It could be first-century Palestine or twenty-first century Gaza Strip. It could be a Jesuit missionary who followed the Silk Road on foot taking the gospel to the Emperor of China or the pastor of a house church in Shanghai confronting the communist state. It could be the violence of the Aztecs in the sixteenth century or the brutal repression of a Latin American military junta today. It could be a local bishop bearing witness to his faith in a provincial Roman court or a simple believer before a panel of judges in Iran.
It could be the distant past or it could be today – or tomorrow. It could be a first-century saint, or it could be me or you answering the question, “What would you die for?”
Late in the second century of the Christian era, a renegade charismatic theologian named Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. He knew what it was; he saw it for himself. Certainly martyrdom was no stranger to those Christians who lived and died under the rule of a cynical and inconsistent imperial authority during the first three hundred years of the church’s life. During those first centuries, countless thousands made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives as a witness to their faith in Christ. They knew what it meant to be a witness – martyria – literally one who showed to others by their own conduct, in their own flesh and blood, the meaning of Christ’s passion in life and in death.
Yet, it is too easy to distance ourselves from the martyrs by thinking of them as mere historical curiosities from the early centuries of the church – “that was then, this is now”. In every new land, where Christians made their way, martyrs, once again, planted the seed and, all too often, nourished it with their blood. Even in so-called Christian societies – whether modern or medieval – wars of religion, disregard of conscience, and attacks upon the values of simple human dignity have called forth believers who have “spoken truth to power” and have placed their lives on the line for the sake of Christ and his message of redemptive love. When those lives have been required, they have not only been given with grace, they have also been infused with grace.
In answering the question, “What would you die for?”, the martyrs gave their lives in response. The grace given and shown in the martyrs actions has been reflected in their prayers and writings. What they have said, what they have written, is their answer to the question. Collected on this disc is a sampling of prayers and reflections from often ordinary, yet wholly remarkable people, from the first-century through to our own living memory. It is a small selection, meant to be a small sampling of “a vast cloud of witnesses” who have born the name of martyr. The selections are meant to be suggestive of the devotion, courage and love of those who offered their very lives in the service of Christ and the upholding of the core values of Christian faith. All of the prayers are unique testaments of faith. Each prayer has been adapted as a lyric and each is presented in contemporary language within a unique musical setting. Each is an answer to the question.
This album, however, cannot answer the question, “What would you die for?”. That question is addressed to each of us – century by century, year by year, day by day.
It could be asked of you.
It could be asked of me.
It could be asked today.
It could be asked tomorrow…
-DUANE W.H. ARNOLD, PARIS, FEBRUARY 2012