A Christmas Tale
By Douglas E. Gogerty
The year was 304, and Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, also known as Diocletian, was the Roman Emperor. He had established Nicomedia as the capital of the eastern empire. He used Christians as a scapegoat for a fire in this eastern capital and increased his persecutions.
It was a cold day in late December where a Christian sat awaiting his eventual execution. A tall Roman soldier entered the prison with a bit of food.
"You're a lucky one Christian. We are celebrating the birthday of the unconquered sun. Your execution will have to wait. You get to live on Roman hospitality for a little while longer."
"I trust in the Lord," responded the Christian. "I am not afraid to die."
"You Christians are an odd bunch. I'll be glad when the gods wipe you off the face of the earth."
"That is one of the differences between us Pagan."
"My god is a loving god. Our father is a forgiving god. Your gods are vengeful. You have to be afraid that the gods will send floods or fires at you for the slightest transgression. Our Lord forgives our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
"Yet, you are here waiting execution, and I am free."
"I will have my reward in the afterlife."
"I do not think the gods will allow access to Elysium to the likes of you!"
"I do not believe in your Elysium. I will go to heaven to be seated with our father and his son at the everlasting feast."
"Ha! That's funny."
"Your pagan religion is bound to fail for a number of reasons. You fail to see the faults in it."
"For instance, you put to death Socrates for his corrupting influence on the youth and not believing in the ancestral gods. In other words, because Socrates was a teacher and his beliefs were different, they saw him as a threat. He observed the world and saw it differently; thus, your fellow pagans put him to death."
"That was a political death -- not religious," retorted the guard.
"However, these same political deaths have resulted in me being here. What do I know? What great revelations have I beheld that will be snuffed out by your leader's intolerance of those with different beliefs?"
"You elevate your importance too greatly Christian."
"Do you not see? Christianity embraces education. Our church leaders can read and write. By embracing science and education, people will see the light of Christianity and abandon the darkness that is paganism."
"If you are going to dream Christian, dream big!"
"When we can practice our religion more openly, I see great centers of learning establishing themselves. Books will be reproduced and the works of the great masters will be studied. This will all be done in the name of Christ. Christians will lead the way for the educated. We will not fight the results of scientific inquiry but embrace it. In this way, we will leave paganism in the dust."
"You are lucky it is Saturnalia -- Christian -- or I would smite you on the spot for your words."
"Not only do you not embrace education, but you have vengeful gods. If it were not for tradition, your religion would already be dead."
The guard hearing enough struck the Christian across the face with the back of his hand. The anger was coursing through him. He could not wait to see this Christian die. It is then that the Christian began singing a hymn. This angered the Roman soldier even more. He shouted, "Gods forgive me!" as he smacked the Christian again.
"You may strike my other cheek if you wish," urged the Christian.
"Our Lord also teaches us to forgive. If someone strikes our cheek we are to offer them the other one."
"You should not tempt me Christian!"
"I keep telling you -- Pagan -- that ours is a loving and forgiving god. We do not worry about being smitten for our transgressions. Thus, my forgiveness of your actions is as important as your repentance for those sins. Otherwise, it is a constant escalation of violence."
"You speak in riddles Christian."
"Most people believe that you return actions in kind. That is, if you are hurt in some manner, you must strike back. Thus, if a mob causes trouble in Nicomedia..."
"Like burn down a Palace or something?"
"If you will -- they cause trouble -- then you must cause trouble for them."
"Cause trouble for them -- by arresting them and executing them?"
"However, you have declared war on ALL -- not just those involved. It is our belief that you must forgive them."
"That would be very convenient for you, now would it not?"
"There are religious extremist who wish martyrdom in your attack of our religion. I am not one of those. I am just an ordinary believer."
"All of you religious zealots are alike. We cannot trust any of you, thus we will rid the world of all of you."
"Again, that is why my religion is superior to yours. We would forgive those who struck against us. We would never declare war on a particular religion. If they sinned against us, we would forgive them. That is a core tenant of my faith."
"It sounds too good to be true. You would probably never accept someone like me into your faith."
"If you are repentant for your sins, the church will forgive you for your transgressions. You will be accepted."
"I am a guard at a Roman prison. I have witnessed and participated in many horrible acts. Would the church accept me even with these sins upon me?"
"The church accepts all -- no matter what. My faith believes that we were all born sinners and that we may not be able to fight against our sins. However, if you ask for forgiveness you may do penance and be forgiven."
"I do not think your people would accept me because of how I live my life."
"We are all different. If you accept our tenant of forgiveness, and you treat others as you would like to be treated, then there should not be any problems that cannot be overcome."
"If all my relationships are consensual, then my actions would be acceptable?"
"As long as both are willing participants in your actions, then there should not be any problems there. We do not judge, lest we be judged."
"Ha! It sounds too good to be true. I just do not believe that any religion would believe in those crazy things. Thus, when your time comes, you will be executed. Our gods will have another sacrifice. Let your god save you."
"Peace be with you Roman -- and happy holidays."
"Yeah -- well -- Merry Christmas to you -- in jail!"
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