I recently saw a film about elderly D-Day soldiers returning to the beach at Normandy to honor those who fought and died alongside them in World War II. It was moving watching them share memories, tears, and gratitude for the sacrifice of their friends. “All Saints Day” is this kind of remembrance for the church.
The first Christian martyrs were honored at their gravesite on the anniversary of their death and Saints Days developed from this tradition. In those early years, I imagine there were eyewitnesses of the event, with tears, and gratitude for a faithful witness (“martyr” comes from the Greek word for “witness”). Then, after the first generation, stories would have been passed down. Eusebius, in the 4th century, wrote about the heroic death of Blandina, a slave girl 200 years earlier in Gaul (now Lyons, France). Although she was described as frail, Blandina had suffered such extreme tortures in the Roman coliseum that the crowds were “astonished at her endurance.” Eusebius goes on to say: But the blessed woman, like a noble athlete, renewed her strength in her confession; and her comfort and recreation and relief from the pain of her sufferings was in exclaiming, “I am a Christian, and there is nothing vile done by us.”1
Today’s celebrations of All Saints Day include all Christians, martyrs, and non-martyrs, known and unknown. But it is an excellent time to remember all who have died for the faith throughout Christianity, particularly those who are persecuted and dying in parts of the world today.
1 Eusebius, Church History, Book V, #19. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250105.htm