The young priest bowed his head to open his weekly service. People took up the customary position recognized the world over as prayer, yet this was to be a service like no other that day.

He began the doxology as he lifted his head and looked out over the worry weary heads of the assembled congregation. This was a land where freedom was still a distant dream and people came to church, not only to participate in the Sacrifice of Holy Mass, but also for comfort and hope in a society that lacked both.

As the priest opened the Missal, the pious silence was broken as the doors at the rear burst open and a group of menacing militia came storming into the church screaming for everyone to stay seated. Each carried a Kalashnikov rifle, and group of eight took up position around the edge of the pews with one at the front and one at the back. Children began to cry, adults looked around in fear and bewilderment and the young priest trembled as he tried to calm his assembled flock.

The attention of the men was drawn to the back as a tall man entered through the doors and strode arrogantly down the center aisle. he sneered at the young priest and ignored his inquiry as to what was happening. Then the tall man turned and addressed the crowd: "We are the Secret Police Unit." Panic began to take hold of the people at the sound of the feared arm of the secret police. "You have a very simple choice this morning and that is to stay or to leave......." Confusion mixed with the fear as the man spoke: "Very simply, in five minutes time we are going to shoot any Christian left in this building." As the chill words filled the air two of the soldiers loaded their guns and the click of the rifles echoed around the sanctuary. The priest tried to object but drew back as the squad leader glared at him in a way that left no doubt as to the inherent threat.

Children cried, men and women screamed as bodies began to flood out of the church leaving behind bags and coats in their urgent exit. A group of about 70 remained, many weeping  and looking at their potential assassins only to be stirred again by the leader's next phrase. "In three minutes time any Christian left in this church will be shot." Again two more soldiers loaded their guns. More left, some tugging their spouses pleading for them to leave. Numbers were successful, others left in tears having been given reassuring hugs and sent out crying under the blessing of the young priest.

Two elderly women began to pray as silence fell again upon the remaining group of about 30. The young priest kneeled down in prayer in the front row knowing that verbal protest was useless. His natural fear had screamed loudly to leave, but his commitment to Christ and to his flock had stood firm and secure in difficult times, and he knew this was his place on this particular Sunday. He had heard of similar stories of other priests and church members who had disappeared or had been murdered in cold blood because of their religious conviction. He knew of many others who had gone 'too far' in the eyes of the 'party' and were now wasting away in  Siberian labor camps.  He had never thought about this happening to him. Now that he stared death in the face he knew, there was nowhere to go. It was for this he had lived and for this he would now die!

The leader spoke again: "In one minute any Christian left in this church will be shot." No one moved, The decision was made and the fearful but courageous few remained exchanging glances of encouragement. The seconds ticked past in an agonizing eternity; no one moved as the door was slammed shut. The leader nodded his head at which point it appeared every gun was being loaded up to unleash its deadly chambers, but as they did the soldiers began to lower their guns to the floor and all their eyes turned to the spokesman at the front.

"My apologies for the crudeness of our methods" he said, with a husky but warm voice. "We do not want to shoot anyone. We wanted to talk to a Christian who could tell us about the Jesus whom you follow. But we wanted to see first if you believed in Him yourself by laying down your life for Him as you proclaimed He did for you. Only then would we be convinced of your sincerity.  Now, tell us about your Jesus"

Source: Phil Wall.  "'I'll Fight...' Holiness at War"