Our God is the God of the living, and who is more alive than those who have completed this earthly journey and are now with Him in Heaven?
Jesus said, “As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living” -Mark 12:26-27
For this reason, among others, we honor all those holy men and women who have preceded us and helped show us ways to live out our faith.
“Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself: We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators…May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!” CCC 957
Christians have honored martyrs and other saints since the early years of the Church. Sermons from the second century A.D. attest to this custom, and many days were set aside to honor these holy men and women, days we now refer to as “feast days.” However, quite early on, there were so many martyrs for the faith that each one could not have their own day, and so a feast dedicated to all the martyrs was established. There are 4th century references from St. Ephrem the Syrian of this general feast and St John Chrysostom initially assigned the first Sunday after Pentecost to celebrate all the Saints.
It has been said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, Apologeticus), and it can be seen from early Church history that the faith did, indeed, spread through the heroic evangelization of those willing to give their lives for the faith. Just as many pagan people were baptized and became new creations in Christ, so, too, some of the ancient pagan worship sites were consecrated to the one True God and became new places of worship for the early Christians.
Some of these sites can be seen and visited today and one site is that of the Pantheon in Rome. Built around 100 A.D., this pagan temple was dedicated to all their gods (Pantheon is from the Greek for all the gods) and was central to Roman pagan worship. In the year 609, the Byzantine Emperor Phocas, gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV, who removed all artifacts formerly used in pagan worship and replaced them with Christian statues, artwork, and, most importantly, relics. Upon the consecration and dedication of this new church, the Pantheon was renamed as the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. What was once a pagan site used for the worship of their “many gods” became a holy site for Christians to honor their many Saints through the worship of the One, True, God.
Many more churches and holy places are dedicated to beloved Saints throughout Rome and other parts of Italy. Tekton has been blessed to send pilgrims on an amazing journey of faith as they walk the same roads trod by saints and martyrs centuries ago and has several planned pilgrimages to Italy this upcoming calendar year.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.