Christian Martyrdom

Over the past ten years an estimated average of 10,000 Christians per year were martyred



In 2008, while I waited in traffic, I heard a horn beep and looked to see a “thumbs up” by a young driver. She was praising the sticker posted on my rear window: One Man, One Woman for Life. That was when Proposition 8, banning all homosexual marriages, was approved by California voters but soon overturned by the liberal courts. That young lady had probably benefited from a good Christian upbringing.

Fourteen years later, a broad-based decline has occurred among youth who once declared themselves as adherents to a religion. A Pew Research poll reveals a widening generation gap in America. Of those born before 1945, 84% say they believe in God, and that religion is important to them. Among Millennials belief in God has dropped to 49%; among Gen Zs, to 42%. Gone alongside religious formation are morals, civility, and forgiveness.

Will widespread disbelief turn into hostility, and will hostility turn into active persecution?

Persecution for the faith has always been a central feature of the Christian experience. Scripture’s inerrant history of the Hebrews and the primitive Church reveal as much.

In ancient Rome, the martyrdom of Christians in the Coliseum spurred the growth of the nascent Church. Even now we see the innocent blood of true Christians feeding Her roots in the same way. Where are Christians being persecuted today? This year the top ten worst persecutors — relatively unchanged from last year — are North Korea and Afghanistan, followed by Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, and India. Nigeria is only recently ranked among the worst persecutors.

Many of the 2.3 billion Christians around the world belong to ethnic, linguistic, and cultural minorities. Though heroes of any stripe may be colloquially referred to as “saints” for bravely enduring torment or torture — deprived of health by long, unjust imprisonment, and perhaps robbed of vital possessions and family support — the Catholic Church holds a strict definition of a true martyr.

Three criteria determine Catholic martyrdom: (1) the victim actually dies; (2) he or she dies witnessing faith in Christ, directly expressed in words or implicitly in acts done or sins refused; and (3) the victim accepts death voluntarily. Furthermore, because martyrs experience an instant purgatorial cleansing of sins, the Church affirms that they achieve at the hour of death immediate entry into heaven. So, we pray to them, not for them.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that over the past ten years an annual average of 10,000 Christians became true martyrs of the faith. That does not include the long-suffering of those related to them.

Christians must always prepare for persecution. The unbelievers of the world will always remain deeply hostile to the Gospel. This should not surprise us; it follows a pattern seen since Cain murdered Abel. The lesson runs through Genesis 4:8 to Hebrews 11:4 and 1 John 3:12.

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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