Perpetua was a young widow, mother of an infant and owner of several slaves, including Felicity. Together they were catechumens preparing for baptism.
In 202 AD, Emperor Septimius Severus decreed that all persons should sacrifice to the divinity of the emperor. There was no way that a Christian, confessing faith in one Lord Jesus Christ, could do this. Perpetua and Felicity were arrested and held in prison. At the public hearing before the proconsul, Perpetua refused even the pleas of her father, saying “I am a Christian.” They were sent to the arena in Carthage and given to the wild beasts.
Before she died, Perpetua cried out to the other Christians “Stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not let what we suffer be a stumbling block to you.”
Thus we have the account of the first women martyrs on our calendar of saints.
I bind this day to me forever, by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation; His baptism in the Jordan River; His death on the cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spiced tomb; His riding up the heavenly way; His coming on the day of doom; I bind unto myself today.
From the “The Breastplate of St. Patrick”, a prayer written by St. Patrick in 433
Joseph accepted the responsibility of protecting Mary and being a father to Jesus in the face of circumstances that would distress even a man of such faith and obedience as he was. He is honored for the nurturing care and protection he provided for the infant Jesus and his mother, in taking them to Egypt to escape Herod, and in raising Jesus as a faithful Jew in Nazareth. He is considered the patron saint of the working man, because he not only worked with his hands, but taught his trade to his son.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:28, 30‒33)
Although Mark was not one of the original twelve, he was a disciple of Jesus. He joined Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but left early. So Paul refused to take him on his second journey. Instead, Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus. He was later reconciled with Paul, and became a good friend of Peter. The church of Alexandria claimed Mark as its first bishop and most famous martyr. St. Mark’s Church in Venice commemorates Mark, and he is buried there beneath the altar.
Rarely in the history of the church has the course of its development been more significantly determined by one person than it was by Athanasius in the fourth century, when the great statements of our faith were formulated. St. Basil the Great said he was “the God-given physician of the church’s wounds.”
At the Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 Athanasius became the champion for the orthodox faith, defending it against the Arians and was successful in winning approval for the phrase in the Nicene Creed—“of one Being with the Father,” which continues to be recognized as the definitive statement of Christ’s divinity.
The two apostles commemorated today are among those less well known. We have only a few references to them in the Gospels. This James is often referred to as James the Less in order to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee and from James “The brother of the Lord,” or perhaps to indicate youth or lack of stature.
Philip had the gift of raising issues that were in everyone’s mind. He questioned Jesus about how he was going to feed the 5000, with no money to buy food. At the Last Supper Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father. He was not the only one who missed that seeing Jesus was the same as seeing his Father.
Justin was born into a Greek-speaking, pagan family in about AD 110 near Shechem in Samaria. He studied Greek and became a philosopher. He was dramatically converted to Christ and became the first Christian philosopher to attempt to reconcile the claims of faith and reason. Justin is primarily known for his writings in defense of his new faith. While teaching in Rome, he engaged in philosophical debates. As a result, he was brought before the prefect Rusticus and told to recant his faith. When Justin refused, he and his companions were beheaded, and he became known as Justin, the martyr—or Justin Martyr.
Peter and Paul, the two greatest leaders of the early church, are commemorated separately; Peter on January 18 for his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, and Paul on January 25 for his dramatic conversion. They are commemorated together on June 29 in observance of the tradition of the church that they both died as martyrs in Rome during the persecution under Nero in AD 64.