This Monday, May 30th, is Memorial Day in the United States. On this holiday, Americans remember those who have perished in the military service of the nation.
Readers of this blog already know that I am convinced that service in any nation’s military is incompatible with the call of Jesus Christ. But as Ronald Sider said so powerfully in 1984, just because followers of Christ dare not kill for any cause, this does not obviate the need–sometimes–to die for one.
I’d like to share with you the story of one follower of Jesus who did just that, many years ago: St. Maximilian of Tebessa. Maximilian, 21-year-old son of Fabius Victor, was brought before the proconsul Cassius Dion on March 12, A.D. 295, for the purpose of being conscripted into the Roman army. According to a written account, Maximilian refused to enter the army because of his commitment to his King, Jesus Christ: “My service is for my Lord; I cannot serve the world. I have already said: I am a Christian.” Maximilian further refused to accept a seal denoting his commitment to the emperor, saying “I do not accept the world’s seal, and if you give it to me, I will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received] the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he whom you do not know…”
For his refusal to accept conscription, Maximilian was beheaded that day. As he went joyfully to his death, he asked his father to give his new uniform to one of the guards.
As the nations of this world honor their fallen, perhaps it would behoove us in the Kingdom of Christ to remember those who have fallen in the service of our King. Unlike those of earth, these gave their lives without taking other lives first…but the cost of their service was still high. May we be found as faithful when we are challenged.
As a historical note, Prof. David Woods of University College Cork, who edited the account quoted above, actually argues that the account of Maximilian is probably a plagiarism of another martyr, St. Theagenes of Parium, whose account Woods deems more reliable, but which tells a substantially similar story. Either is worthy of retelling.