“Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion.” –Perpetua, 203 A.D.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ ….So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”Luke 14:26-31,33
I have been reading a book “Hearts of Fire” put out by the Voice of the Martyrs. It is about women who have been persecuted for their faith but are standing strong in the Lord. I really admire those who are faithful under persecution. So, I knew that this week’s black history lesson on heroes of the faith had to be about the first black martyr. And, to my surprise, I found two of them were women!!
Counting the Cost
At the beginning of the third century, Christianity was spreading like wildfire in Northern Africa. The Roman Empire had began to heavily persecute believers at this time. So, we have no doubt that these young women knew all too well the danger of what they were doing. They had most definitely counted the cost and knew who and what they were prepared to lose for the cause of Christ.
We don’t know the details of Perpetua and Felicity’s conversion. But, we do know that Perpetua was from a wealthy family in Carthage and that Felicity was her servant. The two women were arrested along with three other young converts and thrown into prison shortly after their baptism.
During her imprisonment, she wrote The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, a journal accounting all of the details. Before being led to their death, Perpetua handed her diary off to another young convert and asked that their story be finished. Her diary is one of the unusual surviving records written by a female in the ancient world.
It is important to mention that Perpetua, age 22, had a young son that she was still nursing and Felicity was eight months pregnant. This was a horrific ordeal for both women. She writes of the heat and darkness of the prison.
She also writes of the cruel treatment they were under from the Roman soldiers and how her heart and body ached to nurse her baby. Felicity gave birth to her child in prison. Both women would die without their babies every knowing their mothers.
On top of this, she wrote of visits frequently from her father who begged her to denounce Christianity. He begs her to “remember his old age, her family, and her infant son. ” This was very trying for her because while we know that she loved her family and did not wish to do them harm, the cause of the Lord was greater. Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
(See also: How to Dethrone Self)
Taking Up the Cross
When taken before the tribunal, they were given an option to forsake Christ and to perform a sacrifice for the Emperor. To this Perpetua answer, “I am Christian.” Her friends including Felicity all declared the same. She then sealed her fate. She knew along with everyone else that she would be made a spectacle at the Roman games and that death was her punishment.
God showed himself mighty in her last days. Perpetua records many dreams and visions the Lord gave her. She had written previously in her diary that as soon as she came up from the baptismal waters, the Spirit instructed her to “pray only for the endurance of the flesh.” She was sure the Lord was preparing her for what was to come.
The date was March 7, 203.
If you know anything about the ancient Romans, you know that they were all about entertainment. Death to them was a show and the bloodier, the better.
They tried to dress the Christians as pagan priests and priestesses, but they protested. They sang praises to God and refused to show fear to the crowd. The men were delivered up first to be beaten by the gladiators before being thrown to wild animals to rip to pieces.
Perpetua and Felicity were next. Felicity looked at her brother and said, “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion.” The next moment, the women were charged by a wild cow and attacked by a jaguar. They stood bloodied and kissed one another as the gladiator came out and beheaded both women.
I can just picture the Lord welcoming them into paradise with a “well done my good and faithful servants.” (Matthew 25:21) They counted the cost, took up their cross, and suffered death but great is their reward in heaven.
I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I did and I hope that you are inspired by their faith. More than that, I pray that you are moved to pray and remember the persecuted church today. I have attached a family prayer guide for the persecuted church. While their story is both horrifying and praiseworthy, unfortunately it is not unique. It has been estimated that somewhere around 100,000 Christians were murdered under Roman rule. Over the last year alone, the total has been reported as 900,000. And, to date around 43 million Christians have died world wide for their faith. (See also: How to be Persistent in Prayer)
For more on the Persecuted Church:
Black Heroes of the Faith Series
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