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The article reveals the militant, that is, positively correlated with active violence, images and concepts in the early Christian martyrdom: agon (struggle), war, and the army. Contrary to the widespread notion of a Christian martyr as a passive and speechless victim of persecution, the author shows that martyrs themselves, the authors of martyrological works, and theologians regarded martyrs as fighters or warriors who fight the devil and achieve victory in death. According to such an interpretation, martyrs were called “noble athletes/fighters”, as well as “athletes of Christ” or “soldiers of Christ”, and their feats were called “the great struggle”. The tradition of militant understanding of martyrdom takes shape in the II–III centuries CE and persists in the later tradition. Besides, in the IV–V centuries. it was actively exploited by some radical Christian movements that practiced real violence – in particular, Egyptian and Syrian monks, Parabalani, and the Circumcellions. Based on the empirical research, the article draws several theoretical conclusions: (1) militancy can be viewed as an integral feature of both early and later Christian martyrdom; (2) martyrdom itself is not a passive but an active principle; (3) the boundary between victim and active, discursive and real violence is thin and can be easily crossed. Thus, the study of the militant component of early Christian martyrdom allows, at least in part, to reconsider the phenomenon of martyrdom in general.

Keywords: martyrdom, militancy, agon, war, early Christianity, violence, victimhood

DOI: 10.22250/2072-8662.2021.3.92-103

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About the author

Aleksei I. Zygmont – PhD (Philosophy), Research Fellow, Research Laboratory for Public Communications Analysis,
Institute for Social Sciences, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration;
82 (2) Vernadsky Prosp., Moscow, 119571, Russia;