It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. Deuteronomy 13:4

Marcellus was a centurion in the Roman army during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. On 21 July 298, as feasts and sacrifices were taking place in the city of Tingis to celebrate the emperor’s birthday, Marcellus took a dramatic and costly stand for his Christian faith. He threw down his soldier’s belt and weapons, declaring:

I serve Jesus Christ the eternal king. From now on I stop serving your emperors, and I refuse to worship your wooden and stone gods, which are deaf and dumb idols. If these are the terms of service, making men offer sacrifice to gods and emperors … I renounce the standards, and refuse to serve.

Marcellus was reported to the legion’s commander, Anastasius Fortunatus, who ordered that the centurion be thrown in prison. Marcellus was brought before Fortunatus and questioned about what he had done.

He confirmed that he had publicly declared his Christian faith and given up his Roman allegiance. Fortunatus reported the matter to the highest authorities and handed him over to Aurelius Agricolan, Deputy for the Prefects of the Guard.

On 30 October, Marcellus was brought to court at Tigris, where he again confirmed what he had said, to Agricolan’s incredulity. Marcellus was sentenced to death by the sword and, as he was being led out to be executed, proclaimed, “May God bless you! For a martyr should leave this world in this way.”

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, and no strength known but the strength of love: we pray thee so mightily to shed and spread abroad thy Spirit, that all peoples and ranks may be gathered under one banner, of the Prince of Peace; as children of one God and Father of all; to whom be dominion and glory now and for ever.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.