Today the church commemorates a martyr from third century Antioch named Nicepheros. He was a layman who was close friends with a priest named Saprikios, and it is the story of Saprikios that grips me.
It seems that these two had a falling out at one time and stopped speaking with each other. Hmm. I guess that happened in the early church too!
After a while, Nicephoros tried to reconcile with Saprikios, but the priest would not accept his overtures. Here is where it gets interesting.
Saprikios was then arrested during one of the persecutions and was sentenced to die. On his way to the execution, Nicephoros once again begged Saprikios to forgive him, but Saprikios’ heart was hardened against Nicephoros. “Seeing this,” the calendar tells us, “God took away his martyr’s crown.” Saprikios denied Christ.
He “escaped” execution, which is to say, he lost the crown of glory that God had offered him. Nicephoros pleaded with Saprikios not to deny the faith, but, seeing his hardness, Nicephoros offered himself in place of Saprikios. He was executed and was given the crown of life.
I’m sure this story will impact you according to your own needs and questions, but what leapt off the page to me was how Saprikios denied Christ twice: once by refusing to forgive his friend, and another time, formally. God is merciful, so it is possible for a Christian to live selfishly and without mercy and then to repent when confronted by death. But there are no guarantees. If we want to be faithful to our Lord in death, then we must be faithful to Him in life.
That may explain why the author to the Hebrews appealed to his readers at 12:14:
Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.