April 24, 2020 - The joy of Pascha amidst the sorrow of a pandemic: Alexandria 262 A.D.

April 24, 2020

Prayer during pandemic illness
(of the new Coronavirus that has fallen upon us)

(Translated into 11 languages)

The joy of Pascha amidst the sorrow of a pandemic:
Alexandria 262 A.D.

It was around Easter in Alexandria in 262. Civil discord had broken out in the city together with hunger and then plague, which put the city in total chaos. It was under these conditions that the Christians celebrated Pascha (this is the “feast” that is mentioned in the text below). Dionysius, Bishop of the great city of Alexandria, wrote about this occasion.[1]

“For other people, the present circumstances would not be an appropriate time for a feast. Surely, neither this or any other time would be suitable for them; neither sorrowful times, not even times that could be thought of as especially cheerful. Now, everything is indeed sad, and everyone is mourning; wailings are echoed throughout the city because of the multitudes that have died and are dying daily.

For, as it was written regarding the Egyptians’ firstborn, so it is now: ‘And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead’.  And if it were only that!  

For many terrible things have already happened!  First, they drove us out and, even though we were alone and persecuted by everyone and sentenced to death, even then, we kept the Feast. For us, every place of affliction was a place of festival: field, desert, ship, inn, prison; but those that kept the most joyous Feast of all were the perfected martyrs, who were feasting in heaven.

After these things took place, war and famine followed…and after enjoying a small a very brief season of rest, this sickness assailed us…

Most of our brothers and sisters dedicated themselves to the each other in unsparing love; without thinking about their own wellbeing, they visited the sick, offering help and caring to them “in Christ”. Due to this, they contacted the virus from their fellow brothers and sisters, and, for this reason, they gladly died with them, taking part in their pain. And many who also cared for the sick and gave strength to others also died, metastasizing the death of others upon themselves. By their works, they fulfilled the popular saying which seems to be a mere expression of courtesy:  that their departure was the others’ offscouring.  

So it is that the best of our brethren departed from life in this manner, including some presbyters and deacons and those of the laity who had the highest reputation. Being that they exhibited great piety and strong faith, this form of death lacked nothing from martyrdom.

And they took the bodies of the saints in their open hands and in their bosoms, and closed their eyes and their mouths; they carried them away on their shoulders and took them out; they clung to them and embraced them and they suitably prepared them with washings and the proper garments. After a while, the same happened to them; for the survivors followed those who had gone before them into death.

But the nonbelievers did exactly the opposite. They deserted those who began to get sick and fled from their dearest friends, throwing them into the street when they were half dead. To shun any participation or fellowship with death, they left the dead unburied like refuse. Yet, even though they took all their precautions so as not to die, it was not easy for them to escape it.” 


[1] Eusebius of Caesaria, The Church History, 7, 22:2-10