There are not many women who are celebrated as saints by Christians. However, the few that Christianity has been especially loved and praised for their courage, love, and devotion towards the Almighty Father. Saint Afra is a martyr and one of these women. We honor her life on the 7th of August.
She was condemned to death by fire after she was presented to Diocletian, the Roman Emperor of that time, and was ordered to sacrifice to the pagan gods. Because she was a Christian, she strongly refused. It’s important to understand that admitting you were a Christian back then was considered a crime, and most people were getting killed for it.
Her story might seem terrifying to us now, but in those times, the 3rd century to be exact, stories like hers were pretty common. The persecution of Christians is an important part of history, not because it is a good thing, but because it shows us what other fellow Christians had to go through. It also helps some people appreciate what they have now. Imagine how hard being a Christian was then. And even if you were oh so lucky to be spared, you would probably be exiled, beaten, and shamed. Confessing to being a Christian had some severe repercussions.
Who Ended the Christian Persecution?
Some people would argue that Christian persecution never truly went away. And if you think long and hard, you have probably experienced, at least once, an inconvenience with someone who claimed a different religion than you. There are several acts of terror still conducted here on Earth just because some people can’t accept that there will always be other religions.
It might come as a shock to some, but Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Indian religions, which include Hinduism and Buddhism, are not the only religions out there. There are currently over 4000 recognized religions in the entire world. Whether they have slightly different conceptions of what or who God is or have an entirely different entity that they praise, they exist.
Just because someone does not agree with your religion or you don’t agree with theirs will never make the religion go away. And if you are a good Christian, you will always remember to teach and practice love, like God always teaches us, and you act with peace in your heart.
Just like all of the other martyrs did, remember, martyrs like Saint Afra or Saint Agnes died at the hands of their aggressors, protecting their faith. And their aggressors still followed their belief system. You are not God. You might love Him and claim you are fighting for Him and His name, but the truth is you can’t change a thing.
It might also shock you to find that the person who ended Christian persecution was Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, someone who had a different upbringing and belief system than Christians. He was raised in the pagan ways, yet he found enough decency and love in his heart to end the persecution.
What Is the Story of Saint Afra?
Saint Afra is mentioned in history as a pagan who found her faith in God and was converted. She came from Cyprus with her family, where they met Bishop Narcissus. The bishop was the one who converted Afra and her family to Christianity. Her family continued to shelter the bishop and kept him a secret from the authorities.
It was around that time that the persecution of Christians started in the Roman Empire, because of Emperor Diocletian. Somehow it was revealed that Saint Afra was a Christian. When the Emperor found out, he ordered her to sacrifice to the Roman Empire’s pagan gods, but she refused.
Of course, her disobedience angered the Roman Emperor, who ordered her death. Soon after, she was set on fire and sadly left her bodily form. However, she is remembered by Christianity for her act of love and devotion to God. And she is most definitely resting near God in Heaven. It has been mentioned before that she responded to Diocletian’s orders with: “The sins which I had committed before I knew the true God are sufficient; wherefore I cannot now do that which thou commandest. I never will do so: it would be adding a new insult to my God.”
Saint Afra was asked to repair a temple once, to which she replied: “My temple is Jesus Christ, whom I have continually before my eyes, and to whom I every day confess my sins. Since I am unworthy to offer him any other sacrifice, I am anxious to sacrifice myself, in order that this body, with which I have offended him, may be purified by torments; this reflection shall make me suffer most willingly.”
What Can You Learn from Saint Afra?
Saint Afra, although not the most known Saint, has a lot to offer us. First of all, it is important to observe that she was not born or raised a Christian. She lived as a pagan before meeting the bishop, which ultimately showed her the path of God and helped her convert in the eyes of the Lord.
This tells us more than we need to know already. Sometimes the cards that you are dealt might seem permanent, but if you love something enough and you are passionate about it, you can change it. You can do anything you set your mind and heart to, as long as it is done with a pure heart.
Second of all, she teaches us never to be scared in the face of adversity. Even when her tormentors were telling her that God would never want her because she was a prostitute when she was still following the pagan ways, she replied in a gentle and pure way that lets you know how strong and courageous she was. “I am unworthy of this name, but my God, who chooseth not persons according to their merits, but according to his goodness, hath been pleased to accept me and make me a participator of his name.”