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The term comes from the Greek word meaning "witness," which referred originally to the disciples and apostles who "witnessed" the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Later it came to mean those who had witnessed to their faith in Jesus by their suffering and those who died during persecution since it meant witnessing to the greatest degree possible. Some regard the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem as the first Christian martyrs. Their martyrdom is commemorated on Dec. 28 in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. Others argue that Stephen was the first Christian martyr. Stephen's witness is commemorated on Dec. 26 in the Episcopal calendar of the church year. Clement of Rome wrote of witness in the sense of giving one's life for the faith. Tertullian wrote of martyrdom as a second baptism because it removed all sin and assured going to heaven. He urged that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. 

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.
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