Arabic original here.
Martyrs of Love
Martyrs are the greatest saints. They are greater than the prophets, the monks, the righteous, and every type of saint. Martyrdom of blood is more powerful than martyrdom of the word and martyrdom of life. They cross over to eternal life without judgment, because they loved God and preferred abiding with Him to all the joys of this world, and those who love God shall not see death.
They realized the true meaning of the noble verse, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Those who abide in God and those in whom God abides shall not die. They realized that those who are armed with love shall not be touched by fear, because “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). They did not fear death in order to bear witness to their faith, because they “had trust in the day of judgment.”
The lives of the martyrs inform us that they imitated the crucified Christ and they believed Him when He said, “Take heart—I have conquered the world,” meaning the spirit of this world that is subject to evil, with His precious blood. Saint Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) implores the people of Rome, “Let me be offered as a sacrifice upon God’s altar.” Saint Eubulus cried out in the face of the person who was flogging him, demanding that he offer sacrifices to idols so that he could be pardoned and stay alive, “Yes, I will offer a sacrifice. But I shall offer up myself before Christ God and I have nothing else to offer…”
In Christianity, a martyr is one who offers the liturgy by offering his body as a living sacrifice in place of bread and wine. His body changes into the body of Christ. His body changes into the Church, in every meaning that word bears. Did the Holy Apostle Paul not liken the Church to “the body of Christ”? Did he himself not say that the bodies of the faithful are temples of the Holy Spirit? For all these reasons, we honor their relics, since they have become a holy sacrifice.
Thus the seventh canon of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787) says, on the basis of the ancient tradition of erecting churches upon the tombs of martyrs, “Let the remains of the holy martyrs be placed in the churches that were consecrated without them. May anyone who consecrates a church without any remains of the martyrs be anathema.”
The Apostle John makes man’s love for his fellow man the true proof of man’s love for God. He says, “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21). He himself connects knowledge of God with love when he says, “He who has not loved has not known God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). A martyr, then, is one who dies while his heart is replete with love, love of God and love of his fellow man. Anyone who claims that he knows God and His decrees but kills and justifies it in God’s name is deluded: if he dies, he is not a martyr and has no connection to martyrdom.
When Cain sought to kill Abel, Abel said to him, “Even if you stretch out your hand against me to kill me, I shall not stretch out my hand against you to kill you, lo! I fear God, the Lord of the Worlds” (Surat al-Ma’ida 28). One who loves God or fears Him does not kill his fellow man, but rather loves him and dies for his sake. Only then is it fitting to call him a martyr.