Friday, February 14

Examples of Dedication in the Church History

There are hundreds if not thousands of examples of famous martyrs (an unsung heroes), legendary tales, extraordinary acts of human kindness - and human cruelty, but more to the point: in the early church we find many examples of dedication. Here, we will focus on a few of these.

In the ancient Church, there was a growing group of monastics who would go out into the desert and live there. We often call these individuals the desert fathers. Although we see an example of the early Christian Thecla going out to live in caves to be with God (in the apocryphal Acts of Thecla from the mid-late 2nd century), these monastics became prominent around the 4th and 5th centuries. St. Paul of Thebes (AD 288-343) is considered the first Christian hermit (Greek eremita, meaning "of the desert"), although Simeon the Stylite (AD 390-459) is more well-known. He sparked the Christian ascetics known as the Stylites (from the Greek stylos meaning "pillar"), as he and other Christians would stand on top of pillars to preach, fast and pray. Simeon had climbed up and stayed on the pillar for nearly forty years. The Stylites are a good example of dedication.

There is a documentary that was released a few years ago called Into Great Silence, dealing with the Carthusian Order. The Carthusian Order was founded one thousand years ago by St. Bruno, and their main monastery is Le Grande Chartreuse. The documentary was a three hour look at how they live their lives - in silence. Except for Bible readings and a couple hours on Sunday after meals, they observe silence. In our world, we tend to shy away from silence. We are constantly engaged by technology, music, talking, texting, and other forms of distraction. As such, trying to imagine a life of silence with only a handful of hours to speak on Sundays is nearly impossible for many of us. The Carthusians are a good example of dedication, particularly in regard to quiet contemplation with God.

The next group to consider is a group of Irishmen (supposedly including St. Fionan) who, 1400-1500 years ago, got in a little boat and sailed to an island called Skellig Michael off the coast of Ireland. At the time, it was the edge of the known world for them. The monks climbed to the top of this island (which is a large rocky cliff) and made little huts of stone and prayed to Jesus. This sheer dedication is inspirational.

Where I live, it gets very cold in the Winter months. While reflecting on the harshness of the cold one morning, another example of dedication crossed the mind. Some of us would complain about below zero weather, and call it suffering. But this is not suffering. Suffering would be not having a home or a warm meal in this weather. Suffering would be not only getting frostbite but passing on because of it. One is reminded of the famous 40 Martyrs of Sebaste.

Around AD 320, Emperor Licinius persecuted the Christians in the East. Forty soldiers professed their faith and were condemned to strip their clothes and stand naked on a frozen pond on a freezing night or renounce their faith. These men were faithful - until one man gave in and left, heading straight for a warm bath prepared nearby for those renouncing the faith. Yet one soldier keeping watch over the martyrs left his post, professed his faith and the number was again forty.

By the morning, the bodies were burned and the ashes were thrown in a river. Christians all around the world have long since held these brave men in high honor. We may complain about our food orders being messed up, stubbing our toe, getting a paper-cut, not looking good in our clothes, and getting an A- instead of an A+. In other words, some people (particularly in the American culture) rarely know true suffering. It took a lot for the Stylites who used to stand on pillars to do that. It takes a lot of dedication to observe silence for days and days on end. It takes dedication to climb high and build little rock huts for Jesus. It takes dedication to stay faithful to your beliefs even unto death. These inspirational examples may seem silly to some, but even the non-Christian should realize that dedication is key in many areas of life - whether it is work, family, education, achieving goals or staying faithful to others. Dedication is key.

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