This is the second week of our Lent Devotional for Families. We’re learning about holy people and opening our hearts to how God might make us holy, too. You can join from here, or you can go back to the beginning.
Lent Day 5: Polycarp — And the Fire Will Not Touch Him
Polycarp was a disciple of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He lived in the second century. That counts Polycarp among the first Christians. Polycarp was one of the three Apostolic Fathers. The Apostolic Fathers lived during the New Testament times and were the bridge between the Apostles, who wrote the New Testament, and those who came after.
During Polycarp’s life, there was much being said about Christ, but not all of it was true. Polycarp’s role was to keep the message of the Gospel true and not let others change it.
In his old age, it is said that Polycarp was burned at the stake for refusing to burn incense for the Roman Emperor. Polycarp said, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt.” When the fire did not consume and kill Polycarp, he was stabbed. He is now regarded as a Saint in many Christian traditions. (A saint is a person who is recognized by the Church as someone who lived a very holy life. We also call those who die having faith in Jesus saints.) And we can thank Polycarp for keeping the story of the Gospel true and unchanged.
Lent Day 6: Athanasius — Defender of the Trinity
Athanasius was born around 296 AD. He was born into a Christian family in Egypt. As a child, Athanasius would baptize other children in the river outside of the church. When the Bishop of Alexandria saw, he declared that the baptisms done by Athanasius were genuine and invited the children to begin training for a clerical career.
In his young adulthood, he was a secretary for the Council of Nicaea, from which we get the Nicene Creed. (A creed is a basic statement of faith.) What we know today about the Trinity– that God is three Persons– well, you can thank Athanasius for defending that truth in the early Church. He wrote great truths and preached them, as well.
Athanasius was exiled five times, fleeing or being exiled by Emperors. After his fifth exile, he returned to Alexandria to resume writing and preaching, particularly about the Incarnation. (Incarnation is a big fancy word that means that Jesus was completely God and actually became a Man.) Quietly in his bed, Athanasius died in 373, surrounded by his clergy and faithful supporters. Athanasius is recognized by many Christian traditions as a saint, like Polycarp.
“Jesus, who I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.”
-Athanasius at the Council of Nicaea (c. 325)
Lent Day 7: Jim Elliot — My Life for Yours
Jim Elliot was a Christian missionary to the Auca people in Ecuador. A missionary is someone who goes to another culture to spread the Gospel of Christ. As a child, Jim grew up in church and had a heart for people who died without ever hearing about Jesus. He knew from a young age that God was calling him to the mission field.
Jim first went to Shandia, Ecuador, to minister to the Quichas. After three years with the Quicha people, Jim felt God calling him to share Jesus with the Aucas, even though he knew the Aucas killed outsiders and had killed many Quichuas. To win the trust of the Aucas, Jim and fellow missionaries began dropping supplies to the Aucan people, using a bucket to lower the supplies down. After months of supply drops, the Aucas sent a gift back up in the bucket of the plane. Jim felt it was time to meet the people face to face.
Jim and four other missionaries were flown in and dropped off on the Auca beach. After waiting of four days on the beach, an Auca man and two women appeared on the beach. The missionaries tried to show them friendship and asked them to bring the others with them. For two days, the missionaries waited for the Aucas to return. On the sixth day, the Aucas returned but did not appear friendly. They came with spears raised. Though Jim carried a gun, he chose not to use it. He knew the Aucas did not know Jesus and did not want them to die without knowing Christ. Jim and his friends– Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Nate Saint, and Pete Flemming– were all killed by the Aucas.
When the men did not call, a plane was sent out looking for them. Eventually, the bodies of the missionaries were found. Though this sounds very sad, the story is not over.
In less than two years, Jim’s wife and daughter, Elisabeth and Valeria, were able to move with Rachel Saint (Nate Saint’s sister) into the Auca village. Many of the Aucas became Christians and they are now a friendly tribe with missionaries, including Nate Saint’s son and family still living there. Though Jim and the other four missionaries died, the Aucas were still able to hear about Jesus because of them.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Color and decorate this typography. Hang it somewhere to remind you of the boldness and heart that puts others before yourself.
Lent Day 8: Anthony of Egypt — Running from Temptation
Anthony of Egypt is known as the Father of All Monks. He was born around 251 AD. While not the first monk, he made it a habit of going out in the wilderness to be alone. Seeing the world full of snares and temptations, he ran to the wilderness to be closer to God. Most of what is known of Anthony was written in a biography by Athanasius. (Remember: we learned about him earlier this week.)
When Anthony was eighteen, his parents died. Shortly after this, Anthony decided to follow Jesus. He gave away and sold everything he had and donated the funds to help the poor. He followed the tradition of the hermit and went to live in the desert alone. (A hermit is a person who lives a simple life away from others for religious reasons.)
The devil still fought to tempt Anthony through boredom, laziness, and phantoms of women, yet he overcame temptation through prayer. (There are many paintings depicting the temptation of Saint Anthony.) It is said that, after this, Anthony went to live in a tomb, where local people would bring him food. In the tomb, the devil beat him till Anthony became unconscious, but his friends from the village found him and brought him to a local church.
Anthony then moved further into the desert, where again, Satan resumed his war on Anthony sending phantoms in the form of wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes, and scorpions. As the beasts would attack Anthony, he would laugh at them and say, “If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me.” And the phantoms would disappear like smoke.
In 311, Anthony traveled to Alexandria and visited those imprisoned for the sake of Christ and comforted them. The Governor told Anthony not to come back to the city, but Anthony did not listen and came anyway. When the Governor did not kill Anthony, he returned to the desert.
But this time, disciples followed him to the desert to be taught by him. A monastery developed around him deep in the desert and Anthony taught his disciples, now fellow monks, to pray and work. At his death, he was buried in an unmarked, secret grave.
Anthony of Egypt is recognized as a Saint in many Christian traditions.
Saint Anthony ran to the desert to escape temptation (a strong urge or pressure to do wrong); how far would you go to escape temptation?
We see Anthony used prayer to overcome temptation; try praying for God to help you overcome temptations in your own life.
Lent Day 9: The Cappadocian Fathers — God in Three Persons
First, where is Cappadocia? Well, it was just south of the Black Sea, near modern-day Turkey. (See the map.)
Three men make up the Cappadocian Fathers. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. They were all born sometime around 330 AD. Basil and Gregory of Nyssa were brothers. Gregory of Nazianzus was their close friend. They helped finalize the 381 version of the Nicene Creed. (We read about the first version, from 325, when we talked about Athanasius.) They, too, were defenders of the Trinity– God in Three Persons.
In the early days after Jesus died and after all his disciples died, there were many wrong things being taught about the Gospel. People were trying to make Christ fit into the ideas they already had about religion and thought. They wanted to change Jesus to fit into what they already thought instead of letting Jesus change their minds. These early Church fathers were those who fought for the truth. We might think of them as people just sitting around thinking and writing, but they were actually working hard to preserve the truth of Jesus so that we could really know Him.
Back then, many people tried to say that Jesus was not God– that, sure, he was like God, but of course, he wasn’t really God. Some even said the Jesus wasn’t God at all– just a created man who God used. The Cappadocian Fathers insisted that people know the truth–that Jesus is fully God, that there is one God who is actually three Persons– Father, Son, and Spirit. They knew the truth, and they fought for it so that it would be passed down to you and me. Even now, their work actually helps us really know God.
Basil cared for the poor, and after his death, the poorhouse, hospital, and hospice of Ceasarea became the the lasting monuments of his life. Basil is considered a Saint by many Christian traditions.
Gregory of Nyssa is considered a Saint by many Christian traditions, though the year and cause of his death is unknown.
Gregory of Nazianzus is also considered a Saint. He died of old age in Arianzum, six years after retiring from his work in the church.
Lent Day 10: Irenaeus — Standing for Truth
Iranaeus lived in the early 2nd century and is an early Church Father and Apologist. (An apologist is someone who defends or supports something that is criticized or attacked by other people. In this case, he defended the Gospel and the Church.) Irenaeus was a hearer (someone that listened) to Polycarp, about whom we read earlier this week.
Irenaeus’ main apologetic topic was against Gnosticism. ‘Gnosis’ means knowledge. Some people back then (and some people now) think the way to salvation is through intellectual knowledge (by learning more information than others). Irenaeus knew that the only way to salvation was through trusting what God did in and through His Son, Jesus. While the Gnostics say knowledge just comes to them through some secret teachings, Irenaeus used Scripture to defend his position– that salvation is available in Christ.
Just like many other Church Fathers, we remember and celebrate Irenaeus for his boldness to stand for truth. Thankfully, the truth of the Gospel was then passed down to you and me.
Nothing is known of Irenaeus’ death. Some say he was a martyr, that he died because of his faith in Christ. He was buried under the Church of Saint John in Lyons, which was renamed St. Irenaeus in his honor.
Standing for truth isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is hard to tell the truth or defend it. Have you ever found it tough to tell the truth? Have you ever had to defend the truth?
Click to see main 40 Holy People: A Lent Devotional for Families page.