“When all the people were being baptized [by John the Baptist], Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”
In the year 236 the Pope had died. The people had gathered in the catacombs below the city of Rome in order to elect a new one. In the crowd was a young man (about 36 years old) from the country, Fabian. He had been visiting the city and when he heard that they were electing a new Pope, he decided to go and watch.
As the proceedings began, the historian Eusebius reports that a dove flew into the catacombs, circled Fabian, and then landed on his shoulder. The people must have immediately recalled the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove, for they immediately cried out, “He is worthy! He is worthy!” And this unknown, non-clergyman was elected as Pope. Following his ordinations as deacon and then priest, he was installed as the twenty-first Bishop of Rome and Pope. (The next time the Roman Catholic Church prepares to elect a new Pope, I may be taking a trip!) Fabian would reign for seventeen years.
During his reign and in the early years of the Church, the Roman Empire were generally tolerant of other religions and simply incorporated them into the existing system of pagan gods. However, the the Jews presented a difficult problem: they had the One True God and the commandments forbid them from building any graven image of their God, so the Romans made an exception for them. For a time, the Christians were able to “hide” in the Jewish synagogue, but when it was discovered what they were doing and their beliefs, they were persecuted.
For example, it was believed that Christians practiced incest, because their scriptures instructed them to give the kiss of peace to their brothers and sisters. In addition, they were thought to practice cannibalism because they fed on the Body of Christ. These issues and others led to persecutions. Sometimes they were more localized, but occasionally would spread across the entire empire. The first of these empire wide persecutions occurred in 257 under Emperor Décius and Fabian was one of the first to be martyred. He was beheaded.
Our collect for Fabian – that prayer we read near the beginning of the service – requested: “O God… Grant that those whom you call in any ministry in the Church may be obedient to your call in all humility, and be enabled to carry out their tasks with diligence and faithfulness.” Now that may sound like a nice prayer, because you all can think, “Well, Fr. John, get out there and be humble and obedient in carrying out your task.” And you say that because you think the collect has nothing to do with you. Well, allow me to correct you. From the catechism (which I know you all have read) “Q: Who are the ministers of the Church? A: The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.” That means we are all called to be humble and obedient in the ministry that God calls us each to.
That may sound scary at times, but the beauty of God’s action in the world is that just as He enabled His Son and those like Fabian to accomplish the ministry he gave to them through the descending of the dove, the giving of the Holy Spirit, he has also given to you, for do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, through the power of that same Spirit, be faithful and obedient in the ministry Christ has called you to accomplish.