How Would You Like a Deacon Like This?
Kathie Walters – Friday, December 04, 1998
Laurence of Rome A.D. 258 Deacon (and martyr).
The extraordinary virtue of his youth recommended him to Xystus the Archdeacon of Rome, who instructed Laurence in the scriptures and in Christian living. When Xystus was raised up as the Overseer or Bishop of Rome, in 257 A.D. he ordained Laurence, although he was young, as first deacon. This was a great trust which included the care of the treasury, the distribution of the churches revenues and distribution to the poor. The church at that time was quite wealthy.
The Emperor Valerian, through the persuasion of Macrian in 257 A.D., published his bloody edicts against the church, flattering himself that he was able destroy it. He believed that by cutting off the shepherds, he might disperse the flock, and he commanded all bishops, pastors and deacons to be put to death. Xystus, (the second Bishop of that name) was apprehended the year following and he was led to the execution. Laurence followed him, weeping, judging himself ill-favored because he was not going to die also. In the early church is was an honor worth attaining to be put to death as a Christian. He followed Xystus, weeping and calling out, “Father, where are you going without your son? Where are you going without your deacon?..Have I displeased you? Have you found me wanting in my duty? Am I an unfit minister?” He burst into a complaint because of his desire to die with his leader. The Holy Bishop at the sight of his grief was moved with tenderness and prophesied to him, “I am not leaving you my son, for a greater trial and more glorious victory are reserved for you..We are spared some suffering because of our weakness and old age. You shall follow me in three days.” He told Laurence to immediately distribute the treasures of the church among the poor, lest they shall be left without if the church’s treasury fell into the hands of their persecutors.
Laurence was full of joy when he heard that his end was so near..and he set out right away to find the poor orphans and widows. He gave out all of the money which he could put his hands to. The church provided the means for many, including 1500 poor people of whose names the deacon kept a list. The church also sent large alms to different countries and areas in need. The church had many rich ornaments and according to the famous heathen scoffer Lucian, the magnificence of the of the silver and gold vessels inflamed the covetous of the persecutors.
The Prefect of Rome was informed of the treasure owned by the church and convinced that the Christians had hidden the silver and gold, was very keen to secure whatever he could for himself. For he was a worshipper of Jupiter and Mars, but he loved even more gold and silver. He then sent for deacon, Laurence. When Laurence arrived the Prefect asked him to bring the treasures, including all the silver and gold chalices which were used for communion. “You preach that you must give to Ceasar all that is Ceasar’s, for Ceasar needs this money for his army.” He went on to say, “Your God brought no money into this world with him; He only brought words. Give us the money and you be rich in words.” Laurence replied, without showing any concern..”The church is indeed rich; no Emperor has any treasure equal to what it possesses. I will gather and show you a valuable part; but allow me a little time to set everything in order, and make an inventory.” The Prefect already had imagined himself the recipient of much wealth, and granted Laurence three days to accumulate the treasure. During this interval. Laurence went all over the city seeking out all the poor and neglected who were supported by the church. On the third day he gathered them in the church and placed them in rows, along with the decrepit, the blind and lame, the maimed, the lepers along with the orphans and widows. Then he sent and fetched the Prefect to come and see for himself the treasures of the church. When the Prefect arrived he was astonished to see such an array of poor wretches who made an awful sight. With looks full of threatening he demanded to know what was the meaning of this and where all the treasures were that Laurence has promised to show him. Laurence answered, “What are you displeased at? The gold which you so eagerly desire is just metal and incites men to all kinds of crimes. The light of heaven is the true gold, which these poor people enjoy. Their bodily weaknesses and sicknesses are the subject of their patience..but vices and passions are the real diseases. By them the great ones of this world are often the most miserable and despicable. In these people are the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones – those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the churches’ crown, by which it is pleasing to Christ; it has no other riches. Then he exhorted the Prefect to repent.
The earthly minded man cried out in a torrent of rage. “Do you mock me? In this the ensign and power of Rome are insulted. I know that you desire to die, but you will not die quickly. I will make sure your tortures are long and your death will be bitter as it shall be slower. You shall die by inches.”
Then he caused a great grid iron to be made ready and and live coals, almost extinguished, to be put under i,t so that the fire might burn slowly. Laurence was stripped, extended and bound with chains to this iron bed, over a slow fire which broiled his flesh little by little. His face appeared to the Christians, surrounded with a beautiful, extraordinary light, and his body exhaled a sweet perfume. He seemed not to feel the torments of the persecutor, says St. Austin, so strong was his desire to possess Christ. And St. Ambrose observes that as his whole body was broiled in material flames, the fire of divine love which was far more active within his heart, made him regardless of pain He had so much peace and tranquility that he turned at one point to the judge and said with a cheerful and smiling countenance, “Let my body now be turned; this one side is broiled enough.” The Prefect insulted him, but Laurence continued praying with tears, imploring the Lord for divine mercy for Rome, and with his last breath he prayed for the conversion of all of Rome. This he begged Christ to accomplish speedily, that His Gospel might be spread more quickly by the saving of the heads of Rome and spreading over all the provinces. He asked God for the sake of the two Apostles, Paul and Peter, who had begun there to plant the cross of Christ, and had watered that city with their blood. Then having completed his prayer, he gave up his spirit to God.
Prudentius says that God immediately began to answer the prayers of Laurence, for even some of the senators present at his death were convicted and converted the same day because of his piety and tender hearted fortitude, and carried his body on their shoulders and gave him an honorable burial in Veran Field, near the road to Tibor on 19th August 258 A. D.
His death says Prudentius, was the death of idolatry in Rome, which from that time began to decline; and “Now” adds the same father,”The senate itself venerates the tombs of the Apostles and martyrs.” St. Austin tells of many miracles that God did through the prayers of Laurence.