Christian Love during the Plague of Cyprian

plagueFrom approximately 250-270AD, a plague decimated the Roman Empire named the Plague of Cyprian. At the height of this plague, 5,000 people per day were said to have died in Rome. This plague is believed to have started in the North African city of Alexandria. The Bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius, described in a letter that while others fled the city in the hopes of escaping the disease and death, the Christians in the city stayed behind to serve those who were sick and dying; often to their own demise. The letter describing acts of sacrificial, neighborly love, by Christians in the city, can be found in Eusebius’ record of early church history.[1]

Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease. Many who nursed others to health died themselves, thus transferring their death to themselves. The best of our own brothers lost their lives in this way – some presbyters, deacons, and laymen – a form of death based on strong faith and piety that seems in every way equal to martyrdom. They would also take up the bodies of the saints, close their eyes, shut their mouths, and carry them on their shoulders. They would embrace them, wash and dress them in burial clothes, and soon receive the same services themselves.

The heathen were the exact opposite. They pushed away those with the first signs of the disease and fled from their dearest. They even threw them half dead into the roads and treated unburied corpses like refuse in hope of avoiding the plague of death, which, for all their efforts, was difficult to escape.

While, in our modern culture, we may not have to face a plague like the Christians in Alexandria, I pray that, like them, the Holy Spirit fills us with the resolve and strength to love our neighbors as radically and sacrificially as they did in Christ’s name. May we never push those away those who need comfort or flea the sick and dying but make it known by our actions that all in our community are our neighbor and will be loved accordingly. As Christ instructs us:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mk. 12:30-31

 

[1] Eusebius: The Church History, Trans. By Paul L. Maier (Kregal Publications, Grand Rapids, MI., 2007), 240-241.

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