|Constantinople during the Justinian Plague (541-542)|
One of the greatest plagues in history, this devastating pandemic resulted in the deaths of an estimated 25 million (initial outbreak) to 50 million (two centuries of recurrence) people.
The outbreak in Constantinople was thought to have been carried to the city by infected rats on grain ships arriving from Egypt. To feed its citizens, the city and outlying communities imported massive amounts of grain—mostly from Egypt. Grain ships may have been the original source of contagion, as the rat (and flea) population in Egypt thrived on feeding from the large granaries maintained by the government. The Byzantine historian Procopius first reported the epidemic in 541 from the port of Pelusium, near Suez in Egypt.
Two other first-hand reports of the plague's ravages were by the Syriac church historian John of Ephesus and Evagrius Scholasticus, who was a child in Antioch at the time and later became a church historian. Evagrius was afflicted with the buboes associated with the disease but survived. During the disease's four returns in his lifetime, he lost his wife, a daughter and her child, other children, most of his servants, and people from his country estate.[
Remarkable at that time, when Constantinolep was ravaged by the plague, was that instead of fear and despondency, the Christians expended themselves in works of mercy that simply dumbfounded the local pagans and made many convert to Christianity
For the Christians of those days, God loved humanity; and in order to love God back, one was to love others. God did not demand ritual sacrifices; or having "infidels" heads cut off. Instead he wanted his love expressed on earth in deeds of compassion.
This love took on very practical, concrete forms not only in Constantinople (todays Istanbul), but also in Rome,where the Christians buried not just their own, but also pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial.
They also supplied food for 1,500 poor on a daily basis. In Antioch in Syria (today in Turkey), the number of destitute persons being fed by the church had reached 3,000. Church funds were even used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.
During the Plague in Alexandria( Egypt) when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Emporor Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. It failed, however, because for the Christians it was love, not duty, that motivated them.
The first Christians not only took care of their own, but also reached out far beyond themselves. Their faith led to a pandemic of love. Consequently, at the risk of their own lives, they saved an immense number of lives. Their elementary nursing greatly reduced mortality. Simple provisions of food and water allowed the sick that were temporarily too weak to cope for themselves to recover instead of perishing miserably.
Pagans could not help but notice that Christians not only found the strength to risk death, but through their care for one another they were much less likely to die. Christian survivors of the plague became immune, and therefore they were able to pass among the afflicted with seeming invulnerability. In fact, those most active in nursing the sick were the very ones who had already contracted the disease very early on but who were also cared for by their brothers and sisters.
In this way, the early Christians became, in the words of one scholar, “a whole force of miracle workers to heal the ‘dying.’” Or as historian Rodney Spark puts it, “It was the soup [the Christians] so patiently spooned to the helpless that healed them.”
In the midst of intermittent persecution and colossal misunderstanding, and in an era when serving others was thought to be demeaning, the “followers of the way,” instead of fleeing disease and death, went about ministering to the sick and helping the poor, the widowed, the crippled, the blind, the orphaned and the aged.
Consequently the citizens of the Roman Empire started to admire their works and dedication. “Look how they love one another,” was often heard on the streets. In a way it became contagious.
So much seems to have changed from then to now, as to how the Christian Community functions as a unit of the society at large, and, unfortunately, this change has not always been for the better.
All we have to do is look at the refugee crises the EU is facing today and see how self-centered and hypocritical most "so called" Christian politicians are responding to this crises.
We can certainly learn from those early Christians.