We are all called to be martyrs of Christ.
Does this sound strange to you? It shouldn’t.
The word martyr is a Greek word which simply means witness. Is not every Christian called to be a witness for Christ? Indeed we are.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Mt 5:16). Our Lord Jesus Christ says: I am the Light of the world (Jn 8:12). Our light which is to shine before men so that our Father in heaven may be glorified is Christ the Lord. Every Christian is to be a bearer of Christ, who is the Light, the Truth and the Life.
This is why in the Church, the Holy Mystery of Baptism is called Holy Illumination, for in the waters of baptism the filth of the world, the filth of sin, is washed away, and we are made clean; the darkness of idolatry, ignorance and death is banished and we are filled with the Light of Truth, which is Christ.
The word martyr usually brings to mind those who died for their faith. So, if we are all called to be martyrs, called to be witnesses of Christ, does this not mean that we are to die for Christ? It certainly does.
The old man, the man enveloped in sin, in death, is put to death and buried an the holy waters of regeneration, and the person rising from the waters as if from a tomb is cloaked in Christ, the New Man. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal3:27). This is why the divine Paul boldly states: I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).
The problem with Christians today is that we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want the Kingdom of God but we do not want to renounce the world, we do not want to deny ourselves. Did not our Lord plainly say: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Lk 9:23-24)?
We cannot live if we first do not first die: die to our sins, lusts, passions - to our own will. This is why we pray daily in the Lord’s prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Our will is a fallen, sinful. Thus the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans: For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I (7:14-15). Thus we must die to the world, to sin, to our own will. This is why, before we dare enter the waters of regeneration, we must renounce Satan, all his works, all his pride, for by sinning we submit to our adversary, and it is necessary to renounce him, for this is what it means to deny ourselves, to die to our own will, to our sins, for only then can we bear our cross and follow Christ.
Let us not think that this is something for monastics alone (an excuse used by many to justify their lackluster Christianity). This is for all who call themselves Christians, who bear the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. We see in the Divine Scriptures, as well as in the lives of the Saints, that there are many godly men and women, married, parents who raise children. Was not Adam placed together with Eve in paradise to serve God in holiness? Monasticism is something else, easier if you will, for it does not involve the distractions of married life. Nevertheless, we are all called to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy, and to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
This is our great failing today: by not dying to ourselves we do not fully abide in nor bear witness to Christ. This is precisely the reason why the world is the way it is. Our Lord Christ says: Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing… (Mt 5:13). Thus Christianity is waning in this country, many churches have closed for they long ago abandoned Christ. This is, sadly, also true for the Orthodox. We have lost the vast majority of our people in this country over the last 100 years +. Why? Because it is one thing to be called Orthodox and another to be Orthodox, to embody Orthodoxy.
What can we do? Live the faith; embody what we learn of the faith. Die to ourselves daily and live unto Christ. Stand up when we fall. Repent when we sin. Forgive when we are offended. Love God. Love one another, our neighbors and even those who may persecute us. This is how we become martyrs, bear witness to the Light, which is Christ the Lord.