“I burn with the passion to be martyred for the love of Christ,” a neophyte monk one day said to an experienced elder.
“If you gladly take up your brother’s burden at a time of temptation,” the elder answered him, “it is like being thrown into the furnace with the three Holy Children.”
At one point in the history of Christianity, various Roman Emperors enacted horrible persecutions of Christians because they would not worship Roman gods, including former Roman emperors who had been deified.
There were those Christian extremists who would go out of their way to attract the attention of the authorities so that they could become martyrs and suffer horrible things in the name of Christ. It’s one thing to be quietly living one’s life and have the witch hunters burst into your home and another altogether to be an attention-getter in order to be executed in some horrible manner. Personally, I question the sanity of such a person.
Many Christians fled the persecutions and took up life in the wild places where the Roman soldiers didn’t feel like going and set up communities there.
I think this is where this Saying fits into the history of Christians in the desert because obviously Christians are still being martyred.
Perhaps this young man thought that by experiencing a horrible martyrdom, it would be a shortcut to holiness since martyrs were already being revered and their stories were being collected.
At the same time, the idea of a monk as a martyr was developing. Men and women were leaving the things of this world behind to live lives of prayer and austerity as witnesses, as martyrs for Jesus.
The elder monk here advises the younger to carry his brother’s burden for him. This is a hard task, so hard that it would be the same as being thrown into the furnace along with the three Hebrew youths in Daniel.
Speaking of carrying another’s burden, Charles Williams, a friend of C. S. Lewis, wrote a novel which name escapes me at the moment. A woman is terrified that she might meet her doppelganger out on the street. A Christian gentleman tells her that when she feels that fear to contact him and he will carry her fear so that she may, freed from her fear, do what she needs to do.