The Early Christians: Prayer and Hope
Mary Anne Cronican
The early Christians, especially during the time the Book of Revelation was written and certainly beyond, were experiencing much harassment and persecution. Their newfound “Way” or faith was proving difficult to live out especially considering the secular, pagan government under which they had to live. Their rulers were cruel and demanded homage to be paid to their pagan emperor. There were required also to give worship to these rulers and were persecuted or even killed if they refused. They were under tremendous pressure and treated as criminals and subjected to wide spread persecution, indeed throughout the Roman Empire.
The Christians were entrenched in paganism, idolatry, immorality, Emperor Worship and lewd festivals. Fellow Jews were jealous of them and in particular of the ministry of St. Stephen’s preaching and its effects on the Jewish converts and conspired to bring him down—a first step in destroying the followers of Jesus. (the name Stephen in Greek=crown, in Hebrew “norm”[the way he lived was the “norm” of Christian living] or “strenue fans” meaning “speaking strongly.”)
Much of their rule of life was laid down in Roman law. The Christians developed communities so as to be “apart” form this way of life and because of this, they were not trusted by their fellow Jews or their Roman occupiers. They were treated as traitors and outcasts and subjected to rumors, accused of incest because they worshipped with children, showed outward expressions of love for one another and met secretly. Because of their beliefs, they were a threat to others.
Whenever (as is the case today) there is a massive opposition to Christians, it is never logical. It is always a spiritual attack. Luke 6:28 and Romans 12: 14 tell us what our response should be to persecution: “Bless your persecutors and do not curse them.”
They greatly needed encouragement to hold on to the beliefs they were taught and not to be seduced by the way of those outside their community. Temptation was always present and what Jesus taught most generally went against what they saw and experienced in the pagan community.
It was probably easy to slip away from Christian beliefs and practices, and adopt the pagan ways that included affluence and “modern thought”. They needed to be drawn back—lassoed, as it were—in order to become once again grounded in the Christian Way. They had seen the destruction of their Temple and all of Jerusalem and, for some, this was a definite sign of the end of the world coming soon—the Parousia.
God gave this revelation not only for the Christian community in the times of Domitian (when it was probably written) who truly needed to be once again anchored in their Christian faith, encouraged that the end was not near, and to live in faith and hope. They needed a remedy to the anxiety, confusion and, mostly, the persecution that prevailed at that time. They needed encouragement and hope.
Upon reading the Book of Revelation, one readily realizes that it is meant for Christians of all times since history always repeats itself. Persecution of Christians will be until the end of time and it is a sign that one is living out the message of Jesus the Lord Who was hated when He walked the earth.
Trials and tribulations, suffering will always be part of our human lives. Why, we ask, does God allow us to experience these difficult times. We know that, in spite of the evil in the world, God is in charge and nothing can happen to us unless He ordains it or allows it. All suffering, in the end if united with the sufferings of the Lord, brings about good. Revelation 5:3 tells us: “…and not only this, we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance.” And, certainly the early Christians needed perseverance!
It is in our dark times that we need to turn to prayer and hope even as the darkness envelopes us. It is especially in those times that we retain our sense of hope and seek the Lord even if His presence seems so absent from our lives. Surely, the early Christians, who underwent terrible trials and tribulations, held on to the words of Jesus and His promise of eternal life as their only anchor to hope.
The need for faith in Jesus Christ and Christian hope is always and forevermore the solution for Christians.
Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.