Monday, January 20, 2014

January 20 - Fabian, Martyr, Pope, Layman


Anterus had died and so the Church needed a new bishop in Rome. Many Christians from the surrounding communities gathered in one location in Rome to select, call, and appoint a new bishop of Rome--the next pope. Of course, they were mourning the passing of Anterus but they were also busy about the business of the Church as they felt God was calling them to be. The Church did not know it at the time--though some may have seen the writing on the wall--but the next pope would be crucial for the life of Christians throughout the Roman Empire as Decius would become emperor and the Decian persecution was only a little ways away. For now, though, the emperor was Marcus Julius Philippus--remembered as Philip--and life was relatively easy as evidenced by the significant public gathering of Christians. As they talked about who the next pope might be several notable names were passed around--until something miraculous happened. The assembly stopped talking suddenly when they saw a dove slowly circle the gathering. Every eye focused on the dove and every mind turned to the familiar story of Jesus' baptism and they wondered if this dove might mean something amazing. The bird landed gracefully upon the head of a lay Christian named Fabian.

At first, there must have been confusion as to why the dove had not landed on one of the notable people in the group--it had chosen an unknown who wasn't even a priest or deacon. But as they began to voice their confusion, their minds turned to the story of the anointing of David in the house of his father Jesse. David had been a youth of so little importance that he hadn't even been invited for Samuel to inspect when choosing a new king from the sons of Jesse. Yet, God had called David and so David became king. The people held their tongues for they felt God was calling Fabian to be pope even if they didn't see how he was qualified for it. So, they selected, called, and appointed Fabian to be the bishop of Rome--the next pope.

Fabian's papacy was tame for the majority of the time and Fabian served honorably in this exalted and humbling position. Yet, when Decius became emperor the Church became very aware that a storm was brewing. Decius was no friend of the Church and would not be baptized by the pope as emperor Philip had been with his son. Instead, Decius would baptize Fabian--in blood. With the advent of the Decian persecution, the Church was eviscerated and dwindling. Through Fabian's leadership, missionaries were sent to Gaul to carry the Christian faith out of the reach of Roman oppression. Instead of hoping to renew and maintain the Church by focusing inwardly, Fabian knew that the Church was only maintained and renewed by reaching out and spreading the Gospel given to it. So, missionaries were sent that would do the work of the Church even amid the tyranny of the Empire. This great work was essential but it came at a very high price: the life of the pope. Decius hunted down Fabian and had him burned alive in the catacombs where the Church met. The pope who had insisted upon recording the deeds and words of the martyrs--because he was aware of the power of a good story--was made a martyr himself when he refused to bow his knee at the Imperial altars.

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