In 65 AD, after the burning of Rome, a Roman Tribune named Marcellus, a man tasked with capturing and crucifying Christians, infiltrates a caravan of traveling Christians who teach him what the faith really means.
Under the blazing sun of a hot day in Galilee, an elderly man screams in agony as a group of Roman soldiers nail him to a cross. They hoist him up as his neighbors stare in horror and confusion at this agonizing sight. This man was well loved and well respected by all, so the people are perplexed and ask, “How could he have been a Christian?”
One of the men present, a Tribune named Marcellus, has been stationed in Galilee for years. He is a loyal and dedicated Roman. He honors the emperor and the gods, and finds his faith quite satisfying. However he finds his assignment in Galilee exhausting.
A kind of deliverance comes to him when the city of Rome burns in 65 AD. Marcellus and his right hand man, Felix, find themselves transferred to the city of Corinth, an important hub of early Christian activity. The men are ecstatic and give thanks to the gods for their new assignment.
Although Corinth wasn’t a very prestigious assignment, the men revel in the change. One great benefit of their new assignment is that Corinth has a reputation for sexual decadence. Pornographic images are displayed in public. Orgies are common. And there are numerous brothels where any kind of pleasure, including sex with slave children, is legal and socially accepted.
Soon after his arrival Marcellus encounters an old friend he has not seen in years; an older Roman named Septimus. Septimus has been a close family friend since before Marcellus was born. Marcellus sees him as a father figure.
Septimus invites Marcellus to join him for a meal with his host; a Jewish man named Levi who is leading a caravan to Egypt. With surprised delight Marcellus finds himself enjoying the company of Levi and his caravan. He visits several times over the next few days and finds himself quite touched by the love he sees among the members of the caravan and the warm welcome extended to him.
During one visit Levi throws himself upon a poisonous serpent, saving Marcellus’ life. Levi struggles for several days but survives, and Marcellus vows loyalty to Levi.
Later, Marcellus and his men raid a supposed Christian place of worship but they find it abandoned. It is clear that the Christians were tipped off. Marcellus quickly realizes he let information slip to his friend Septimus and he goes to hunt him down. But Septimus, Levi, and the entire caravan have disappeared.
Later Marcellus receives a message from Septimus inviting him to meet him alone near the city. Marcellus goes and confronts his old friend. Septimus admits that he is a Christian, he warned the other Christians, and he leads Marcellus to a secret meeting and introduces Marcellus to other Christians, including the disciple John. They invite him to spend some time with the caravan so he can learn who and what Christians really are. Marcellus asks for time to think about it. During these days he meets with the Roman governor. They make a plan for Marcellus to join them, learn all he can about this cult and their hierarchy, and use this information to improve their efforts to destroy all Christianity.
But as Marcellus enters into this strange Christian world he sees things he did not anticipate. Christians are not the monsters they’ve been made out to be. Instead he finds a small community of people who are loving, caring people. He sees people trying to survive, spread their faith, and live by strong moral standards in the midst of Roman decadence. As the Roman world tells them to accommodate and compromise with the morals of the day, the Christians fight hard to resist the temptations of life and bring conversion to Rome.
Through flashbacks we see the stories that the disciple John saw with his own eyes. He explains better what Communion (Eucharist) means. How he witnessed the death of Jesus, and his resurrection. He explains very clearly, “How could it have been a ghost or hallucination, or vision, since we all saw it together?”
Through the powerful witness of Septimus, John the disciple, a young deserter named Quintas, and the faith of an elderly woman known as “Gramma,” Marcellus finds himself questioning his faith; a faith that has served him well all his life. He learns of a God of love; an idea totally alien to him. He sees that the notion of Jesus bringing salvation through crucifixion may not be so ridiculous as he’d come to believe. He finds the notion of love more powerful and alluring than he originally imagined. Although some of the teachings are hard to understand they begin to make sense and change his stubborn heart.
Marcellus converts to Christianity, vowing to leave his old life behind, and become a man of God.
Unfortunately his hopes for a long, faith filled, life in Christ are dashed. The Roman governor has found them and sends troops to find them.
Marcellus rides to them. Being a tribune himself they do not question him as he leads them the wrong direction. However when they figure out his deception Marcellus flees, fights his pursuers, but refuses to kill them.
He is captured and tried. He makes a great confession of faith at his trial, then is sentenced to death.
As he hangs on the cross, Quintas, disguised in his full military garb, leads Septimus and John to the foot of his cross. John blesses him for his sacrifice. Septimus tells him they are all safe because of him. As they leave Septimus says, “I love you son.” Marcellus responds with, “I love you Papa.”
In the end Marcellus and other Christians say the Lord’s prayer as the picture fades to black screen.
A prologue is spelled out on the black screen, highlighting some important aspects of the early church, such as their fight for survival under persecution, their fight to remain true to their faith and morals, and their efforts to fight against child molestation, even if the child was a slave.
Following this a website address appears where people can go to learn more about early Christianity, the real meaning of our faith, and attempts to answer difficult questions (such as Hell and the Trinity).
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