About this Story
Truth. What is truth? Felix’s mind screamed, he didn’t know what to believe anymore. The gods had failed him. Rome had failed him. Who could show him true truth now?
Truth. What is truth? Felix’s mind screamed, he didn’t know what to believe anymore. The gods had failed him. Rome had failed him. Who could show him true truth now?
Felix shot up from his bed with a gasp; scrambling to a sitting position, he pulled the rough blanket that had been tangled in his legs around his shaky body. His thick hair matted with sweat to his face, and his shoulders trembled as he pulled the blanket tighter.
“It-it wasn’t…a dream.. It wasn’t… a dream…” he rasped.
Indeed it hadn’t been a dream. It had been real. All of it, so very real. Every reality of it hit him once more, so pristine, so clear. All of the day before…The screams for her death. The pleads he gave. The emperor's rage, the blows that had been cast upon her, her long black hair sliced from her head and thrown to her feet, the blood running from her lips from each blow, her feet bloody and cut from each thirsty whip’s lash… Then the ropes slicing into her slender wrists as they tied her to the stake, pouring oil over her open wounds and sparking the red flames. He’d pleaded, he’d cried, he had fallen to his knees at her feet and begged…but…her face, her eyes, all so peaceful—-and yet pleading for him to understand—-But all he could do was watch while those around him laughed and cheered as the fire consumed her. Only one scream of pain escaped her lips. One he could not comprehend.
Shakily he laid his shivering body back down on the bed, his eyes staring blankly. She was dead.
Why? Why her?
His thoughts kept asking.
The gods had failed him. Indeed they had. He had prayed in all the temples, the greatest courts, even those of his own home. But still… they had failed him. Jupiter did not listen to his pleas, his gifts, his sacrifices. Nor did Apolo, Bacchus, or Bellona, whom he had specifically asked—-as she was the goddess of war—- to win the war against the Christians for his sister's soul. But they did nothing. Nothing to help save her. And now nothing could bring her back. Her ashes were carried by the wind, scattered about the arena. Why had Julia fallen for the lies the Christians had sold her? She had been subdued. And for that she had lost her life… For hours he lay there, staring…wondering… breaking with each relapse of the memory… never again would he see her.
Slowly he pulled himself to his weary feet and made his way out of the room, down a corridor, out the peristyle, then through a door and passed a shimmering white curtain, to a room. A well made, silken-canopied bed rested against the wall; a table holding three scrolls, a vial of ink, a vase of delicate flowers, and some linens. A large window loomed over the bed, the dew drops glistening in the fading moonlight. But what was on the bed was what caught his eye.
Slowly he picked it up, gazing at the smooth and worn piece. His eyes stayed emotionless as he studied it, but then they began to swell.
To swell with anger.
And all at once he hurled the cross to the stone floor.
Only criminals were condemned to such a death. Only dirty criminals. Liars. Thieves. Cheaters. Murderers . And his sister had ‘worshipped’ this punishment, this sign of shame, this death sentence. She had even reverently kissed it before the Emperor. Her so-called ‘savior’ was a common criminal, condemned to death for just reasons. He only knew little why, but he knew one thing for sure:
The criminal was a criminal. He had been polluting people’s minds with evil lies. And through His followers, his sister was converted to their “religion.” Their sorcery had been so strong, she had not failed under the horrors of torture, and had been killed. Burnt alive. And for the christians’ sorcery, they would pay. All in one movement, he had snatched the cross up from the ground, and stormed out of the room, knocking over the vase full of youthful flowers, shattering it on the stone floor.
But he didn’t stop. His grip on the cross grew tighter and tighter with each step he took, his knuckles whitening and cracking.
He thrust open a gate and made his way out into the street, his teeth gritted, thin streams of blood running down his hands, as he approached a large fire (surrounded by guards) and spit upon the cross, casting it into the flames, cursing with all his might.
“I shall hate this ‘Christian’ god forever.”
And so, from then on, he hated with his whole Roman being, the ‘Christian’ god, and vowed to take down every single one of its followers. The liars. The barbarians. The cannibals. One by one. Piece by piece. He would tear them down. Not one more Roman would fall for their lies.
Hate is a strange thing. And an unfair one at that. But in Felix's case, it was everything but unfair. To him, he had every right, every reason, to hate the Christians with all his might. And he did. It had been three years since Julia’s death, and Felix had grown exceedingly since. He had moved up in ranks, and was now in charge of a large quantity of men. His duties, however, were what kept his hate growing. Day after day, he would storm villages, raid homes, and slaughter every Christian.
Woman and child.
They were all Christians.
And for that they deserved to die. He would even, personally, see that each and every Christian he brought in was slaughtered in the most painful and excruciating of ways. But of course, there were moments when nothing seemed to be able to harm any of the Christians.
Day after day it only became harder to torture and end them. And it felt as though, after one Christian was martyred, ten more rose up to take their place. But that did not stop Felix; it only seemed to spark the fires of his hate all the more. the Christians were getting stronger, and they shouldn’t have been for they had killed so many already.
But he wouldn’t let their numbers scare him. He wouldn’t let them win. They had already taken too many a Roman’s soul and life; they would pay. First under Rome’s wrath, and then, the gods’ wrath….
“Your success in hunting down the Christians is exceedingly impressive, Felix,” the dark haired, bulky commander smiled, looming over the map before him.
“Hate is a strong asset, General.”
“Ah, true, true. A very strong and sturdy one at that——tell me, Felix, if you had an opportunity to aid Rome in disposing of one of the Christians’ strongest leaders, would you?”
Felix's rough hands unsheathed his sword in less than a second, and the fire in his eyes burned as he answered.
“For the glory of the gods and Rome, and for the ruin of the Christians, I would do it if it cost me my life.”
The commander leaned back in his chair, looking all the more pleased.
“I thought that would be your answer. So, I personally took the liberty of seeing to this task. One of the Christians’ leaders, one of the so-called “apostles”, is imprisoned in one of our strongest prisons, and we plan to move him to the secluded island Patmos, where he cannot use his Christian sorcery on any more of Rome’s people. And my orders ask of me to send two of my strongest and most faithful soldiers to see to the task.”
Felix sheathed his sword and drew near the table all in one movement, studying the map before him.
“And when do they plan to kill him?” he asked.
The commander stopped, and the furrow of his brow was more than puzzled.
“My orders were to keep him alive. So no, we will not be executing him.”
“And why not?” Felix asked, his voice more loud and frustrated than he would have liked.
“I do not know, I think the man is old. And perhaps they pity him? Like I said, I do not know. But orders are orders, and it’s our duty to follow them.”
By then, Felix’s hands were fisted.
“Did you not say that he is one of the Christians’ leaders? One of their Jesus’ first followers? Do you not realize how many he has used his tricks on? His sorcery? And you speak of pity? Pity?! If Rome has not gone mad we will not hesitate to end him!”
He spit with fury, his eyes afire with hate.
“Orders are orders, Felix!” the commander retorted, although he, too, seemed angered by the decision.“ Would you rather have him preaching to our people, or locked away if we cannot kill him?”
Felix stepped back; full of frustration, he heaved through clenched teeth: “When do I leave?”
“Tomorrow, at dusk.”
He nodded, took his helmet into hand, and turned to leave but came to a halt and asked: “What is his name?”
“John. John the apostle. And, Felix, be prepared for his tricks,” the commander finished.
Felix nodded once more and trudged out of the room, his heavy armor clinking…
It was early morning when Felix found himself boarding the boat for the island of Patmos. The last remnants of the stars had begun to fade in the dim morning light. When the soldier who was meant to accompany him arrived at the docks, he came riding up the dirt roads-but what stumbled behind him was a pitiful sight. Huddled, and near-naked, a figure struggled behind the horse; pulled along by thick ropes, tying his weak hands to the horse.
“Is that him?” Felix asked as the soldier leapt from his horse.
“Yes. He’s quiet. But when he does talk, it’s very… disturbing.”
“Let’s get this over with,” Felix huffed, marching toward the old man, heavy chains in hand.
The man was older than he had expected. His hair was white, and his long beard was, too. He was small and withered, and his tunic was so torn and ragged it was obvious it gave no source of comfort. As Felix roughly untied the man's hands, he couldn’t help noticing the bruises that were scattered all over him.
Then he stopped.
Was he pitying this man?
He would not give such a person his pity.
Quickly he clipped the iron chains around the old man’s wrists and feet, and as he did so he couldn’t help noticing the way the man looked at him.
“Something wrong?” Felix grumbled, tightening the eldery man’s chain so tightly he winced.
“Are you not Felix?” the old man asked, his voice soft but hoarse. And the way he asked the question felt warm.
But the question… Felix could not help stopping and eyeing the man.
How did he know his name? No prisoners he had ever dealt with had known his name.
“Did I give you permission to speak?” he spat, shoving the elderly man toward the boat.
“I just recognized you… From what she had told me,’ the man quietly heaved through a weak breath, as he trudged up the board to the boat, nearly toppling over from the weight of his overloaded chains.
Once again, the man had Felix stopping in his tracks in confusion. But before he could blurt out an angry response, the other soldier punched the old man for speaking and pushed him onto the boat so forcefully, he fell to the ground in a loud clatter, his chains beating against his weathered body.
But Felix couldn’t help wondering… what did he mean by:
“From what she told me…”?...
Two days had passed on the boat. The waters had been peaceful enough, and thanks to the gods it hadn’t rained. The strange thing, though, was that all the old man would do was stare at the dazzling sea, and eye Felix in a strange way. On the first night Felix heard the man softly whispering in his sleep. As he shifted to strike the man, he couldn’t help stopping when he heard the words. They were strange.
Happy… most of all, confusing.
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
It certainly didn’t sound like sorcery… it sounded like a plea, a prayer…
Sorcery can be hidden by means such as that, Felix thought.
But when he looked toward the old man, he couldn’t help wondering: Why was he so confused and bothered by this man? He had never felt so uneasy around anyone. There was something about him, that was almost… holy?…
Felix turned to find his companion crouched beside the old man, asking:
“Tell me, old man, what’s so important about your God?”
“He is everything,” the old man answered, his eyes dazzling. “He created the earth, all the living creatures that walk and fly, the sea, the sky, the water. The trees, the grass, the fruit. But most of all, He created man. Then, because he loved mankind so dearly, even after they had betrayed him from eating of the forbidden fruit, and brought themselves into sin, the great Lord God almighty, in all his mercy and love, sent his only son down to redeem all people. He was born of a virgin in a stable, and lived a simple, poor life. But when his time had come, He was delivered up unto those who hated Him, and crucified for our redemption.”
The two soldiers eyed each other, and Felix’s companion burst into laughter all at once. “The tale you tell is marveling, but do you not know our gods have stories much like yours?”
The soldier laughed and began to mock the elderly man. But that didn’t scare him. He went on, the determination in his eyes growing by the second.
“He is all-merciful. Loving. And compassionate. He hears our prayers. And He answers them.” He said the last part so softly, it caught Felix in a way that he couldn’t describe. He had asked once, he had begged once, he had sacrificed gifts once.. and no one had heard him. He had received no answer. No god, so great as they were claimed to be, ever answered the one, simple, desperate plea he had given. So why was this god so different from the others?
“But most of all, he is no stone idol. He is real. And living. He is the One True God,” the old man said, slightly louder than the last, bringing Felix back from deep within his thoughts.
“If I were you I wouldn’t speak of the gods that way,” Felix roared.
“Perhaps you could tell me what’s so important about your gods?” the elderly man asked.
“They’re the gods…” Felix started. “They watch over us, they promise us great rewards if we serve them pleasingly, and we offer them our fortunes and victories. If our gifts and sacrifices are great enough, they shall grace us each with something greater in our lives.”
“Do they answer your prayers? Your supplications?”
Felix stopped. Once again, the elderly man had sent him lost in his tracks. But then he couldn’t help thinking, when had they truly ever answered him?
“My God hears us. My God sees us. My God holds all answers. But most of all, He heals us,” the elderly man whispered, his dark eyes staring directly into Felix’s.
My God hears us.
My God sees us.
My God holds all answers.
He heals us.
Felix turned away, not daring to look into the man's eyes once more. Something was different about this man that intimidated Felix. He didn’t know why, but he made him long for something that was not there. For something higher than he could ever imagine. For something greater than all he’d ever known.. but, what was it?…
The wind softly brushed the ship, and the soft rush of the waves filled the air. It was near midnight, and Felix was seated beside the man, his cape pulled tightly about himself as he listened to the night's whispers.
“Why?” he whispered,looking toward the man. “Why?”
Immediately the man awoke, shifting his weight slightly as he met Felix's gaze. “Why do you ask that?” he whispered.
“Why do you hold onto this, this god of yours so? If you were to drop him now, you would be free. Why is he so important?” But Felix’s last question was what concerned himself the most, and sent the man's eyes dazzling again and his crooked lips twisting into a smile.
“Is He truly, all that you claim? Can He really.. heal?”
“You sound so much like her. Why is He so important to me?… He has freed me, guided me to a new, clearer, path. He has forgiven me all my wrongs, and has mended my brokenness. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Felix leaned back, resting his head against a large crate.
“You sound so wise. And the tale you tell speaks of paradise, but how do you know if it is true?”
“I knew him,” the man answered, once again in a whisper, his eyes dazzling all the more. “He truly is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. But, my friend, as He Himself has said, Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe…”
At that, Felix did not know what to think.
“What is truth?” he whispered, his eyes stinging as he leaned back, pressing them shut, breathing in the ocean air.
“Truth…” the man said softly, making Felix jump as he felt the gravity of the situation. “Truth… tell me, what does your heart tell you?”
Felix turned away.
For years—for three long years—he had murdered men and woman like the elderly man beside him. Children even. And in each and every one of them, he never saw a hint of doubt, never saw fear… in each of their eyes was the same dazzling light… the light he knew he’d never come to truly know.
He had resisted it for so long.
What did it even mean, anymore?
What was… truth?
Could this man's god, truly, actually be…real?
Was what Julia had told him all true? Was the last cry of Jesus' name her cry for him to understand?
“I knew your sister, my friend,” the elderly man whispered.
“What?” Felix exclaimed, turning to face the man.
“She came to me, asking to know what it was that had caused her to lose her friend to Christanity... We spoke, and I told her of Jesus, and his love for all. She left, confused and uneasy. Then, she returned the next day. And the next. On the third day, she asked me: What is truth? And all in one moment, she realized. She saw it. She knew it would cost her. And yet, she knew she had found her pearl of great price.”
Felix did not move.
He couldn’t think.
He could not comprehend what the man had just said.
Julia had been just as confused as he was now…
What is truth?
His mind screamed, begging for an answer, and as if the man had heard him once again, he placed something in his rough hand. As he looked down, through his clouding vision, he saw the cross.
Then, so gently, the elderly man whispered, his eyes shining with such certainty and faith:
“Let me show you.”