Cyprian, a north African bishop of the third century, himself eventually died a martyr. Here he exhorts fellow Christians to courage as they face the contest of faith in a hostile pagan society. Following Ephesians 6, he urges Christians to put on the whole armor of God. In so doing, note the reference to the sign of the cross on the forehead and the importance of the Eucharist, the body of the Lord, which in his time was taken in the hand.
As we do battle and fight in the contest of faith, God, his angels and Christ himself watch us. How exalted is the glory, how great the joy of engaging in a contest with God presiding, of receiving a crown with Christ as judge. Dear brethren, let us arm ourselves with all our might, let us prepare ourselves for the struggle with uncorrupted minds, with a whole faith, and with devoted courage.
The Contest of Faith
The blessed Apostle teaches us how to arm and prepare ourselves: Put round you the belt of truth; put on the breastplate of righteousness; for shoes wear zeal for the Gospel of peace; take up the shield of faith to extinguish all the burning arrows of the evil one; take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. [Ephesisan 6:10-18]
Let us take this armor and defend ourselves with these spiritual defenses from heaven, so that when the evil day comes we may be able to resist the threats of the devil, and fight back against him.
The Whole Armor of God
Let us put on the breastplate of righteousness so that our breasts may be protected and kept safe from the arrows of the enemy. Let our feet be shod in the teaching of the Gospel, and armored so that when we begin to trample on the serpent and crush it, it will not be able to bite us or trip us up.
Let us with fortitude bear the shield of faith to protect us by extinguishing all the burning arrows that the enemy may launch against us.
God’s Sign & the Eucharist
Let us wear on our head the helmet of the spirit, to defend our ears against the proclamations of death, to defend our eyes against the sight of accursed idols, to defend our foreheads so that God’s sign may be kept intact, and to defend our mouths so that our tongues may proclaim victoriously the name of Christ their Lord.
And let us arm our right hand with the sword of the spirit so that it may courageously refuse the daily sacrifices, and, remembering the Eucharist, let the hand that took hold of the body of the Lord embrace the Lord himself, and so gain from the Lord the future prize of a heavenly crown.
Soldier of Christ
Dear brethren, have all this firmly fixed in your hearts. If the day of persecution finds us thinking on these things and meditating upon them, the soldier of Christ, trained by Christ’s commands and instructions, will not tremble at the thought of battle, but will be ready to receive the crown of victory.
This post is excerpt from a letter of Saint Cyprian of Carthage to the people of Thibaris (Ep. 58, 8-9, 11: CSEL 3, 663-666). It appears in the Roman Office of Readings for the liturgical memorial of St. Stanislaus, patron saint of Poland, on April 11.