The Catacombs

January 1


Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. Matthew 24:9

A lone man closed the door of his house and stepped into the darkness of the Roman night. Keeping to the shadows, he stole along the back streets of the city, from time to time looking back to see if he was being followed. At the outskirts of the city, he hurried towards a dark opening in the rock. Once inside, he groped his way along the gloomy passageways that had been hollowed out long ago to get stone for building the city. The man tiptoed on through the maze of corridors guided by the sound of music.

At last he saw light at the end of a passageway and hastened toward the light. In the vaulted stone-chamber, he found men and women dressed in white, singing a psalm of joy.

Long into the night he worshiped with the Christians of Rome, safe from the watchful eye of Nero’s guards. One after another the men and women shared their testimonies of trials they were facing, of prayers answered, and victories gained. They cried together as they shared stories after stories of friends and relatives being hunted down, slain, and tortured in horrible ways.

Behind the persecution was Nero, emperor of Rome. After the great fire in July A.D. 64, persecution escalated. Many said Nero himself set the fire for the joy of seeing it burn as background to the recitation of his poems about the burning. of Troy. The fire raged for six days until two thirds of the city was destroyed. True or not, the people blamed Nero, and he became alarmed at their hatred. To appease them he rushed into the streets, scattering money to the fleeing people until his treasury was empty.

Then to divert people’s attention away from himself, Nero charged the Christians for having set fire to Rome. He gave orders for every Christian to be hunted and killed. Some were fed to the lions but others suffered even worse fates. He had his servants sew some in the skins of wild animals and then set wild dogs upon them. Others he covered with pitch and fastened them to poles which he planted in the garden of his palace. These living torches then provided the light for some of Nero’s feasts.

“Just as Jesus prophesied, so it is happening,” the believers in the catacombs must have often told themselves. They sang and prayed together and encouraged one another to be faithful should they be put to the test. Here they heard sermons and read letters written by the apostles. They also enacted the Lord’s supper together and gathered strength for the morrow.

If you had lived in A.D. 64, would you have had the courage to risk your life to find your way to the catacombs to worship Jesus Christ and to take part in communion?


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