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Telemachus- Midweek Musing 4/25/2024

Telemachus was a saint and monk who died in 404 AD. His story has been retold in various formats over the centuries, from various medieval sources to the writings of Alfred Lloyd Tennyson. This saint's story was even told by President Regan at the national prayer breakfast.

While no one can know exactly what happened, we do know some of the facts, which are both fascinating and inspiring.

What we do know is that during Telemachus’s life, the gladiatorial games were extremely popular. People flocked to the arena ready to cheer as blood was spilled and lives were taken upon the arena’s floor. While this did bring some minor criticism from bishops and priests within the church, this disapproval of the games was generally ignored as these violent contests were immensely popular even among some church leaders!

Thus, the games continued, using mostly gladiators who were not there voluntarily. Most participants were slaves, political prisoners, or those considered to be the dregs of society who were forced to train and fight for their lives for the sheer entertainment of others. And many of these forced participants were actually Christians, despite the fact Emperor Honorius was well-known as a Christian. Yet he openly sponsored the games and many of his fellow Christians sat in the most prominent seats within the arena. Thus, they watched and cheered fellow believers die in these barbaric contests.

Telemachus, who was a devout monk, wondered if there could possibly be anything further from the teachings of Christ than his fellow believers’ total disregard for the lives of these men for nothing other than entertainment.

He was so disturbed that he felt something had to be done about it. Something more than just condemning words. So, he set out for Rome.

As the story goes, when Telemachus entered the city, the city was electric with excitement. "To the Coliseum!" the crowds cried out. "The games are about to start!" So, Telemachus followed the crowd and was seated among the spectators. When the gladiators came out into the center of the arena, the crowd roared. Then as they looked towards the emperor, the crowd went silent.

The poets tell us that as the gladiators come forth, they were obligated to stand before the emperor and say, ‘We who are about to die salute you.’ 

At that point, the two men faced each other. The men drew their swords. And the crowds' cries resumed. The fight was about to be on, and it was expected that one of them would be dead within minutes.

It was then that Telemachus realized they were actually about to kill one another simply for the entertainment of the crowds. Telemachus cried out, ‘In the Name of Christ, stop!’ But of course, his lone voice was lost in the crowd’s cheering.

So, Telemachus began working his way to the Coliseum’s floor.

As he made his way he continued to implore in his loudest yell, “In the name of Christ, stop!”

Eventually, he made his way to the floor begging for the gladiators to “in the name of Christ, stop.”

At this point, the story gets a bit fuzzy.  One tradition says that the gladiators put down their swords, but the crowd was so enraged that members of the audience stormed the floor of the arena and they beat Telemachus until his dead body lay crumbled in a bloody heap. Another tradition says that one of the gladiators killed the monk with his sword even while the monk continued to plead for the violence to “in the name of Christ, stop!”

Either way, once the emperor realized that this was a man of God who had been executed as he cried “In the name of Christ, stop,” he got up and left the stadium. The other spectators solemnly left as well.

A single day later Emperor Honorius issued an edict forever ending the games. And so it was, that because one individual, filled with the love of Christ, dared to say "stop," all gladiatorial games ceased.

Simply because a common man implored in word and in deed that “in the name of Christ, stop!” never again did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd.

While gladiatorial games do not exist today, we continue to “kill” one another in so many ways, and yes, sometimes it is for sport.

We even sometimes do these things claiming they are God's will.

We bully or insult. We gossip and accept lies as truth. We promote and celebrate greed and power and fame and belittle charity and compassion and humility.

We allow the marginalized to be attacked. Sometimes these attacks end up in violence that costs lives or causes pain so badly inflicted that one feels they have no option but to take their own life.

The Trevor Project’s research has also found that 52% of LGBTQ+ youth who were enrolled in middle or high school reported being bullied either in person or electronically in the past year, and those who were bullied had three times greater odds of attempting suicide in the past year.

And according to a 2023 CDC report, suicide rates among marginalized groups in the United States increased between 2018 and 2021:

·      Black people: Ages 10–24 increased by 36.6% from 8.2 to 11.2 per 100,000; ages 25–44 increased by 22.9%

·      American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN) people: Ages 25–44 increased by 33.7%

·      Hispanic people: Ages 25–44 increased by 19.4%

·      Non-Hispanic multiracial people: Ages 25–44 increased by 20.6%

‘In the Name of Christ, stop!’ It is something we could be saying to each other throughout the world today.

Now I in no way believe that most of you who are reading this are actively engaging in such hateful behavior.

However, if you are like me, too often we are what we would call “innocent bystanders” when such activities occur. However, the Biblical narrative is clear in the face of injustice—no one can be an “innocent bystander.” You are either for justice and mercy or you allow evil to grow.

I know that is a hard truth to hear. (It certainly convicted me.) But the truth is no one can sit on the sidelines in this world. When we see evil, we should call it out for what it is just like Telemachus.

I wonder, in fact, what would happen if all believers cried out in the face of lies and injustice and hate “in the name of Christ, STOP!”

Perhaps it just might change the world.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia Amen.


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