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Cyprian: Faith During Plagues

September 16, 2020

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” James 5:14

Today is the commemoration of Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr. Cyprian was the Bishop of Carthage in North Africa during the middle of the third century. He is remembered primarily for his response to two outside forces: Roman persecution and the plague.

Persecution of Christians and others who refused to worship pagan gods increased under the reign of Emperor Decius. In the year 250, he issued an edict that everyone in the empire (except Jews, as it turns out) had to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods for the well-being of the emperor. For Christians, of course, to do so was heresy. They were forced to choose between apostasy and death. In the controversy that ensued within the church, Cyprian became a voice championing forgiveness and readmission for those Christians who had made the pagan sacrifice. While he did not deny his faith, he showed grace to those who did (the absolute denial of readmission to the church after a lapse of faith is known as Novitianism, and it was declared a heresy in large part because of Cyprian’s writings). The church continued to have room to welcome back the wayward.

Cyprian showed grace during another affliction, concurrent with the persecution: The Plague of Cyprian. It was an outbreak of diseased named not because Cyprian caused it, but because of his response. While the Romans blamed it on the wrath of the gods, Cyprian organized medical care for the sick.

Under the rule of Emperor Valerian, Cyprian was executed for his refusal to make sacrifice to pagan gods. He was steadfast in his faith, the very faith that led him to be forgiving of and caring toward others. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, as oppression from powers and principalities is still present, and as grace for others is always needed, may we live inspired by Cyprian’s witness.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of care, we thank you for the witness of Cyprian and all those who inspire us to care for one another physically and spiritually. May we be bold in our living and forgiving today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Russian icon of St. Cyprian (public domain).

From → COVID-19

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