Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicia

St Perpetua and St Felicia
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The mustard seed of the tree, the Kingdom of God, had been planted in Judea. The soil was not particularly fertile and the environment extremely hostile. The chosen pillar, the Rock, Petrus, had been executed and in the same persecution of Nero 63-64 Anno Domino similar fate met the chosen Apostle of the Gentiles, Paulus, former Pharisee Saulus.

The rulers of the almighty Roman Empire had decided that the new Jewish sect of the Nazarens was disruptive for the good of the State. These people refused to sacrifice for the good of the Emperor and were thus obviously a problem in the midst of the great mixture of nations and religions under the rule of Rome.

History has preserved to us an amazing authentic document from the early period when the secret Kingdom was slowly but surely spreading around Mare Nostrum under the skilful rule of the Crucified. For unlike many other historical stories and legends telling about martyrs and saints, the young Roman lady Perpetua (181 - 7.March 203) tells about the events personally by herself. In other words, amazingly, we do have the original diary that was written by Perpetua in prison while she was waiting to be killed in arena during the birthday celebrations of Emperor Gestus in 203 A.D. 

The document is among the most touching that I know from the period in its freshness and nobility. It gives us quite unique insight into the secret life of the Kingdom of God and shows how our Lord Jesus Christ worked at the entrance gate on its border. The diary of St. Perpetua shows how the rule of Christ over the hearts of people penetrated deep into pagan North Africa from faith to faith.

The story of St. Perpetua and St. Felicia is truly holy and far from some of the imaginary holiness of martyr legends. It is full of remarkable light and most intimate experiences of a believer with the King of Kings. The story is also remarkable as the first known document written by a Christian woman.

It demonstrates the totally invincible power of God that nothing on this earth can win, not the Devil in his hatred of men and not even the cruel death. The price Perpetua had to pay for her faith in Jesus was awful. But she was ready to pay it and answered with her blood to the ultimate question "Do you love me more than anything else?"

The story of St. Perpetua takes us to Carthago in March 203 A.D. We meet a beautiful 22 year old noblewoman and her personal slave Felicia. Perpetua is married and has just given birth to a little baby boy. Her slave Felicia is near the end of her pregnancy.  While Perpetua's mother was a devout Christian, her loving father was a pagan with respected position among the nobility of the city.

Emperor Septimus Severus had given an order that while Christians were not to be bothered it is strictly forbidden to convert to either Judaism or Christianity.  These religions were considered harmful for the unity of the empire. Despite of the imperial prohibition five young adults were studying Bible under Catechumen 
Saturus: Perpetua, two slaves Felicia and Revocatus, and two free men, Saturninus and Secundilus.  

Police officials surprised the five students while their teacher was not present and they were promptly taken to jail. They were all baptized in the prison and thus became legal citizens of the Kingdom of God. Perpetua wrote about her experiences during the imprisonment in Latin. This diary was given to a friend and the story was completed with a short and detailed eyewitness description of the martyrdom. The narrator tells how St. Perpetua was thrown to a wild cow apparently in order to mock her being a woman. Its horn pierced her painfully but did not kill her. The inexperienced macho man sent to kill her with a sword did not succeed either until St Perpetua helped him to fulfill his job. (I would not be surprised if this soldier had later become a Christian himself after such an experience.)

Young Perpetua was asked by Christ in most severe manner three questions
- Do you love me more than your baby boy?
- Do you love me more than your father?
- Do you love me more than your own life?

These were not verbal questions but something worse, choose Me or your own life with your loving parents, your friends, your child.

St. Perpetua takes us to her dreams and we thus have unique first hand story about the psychological realities in which North Africans were living in the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. The dreams are so vivid and encourage Perpetua, comfort her about the fate of her little brother who died from disfiguring sickness unbaptized, and give her strength for the martyrdom on the sandy arena. A fight with "the Egyptian" and stepping on the head of Devil, the dragon.

It is just an amazing story - you can read it all in here.

Bene venisti, tegnis!

For me the most powerful and memorable moment in the diary of St. Perpetua is the vision in which she meets the Shepherd.

Is is an absolutely fantastic detail in the story and told with such humility and bright beauty. Read it yourself! 

At the heart of the vision is our Lord Jesus Christ who says to Perpetua the most simple words imaginable "Bene venisti, tegnis!" (Welcome, girl) and gives her a piece of goat cheese.

Perpetua has the taste of that cheese in her mouth when she wakes up in the morning.

With such a King, the enemy has no chance to stop His Kingdom.

No chance at all.

We all know that only three generations after these events the Empire or Rome knelt in front of the Shepherd whose sheep it had so cruelly persecuted. The pure Lamb of God from Bethlehem won Jupiter from the heights of Mt Olympus.