The Call to Holiness
The Call to Holiness
Today is the Feast Day of the Martyrdom of St. Sixtus and Companions

Today is the Feast Day of the Martyrdom of St. Sixtus and Companions

Pope Sixtus (fresco) - Sandro Boticelli (Sistine Chapel)

The Sacrificial Witness of St. Sixtus and His Deacons: A Reflection on Christian Martyrdom

The Martyrdom of St. Sixtus and his deacons is a testament to the challenges faced by early Christians. St. Sixtus was the 24th Bishop of Rome, and his pontificate was during a time of intense persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. The reign of Emperor Valerian, in particular, marked an escalation in hostilities against Christians. It was under his orders that St. Sixtus, along with six of his deacons – Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, Stephanus, Felicissimus, and Agapitus – faced execution in the catacombs of Rome in 258 AD.

St. Cyprian's Letter

St. Cyprian of Carthage, a contemporary bishop and martyr himself, was deeply moved by the martyrdom of St. Sixtus and his deacons. His letter, written soon after hearing of their death, is both a lamentation and a celebration of their sacrifice. It reveals how the early Church viewed martyrdom – not as a defeat but as a victory.

Theological Implications of Martyrdom

Martyrdom, in the Christian tradition, is more than just a tragic death for the faith. It is a participation in the sufferings of Christ and a testament to the resurrection. When St. Sixtus and his deacons faced death, they did so with the conviction that their suffering had a purpose in God’s grand plan of salvation.

Their martyrdom was not only a witness to their own faith but also served as a beacon of hope for other Christians facing persecution. They embodied the belief that, in death, they were not defeated but rather found true life in Christ.

The stories of St. Sixtus and his deacons, as well as St. Cyprian's reflections on their sacrifices, serve as a reminder of the cost of discipleship. They challenge contemporary believers to evaluate the depth of their own faith and to stand firm in the face of adversity. Martyrs, both ancient and modern, bear witness to the truth that Christ's love is worth every sacrifice.


St Cyprian's letter to Successus

The soldiers of Christ have not been destroyed, but crowned

Dear brother, the reason why I could not write to you immediately was that all the clergy were embroiled in the heat of the conflict. They could not possibly leave, all of them having prepared themselves for divine and heavenly glory.

But now the messengers have come back, those whom I sent to the City to find out and report the truth of whatever decrees had been made about us – for people have been imagining all sorts of different possibilities. Here, then, is the truth:

Valerian sent a rescript to the Senate, saying that bishops, presbyters, and deacons should all receive immediate punishment; that senators, knights, and other men of importance should lose their rank and their property, and if they still persisted in being Christians, they should lose their heads; and that matrons should be deprived of their property and be sent into exile. Members of Caesar’s own household, whether they had confessed their faith before or were only confessing it now, should be deprived of their property, bound in chains, and sent as slaves to his estates.

To this command, Valerian attached a copy of the letters which he had sent to the governors of the various provinces about us; and we daily await the arrival of these letters, bracing ourselves, each according to the strength of his faith, for the suffering that is to be endured, and looking forward to the help and mercy of the Lord and the crown of eternal life.

You should know, however, that Sixtus was martyred in the cemetery on the sixth of August, and four deacons with him. Moreover, the prefects in the City are daily pushing forward this persecution, and anyone who is presented to them is martyred and all his property confiscated by the state.

I beg you to make these things known to the rest of our colleagues, so that through their encouragement the whole brotherhood may be strengthened and made ready for the spiritual conflict – so that each one of us may think less of death and more of immortality – so that everyone, dedicated to the Lord with full faith and total courage, may rejoice in this confession and not fear it, for they know that the soldiers of God and Christ are not destroyed, but crowned.

Dearest brother, always fare well in the Lord.

Let us pray.

Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit you enabled Saint Sixtus and his companions to lay down their lives for your word in witness to Jesus.

Give us the grace to believe in you and the courage to profess our faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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