I don’t know the first person to create #21ORANGE and #ORANGE21 so credit can not be properly given to them. However, I am sure that the honoring of the twenty-one martyred Egyptian men, who were killed wearing orange jump suits, is at the heart of the hashtag.
As a local church pastor, it is essential for me to determine how I will personally respond to this renewed season of martyrdom and how I will lead our congregations to respond. The one thing we can not afford is no response at all.
From the murder of Jesus on a cross to the beheading of our Egyptian brothers in Libya, martyrdom for our faith is to be expected. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:20).” It didn’t take long to move from the killing of Jesus to the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7).
So seriously did our fore-family prioritize persecution that I have been told early Christians often considered the denial of Jesus in the face of martyrdom to be an unpardonable sin.
At the core, Christians understand death very differently than others. Consider Justin Martyr’s words from about 150 AD.
Though death is decreed against those who teach or at all confess the name of Christ, we everywhere both embrace and teach it. And if you also read these words in a hostile spirit, you can do no more, as I said before, than kill us; which indeed does no harm to us, but to you and all who unjustly hate us and do not repent, brings eternal punishment by fire.
Death does no harm to us. This is truly the message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. As hymn writer, Samuel Gandy penned, “Death by dying, he slew.” For those in Jesus death is dead.
Back to leading the part of the flock of God under my care.
We must keep this reality in the forefront of our convictions. We, most likely, will be faced with martyrdom and therefore martyrs serve as heroic role models for our faith. Many ancient Christian churches were built upon the very location of a notable martyr. Although I am not sure the reason, these buildings were designed with eight sides. I have been told, “If you see an ancient Christian church that is eight sided, someone was martyred there.”
In addition to building on the martyrdom site, baptismal fonts were established at these locations as well. Generally, I am told, the actual location of the martyrdom is where the baptismal font was located. I remember descending the three stairs into one such baptistry and the feelings I experienced were almost overwhelming. “I am baptized into the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus,” I reflected.
In keeping martyrdom, both historic and current, on the frontlines of my mind, I will be praying for 21 days, from March 13 through Good Friday, for the families of the 21 men who were martyred in Libya. So that others will be confronted with the current day persecution, I will be wearing an orange shirt (in honor of the orange jump suits) with the words #21orange on the front.
Each day I will post one of the men’s names and a prayer for his family and for all who are faced with martyrdom today.
You are cordially invited to join the remembrance.