"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11.39f
Beyond the luminaries of the faith, whose names and achievements are celebrated in history and hagiography are the thousands, perhaps millions, of forgotten saints whose witness - and indeed whose blood - belongs among that seed from which the church continues to grow. Though we shall never know their names, we can take comfort that each is known intimately to God and, one day, will reign with current believers under Christ in the New Creation.
In the meantime, early sources, such as the Chronicle of Seert and the Martyrdom of the Captives provide glimpses of the faith of believers swept up in the epic deportations which characterised the pre-Islamic machinations of the Persian Empire. Eventually, one official advised the emperor to curb the persecution of Christians because it served only to spread the faith, on account of the appeal of a suffering Messiah to those who were, themselves, under pressure.
There were, naturally, many who prospered despite their circumstances; whose integrity and skill commended them to their new masters and who rose to prominence - among them the physician Bar Shabba. Having healed the emperor's sister, he later visited her in exile, where he was elected bishop and then went about evangelising the local villages, building up what became the Diocese of Merv. Organisations such as Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide bear witness to the on-going spread of the persecuted church. They deserve our attention and support, thereby offering us the opportunity to participate in what God is doing in the most unlikely circumstances!