TITLE: Our Perpetua 4-9-2015
By Ellen Carr
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Like a slave's indelible brand, the memory is burnt into my heart. Could a mother ever forget the gruesome death of her beloved daughter? Not a day goes by when I don't think of her, see her again in that arena.
Should I curse the day the gospel came to our city? Should I wish Perpetua had never made her choice? Should I turn away from my own persuasion? My husband would have it so. Gabinus will still have nothing of our Christianity. In his eyes, Perpetua died in vain. He will not speak of her.
Though I'm haunted by the memories I do not despair. I know, deep in my soul, that she is with our Lord. His peace flows through me. His voice whispers, “All is well.”
Here, in the two hundred and second year of our Lord, we are proud Romans in this Carthaginian colony. We have lived a privileged life, yet many of us have turned to Christianity. We saw its truth, and how its people lived. I became a believer, then Perpetua and Julius, my two living children. Gabinus would not.
I tend to Lucius, her little one; I rock him gently. I am his mother and grandmother now. His hazel eyes, his dimpled cheeks, are hers. The wet nurse, a household slave, suckles the boy, but she is not our Perpetua. As I watch, tears gather in my eyes.
The soldiers came, with swords, to Pomponius' house where we were gathered to pray. But the five were led away like lambs, our Perpetua amongst them. She handed the baby to me and walked out with her head held high. But her lips were trembling.
The child was not weaned so their separation was a torture to her. And how little Lucius whimpered for her touch, for her breast, the wet nurse a poor compensation. How I ached to take the baby to her.
Our family is well respected in Carthage, and Gabinus is a noble man in every sense of the word. Though he despises my new-found faith he has always loved me, and he loved our Perpetua dearly. He plead with her to renounce her faith. He took little Lucius to her prison cell, pleading that she live for her baby's sake. He begged me to go with him and plead against her martyrdom, but I could not ask her to deny our Lord.
But how it grieved me, knowing what was coming, at the cruel order of Hilarianus, the Procurator. I would have taken her place if I only could, yet, my soul was at peace. This was God's way for this time.
She was preparing for her baptism when they took her, and her heart was set on it. It seemed impossible, but the Lord graciously provided a way. Somehow, in that terrible prison, she was baptised by one of the others. It has warmed my heart to know the joy it would have brought her. Yes, there were some things for which I could thank God, even amongst the horror.
Gabinus went to her time and time again. Oh, how he loved her, his favourite child. He begged again her pity for him, for us, for her baby. But she would not be swayed. Even the Procurator plead on Gabinus' behalf, begging her to offer the sacrifices to the emperor, for the sake of her father and her son. But, she stood firm, my dear, strong daughter.
Tertius and Pomponius, the blessed deacons, worked on behalf of the prisoners to bring them some relief. They bribed the soldiers so that she could have Luciius with her for a while. They suffered with Julius and me, praying with us, comforting us. And the Lord calmed us, soothed our souls.
I must tell the truth; my faith faltered when Perpetua had to give Lucius back into my care. Her time had come. But our Lord's gentle voice spoke softly to my soul. “It is well. I am in control.”
Now, Lucius is cooing and twisting my hair. Julius is tickling his little feet while Gabinus stands woodenly, watching. Things are not as they might have been; Perpetua is not with us. Gabinus' mouth sits bitter. But it is well with my soul. Perpetua is with our Lord.
(This is based on the true story of the Christian martyr, Perpetua of Carthage, in 202-203 AD.
Reference: :The Acts of the Christian Marytrs, texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo
(c) Oxford University Press, 1972)
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