Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May 18 - Theodotus of Ancyra, Martyr, Defender of the Martyrs, Rightfully Accused

The prefect of Ancyra could feel how the political winds were blowing with Decius at the helm of the empire. So, the prefect decided to command all Christians to come forward and make sacrifice to the Roman gods and idols or be tortured and killed. The way the prefect saw it the Christians didn't have to give up their beliefs--they just had to demonstrate that their higher allegiance was to the Roman empire and its values. What the prefect, and so many other imperial leaders, failed to realize was that the Christians could not simultaneously put anything higher than their devotion to Jesus and still call themselves Christians. To slip--even "in word only"--and place something higher than Jesus was to deny their Faith. That was the kind of saving faith they had learned: complete trust in a complete redemption. So, it came as some surprise to the powerful, then, when Christians refused the offer that Rome had deemed reasonable. The non-Christians soon learned, however, that they could accuse their Christian neighbors before Rome and then profit by taking the possessions and valuables of the seized and martyred Christians. As the number of martyrs increased daily, Theodotus--a local innkeeper--began doing the unheard of: he began taking the bodies of the martyrs and giving them a Christian burial. He didn't do it because they "needed it" for some special reason but simply because they deserved it. He would try to take them from the site of execution but often had to bribe the guards to be able to take them. Since he was a prosperous innkeeper this was not especially difficult at first but as the number of bodies rose, his funds dwindled further and further.

Eventually, Rome shut down the building where the Christians met. By forbidding entrance to anyone, those drunk with imperial lies masquerading as power thought they were closing the Church! In reality, they were only moving it and so for some time it met in the inn that Theodotus owned and operated. This increased his visibility to the empire and likely shortened his days. When he realized this he let the priest know that soon he expected to join the martyrs because he didn't suspect that the empire would continue to overlook his presence and his activities. Soon after Theodotus' conversation with the priest, seven women were arrested for being Christian. These women had committed themselves to celibacy and a life of singleness so that they might focus on seeking the will of God and taking care of the poor and sick.The rulers whose minds had been warped by the twisted values of the empire and the world felt that these women should be raped and then murdered as punishment for their convictions and values. The youths who were given the charge of raping the seven women refused when they met the women and one of them had gray hair--perhaps they couldn't get past the idea of raping a woman who could be their mother and in shock their twisted values had been exposed to them. So, the prefect ordered heavy stones tied to their legs and each of them was dropped into the lake to drown.

That night a guard was posted at the shore because the bodies of the Christians had been missing far too often and if they were receiving burials then Rome's powers to frighten and terrify were weakened. The eldest of the women appeared to Theodotus in a dream and so the following night he went with a dear friend--Polychronius--to the lake to rescue the bodies of all seven women. As they approached in prayer, the guard received a vision of a Christian martyr commanding him to leave. In fear, he abandoned his post and Theodotus and Polychronius were able to do the hard work of releasing the bodies from their submerged prison. They took the bodies back and buried them but their actions were found out the next day when the seven women no longer rotted in the lake. Polychronius and Theodotus were arrested and tortured. Under torture, Polychronius broke and told his accusers that it had all been Theodotus' idea. Polychronius was set free after he made the sacrifice of his own faith--sacrificing that of inestimable value for a cheap trinket--but Theodotus was condemned to death. He was martyred and his body joined those of the other martyrs who were rescued from desecration not because they "needed it" by any means but because they deserved it.

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