The Martyr, Telemachus


     On January 1, 404, Telemachus stepped into the gladiatorial ring in an amphitheater in ancient Rome.  He was not armed with sword or shield or spear or axe or dagger.  In fact, he was not armed at all.  But he did not enter the amphitheater to do battle.

     Telemachus was an ascetic monk from what is now Turkey.  An ascetic is someone who does not believe in amassing wealth, instead, choosing to live simply, as did Jesus.  He also eschewed violence, as did Jesus.  He was also not afraid to die at the hands of those who hated him and what he stood for, as was Jesus.  Telemachus was a true imitator of Jesus Christ.  He did not just dabble in Christianity.

     So how did he find himself in the gladiatorial ring on the first day of January, 404.  No, he was not there to be killed because he was a Christian.  Christians had been safe from persecution in Rome for over 80 years.  In fact in 380 Christianity had been made the official religion of Rome.  Telemachus had voluntarily entered the ring that day with the gladiators, not to fight, but to stop the fight.  The sport sickened him.  How could he, as a disciple of Christ, stand by while men battled to the death in front of approving crowds?  He could not.  So he entered the ring and stood between the gladiators, imploring them to stop fighting. 

     Apparently the gladiators were unsure of how to respond to this strange man, so they did nothing.  But the crowd, denied their lust for blood, could not abide anyone trying to put a stop to their entertainment.  Whether immediately or after, inside the amphitheater or out, we do not know.  But the crowd gathered around this gentle heroic man and stoned him to death.

     The Emperor of Rome at that time was Honorius, who was himself a Christian, although not of the caliber of Telemachus.  The actions of the crowd on that day were widely condemned by the public and the Senate, and Honorius decided to issue a decree that outlawed gladiatorial sport forever in Rome.  Within the Catholic Church Telemachus is known as Saint Telemachus, a martyr.

     I think the church of Jesus Christ needs more disciples like Telemachus today.  First of all, few Christians are ascetic like Telemachus these days.  Today’s Christians have bought into materialism and accumulation of wealth to the point where there is no difference between most believers and the typical cupidist.  We can covet and accumulate with the best of them.  And how many evangelical Christian’s default position is that of a kind, gentle, non-violent pacifist?  Not so many any more.  More and more Christians seem to be looking for a fight. 

     It’s not that Christians are unwilling to make a stand.  It just seems that the stands we make are not the stands that Jesus would want us to make.  Nor are most Christians willing to sacrifice much.  Telemachus’ second sacrifice was to intervene to stop men from killing each other for sport.  This cost him his life.  But his first sacrifice was even more important.  His was a sacrificial life style, so much like Christ’s that people had to pay attention to what he did.  He had what is called moral authority.  No one could point to him and say, “You say you are a Christian, but your lifestyle is nothing like Jesus Christ’s.”  His first sacrifice was his choosing to life like Jesus. 

     If Christians are going to make a difference in our culture, that is where we have to start.  If the world does not see in a Christian a humble, compassionate, gentle, kind, self-controlled, peace-loving, joyful, heart, the world will ignore him/her and go about their sinful business.  It is time for believers to get into Bible study and really learn what a Christian lifestyle is supposed to be.  Then make the changes in their lives so they honestly reflect Christ.  Then whatever stand we choose to make, whatever intervention we engage in, will at least be done for the right reasons and will be able to pass the moral authority test.

     There is much at stake here.  Christians have not been getting this right.  For centuries Western Europe and the Americas were Christiandom.  Which turned out to be most unfortunate, because we became lazy and worldly. We cannot be lazy any more.  We must do the “good works” for which God created and prepared us to do (Eph. 2:10).  We can’t be like the violent, self-serving, immoral world and then expect to change that world.  We must be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” so that we do not any longer conform to the pattern of the world (Rom. 12:2).

     This new year “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (II Cor. 13:5).  “Be eager to make your calling sure” (II Pet. 1:10).  When God calls, it is a call to obedience and holiness.  Telemachus understood this, embraced it totally, and made his stand.  An ungodly tradition ended.  If he had been just another worldly Christian who dabbled in the faith, he would have changed nothing.