THE CATACOMB CHURCH

My beloved spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ God,

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.

THE CATACOMB CHURCH

"For the True Christian Church there as left no
alternative but to go into the catacombs…
–I.M. Andreyev

The Epistles and Acts of the Apostles are eloquent witnesses that being a Christian in the first days of the Church was no picnic. "I die daily," declared Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 15:31), and he went on to enumerate beatings, flailings, stonings, imprisonments, and other assaults on his life.

Pagan Rome was a type of premonition of the future godless kingdom which the Antichrist shall establish. The last Roman Empire, like the first, is destined to be overwhelmingly hostile to the few Christians in its midst. "Christianity began as the religion of a small minority existing in a predominantly non-Christian society, and such it is becoming once more," warns Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of England.

Christians OF THE END TIMES must learn what their brethren of the Church’s earliest years knew well HOW TO SUFFER. As Saint Paul reminded your Timothy, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus WILL SUFFER PERSECUTION" (2 Timothy 3:12). God’s GIFT OF SALVATION in heaven does not necessarily improve one’s earthly situation; it merely renders it irrelevant. "It is of no consequence where you are in the world, YOU WHO ARE NOT OF IT." (Tertullian pointed out)

A Heritage of Martyrdom

For the first centuries of the Church’s life, Rome was the source of the most intense persecutions. Saints Peter and Paul were both martyred in the imperial capital on June 29, A.D. 67 or 68. Peter was crucified upside down, and Paul was beheaded.

As the decades and centuries passed, countless believers also gave their lives for their convictions, while a succession of emperors vainly struggled on eradicating the Church. Nero illuminated his gardens at night with living Christian torches. In about A.D. 200 Septimius Severus, who had already made the conversion to Judaism an offense in Palestine, prohibited propagation of, and conversion to, Christianity.

In A.D. 250, Decius ordered all Roman subjects to RENOUNCE CHRIST and to participate in pagan religious ceremonies. Diocletian, who considered himself a god, initiated the most savage persecution in A.D. 303. IMPRISONMENT, TORTURE, AND EXECUTION BECAME ROUTINE. While the stone walls of the Coliseum resounded with inhuman, demonic cheers, Christian blood flowed.

But none of this succeeded, SINCE THEY HAD SOMETHING REAL TO DIE FOR. Christians were emboldened rather than intimidated by torture. "Christ’s opponents always achieve results opposite to those that their actions against Christ would [lead one to] expect, "more recently canonized Saint Nicholas Velimirovic. "Instead of blocking the river of Christianity, they widen it and deepen it, and make the roar of its flow heard the more clearly. Instead of drying it up, they produce a veritable flood of Christianity across the whole world."

Frightening though those TIMES OF TERROR WERE, they could NOT destroy the Church. On the contrary, they actually STRENGTHENED IT BY PROVIDING CHRISTIANS WITH DRAMATIC AND CONCLUSIVE OPPORTUNITIES TO GIVE THEIR ALL FOR GOD. "The oftener we are mown down by you, THE MORE IN NUMBER WE GROW," Tertullian cried to the pagans. "The blood of Christians IS SEED!" Sprang up, it raised additional heroes in order to gain the greater, TO SACRIFICE THE TEMPORAL FOR THE ETERNAL.

"… To pagans the catacombs were nothing more than underground graveyards, which they regarded with superstitious horror. To Christians, however, the catacombs WERE PLACES WHERE THE COMMUNAL LIFE OF THE CHURCH COULD BE PRACTICED INHINDERED BY THE AUTHORITIES. While the mazes and tombs cut into the soft rock at the city’s outskirts afforded believers some concealment, more importantly, THEY ENABLED CHRISTIANS TO STAND TOGETHER WITH DEPARTED SAINTS ON HOLY GROUND.

The Allure of the Catacombs

The catacombs cannot be explained away as simply being discreet places to meet. They suggest A MYSTERY: Why did the children of Light commune in earthly darkness? Why did those newly born into Christ’s Life mingle among the tombs of unhallowed dead? Again, Christianity’s enigma perplexes the worldly mind, and ONLY THE HEART OF FAITH MAY FULLY UNDERSTAND.

As Martyrs fell, thee public cemeteries became THE REPOSITORY OF HOLY RELICS. The bodies of Saints Peter and Paul, along with many others, were interred in such subterranean labyrinths along Rome’s Appian Way. The Liturgy was celebrated DIRECTLY OVER THEIR GRAVES, AND THE COMMUNION OF CHRIST’S BODY AND BLOOD BECAME A DAILY ACT OF PREPARATION BY BELIEVERS FOR THE LORD’S RETURN. Saint Paul had reminded them that by doing this, "YOU PROCLAIM THE LORD’S DEATH TILL HE COMES" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

LITURGY IS THE COMMUNAL LABOR OF DEVOTION AND PRAYER TO GOD. LEITOURGIA, which literally means, "THE WORK OF THE PEOPLE," IS, IN THE WORDS OF CONTEMPORARY writer Benjamin Williams, "THAT CELEBRATION OF THE CHURCH, WHICH HAS ITS ORIGINS IN GOD’S REVELATION, BY WHICH BELIEVERS WORSHIP GOD AND IN THE PROCESS ARE FORMED INTO THE CHURCH. That is why the Eucharist IS THE FOCAL POINT OF THE LITURGY: IT IS IN THE EUCHARIST THAT WE RECEIVE New Life by the grace of God.

During the Liturgy, invocations were commonly offered to the newly arrived citizens of heaven. Some of these prayers scratched into the stone can be seen even today. Prayer to the Saints was a natural custom of normal brotherly communication. Since it was common to ask for the prayers and blessings of living Christians, how much better to ask the same of them once they had gone to the Lord.

"… The Church which overcomes will become again what it was then, A PLACE TO LIVE AND DIE FOR CHRIST. As Archbishop Averky stated, Orthodox Christians must "PREPARE FOR CATACOMB TIMES AHEAD… Soviet Russia already gives us an example of what we may expect–ONLY WORSE, FOR THE TIMES DO NOT GET BETTER.

Finding the Catacomb Church

Satan STRIVES TO CAPTURE HUMANITY, NOT BECAUSE HE LOVES MAN, BUT BECAUSE HE HATES GOD. Many ignorantly follow THE ONE WHO WILL DESTROY THEM, AS JESUS WARNED: "For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it" (Matthew 7:13).

On the other hand, A SMALL NUMBER WILL OVERCOME AND REJECT Satan’s thrall. "Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:14). It is these few upon whom Antichrist WILL FOCUS HIS GREATEST RAGE, FOR THEIR VERY EXISTENCE
BEARS WITNESS TO CHRIST’S VICTORY OVER HIM.

So long AS ONE BELIEVER REMAINS, THE TRUE ORTHODOX IS NOT VANISHED FROM THE EARTH, and the Antichrist’s claim TO RULE OVER ALL IS FALSE. The evil one is willing to consume even the child issuing from his mother’s womb from worshipping the True God. The Lord promises that His Church WILL ALWAYS EXIST: "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH, AND THE GATES OF HADES SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT" (Matthew 16:18). Yet, when EVERY INSTITUTION HAS BEEN PENETRATED AND CORRUPTED BY THE EVIL ONE, WHERE WILL CHRIST’S Bride (the Church) reside? The Book of Revelation offers a clear vision of this. (see Revelation 12:1-5). (Source: Ultimate Things. An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the End Times by Dennis E. Engleman)

_________________________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

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