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In the 4th Century there was a Christian called Telemachus who decided that the only way to protect himself from the corruption of the world and to serve God was to become a hermit and live in the desert.

One day as he rose from his knees, it dawned on him that if he wanted to serve God, he must serve people. By staying in the desert he was not serving God, and the cities were full of people who needed help. So he set out for Rome - the greatest city in the world.

By this time the terrible persecutions of the first 3 centuries were over. Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Emperor was a Christian, and so were most of the people. At least, in name they were Christians, if not in fact. As strange as it sounds, calling yourself a Christian in 4th century Rome was the politically correct thing to do, if you wanted to be in favour with the Emperor!

Anyway, Telemachus arrived in Rome at a time when Stilicho, the Roman general, had gained a mighty victory over the Goths. So to Stilicho there was granted a Roman "triumph" with processions and celebrations and games in the Coliseum, with the young Emperor Honorius by his side.

Remember, Rome was supposedly a Christian city, but one thing still lingered from its terrible past. There were still the bloody games in the Coliseum. Nowadays Christians were no longer thrown to the lions; but still those captured in war had to fight and kill each other in front of the Roman citizens who roared with blood-lust as the gladiators fought.

Telemachus went to the Coliseum. 80,000 people were there. The chariot races were ending. There was tension in the crowd as the gladiators prepared to fight. Into the arena they came with their greeting, "Hail, Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!"

The fight was on and Telemachus was appalled. Men for whom Christ had died were killing each other to amuse a supposedly Christian population. He leaped down into the arena and stepped between the gladiators, and for a moment they stopped fighting.

"Let the games go on," roared the crowd. The gladiators pushed the old man in the hermit’s robe aside. Again he came between them. The crowd began to hurl stones at him. They urged the gladiators to kill him and get him out of the way, and the commander of the games gave an order. A gladiator’s sword fell, and Telemachus lay dead. Suddenly the crowd was silent--shocked that a holy man should have been killed in such a way. Quite suddenly, there was a mass realization of what the killing really was.

Historians tell us that the games in Rome ended abruptly that day--never to begin again. Telemachus, by dying, had ended them.

One historian (Gibbon) wrote of him, "His death was more useful to mankind than his life." By losing his life he had done more than he could have ever done by living a life of lonely devotion out in the desert. (With thanks to William Barclay for this illustration)

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