In book 8, Chapter 9 of his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius relates the special zeal with which the Emperor Diocletian pursued the Christians of the Thebaid in southern Egypt at the end of the 3rd century. “We… have observed large crowds in one day; some suffering decapitation, others tortured by fire; so that the murderous sword was blunted, and, becoming weak, was broken, and the very executioners grew weary and relieved each other.”

Such was the fate of Marcellus, a Roman tribune, and his wife Mammaca, who were arrested with their two children, the Bishop Miletius, and twelve other Christians at Oxyrhynchus. Accused of refusing to pay homage to the Roman deities, they were sentenced before the Governor Culcianus and, after being put to the beasts and fire, died at last by beheading. Marcellus was said to have been a centurion stationed at modern-day Tangiers who refused to participate in celebrations, which would have entailed sacrifice to the Roman gods. The family stood with Marcellus.

Eusebius conveys the mood of the Thebaid martyrs: “We beheld the most wonderful ardour, and the truly divine energy and zeal of those who believed in the Christ of God… And regarding with indifference the terrible things and the multiform tortured, they declared themselves boldly and undauntedly for the religion of the God of the universe… And they received the final sentence of death with joy and laughter and cheerfulness; so that they sang and offered up hymns and thanksgiving to the God of the universe till their very last breath.”

Even today, we have such barbarian acts which are faced by His children. The question we ask in our family is whether we really have that divine energy and zeal? We clearly see attacks on large families which stem from a lack of faith and zeal for God’s kingdom. Are we not wanting to be like Saint Marcellus and Mammaca in our love for Jesus. Let’s work hard for this great divine energy and zeal for us, our children and all our generations.  Do everything to grow in rock solid faith.

Merciful Father, through the intercession of Saints Marcellus and Mammaca, grant that we might meet the thrusts of the sword and similar challenges with a smile, the smothering fire with laughter and singing.