Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
Felicitas and her Seven Sons (2nd century)
Felicitas was a widow with seven sons who lived in Rome during the reign of Emperor Antoninus (138-61). Many people became followers of Christ as a result of the faithful witness of Felicitas and her family, while other Christians were encouraged likewise to share their faith with others. This angered the Roman priests, who complained to the emperor that Felicitas was drawing people away from worshipping their gods. They argued that these gods were the protectors of the empire and were offended and angry; in order to appease them, the priests said, Felicitas and her children must sacrifice to the gods.
Antoninus was superstitious, so he issued an order to the prefect of Rome, Publius, to see that this was done. Publius called Felicitas and her sons before him and tried to persuade the mother to carry out the sacrifice to prevent him from penalising the whole family. She refused, stating confidently that they “will live eternally with Christ if they are faithful to him”.
Felicitas urged her sons to stand firm before they were brought before the judge one by one; he used a mixture of promises and threats to attempt to persuade them to worship pagan gods, but they all refused. The brothers were whipped and detained. The emperor issued an order that they be sent to different judges and condemned to different deaths: Januarius was scourged to death with whips, Felix and Philip were beaten with clubs, Sylvanus was thrown head first down a steep precipice, while the three youngest, Alexander, Vitalis and Martialis, were beheaded. Felicitas was executed four months later.
Almighty God, we praise your holy name for all the saints throughout the ages who have kept the lamp of faith burning brightly. Grant that we who are following in their steps may keep that light shining, that the darkness of this world may be lit by him who is the light of the world, even your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
William Hampson (More Prayers for Today’s Church, no. 296)