Christianity became firmly rooted in North Africa in the 200s, but the Roman emperors exerted every effort to pull it up. Among their targets: an urban bishop and a small-town pastor. The urban bishop was Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, who had turned his back on a promising political career to represent Christ. Though a relatively new convert, Cyprian was appointed bishop of Carthage in 248. “The stain of my earlier life had been washed away by the help of the water of birth [baptism],” he wrote, “and the second birth restored me so as to make me a new man.”

He served for ten years, steering the Carthage church through stormy days of persecution. At length, Roman Emperor Decius ordered the liquidation of all leading Christian bishops. News came of bishops executed in Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, Caesarea. Then the soldiers came for Cyprian, too. He was beheaded on August 30, 258.

Several years later, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, a village pastor outside Carthage faced similar jeopardy. The persecution unleashed by Diocletian was the worst of all. Churches were destroyed, Bibles burned, and all civil rights of Christians were suspended. Diocletian required everyone to sacrifice to the gods. When Roman magistrates came to the village, they summoned leading Christians and ordered them to surrender their Bibles. The believers replied that their Pastor Felix had them in his possession, and he was away in Carthage. When Felix returned the next day, he was surrounded by troops who demanded he turn over the Bibles.

He refused. “It is better that I should be burnt myself than the Scriptures,” he told them. They gave him three days to reconsider his answer, then sent him to the proconsul in Carthage who suggested he wriggle out of the dilemma by offering some old Bibles and spare books.

Felix refused. “I have Bibles,” he said, “but I will not surrender them.” He was escorted to the lowest cell in the city’s filthiest prison for a month of misery, then shipped to Italy bound in heavy chains. He died en route on August 30, 303, in the hold of a ship carrying horses.

I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. … So I command you to love each other. If the people of this world hate you, just remember that they hated me first. (John 15:16-18)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 30.

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