Texts on Thanksgiving: Cyprian and the Roman Martyrs

This text is from a letter of Cyprian to those awaiting martyrdom in Rome:

Cyprian to the martyrs and confessors in Christ our Lord and in God the Father, everlasting salvation. I gladly rejoice and am thankful, most brave and blessed brethren, at hearing of your faith and virtue, wherein the Church, our Mother, glories. Lately, indeed, she gloried, when, in consequence of an enduring confession, that punishment was undergone which drove the confessors of Christ into exile; yet the present confession is so much the more illustrious and greater in honour as it is braver in suffering. The combat has increased, and the glory of the combatants has increased also. Nor were you kept back from the struggle by fear of tortures, but by the very tortures themselves you were more and more stimulated to the conflict; bravely and firmly you have returned with ready devotion, to contend in the extremest contest.

From the response of the Roman clergy on behalf of those suffering:

In which matter we ought to give you also, and we do give you, abundant thanks, that you have brightened the darkness of their prison by your letters; that you came to them in whatever way you could enter; that you refreshed their minds, robust in their own faith and confession, by your addresses and letters; that, following up their felicities with worthy praises, you have inflamed them to a much more ardent desire of heavenly glory; that you urged them forward; that you animated, by the power of your discourse, those who, as we believe and hope, will be victors by and by; so that although all may seem to come from the faith of those who confess, and from the divine mercy, yet they seem in their martyrdom to have become in some sort debtors to you.

In these complimenting passages we see an overflowing of thanksgiving from those who are perhaps least in a place to be grateful. Cyprian thanks God for the martyrs, not necessarily because they are being forced to suffer but because they are a true witness in their suffering. Cyprian is grateful to be associated with so powerful a testimony to the power of God’s goodness as those who would suffer willingly for the truth. He would follow their example at the end of his life. In turn, the martyrs echo Cyprian’s gratitude with overwhelming gratitude of their own. When darkness begins to creep up on them in their cells awaiting torment and death, they are grateful to be part of a community that glories in them and stands behind them unto death. Even when they are most isolated – separated from society, hidden away from their families, and condemned to death – they are never truly alone. They are part of a community, a heavenly body from which they cannot be separated by earthly means. They are sustained by the gratitude of their Christian family and they reciprocate by sustaining others with that same spirit of thanksgiving.

When the community of faith was still very much struggling in its infancy, Cyprian and the martyrs are abundantly thankful to part of the body of Christ. How often do we take it for granted?

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