Sunday, October 21, 2012

A letter: Dionysius to Fabian

In the year 250 A.D. the Roman Emperor Decius issued an edict declaring that everyone in the empire had to sacrifice to the emperor, in the presence of a Roman official, and receive a certificate to show that they had done so. This edict led to severe, universal persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire.


What follows below is taken from a letter written by Dionysius, the Bishop in Alexandria, to fellow bishop, Fabius of Antioch. It is about the local persecution that had begun a year earlier in that city.


First, then, they seized an old man of the name of Metras, and commanded him to utter words of impiety; and as he refused, they beat his body with clubs, and lacerated his face and eyes with sharp reeds, and then dragged him off to the suburbs and stoned him [killed him by stoning him] there. Next they carried off a woman named Quinta, who was a believer, to an idol temple, and compelled her to worship the idol; and when she turned away from it, and showed how she detested it, they bound her feet and dragged her through the whole city along the rough stone-paved streets, knocking her at the same time against the millstones, and scourging her, until they brought her to the same place, and stoned her also there.


After these first couple Christians were murdered by the mob, they attacked Christians throughout the city, “Then with one impulse they all rushed upon the houses of the God-fearing, and whatever pious persons any of them knew individually as neighbours, after these they hurried and bore them with them, and robbed and plundered them, setting aside the more valuable portions of their property for themselves, and scattering about the commoner articles, and such as were made of wood, and burning them on the roads… And here is the response of the Christians, “The brethren, however, simply gave way and withdrew, and, like those to whom Paul bears witness, they took the spoiling of their goods with joy... “


He then adds, But they also seized that most admirable virgin Apollonia, then in advanced life, and knocked out all her teeth, and cut her jaws; and then kindling a fire before the city, they threatened to burn her alive unless she would repeat along with them their expressions of impiety. Appollonia would not blaspheme God and was burnt alive.


Dionysius next writes, “They also laid hold of a certain Serapion in his own house; and after torturing him with severe cruelties, and breaking all his limbs, they dashed him headlong from an upper storey to the ground. And there was no road, no thoroughfare, no lane even, where we could walk, whether by night or by day; for at all times and in every place they all kept crying out, that if any one should refuse to repeat their blasphemous expressions, he must be at once dragged off and burnt.”


The above account is only the small beginnings of the universal, extreme persecution of Christians that soon followed these events after Decius released his edict.


I know sometimes I think I have it rough and feel sorry for myself; it’s good for me to read things like this. It reminds me to be very thankful for the great courage of our brothers and sisters in Christ that have gone before us in the faith. It also reminds me to be thankful for God’s grace and mercy to me and to those that I love, we have been blessed so very much, yet we to often forget how much we are blessed by God.



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