On the 28th and the 29th of December, we remember the first victims of Christian persecution. These new-born children were killed on Herod’s orders, who feared the Messiah who was to be born in Bethlehem.
According to the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Herod ordered the execution of every child below the age of two in the neighborhood of Bethlehem, after the three Wise Men did not return to tell him where the Messiah was born.
The feast of the Holy Innocents was later instituted in the 4th century. The oriental Church commemorates them on the 29th of December, while in the Latin tradition, their memorial day is celebrated on the 28th of December.
In the 5th century, the Bishop of Carthago (Africa), Saint Quodvultdeus talked in his homily about the tragedy of the Holy Innocents. He said: “The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of these martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses of God himself”.
The bishop talked about a misunderstanding by Herod, who saw in the person of Jesus a rival to his throne. He finished his sermon with the following reflection :
“How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they wear the palm of victory.”
Let us pray for these baby martyrs who died for Christ without knowing him.