Today’s Morning Prayer commemoration was on the Bishop of Rome (known today as the Pope) being a martyr in 250 AD. Martyrs are an interesting topic. And while most Christian martyrs end up being referred to as saints, I am most familiar with Baha’i martyrs.
There’s a play that I saw once called “When the Moment Comes”. It’s one of those plays designed to make you think, because you really don’t have any idea what you’re going to decide “when the moment comes” – will you live or die for your Faith? In making a temporary renouncement of your beliefs, you can eventually be released and go on to make a difference in the world on behalf of your Faith. That is a choice that Olya Roohizadegan made when she wrote Olya’s Story. She was imprisoned along with many Baha’i women, the youngest of whom was 16, simply for being Baha’is in Iran. Because of the changes when the Shah was deposed, Baha’is were considered to have committed apostasy, meaning they went against the Muslim Faith. While Jews and Christians were somewhat more protected at the time, having constitutional protections of being “people of the Book” (The Book being the Bible), Baha’is were of a religion that came *after* Islam. Their businesses were seized, children were no longer allowed educations and often they were detained for indeterminate amounts of time. Olya was a young mother, and had parents who needed her. When her moment came, she recanted her beliefs, and then escaped through the mountains with her family. They eventually settled in England, where she was actually a hairdresser, but as she promised the women she left behind, she told their story in her book, and toured the world to get the word out about the plight of the Baha’is in Iran. She is truly an impressive and courageous woman. She lived for her Faith.
Ten of the women with her in prison that she wrote about were put to death by hanging in 1983. This included a 16-year-old girl named Mona Mahmudnizhad – who was arrested because she was teaching Baha’i children to read and write in secret. When I went to Olya’s presentation, she had pictures of each of the 20 men and women who were hanged that day, many of which she showed first alive and smiling, and then with the rope mark across their necks. Although she only showed a picture of Mona alive, I had nightmares for years about that child with a rope mark around her neck. When Mona’s moment came, she chose to become a martyr.
Mona actually reminds me much of Malala Yousafzai, the young Muslim woman who scared the Taliban so much because she wants an education, and was shot for it. When Malala became well, she began speaking in the broader world about the need for education and peace.
Interestingly, there are pros and cons to each choice. And it basically comes down to what you can live, or die, with. You will make your choice – and how will you defend it when you are judged by God?
Is it more important to live, or to die, for your Faith? When the moment comes, what will you choose?