“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” John 15:15
I generally tend to gravitate to people who are a lot like me. Most of them are from comfortable, educated families, work in professional settings, enjoy talking over brunch or a glass of wine, and have a driving passion or ambition. A fair number of them can also rap the bulk of at least one Kanye West album, too. I am not great at looking beyond my comfort zone for relationship.
But Perpetua and Felicity, two North African martyrs of the early church, are an example of finding friends of your heart in the strangest of circumstances. The kind of people who you later think of and realize, “I would never have met them in my usual life. We never would have become friends if not for this.” Perpetua was a rich, well-educated young mother. Felicity, a pregnant slave. But they shared one, single most important quality: a steadfast trust in Christ.
Almost immediately after being baptized in their Carthage community, both young women were arrested with a group of catechumens and leaned on one another through the trials of prison. After being stripped of their children, they walked to their deaths together, standing side by side as they faced their execution. Beautifully, they are featured in icons clinging together, equal in the body of Christ.
Like many American Christians, I focus on what I can do to serve the poor or the marginalized and what I can give to them. This dynamic of giving is well-meaning but doesn’t allow for the possibility of mutuality that can lead to true friendship. The spirit of volunteerism or philanthropy remains focused on external differences, keeping me from seeking significant, deeper relationship with the people I encounter. Perpetua and Felicity offer us the possibility of what true friendship can bring us – sanctity, unity, and strength. How can I seek that kind of vulnerability in my friendships with others and with Jesus? I look to these young, holy women as examples and patrons to guide my heart.
Perpetua’s last words to her brother were “Stand fast in the faith and love one another.” She and Felicity lived those words together to an end that few of us will ever be asked to face.
Brigid Hogan loves the view of the Washington Monument from her apartment, her standing desk, the Green Bay Packers, and a good mystery. She tolerates taking the Metro to the office, where she works as a communications consultant. She blogs at cold-pressed.net and co-hosts the Caritas podcast.