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I’m sending this newsletter a few days early because I have something special planned for Monday, June 1! Be sure to check your email on that day!
This issue of Heroines is about the Early Church. It covers the first three hundred years of the Bride of Christ. In these formative years Christians endured severe persecution. The persecution of the church can be divided into two distinct periods. The first began in AD 64 under Emperor Nero and lasted until 250. Most of the persecution during this time was sporadic and local, while during the second period, from 250-313 it was more severe and widespread.
We are going to meet some amazing Christian girls and women in this issue. The first two stories are about martyrs, one a poor slave girl named Blandina and the other a noble lady of Rome named Felicitas. Both of these noble Christians showed passionate devotion to Jesus. Next there is a short history of Helena the mother of Constantine--the Roman Emperor who made Christianity legal.
Without further ado let’s get started!
Pilgrim on a journey,
Heroines of the Past
P.O. Box 429
Wright, WY 82732
Heroines of the Past
Blandina, the Slave Girl of Lyons, c. A.D. 177
By John Hunt, 1885
"Mistress, why do you never worship the gods?" enquired a young slave girl.
The Roman lady smiled at the question. "What would it benefit me," she answered in a low sweet voice, "to make a sacrifice to images of marble and stone?"
"But the images are merely representations of the beings which control our destinies, I believe," replied the girl, a little puzzled--"at least, so the priests tell us."
"That cannot be, Blandina," said the noble lady, "for there are no such gods as Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and the others. The images you worship are the works of man’s hands, the reflections of figures which their imagination creates. The names which they bear are also given by man, and the deeds which they are said to have done and to do are but the invention of their makers. I could not, I dare not, represent my God by any image, or presume to ascribe to His Divine Majesty such qualities as our people give to their idols."
"Ah!" exclaimed Blandina, "then you have a God?"
"Certainly," replied the lady, smiling, "a God that created all things."
"Where is He?" asked Blandina.
"Everywhere," answered her mistress. "In this room, while we are speaking, in the heavens, upon the earth," and taking from under the pillow upon which she had been resting her head a roll of parchment, she bade Blandina seat herself at her feet, "and hear something of the God who was in all places, and yet had no image."
Blandina did as she was asked, and listened with interest and astonishment to the story of the Cross.
When it was finished she sat speechless, with the tears falling from her eyes. It seemed incredible to the clever but unschooled bond maiden, that a slave like herself, a creature whom men scorned, "who possessed no rights, who had no prospect in life but years of cruel bondages, no hope in the future but the dark grave, was, notwithstanding the apparent contradictions of her lot, one whom her Creator loved, for whom Christ had died, and for whom there was prepared equally with her master an eternity of joy and peace, with which all the sufferings of life were not worthy to be compared."
"Can it be true?" murmured Blandina, when she had recovered from her emotion.
"It is true indeed," answered her mistress, resting her hand kindly upon the bowed head, "and if you can once be made, through God’s grace, to feel that it is, you will never bow down to images of wood and stone again."
Blandina lifted the hand of her mistress, and kissed it reverently. "I will never worship the gods of my fathers again," said she in a low voice. "Henceforth, beloved lady and mistress, your God shall be mine, for if His worshippers by serving Him can become so gentle and gracious in their behavior to those who are despised among men, He must indeed be worthy of devotion."
And Blandina kept her word. Days and months passed away, and her Christian mistress did not hear of her making any offering to the false gods at the neighboring temples. She therefore took her by the hand, as a young sister eager to learn the truth, and introduced her to an assembly of Christians, who met by stealth in a tomb. Now Blandina heard more fully from the brethren how the incarnate God had died for the despised slave--suffering the death of a condemned slave, to obtain blessings for him as well as for all other human beings.
Transported with joy at the hope of salvation and a future life, she folded her hands and raised her sweet clear voice in a hymn of thanksgiving, declaring that she should now be ready to leave the world at any moment, for all her fears had been crushed beneath the heel of the Savior.
Little did Blandina think how soon she would be required to prove her words. For but a few days passed away before her mistress, whose light was not one to be hidden under a bushel, was seized and carried before the governor--charged with the crime of being a Christian. This took place during the persecution under Marcus Aurelius.
Blandina followed weeping, and ere they reached the judgment-hall, an expression used by the poor slave girl caused her to be arrested also, and included in the condemnation of her mistress.
The circumstance added greatly to the burden which had been cast upon the shoulders of Blandina’s noble Christian mistress, for the bond maiden was but young and of a delicate disposition. She trembled with anxiety lest the fiery trial should be too great for the young girl. But God was pleased to show in this case, as in many others, how the strength that He supplies is made perfect in weakness. In vain her executioners applied every torture. From morning till night they plied scourge and rack, tore her flesh with sharp hooks, and burnt her with hot irons, till at last her very torturers confessed themselves conquered, and were overwhelmed with amazement that she still lived. All through her agonizing sufferings she kept repeating, "I am a Christian, I am a Christian; no iniquity is committed among us"--expressions which seemed to give her superhuman strength; and when at last she was exposed to the wild beasts, and stood with her mangled form facing the shouting, yelling crowd in full view of the howling lions, a calm, sweet smile rested upon her countenance. The mouth of the lion was unto her the door of heaven, and silent as a statue, with her eyes fixed above, whence came her help, she awaited with resignation, and without fear, the moment when the Lord should bid her enter.
But the lions seemed awed by her courageous, majestic bearing, and withdrew, crouching, into a corner, whence neither blows nor alarms could drive them upon the victim. The wicked fanatic multitude, therefore, more cruel than they, and infuriated at being thwarted in their design, caused her to be enclosed in a net and exposed to be gored by a wild bull.
The wild bull, however, was as reluctant to attack Blandina as the other animals had been, and the hands of her cruel persecutors were at length compelled to release her from her agony. Her good fight fought, and her sufferings ended, she passed through the dark valley of the shadow of death into the golden city, where mistress and slave were again united, nevermore to part.
Felicitas of Rome, c. A.D. 165
"The example of Felicitas is dangerous. She must be made to sacrifice," decided the heathen priests in their councils, and they sent a letter to the Emperor to that effect.
By John Hunt, 1885
Meanwhile Felicitas, the noble Roman widow, unconscious of the feeling she had excited, quietly lived her simple Christian life, and continued to impress upon her seven sons that there was but one God, who had given His only Son Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified for our redemption. Such was the effect produced by her conduct and influence that many of her neighbors renounced the worship of false deities and embraced the faith of Christ.
Felicitas rejoiced over every new convert as a brand plucked from the burning; but her time of sowing was fast passing away, and the hour for her to reap the reward of her labors was at hand. Closer than she supposed, indeed.
One day when she was peacefully pursuing her ordinary avocations a party of soldiers suddenly entered her abode, seized her and her sons, and carried them before Publius, at that time Prefect of Rome.
Publius was a man of some feeling, and he was sorry to see a noble lady in such a position. He therefore took Felicitas aside, and tried, by means of arguments and inducements, to persuade her to deny Christ and make an offering to the gods. He was extremely unwilling to proceed to any severity; but to all his solicitations she only returned answer, "Think not, oh Publius, to win me over by fair speeches, for the Spirit of God is within me, and will not suffer that I should be overcome by Satan, but will, I am confident, render me victorious."
But Publius for a long time would not despair of success. "Oh, unhappy woman!" he exclaimed. "Is it possible that you can think death so desirable as to force me to destroy not only yourself, but your children as well, by most dreadful torments?"
"If," replied Felicitas, calmly," my children are faithful to Christ, they will attain eternal life with me; if from fear of death they should sacrifice to idols, they can expect nothing but death eternal."
The Prefect was annoyed and distressed; but finding all his efforts vain, he reluctantly remitted Felicitas to prison until the next day, when he called a public assembly in the great square before the Temple of Mars, and again renewed his appeals to her.
"Take pity on your children, oh Felicitas!" he said; "they are now in the bloom of youth, and may yet possess the greatest honors and promotions."
"The pity which you desire me to feel," replied Felicitas proudly, "is really impiety. Compliance to the compassion to which you exhort would make me the cruelest of mothers."
Then, turning to her seven sons, who stood by her side, she exclaimed, with a voice that rang clearly through the air, and echoed against the buildings which surrounded the square:--
"My sons, look up to heaven, where your Christ with His saints expects you. By faith in His love resist courageously unto death."
"We will," replied the young men all together, in an enthusiastic tone, with a look of admiration and reverence at their mother, who seemed for a moment to be transfigured into a being not of earth.
"You are insolent indeed," exclaimed the Prefect, greatly exasperated by the manner and speech of Felicitas and her sons, "thus in my presence to express contempt for the orders of our prince," and turning abruptly to his officers, he ordered the noble lady to be scourged.
But still desiring to preserve the young men, as soon as their mother had been removed for punishment, he called each of them to him in turn and used many arguments, mingled with threats, to induce them to sacrifice.
"You advise me to do a thing that is very foolish, and contrary to all reason," replied Januarius, the eldest, who was the first to be assailed; "but I confide in my Lord Jesus Christ that He will preserve me in the hour of trial."
The second brother, Felix, answered boldly: "There is only one God, and to Him we offer the sacrifice of our hearts. We will never forsake the love which we owe to Jesus Christ. Employ all your artifices, exhaust all inventions of cruelty, you will never be able to overcome our faith."
"Is that so?" asked the Proconsul, turning angrily to the other brothers, who, with equal resolution, replied that it was. "Then," exclaimed Publius fiercely, "your blood be upon your own heads," and he ordered them all to be separately scourged and sent back to prison.
Felicitas never saw her noble sons again, but as she lay in the dreadful confinement of a dark, damp dungeon there came to her from time to time the information that one or other of them had found rest in heaven by a violent death, after enduring many tortures. Januarius was smitten down with whips loaded with lead; Felix and Philip, the two next brothers, were beaten with sticks until they expired; Sylvanus, the fourth, was thrown over a deep precipice; and the three youngest, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis, were beheaded.
When the news of her last son’s departure from the world reached the brave Felicitas, she folded her hands meekly, and rejoiced that her influence and teaching had been so effectual--that nothing could uproot the faith which she had implanted in the minds of her children.
Four months later, Felicitas herself was summoned to lay down her life by the same means as her youngest-born had done. She was called upon to lay her own head upon the block for Christ’s sake; and she obeyed the command with such a sweet expression of countenance, and a resignation so remarkable, that her behavior at the last added greatly to the number of converts she had made in her lifetime.
Gregory the Great, preaching over her tomb many years afterwards, exclaimed, "Let us be covered with shame and confusion at the thought of how far short we fall of the virtue of this martyr--how we suffer our passions to triumph over faith in our hearts. How often does a single word spoken against us disturb our minds--how often are we discouraged or provoked by the least blast of contradiction; while neither torments nor death were able to shake her courageous soul. We weep without ceasing when God requires of us the children He hath lent us. Her grief was lest her children should not be content to die for Christ; and she rejoiced when for His sake they gave up their lives."
Helena, the Mother of Constantine the Great
By William C. King, 1902
The varied and romantic career of this woman has in it the materials for a most interesting historical novel. She was the daughter of an obscure innkeeper; but of her nationality nothing certain is known. Constantius Chlorus met her, loved her, and married her. Constantine was born to them about 272, probably in Britain.
Constantius became co-emperor by appointment of Diocletian, and by him was compelled, for political reasons, to divorce Helena and marry the daughter of Maximilian. By this cruel act Helena was renounced and sent back from the court splendors to an obscure and lonely life.
In time, the co-emperors died, and her son Constantine won his way to the throne, and dispensed with any imperial colleagues. He sought out his mother, restored to her the imperial dignity, gave her the title of Augusta, and caused her to be received at court with all the honor due the mother of an emperor.
The conversion of Constantine marks an epoch in the world’s history. He adopted Christianity as the religion of state, a marvelous contrast to the attempt of his predecessor, Diocletian, to utterly exterminate it. Persecutions were now at an end. Constantine, by circular letter, urged his subjects to follow the example of their sovereign, and become Christians. He did not forbid paganism, but he sought by ridicule and neglect to cause its decline.
His mother, Helena, became a Christian, and was everywhere loved for her liberality. During a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, she claimed to have discovered the Holy Sepulchre and the true cross. She relieved the poor, the widows, and the orphans, built churches, and showed herself the worthy mother of a great son.
At her death he paid her the highest honors. Her body was sent to Rome and placed in the tomb of the emperors. He made her native village a monument to her memory by raising it to the rank of a city, and gave it the name Helenopolis.
Some Great Books About the Early Church
Ben Hur By L. Wallace
This classic tale stands as one of the most notable achievements in American writing. The tale of a Judah Ben-Hur’s conversion to Christianity, his life runs parallel and even intersets with Christ’s in many spots. Illustrating both the spiritual promises of the kingdom to come, as well as the human want for revenge, this heroic novel has captivated thousands. Unabridged. 382 pages, softcover.
Titus: A Comrade of the Cross By Florence Kingsley
Titus, A Comrade of the Cross introduces you to a flesh and blood Jesus who with infinite tenderness went about touching human hearts and bodies with His carpenter-calloused hands, leaving healing and hope behind Him everywhere. Though Florence Kingsley has woven a beautiful and moving tale, peopled with characters who will tug at your heartstring, it is Jesus Himself who will linger in the mind long after the final page is read. This is recommended for Ages 10 and up.
Martyr of the Catacombs: A Tale of Ancient Rome By Anonymous
This classic work describes the factual persecution that early Christians experienced as they lived out their lives in the catacombs beneath Rome. While the characters depicted are fictional, the work follows the historical sequence of Roman persecutions and accurately portrays the brutality and cruelty that early believers suffered.
For the Temple
Mr. Henty weaves into the record of Josephus an admirable story. The troubles in the district of Tiberias; the march of the legions; and the sieges of Jotapata, Gamala, and Jerusalem provide the setting to this novel. Discover the story of the lad who becomes the leader of a guerrilla band of patriots, fights bravely for the Temple, and after a brief term of slavery in Alexandria, returns to his Galilean home. 404 pages, hardcover.
Beric the Briton
Britain has been invaded by Roman legionaries, and Beric, a boy-chief of a British tribe, takes a prominent part in the insurrection against Rome under Boadicea. For a short time, Beric and his companions continue the fight, but are ultimately defeated and taken prisoners to Rome. The reader will learn of life in Rome, the gladiatorial schools, the great fire and life in Nero’s court. 408 pages, hardcover.
Mystery Woman Contest
The answer to the Mystery Woman Contest in the April issue of Heroines of the Past e-zine is Ethel (Carow) Roosevelt (Derby). You can learn more about Ethel and her siblings here. Among those who responded the winner is Tammi Dearing.
This woman along with her slave and sister in Christ Felicitas was martyred in about A.D 203. Born into a wealthy Carthaginian family this young woman (in her early twenties) was married to an unknown man, probably a pagan. Shortly before her arrest she had giving birth to a son. She was imprisoned during the reign of Emperor Septimus Severus. Even though her aged and pagan father implored her with every possible means, she refused to deny Christ and offer a sacrifice to the pagan gods. She kept the faith until the end and died victoriously. Her slave Felicitas was pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl only days before their deaths. A kind Christian woman took the baby and raised it. Who is this devout Christian martyr?
Email your answer to Amy with "Mystery Woman Contest" in the subject line.
Participate and win a free copy of
Tor, A Street Boy of Jerusalem
By Florence Morse Kingsley
Approximately 50 pages
Tor was a poor boy who lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. At the hands of Pilate he receives a wound that leaves him blind. Then one day Tor hears shouts of Hosanna and Tor is taken to the temple where he meets Jesus. After Jesus heals his blindness he becomes a follower of Christ. When Tor learns that Jesus is going to be betrayed he tries frantically to save him. What will Tor do?
Most of this book takes place during the last week of Jesus’ life. Tor encounters many people that scriptures tell us about, including Pilate’s wife, Peter, Judas, etc. This book is by the same author who wrote Titus, A Comrade of the Cross. Originally published in 1904 Tor, A Street Boy of Jerusalem is a delightful story. This would be a wonderful story to read aloud during Easter. One chapter from this book also appears in Countdown to Easter.
In each issue of Heroines of the Past we will have a Mystery Woman Contest. A picture and description of a woman from the featured era covered will be included. To participate in the contest, email your answer to Amy with "Mystery Woman Contest" in the subject line. All the entries will be put into a hat and a winner will be chosen. Each time the prize will be different. Entries must be received by June 30th.
A to Z Designs
Heroines of the Past
Quiz-Women of Acts
Match the descriptions with the name below. Names may be used more than once. Answers are below.
1) She was the first convert in Europe.
2) She and her husband lied to the apostles.
3) She and her husband were tent makers.
4) She was raised from the dead by Peter.
5) She was the servant girl who answered the door after Peter was miraculously released from prison.
6) She was a seller of purple.
7) She sewed robes and clothing for widows.
8) The four daughters of this man prophesied.
9) She and her husband were banished from Rome, along with the other Jews, by Claudius.
Ben-Hur, 4-disc Collector’s Edition DVD
Featuring a sparkling wide-screen digital transfer and commentary by Charlton Heston, this is the definitive edition of one of the biggest cinema blockbusters in history! With fascinating documentaries, original trailers, and highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards ceremony, this comprehensive set also includes the 1925 silent version with restored orchestral score and much more. Four DVDs. Closed-captioned.
The Robe: Special Edition DVD
Add one of the greatest biblical epics ever filmed to your collection! Nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, this inspiring story stars Richard Burton as Marcellus Gallio, a Roman centurion whose life is forever changed when he wins Christ’s robe in a gambling game at the foot of the cross. Approx. 133 minutes.
Ben Hur - Focus on the Family Radio Theatre audiodrama on CD
By Lew Wallace / Tyndale Entertainment
Ben Hur is the powerful story of two friends who share a love for learning and a passion to be soldiers. But before many years pass, Judah Ben-Hur, a prince of the Jews, and Messala, the Roman nobleman and soldier, will also share a deep hatred for what the other has become. This faithful adaption of the Lew Wallace classic underscores the fact that the power of God’s love and true forgiveness are the only forces stronger than hatred and revenge. 130 minutes. 2 CDs.
Answers to Quiz-Women of Acts
1-F, 2-C, 3-E, 4-B, 5-D, 6-F, 7-B, 8-A, 9-E