists with the special purpose of breaking or knocking out her teeth. When this savagery proved too humane, they retrieved a pair of tongs and began slowly and painfully removing her teeth one by one.

The pain was incredible but she endured it without returning evil for their evil. Even though they were torturing her to the best of their abilities, she noticed that they had built up a pile of kindling and logs upon which they planned to burn her alive. They had already started the fire and it was roaring by the time they dragged her before it. Their plan was to throw the faithful woman upon the flames and then rejoice in her agonizing death. As they approached, they gave her an ultimatum: deny her faith or burn to death. She asked one request from a bleeding mouth: "Please give me just a moment to pray about it." Perhaps they thought it would be another great occasion to mock her or perhaps they felt she was beginning to cave to their abuse and would renounce her faith after prayer. They released their hold on her for a moment and she leaped into the flames without a scream. She died an eager martyr who could not even consider denying the faith that had gripped her all those years.

No comments: