The Martyrs of Nicomedia

(entered heaven in 303)

Dear Nick,

I hope you are so enraptured by the heavenly delights of today’s celebrations that you don’t get a chance to read this until later.  But on the off chance that you find yourself surfing on Christmas, there are two things worth thinking about today (actually many more than just two, but these will be good for a start).  The first has to do with these Nicomedian martyrs (Nicomedia is now called Izmut, a city near Istanbul, in Turkey). Almost everyone cites as unhistorical this heroic martyrdom of 20,000 Christians who had gathered to worship on Christmas day (it may have been Epiphany, which is an older celebration than Christmas; Christmas actually began to be celebrated in Rome in the fourth century, counteracting a revival of the pagan “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” festival).  When they were all in the church for Mass, Emperor Diocletian ordered the doors locked, and fire readied around the building. Then he had an incense tripod erected outside the entrance, and the Christians were informed that any who would agree to burn incense in honor of the Roman gods would be let free. Not one of them was willing to abandon Christ their Lord to save their life. So the building was incinerated, and these courageous martyrs were born into heaven on the commemoration of our Lord’s birth into the earth.

You may have inferred (rightly) that I am not among the skeptics on this one.  Who would think up such a story? In any case, it is a good reminder for you: on this most heartwarming day of the year, don’t forget (don’t ever forget) to pray sincerely for the Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith, who are forbidden from or unable to celebrate the Birth of our Lord.  There are always more than we know in such a situation. Perhaps they live under an oppressive regime; perhaps they are in prison; perhaps they are at war… Let us pray (with the Nicomedian martyrs) that God grant them at least a touch of Christmas joy even so.

The second thing to think about is how Catholics celebrate these great liturgical solemnities – the celebration doesn’t end when the sun goes down; it lasts for eight days, a period called “the octave of Christmas” (or of whatever feast is being celebrated).  Sometimes we fall into the generic Christmas mold and don’t give God all the credit he deserves on this great solemnity. Don’t let that happen to you. Keep playing Christmas carols all week, even till Epiphany. Keep that tree up for eight more days at least.  Keep spreading the Christmas spirit; let it flow out of everything you do and say – the birth of God as man is too wondrous an event to squeeze into one little day.

Merry Christmas!  Uncle Eddy

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