Once, a long time ago, some few centuries before even Christ was born, the cross was a greatly dreaded instrument of torture and death, which was conceived and moreover quite extensively used by the Romans to instill fear in the hapless peoples of their vassal nations what ringed the Mediterranean sea, as well as many others that were situated in the near vicinity thereof.
As a result, kings and rulers of such nations thought twice before attempting to overthrow their Roman supremacy, since death on the cross was the penalty for failure which no one ever survived. And so, as a reminder, the Roman magistrates in the vassal countries often sentenced hardened criminals to a veritable, long-lasting, miserable death upon the cross.
At the time of the birth of Christ, Rome had long been the ruler of the known world. Some 50 years earlier, Julius Caesar had extended the borders of the vast empire to such an extent that they now were more concerned with maintaining that which now lay within their extensive borders. Additionally, Rome was a pagan nation, having its own gods and temples therein, where priests and priestesses performed pagan rituals that supposedly blessed the nation and its inhabitants. Who could prove otherwise since Rome was master of all that it surveyed in that day and time and had been for many centuries when Jesus Christ, a virtual nondescript personage -- whose presence, however, had been foretold centuries before -- came on the scene?
And this particular era would later become known as the first century, since time as well as the whole world was going to experience a change as never before and, what's more, it was going to keep on changing down through the many ages that swiftly followed, even unto this very day, the 21st century in which we now live.
As it so happened however, both the Roman empire and the Jewish state would suffer greatly for the roles they played in the martyring of Jesus Christ upon the then gruesome cross. Within the matter of a few hundred years, the Roman empire -- responsible for martyring Christians by the hundreds in all kinds of horrendous methods in the Colosseum as well as elsewhere plus the senseless slaying of both Paul and Peter, two of Christianity's foremost disciples, during the madness that was the reign of the despot Nero -- would virtually become nonexistent, having been sacked by vandals from the northern extremities.
And so, the fearsome empire of darkness came to an abrupt end, and the light that came into the world some few centuries earlier did shine forth with unbelievable brilliancy in the former Roman capital, thus becoming the very center of the Christian deity where popes, living in palatial splendor, looked to the needs of others and Christians as well, the world over.
This however, was but a small beginning for Christianity since the wondrous light that first came into being in the world of darkness in the middle east would go on making great advances in the European theater forcing the darkness to retreat and causing the lingering shadows to flee, thus bringing hope where none had ever before existed. And so today, as a result of the light that came into the world more than 2,000 years ago and the dedication of a great many -- too numerous to identify here -- peoples on every continent are turning toward God, thus seeking that which is unavailable anywhere else.
And though many may not be aware of it, Christianity reigns in South and North America, Europe and Australia and, once again since the great war, has penetrated deeply into the Middle East: Israel, where it first began.
Today, the light is ever present and the cross continuously beckons. We have but to heed and the light will shine, not only on us, but in us as well. Then, the soul will smile due to its purity for the darkness is gone and the eyes of our hearts have now been opened wide and we're able to see the truth, and 'tis wondrous.
Valkey Tiernan of Albany is a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, served in the Air Force 20 years and retired from Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany in 1997.