"The martyrs were witnesses: witnesses of the transformation of death. What Christ destroys is not physical death but spiritual death, which is the alienation we live in - alienation from one another, from the world, from nature, from God, from ourselves first of all. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, as he was dying, said: 'I see heaven opening.' He witnessed death becoming life. The 'birthdays' of the martyrs are celebrated by the Church on their death days, on that day they were 'born.' The martyr does not think of this death as an increase in the capital of good deeds on which the Church can later draw checks, but as a sacrifice of love and praise; he is given the fantastic privilege of joining Christ in the death which is not an accident, but the culmination of a life filled to the brim."
(Alexander Schmemann in "Sacrifice and Worship", Chapter 9, of "Liturgy and Tradition: Theological Reflections of Alexander Schmemann", Thomas Fisch, ed., 132-3)