Life is holier than death, even if it is martyrdom. God created man to live, not to die. Life is holier than death, even if death is the doorway that leads to eternal life. Life is preferable to martyrdom. For this reason, Christianity condemns begging for martyrdom at any price and considers it suicide.
When martyrdom comes, it must be accepted. To a person to be martyred for faith and not deny it even when he is subjected to the most horrible tortures is immeasurably more virtuous. This is confirmed by the lives of the holy martyrs throughout the history of the Church.
Martyrdom is a duty if it comes. However, if it is possible to avoid it, then it must be avoided. After warning the disciples of coming persecution and calling them to stand firm until the end, Christ commanded them, “When they persecute you in a city, flee to another” (Matthew 10:23). According to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, in this verse Christ is not teaching His disciples “to be cowards, but rather not to throw themselves into dangers and perish so as to keep those who have yet to benefit from their teaching from losing it.”
In the very same context, Saint Jerome states that when the Lord said to His disciples “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans” (Matthew 10:5), He said it “not because they were afraid of persecution but so that they would avoid it.”
However, in the event that it happens, martyrdom becomes an obligation. Christ Himself encouraged His disciples toward martyrdom when He said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10: 28). The essence of man is not the body, because the body passes out of existence and suffers corruption. He who kills the body is only killing that which naturally is passing out of existence, but he cannot touch a person’s essence and the morals and values in which he believes. He can tear apart flesh and spill blood, but he will not be able to kill the heart, God’s dwelling-place. He can kill a person’s exterior, but he will not be able to kill God who dwells within that person.
No power in the world can kill a single person’s soul, unless someone kills his own soul and remains alive in his body. There is a single way to kill the soul, which is sin in its various forms. In times of hardship, this sin takes the form of disbelief, compromising the faith and abandoning faith’s requirements for the sake of self-preservation.
Christianity believes that the body is holy. The Son of God took a body and became man. The body contributes to human holiness, so in the body a person is baptized, receives the holy things, is sealed with chrism, is anointed with oil, bows down to God, makes the sign of the cross… So the body must be preserved until it naturally returns to the earth. But if a person is forced to choose between his body and his faith, then the Christian choice is clear.
Christianity, in a word, is the constant call to bear the cross. The cross is an instrument of life, not of death. It is better for a person to die for his faith and live forever than to live for the sake of worldly concerns and die forever. Christ died for humankind of His own will, despite the fact that, according to the Christian faith, He was incapable of dying. So then how much more so, will we, His friends, not die for the sake of what we have inherited from the saints?