Sabbath Of Great Sorrow


This is perhaps the  darkest period of  Christian persecution since the early centuries when men and  women, young and old were thrown to lions,  burnt  at stakes, cut apart, maimed,  ostracised and chased away – all because  they believed in  Jesus Christ who rose from the  dead.  They believed that passion and  death  are followed  by a sure resurrection, but their persecutors  didn’t know it.  

I was about to write something about  the persecution targeted  at  Christians across the globe. Before beginning to write this, I wanted to know what the Blessed Virgin  has to tell us about persecution for the sake of  faith. With this prayer I opened ‘To the Priests, Our Lady’s beloved Sons’ (The Blue Book).  The page I  opened at random was  that of message number  350 dated  18th April 1987. It happened to be  the Holy Saturday of the year. Let us listen to our Mother’s words;

“This is the day of my great sorrow.

It is the only day through which I lived with Jesus dead……

Time stopped for Me in that moment.Then began My continuous vigil, with an unceasing prayer which accompanied the rhythm of the passing of the hours, in a sure hope which reached even to entering the gate of Heaven, in a deep and intense suffering…..

It is the Saturday of the great rest.

It is the Saturday of the great silence.

It is the Saturday of my great sorrow.

It is the only day on which the Mother remains alone, crucified and imploring, full of trust and faithful, weighed down beneath the weight of her suffering”.

It was a  Sabbath of great sorrow for Mary who had to spend the  first  day in 33 years without her son. It was a Sabbath of rest, silence and loneliness. It was  a Sabbath of prayer. It was the culmination of what  Simeon foretold as the  ‘sword piercing her heart’. Then  Mary’s only consolation was the  hope  that her son will conquer even the last enemy called  death and raise from the tomb. That  Sabbath was the last day  of her persecution. The dawn after that Sabbath broke with the ‘good news of great joy for all the people’. He is risen. Hallelujah!

On the   last day of  her great sorrow  our Mother was  alone. We too are alone.  In the final  hours preceding the   glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Mother was   deep in prayer. We too should be  in prayer in these  final hours when we look forward to the  dawn of the Lord’s  return in glory.  The  sword that pierced her heart was  yet to be removed. We too face the  sword every  day.  She was silent all through the moments of  excruciating pain  and suffering that she  shared with her son. Jesus Christ  wants us also to be silent in times of persecution.

Having said this,  do we really  understand the extent  and gravity of  Christian persecution happening around us? To  have any meaningful  discussion on this topic, first we should know how severe  the  persecution of the  early centuries was. Christians were persecuted by Jews, when their numbers were a minuscule minority in the total population.  By AD 100 the percentage of Christians in the  Roman empire was less than one percent. Even by  AD 250 it was  at a meagre two percent only.  Yet they persecuted Christians. 

Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and a host of other  countries now identified as  Muslim  countries were once  dominated by Christians.  It was  no  reason for the Islamists to  systematically eliminate the  Christian presence from these lands.

France and Spain are typically Christian countries, but some of the  fiercest  Christian persecutions took place in these countries.  When we read in  the  history that  around 20000 catholic priests were  forced to leave priesthood and  another 6000 priests  were forced to marry against their wishes, think about how the    French Republic hunted Christians! Thousands of  priests had to leave the country and a few thousand others were simply executed. Large scale desecration of   churches and removal of  crucifixes and statues culminated in  the  installation  of the  Goddess of  Reason  in Notre Dame cathedral. It   happened  in a country with more than 95% Christians at that time! If France could do it, why  should Spain lag behind? In one single night  during 1936, fifty churches were  destroyed in Spain.  At the end of those dark days, Barcelona, which   boasted 57 churches till a few days ago, couldn’t save  any of them except their  famed cathedral from  the  onslaught.   .

Japan banned christianity in 1614.   Within the next quarter century  almost thirty seven thousand men and women were  killed for the sole reason that they believed in  Jesus Christ.  For  more than two centuries  the Church in Japan was  living underground without   priests and sacraments. Chinese Christians are accustomed to worship in hiding  even after  the much publicised Sino- Vatican secret deal. India, the land of many  religions  finds itself in the unenviable  situation of being placed  in the list of  countries with  highest incidence of Christian persecution. Riots targeting  Christians were orchestrated by   Hindu fundamentalists on many occasions.  In the  horrible anti-Christian riot and arson in Kandhamal, 54000 Christians were  left homeless, more than  a hundred killed,  600 villages affected, and hundreds of  churches  and places of  worship were destroyed.  In the year   2019 alone  there were  328 attacks against  Christians  reported  from India.

The common thread  connecting China, North Korea, Iran, Bangladesh, Chad, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Madagascar, Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Turkey is that  they are all on the  same   page when it comes to  persecuting  Christians. The common thread connecting the  Christians of early centuries and  the Christians of  our times is also the fact that both are  subjected to  persecution at the hands of others.    And the common thread  connecting the past twenty centuries is that  for reason or  no reason Christians are  persecuted. They are persecuted in places where they are a minority as well as in places where they are the majority. They are persecuted  in democracies as well as  autocracies. Their fate is the same under communist rule  and islamic rule. Their persecutors  think the same way and   employ the same  methods across continents. From North Korea to  Cuba, from Madagascar to Russia,  from India to Canada,  from  France to  US the modus operandi is the same. Often we  fail to understand  the various forms, some covert  and some overt, of  persecution systematically planned against  Christians.   This is why many people  erroneously think that  in the western hemisphere, where the  dominant religion is Christianity, they are not subjected to any kind of  discrimination or persecution.   Nothing is far from the truth. In fact, the  biggest challenge to Christianity in these  days is the ultra-secular, left leaning, liberal  governments and their anti-christian legislations framed  to distance  people  from  Jesus Christ and  Christianity.

Now let me ask you a straight question. Followers of which religion are persecuted the most in this world? It is  Christians! But if you are a regular patron of mainstream media,  chances  are that you might get a  different view!  Almost 80% of persecution for the cause of  faith is directed against  Christians who comprise less than 32% of world population. This statistics  is relevant   not for the current period alone.  It has been so  during  most part of the history since Christianity was established.

Why do Christians are singled out for   persecution all over the world? To know the reason first we should know who is persecuting  Christians. In Muslim countries it is the Islamic fundamentalists. In communist countries it is the government. In Hindu countries, it is Hindu fundamentalists. In Budhist  countries, it is Budhist  fundamentalists. And in Christian countries it is the  secular, atheistic, liberal communities. Here many will find  it difficult to trace a  common intention  between these fundamentally  diverse groups of persecutors that range from religious fundamentalists to  communists and secular liberals. A common thread connecting  all of them may not be visible at  first sight. But it is there. It is their hatred towards a person who sacrificed his life as ransom for the  whole humankind, and who rose  from the  dead, and who is  sure to  come again to judge the living  and the dead.  They  fear this person. But we love this person. Hence the persecution.

In most of the  countries where Christians are persecuted, the persecutors get tacit  support from the  governments. Many  countries, including the so called  developed, secular, democratic countries have legislations making it difficult for Christians to   practise their religion freely. Across countries  we see   that the  entire government machinery including the legislature, executive and  judiciary are  already hijacked by anti-christian forces.  They  make laws against the  basic tenets of  Christianity. Remember legislations  enacted for legalising the  murder of  unborn  children and  laws restricting  public worship. Remember  laws promoting all kinds of abominations in the  name of  freedom. Understand that  many countries  have   barbaric laws  where  conversion to Christianity is rewarded  with capital punishment. Remember the  restrictions   inflicted  upon  the Church to run educational institutions and  the  laws  forcing  participation of medical professionals in  sinful acts against their conscience. Remember the   compulsion  on business  firms to collude in the  production, distribution and sale of goods and services with patently  anti-christian  themes.

There is only one reason for  persecuting Christians. It is  their belief in Jesus Christ.  Situations, locations  and  contexts may change.  But understand that  if you are persecuted for being a Christian,  the  one and only reason  is that  you believe in somebody whom your  persecutors could not believe.

Jeremiah was thrown into the  cistern because  he warned the people about the  impending  captivity (Jer. 38: 1-6). Daniel was  thrown into the lion’s den because he was not ready to  worship false gods (Dan. 14:23-32). Eleazar was killed because he resisted eating forbidden food (2 Macc. 6:18-31). Stephen was  stoned to death because he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ ( Acts 7:58). Peter and Paul were martyred  for  preaching about the crucified  Jesus. John was sent to Patmos because  of the Word of God and  the testimony of  Jesus (Rev 1:9).

What should be  our attitude  towards persecution at  the hands of our enemies? Peter summarises the  essential Christian response to  persecution in these words. ‘Beloved, do not  be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as  you are  sharing  Christ’s sufferings, so that  you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of  God is resting on you’ (1 Pet. 4:12-14). Peter warns us  to be prepared for   facing persecution at any time.  A Christian should not see persecution as something  strange. For him it is normal! Unlike others, Christians are exhorted to  rejoice when they are persecuted. Beginning Stephen, we have a long  list of saints and martyrs who  rejoiced when they were persecuted  for the name of Jesus.  What Peter said  was not  a mere sermon for  us; while writing these lines, he should have the  joy they experienced when the  Jews flogged them. ‘As they (Peter and other apostles)  left the council, they rejoiced  that they were considered worthy to  suffer dishonor  for the sake of the (Jesus’) name (Acts 5:41).

Jesus  himself has warned us about  a  time when  the enemies  will torture us. ‘ Then they will  hand you over to  be tortured and  will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name’ (Mt.24:9).  The  sole reason for others persecuting us is the name  of Jesus which we proclaim. If we  understand persecution as the  natural  consequence of  believing in Christ and proclaiming the  salvation which he offers, it is easy to  withstand the tortures directed  against us. The world is   divided into two camps. It is either  for Christ or against Christ.  We have to select  one of them. If we select the Lord’s camp, then we  get persecution too   as a bonus. It is the  unchanging word of the Lord; ‘For  at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from  the beginning of the world until now, no and never will be’ (Mt 24:21). Peter equates the ferocity  of our enemy with  that of a roaring lion. ‘Like a roaring lion your adversary the  devil prowls around looking for someone to devour’ (1 Pet 5:8).

Though persecution of  Christians has been a continuing story through centuries, The Holy Bible warns us about a  particular time period in history when the  ‘beast rising out of the sea’ being allowed to ‘make war  on the saints and to conquer them’ (Rev 13:1-7). It is all happening  under the  Divine plan. This is why Peter  tells us not to  think that  something strange  is happening to us. If God   has in His infinite wisdom, permitted the   devil to  afflict mankind  in an unparalleled way, He has  also set in  place  a plan to protect His children  from the  clutches of the devil. But we cannot avoid persecution. What we can implore  is to limit the  days of persecution as promised by Jesus. ‘And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short’ (Mt 24:22).

The share of a true Christian is nothing but ‘the bread of  adversity and the water of  affliction’ (Isa 30:20). But his hope is  in  Lord’s promise; ‘Your teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your teacher’ (Isa 30:20). But to see him  we should  take our eyes from this  world and  look into heaven. In the moments of   cruel persecution, Stephen  gazed into  heaven, and  he did indeed see his Teacher.   

Let us pray for the  grace to  joyfully accept  the  cup of  persecution. Let us also pray for the grace to be  able to  gaze into heaven to see the  glory of the   Lord so as to make  us bold enough to withstand  the tribulation.