St. Mary's Anglican Catholic Church

Diocese of the Midwest

For many centuries, most Christians have lived in relative peace & safety, if not to say affluence. However, increasingly, many of our brothers & sisters suffer for the Name of Christ, particularly in places like Northern Africa. Persecution certainly was common in the earliest centuries of the Church’s existence.

Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, commonly called Cyprian, was born in or near the North African city of Carthage around 200AD to pagan parents. He was learned man, prominent as a rhetorician & legal advocate. In middle age, Cyprian converted to Christ in around 246AD; and he gave a large portion of his wealth to the poor of the city. He was elected bishop of Carthage two years later. In around 249AD, the Emperor Decius decreed that all Christian clergy offer sacrifice to the emperor as a god. Cyprian fled in order to avoid death; and for this he was roundly criticized in some circles when the persecution (for a time) eased and he returned to his bishopric. (This is perhaps unfair in light of our Lord’s words: When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. (St Matthew 10:23; see also St Matthew 2:13; 24:16)) Others complied and offered sacrifice in order to save their lives. Many of these later sought reconciliation with the Church. Cyprian, having fled 
persecution himself, received those who had lapsed temporarily back into the fold after a suitable period of penance & probation. Some bishops indeed were too lax in receiving the lapsed; but others unmercifully refused to receive them back into the communion of the Church until they were at death’s door, if ever. Sadly, the churches in Carthage, Rome, and elsewhere were split over the question of the reconciling the lapsed, especially clergy, who had succumbed to temptation and offered pagan sacrifices in order to save their lives in this world. As Cyprian argued, schism threatened the integrity of the Church in terms of its unity as the Body of Christ. (See St John 17:22; Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12ff; Ephesians 4:4-6)

In 256AD, the Emperor Valerian renewed the persecution of the Church, again demanding that the clergy offer pagan sacrifices. Cyprian wrote to encourage his fellow-bishop Cornelius of Rome as the latter prepared for martyrdom: “In confessing your faith you showed the way to your brethren, and confession of the leader was enhanced by that of his brethren. While you go to the glory of life eternal, you have made many others your companions in glory, you have persuaded the people to declare themselves Christians by first making profession of your own faith.” Cyprian also stood firm, this time refusing to flee; and he prepared his flock trials to come. Having refused to offer the required sacrifices, Cyprian was first banished; and when he remained steadfast in his faith, he was condemned to death on September 13, 258. His response to the verdict was “Thanks be to God.” Cyprian was beheaded the next day and buried near the place of execution where a church was later built in his honor. Since September 14th is Holy Cross Day, Cyprian’s feast is most often observed on the previous day, the day of his condemnation by the Roman authorities. The Epistle for that day includes these words of the Apostle Paul: our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. (2 Corinthians 1:7)