Around 252 AD there was a plague in the ancient city of Carthage that at its height was taking 5,000 lives a day. There was great panic, as there would be, when a health disaster like this occurs. But in the middle of that panic and plague, there was a Christian leader by the name of Cyprian who drew together all the Christians in the city of Carthage to mobilize and serve their neighbors.
You need to understand that Carthage was a city that had violently persecuted the Christians and their families. But Cyprian saw this medical emergency not as a time for vengeance, retreat, or panic. He saw it as an opportunity for Christians to serve and love a city that had not loved them in return. They decided then and there to serve the people of Carthage by giving to others their time, resources, medical care, and provide comfort to all people according to their need. Regardless of who the people were (enemies, pagans, friend, or foe), these Christians would not abandon the suffering and dying in their own city.
Rodney Stark, the author of the book The Rise of Christianity, writes that these early Christians not only offered explanation and comfort to the sick (they didn’t panic), but these early Christians also provided a ‘prescription for action’ by transforming themselves into a battalion of nurses and caregivers.
Here is an account of what happened from the Bishop of Alexandria. He wrote, “Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
This self-sacrifice was done all in the name of Christ. Historians estimate that in communities without a strong Christian nursing presence, 30% of the population died from the plague. In contrast, communities with a strong Christian nursing presence, only 10% died from the plague. In Rome, when 5,000 people were dying every day, that is a difference of 1,500 lives lost vs only 500 lives lost. In other words, there were over 1,000 lives saved a day due to the sacrifice of these ancient Christian caregivers!
Today we carry on the same mantle of love and service that these early Christians carried. Be of good cheer today and remember the transcendent calling that you possess. No matter your role, you are part of the greater good in caring for your neighbor and being the hands and feet of Christ!
Prayer: Heavenly father, whose blessed Son came not to be served but to serve, bless we beseech thee all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, we may minister in his name to the suffering, the sick, and the needy; with the same love of him, who laid down his life for us. We also pray for peace where there is fear, and wisdom where there is uncertainty, and may we continually be a beacon of hope, grace, and mercy to all the people we encounter. We make this prayer in the name of God the Father, God your Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(prayer adapted from The Book of Common Prayer as offered by The Episcopal Church)
Dr. Dave Lescalleet serves as the Director Chaplaincy for PruittHealth.