Chapter 1 of Searching for Ekklesia
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“It’s going to be another restless night,” I thought as I pushed the various red and purple blankets to the floor. I sat up in the sturdy pine bed and placed my feet firmly on the ground. “If only my thoughts could be as firmly planted.” Unfortunately, I had been unable to think about anything but them for months. They seemed so peaceful, even as the lions closed in on them. There was no fear in their eyes. Only strength, courage and….love. As they were being torn into pieces, we could hear them crying out for God’s mercy; not for themselves…but for those who were having them killed. For us…for me. I had been a faithful Roman all of my life. But, here I sat, wondering why they had such peace while I could hardly understand what the word really meant. Could they understand something that a Praetorian guard couldn’t?
I paced back and forth on the balcony as my mind jumped from one thought to the next.
“Anquiro, get a hold of yourself!” I thought as I stopped, looking out onto the streets of Rome below. The stars shone like celestial flames; it was as if there were ten-thousand gods covering the heavens, all holding candles, all crying out that they knew the way. I could feel them calling out to me. And yet, none of them seemed right. My hand ran down the solid wooden post at my side and my mind began to move like a chariot around the circus maximus once again.
“But…if they’re right…” I couldn’t even finish the thought. “Christians are slaughtered.” And if the rumors were true, they should be. It was said that they’re cannibalistic; taking part in bizarre rituals where they sacrificed and ate each other. Not only that but it was well known that Nero blamed them for the burning of Rome several years ago. And yet, the Christians that I had actually met, or seen would probably be a better word being that I’ve never actually spoken with one, but, they all seemed so…loving. As they were being burned alive, they would pray or cry out blessings or…sing. In my mind, I could still see several of them hanging on crosses, burning alive and singing hymns of praise to “God” as Roman citizens passed by. It was an eerie sight. It was one that wouldn’t leave my mind but, instead, circled it like a lion. Drawing near.
Suddenly, I saw that mother and child again. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen or so, and her child was just an infant. Her long, black hair was waving like an army standard in the wind. If I had seen the sight in a different context, I would have admired her soft, radiant beauty. I have seen people thrown to the lions but I have never seen such…peace and love. They had the countenance of angels. “Could they have been messengers of the gods? Surely not. After all, they proclaimed a different god. Why would Jupiter or Mars send messengers to proclaim another god? A new god. Who was this Jesus?”
I gradually made my way back to the bed. I needed to get some sleep; yet, at the same time, I wanted to understand. “You’re not going to understand,” I thought as I sat down on the edge of the cold bed. A wind blew through the room. It was cold.
“Anquiro…” came a voice.
Then I became alert, jumping up and preparing to defend myself. Where had that voice come from? Who was there?
“Who’s there?” I asked as I backed up toward the stone wall that ran next to the head of the fine bed where I normally took comfort. “I said, who’s there?”
A wind rushed threw the room again, blowing open the curtains that led to the balcony. “Anquiro…” It was as if the wind itself was calling my name.
“A Praetorian guard does not take jesting lightly. If you wish to leave this home with your life, I would suggest that you show yourself!” I called out, trying to sound bold but feeling completely helpless.
“Anquiro, you are a child.” A deep, bellowing voice whispered behind me. I quickly spun around and was faced with a stone wall. The same stone wall that I had seen thousands of time. There was no one whispering. But, there was.
“Show yourself!” I called out, now spinning around. I had no idea which way to look or how to defend myself from this wind-demon. It was too much; I quickly dashed for the next room. If I could just get to there, I would be able to arm myself with my sword. I could fight, even if it was a demon, but I needed something to fight with. As my feet rushed through the doorway, they caught themselves on something, or perhaps one another and I went sailing down, towards the hard, cold ground below.
And then, when I thought that my face would be colliding with the rock floor, I was standing upright. Beneath my feet was a patch of cool grass. The night sky was both as dark and as bright as I had ever seen it. There seemed to be an infinite number of stars laid against the darkest black that I had ever seen the heavens be. There was a slight breeze blowing but it wasn’t cold. It was comfortable. Everything was just the right temperature. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of the cleanest, freshest air I had ever tasted.
“Anquiro, isn’t it?” a voice calmly said. The words jarred my peaceful breath. My eyes slid open and I saw, before me, a man who was dressed in the whitest robe that I had ever seen. It had such a pure quality that it seemed to glow with warmth. Normally, I would have been preparing for a fight but I could feel no hostility; only love. Finally, his words registered in my brain and I responded.
“Yes, Anquiro of the Praetorian guard. And, you are?”
“The name’s Optio.” He said with the same deep, bellowing voice I had heard in my room, as he turned his back on me and walked several steps away.
“Well, Optio, who are you…and…where am I?”
“Anquiro, you certainly have a lot of questions don’t you?”
“I think you just answered your own question.
You desire to understand why the Christians sing, correct?”
“How did you know…?”
“I’d really rather not get involved in talking about technicalities; you desire to know about them, correct?” Optio inquired as he turned around and faced me again. A smile slowly grew across his face.
“I do.” My words seemed to have a new surety.
“Then, you must follow me…”
“Follow you where? Where are we now?”
Optio slightly shook his head and then smiled as he spoke like one might speak to a child. “Anquiro, we are in the same location that you were, minutes ago.”
“Now I know that you are a lying spirit, I was in my home minutes ago” I said with complete confidence that this Optio character must be completely blind.
“Believe me, we haven’t changed locations. God has simply opened your eyes.”
“Which god? Janus?”
“No, the God.” Optio spoke as if there were but a single god in existence; however, everyone in Rome knew that there were tens, if not hundreds of gods. It was a well-known fact. “My friend, you have been deceived, as many are being deceived.” Optio began, “There is but a single God whose name is ‘I AM.’ He is the creator God. The uncaused, cause. The primordial progenitor. He is merely, God.”
“But that cannot be. We have had victory because of the gods. There have been battles that we would not have won without our sacrifices to Mars or Jupiter. You are the one that has been deceived.”
“If I am the one that has been deceived,” Optio spoke slyly, “then why is it that you are the one who fell down in your bedroom and ended up in a meadow?”
My mind took his words in and I began to contemplate them. I could discover no answer and so I decided to listen to him further. “Alright then, let’s assume that there is one God, what do you mean by saying that he has ‘opened my eyes’?”
“I mean that previously, you were viewing life based upon your physical eyes; but, God has opened your spiritual eyes. Now, you are viewing your home, and Rome on the spiritual realm.”
As my eyes scanned my surroundings, I noticed that where the Palatine hill was supposed to lie, there it was. The Capitoline hill was also in its place. In fact, as I gradually turned around in a full circle, I could make out almost all seven of Rome’s hills. I also realized that while I stood in a beautiful patch of the greenest grass that I had ever seen; all around me I could see nothing but bare dirt. Cracked ground that looked as if it hadn’t seen water in years. In the distance there were several bright lights that I had previously paid no attention to because they looked like stars. But now, I could see that they were not in the sky but on the horizon. They seemed to be far away, cities on hills.
“Anquiro, you have been given a great privilege. God has bestowed spiritual vision on you. The ability to see the way that things truly are, not merely how they appear to be.”
“Okay, let’s say that I believe you.” I began, “Why would He do that, and what do you have to do with anything? Are you this, true God?” I asked, becoming more interested now.
“Oh no! Not at all, I am a created being like yourself. No one can actually see God, He is far too holy. With regard to your other questions, He sees that you desire to know more about the Christians. He has sent me to enlighten you. To open your eyes further.”
My curiosity was growing with each word that rolled off of his tongue; I did want to know about the Christians. It was a question that had been plaguing me for months and I had no idea where to learn the truth without putting myself in danger. In addition to that, Optio was revealing things to me that I had not spoken to anyone else. Things that had resided within my mind alone were completely open to this radiant being that stood before me. “Tell me more…”
“What do you know about the Christians?” he asked, though his eyes told me that he already knew the answer. He smiled again.
“I know that they have peace in the midst of death…I know that they show love to their murderers. I know that they are like no other people I have met.” I was beginning to speak as if I admired them. “Do I?” I wondered.
“Of course you admire them.” Optio answered my thought for me and then continued. “Listen, Anquiro, if you are going to understand the Christians then you first need to understand history. Why don’t we go on a little journey…I will show you what you seek. Do you wish to come?”
“Well, yea! Why wouldn’t I?”
“Simple: The more that you know, the greater responsibility you will have. Once you have heard the truth, you will not be able to live a lie. Choose…the truth without denial or denial without truth.”
I stood there silently for several minutes. Optio didn’t say another word but simply waited for mine. My mind rushed back and forth over every possible answer and every possible outcome. It was as if I was preparing for a battle. It seemed as if hours had passed when the words finally came out of my mouth. “I want the truth.” I finally managed, less than boldly.
“Alright, hold on...” Optio said softly as he placed his hand on my shoulder. Then, in an instant, we found ourselves in a beautifully lush garden. There was a greater variety of plants than I had ever seen in any one place in my life. My eyes inspected every square inch of my surroundings until I caught a glimpse of two enormous and fabulous trees towering into the heavens, several hundred yards before me. At the bottom of their trunks was what appeared to be two figures, a young man and woman and speaking with them was the largest serpent that I had ever laid eyes on.
“Come. You’re about to see the worst mistake in history.” Optio said as he began walking toward the two silhouettes.
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