Is Cassie Bernall a Martyr? An Orthodox Christian Answer

  • Background:
  • This is a response to a private question about the heroic actions of
  • Cassie Bernall, who was one of the victims in the Columbine high school
  • massacre. According to an article in the Boston Globe on 04/24/99
  • (written by By Eileen McNamara):
  • "She walked into Columbine High School on Tuesday morning, a promising

  • student. She was carried out more than 24 hours later a Christian
  • martyr. ''Do you believe in God,'' one of the heavily
  • armed gunmen asked the shy blond girl reading her Bible in the library
  • while her school was under siege. ''Yes, I believe in God,'' she replied
  • in a voice strong enough to be heard by classmates cowering under nearby
  • tables and desks. The gunman in the long black trench coat laughed.
    ''Why?'' he asked mockingly. Then he raised his gun and shot and killed
  • 17-year-old Cassie Bernall. "
  • ...
  • April 18/29 1999

  • Dear .......

  • Christ is risen!

  • I am just getting back to you about your question. There is no doubt

  • that her story is inspiring, and should warm the heart of all Orthodox
  • Christians. To determine whether Cassie should be supplicated as a martyr,
  • we must cautiously look at church tradition. The faithful are slow to absolutely
  • declare such things, unless there is overwhelming evidence. God reveals
  • His righteous ones in His time, and we Orthodox Christians wait patiently
  • for His will to be done.
  • Cassie was not in the church when she died, after her heroic confession.

  • The best answer I can give to your question, therefore, is that God knows
  • about her. We
    do not judge one way or the other, because the fate of those who die
  • outside the church is unknown to us. The church speaks authoritatively
  • about those within her bosom, who are shown by God's providence to be righteous,
  • and does not even comment about those outside of her.
  • I personally think it is a great temptation to dwell on the state of

  • righteous people who die outside the church. I leave the question
  • alone - I have found that people tend to look at things in an overly emotional
  • way, and make great compromises about the faith because of their emotional
  • state.
  • The demons who push ecumenism are always present when we ponder such

  • such questions, ready to pounce like a lion, and obliterate the very real
  • lines that exist
    between the true faith and false religion. As a minister of the true
  • gospel, I must try to make sure that those I teach live rightly and believe
  • rightly, in all things. I try to encourage balance on issues such as this,
  • because there is much to be lost if a person compromises their faith because
  • of external evidences. Unfortunately, too many Orthodox already have
  • lost the ability to discern where the church is, and where it is not, and
  • this lack of ability imperils them greatly.
  • There are some who would argue that Cassie was "baptized in her blood",

  • which is a common expression in the church, and occurs in many of the lives
  • of the holy martyrs. There is a significant difference between Cassie's
  • courageous and sincere confession and that of a formerly pagan martyr who
  • confesses Christ and is immediately killed. In the latter case, these newly
  • Christian martyrs had observed the exploits of true Christian martyrs,
  • and their confession brought them from a false religion into the church.
  • Cassie already professed a faith in Christ, which was fervent, but
  • also based on numerous errors and heresies. Her confession was in
  • belief in God, but many people believe in a "Christian God"! The demons
  • also believe and tremble. Belief in God is not a sole criterion for salvation,
  • but belonging to the body of Christ, that is, the church is. Cassie's firm
  • belief, which we absolutely admire, in her religion was most likely
  • based on the bible only, however, the bible does not save. It only points
  • to Christ, and His church, which DOES save.
  • In the aftermath of the publication of this short essay, the author

  • received email from Fr David Moser which helps explain the true Orthodox
  • opinion about martyrdom: "In the sacred history of the Church up until
  • this century and the wave of the New Martyrs of Russia, the martyrs were
  • killed and tortured by people who themselves believed in God and were persecuting
  • the holy martyrs because they would not alter their belief in the true
  • God to conform their belief to that of their persecutors. Hence a
  • simple belief in God does not by itself define a martyr in the Orthodox
  • sense of the word. In fact a simple belief in Jesus Christ does not
    either define a martyr for there are many martyrs on our calendar who
  • are noted as being martyred by the Papists - and so we have people who
  • believe in Jesus Christ being killed by others who believe in Jesus Christ
  • for the single reason that they would not change their belief in our Lord
  • Jesus Christ to conform to the ideas of another (ie. the Pope of Rome and
  • his followers). Going even further back in history we have many martyrs
  • who were similarly killed at the hands of Arians or at the hands of the
  • iconoclasts - all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence it becomes
  • obvious to me that the simple confession of a belief in God and subsequent
  • murder for that statement is not a definition of martyrdom, but rather
  • one who gives his whole life for the True Faith."
  • 1
  • Cassie is a HERO, and I rejoice because of her confession. As a pastor,

  • I pray that my flock would make such a confession. I cannot pray to her
  • as a martyr, and I cannot deny that she is a martyr, and is blessed. I
  • simply (as an Orthodox Christian, obedient to the church), cannot answer
  • the question, and am content with this. God knows.
  • Footnotes:


  • 1.
  • Email of Fr
  • David Moser, St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church, Boise, Idaho -
  • moserd@micron.net




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