The last great Roman persecution against the church occurred during the reign of Diocletian, a son of slaves, who became emperor in 284. Diocletian seemed tolerant of Christians at first. His wife and daughter studied Christian writings. But as the new faith grew and large church buildings began appearing in major cities, the emperor put Christianity to the rack. One of the strangest incidents occurred in 303 when Diocletian attended a play in Rome. In the performance, actors clothed in white made fun of Christian rituals and habits. One of them, Genesius, ran onto the stage and fell to the floor crying, “I feel so heavy. I want to be made light. I want to die as a Christian that on that day I may fly up to God as a refuge.” A mock priest and an exorcist ran to his side, performing rituals including a fake baptism.
The crowd roared with laughter. But Genesius had grown up in a Christian home, and his pagan ways had failed to destroy his Christian roots. He was suddenly haunted with pangs of conviction so strong that he cried out, “I want to receive the grace of Christ, that I may be born again, and be set free from the sins which have been my ruin.”
Many in the crowd thought he was still acting. But he rose, interrupting the play. Looking at the audience he said, “Illustrious emperor, and all you people who have laughed loudly at this parody, believe me! Christ is the true Lord!”
Diocletian, enraged, immediately ordered Genesius stretched onto a device of agony called the hobbyhorse. As the tortures increased, his skin was torn with sharp hooks and his sides burned with torches. But the actor kept repeating, “There is no king except Christ, whom I have seen and worship. For him I will die a thousand times. I am sorry for my sin, and for becoming so late a soldier of the true king.”
The tortures failed to dissuade him, and the curtain fell on his life when he was beheaded on this day, August 25, 303.
The Lord our God was with our ancestors to help them, and I pray that he will be with us and never abandon us. May the Lord help us obey him and follow all the laws and teachings he gave our ancestors. I pray that the Lord our God will remember my prayer day and night. (1 Kings 8:57-59a)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 22.