Indian people pay tribute to a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion of his birth anniversary in Amritsar city on Oct. 2, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
In many parts of India, Jan. 30 is observed as “Martyrs’ Day,” in memory of Mahatma Gandhi, who was assassinated on this day in Delhi in 1948.
He was killed because he stood for certain values — truth, justice, the service of oppressed Harijans, and particularly for Hindu-Muslim unity.
A martyr is therefore someone who constantly witnesses to certain values in his life, and sometimes by his death. In every country, and in every age, there have been such witnesses.
In a way, martyrdom is not mainly about death, even violent death. It has principally to do with life and its values — what do you stand for? What is it which gives the fullest meaning to your life?
What are the values you give witness to?
The word ‘witness’ is a rich word, both in ancient times and today. The Biblical meaning of witness is not the same as ours. We use the term in a legal sense today, or when we refer to scientific evidence.
“For 300 years they took the full brunt of persecution from the Roman Empire”
However, in the New and Old Testaments, a witness is someone who testifies to a truth he believes in and to which he commits his life. You may call this sense ‘existential,’ that is, the context is one’s very life.
John’s Gospel speaks of the Baptist as the “witness to the light,” and Jesus before Pilate describes his task as “being a witness to the truth.” The Book of Revelation calls Jesus, “the faithful witness.”
The Greek word for ‘witness’ was martys (martyr) and so it was applied to those who, like Jesus, witnessed publicly their belief in him and his truth, and who gave their lives for their beliefs.
The first Christians were like this: they were fiercely loyal to Christ who had transformed their lives completely. They were ‘working class’ most of them — slaves, small-time artisans, servant girls, migrants in the big cities of Rome and Antioch — but their commitment to Jesus was complete and confident. They never wavered. Think of Stephen, proto-martyr, and the apostle, Paul.
For 300 years they took the full brunt of persecution from the Roman Empire. They not only survived, they prevailed.
Are there martyrs today? Most certainly there are.
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Mahatma Gandhi | In praise of martyrs, ancient and contemporary – UCA News