Prof. Michael Ogunu is the Coordinator of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa
“No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20)
Throughout the history of the Church, from the time of the Roman persecutions until the present, Christians have been called upon to suffer and die for the Faith if situations demand it. The martyrdom of the Apostles and their contemporaries is proof of the historical reality of the Gospel story. For the Apostles were willing to attest in their blood what they had seen, what they had heard, and what they believed.
Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword wound.
Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead.
Luke was hanged in Greece as a result of his powerful preaching to the lost.
John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome, but he was miraculously delivered from death. He was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. The Apostle John was later freed and returned to serve as Bishop of Edessa in modern Turkey. He died an old man, the only Apostle to die peacefully.
Peter was crucified upside down — according to Church tradition it was because he told his tormentors that he felt unworthy to die in the same way that Jesus Christ had died.
James the Less (the Just), the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, was thrown more than 100 feet down from the southeast pinnacle of the Temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When his enemies saw that he survived the fall, they beat James to death with a fuller’s club. This was the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the Temptation.
James the Greater (elder), Son of Zebedee, was a fisherman by trade when Jesus called him to a lifetime of ministry. As a strong leader of the Church, James was ultimately beheaded at Jerusalem. The Roman officer who guarded James watched amazed as James defended his faith at his trial. Later, the officer walked beside James to the place of execution. Overcome by conviction, he declared his new faith to the judge and knelt beside James to accept beheading as a Christian.
Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed for our Lord in present-day Turkey. Bartholomew was martyred for his preaching in Armenia where he was flayed to death by a whip.
Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Patras, Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. His followers reported that, when he was led toward the cross, Andrew saluted it in these words: “I have long desired and expected this happy hour. The cross has been consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on it.” He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he expired.
Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the Church on the sub-continent.
Jude was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
Matthias, the Apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded.
Barnabas, one of the group of 70 disciples, wrote the Epistle of Barnabas. He preached throughout Italy and Cyprus. Barnabas was stoned to death at Salonica.
Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67. Paul endured a lengthy imprisonment, which allowed him to write his many epistles to the churches he had formed throughout the Roman Empire. These letters, which taught many of the foundational doctrines of Christianity, form a large portion of the New Testament.
The foregoing account of the sufferings and death of the apostles is a poignant reminder to us that our sufferings here are indeed minor compared to the intense persecution and cold cruelty they endured during their times for the sake of the Faith.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single grain, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (John 12:24).