July Meeting: Carthage and the Faith of Outsiders

The Brotherhood of St. Moses in Virginia met on July 24th at St. Basil Orthodox Church in Hampton to pray the Canon of Racial Reconciliation and a small Compline.  For a reflection of early African Christianity, I pointed to Carthage.  For those who forgot, or paid no attention in high school world history; Carthage was the African/Phoenician city that was a maritime rival too close to the Roman Republic.  They fought three wars (the second is where Hannibal crossed the Alps with Elephants) with the final ending with the sack of the city in 146 BC.  The Romans enslaved all of the surviving inhabitants and plowed salt into the land making it uninhabitable until Julius Cesar restored the city about 100 years later.  Despite rising from the ashes, Carthage was never again to rival Rome as the power of the Western Mediterranean.

The Rise and Fall of Carthage: The Roman curse on Carthage

To this secondary status came a woman who was once considered and outsider to Judaism, a Samaritan.  She was even more of an outsider as she had left two husbands and lived outside of wedlock with another man.  But, she met and conversed with Jesus at a well in her native country (John 4:1-42).  Photini (yes, she had a name) became a devout Christian.  While she was not one of the Apostles, she was their equal in her efforts to evangelize not only her fellow Samaritans, but in her willingness to move with her family to the cosmopolitan stepchild city of Carthage.  She continued to proclaim the Gospel there until she was martyred in 66 AD (she was thrown in a well).

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About the same time of her ministry, Neokorus returned to Carthage from his service in Jerusalem with the Roman Army.  He was in Jerusalem at the same time as the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  Neither the Bible or ancient tradition mentions that he spoke with Jesus.  But, he was a witness to the miracles performed and words spoken after the Lord defeated sin and death.  He made it a point to share the Gospel of the eternal kingdom to his homeland that was defeated by an earthly empire.  His grandson, St. Callistratus, was martyred later for repetitively praying in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in no other name.

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There were later titans of early African Christianity in Carthage.  Sts. Perpetua & Felicity were famed for their influential martyrdom.  Bishop Cyprian for standing against false doctrines and encouraging the Church during persecutions.  The scholar Tertullian calling for disciplined spiritual living.  And it was in Carthage a council met in 398 AD that canonized the collection of books favored by St. Athanasius the Great (Bishop of Alexandria) as the New Testament.  While the desert fathers of the Nile Valley are greatly honored and well known, Western African saints should not be ignored.

My point last night was to consider that the Gospel of Jesus Christ reaches out to social outsiders.  Photini was a racial, sexual, and moral outcast before she spoke with the Lord and converted and evangelized in the town of outsiders.  Neokorus was an insider who went back home to his outsider roots to tell them all that he had seen and heard after the resurrection.  If you feel the call to evangelize, you are not a part of pop-culture and popular politics.  Your place is among the defeated and never fully recovered.  Your place is in Carthage.

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Not all of us will move to modern day Tunisia as Christian missionaries.  But, we can share the life changing power of the Gospel as it has changed our lives.  We can reach out to such people as because we share the same flesh and blood.  Carthage may not be physically distant.  But, we must still make up our minds to go.

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