January 31: Cyrus and John…and Athanasia and her daughters…and the White House

Cyrus (African) and John (Arabian) were both killed because they left the relative comfort and safety of their homes in Alexandria, and traveled some 13 or 14 miles outside the city, hoping to assist a Canopian woman and her daughters, who were being harassed on account of their Christian faith.

Canopus was, at that time, a seaside resort for the rich of Alexandria, and was widely known for its “dissolute” ways. This was a place that people came to play–not to be holy, not to be righteous, and not to be tolerant of the intolerant. Couple these facts with a more generalized persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire, and Canopus became the site where a woman named Athanasia and her three daughters (the oldest being only 15 years of age) encountered severe persecution for their Christian conduct.

We have no details of how this female family evinced its faith or even who the persecutors were or why–we know only that the plight of Athanasia and her girls came to the attention of Cyrus and John. and that these two men went to Canopus with the plan of encouraging them. Instead, Cyrus and John were themselves captured and tortured. Specifically, Butler writes that these two saints’ “sides were burnt with torches, and salt and vinegar poured into their wounds in the presence of Athanasia and her daughters”–following which the females were then similarly mistreated.

These tortures concluded with the beheading of Cyrus and John (whose deaths are, by tradition, honored on this day); two days later, the same fate befell those whom Cyrus and John had hoped to encourage.

Christianity was birthed in a public execution, and both its history and its theology have been bloody. Persecuted and tortured in one epoch, Christianity becomes the persecutor and torturer in another. One main difference in these epochs lies in the relationship of Christianity with the political powers of the day: When Christians have held sway politically, we find a Cyril (see the January 28th blog post) closing down rivals, expelling people of other religions, and tacitly approving the murder of political and religious opponents; when Christians instead pursued a vision of justice and of community that does not ground its authority in political power, you have the execution of Athanasia, of Cyrus and John, of Archbishop Óscar Romero, and of Martin Luther King, Jr.

A serious question that I pose in light of this: Why do Christians (evangelical or otherwise) want to control who is in the White House?

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