Eusebius, a young writer, documented some of the most intense persecutions in the Early Church under the rule of Emperor Diocletian. Emperor Diocletian initiated "The Great Persecution” in A.D. 303 with the motive to extinguish Christianity.
“(Hist. Ecc viii 2.) This was the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian in Dystrus (which the Romans call March), when the feast of the Savior’s passion was near at hand, and royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches Should be razed to the ground, the Scriptures destroyed by fire, those who held positions of honor degraded, and the household servants, if they persisted in the Christian profession, be deprived of their liberty.
And such was the first decree against us. But issuing other decrees not long after, the Emperor commanded that all the rulers of the churches in every place should be first put in prison and afterwards compelled by every device to offer sacrifice. (1)
(Hist Ecc. viii 6.) Then as the first decrees were followed by others commanding that those in prison should be set free, if they would sacrifice, but that those who refused should be tormented with countless tortures; who could again at that time count the multitude of martyrs throughout each province, and especially throughout Africa and among the race of the Moors, in Thebais and throughout Egypt, from which having already gone into other cities and, provinces, they became illustrious in their martyrdoms. “(2)
Historical distance from such events may cause us to be less sensitive to the pain and suffering of the early church. Peter in writing to the early church under persecution said, “ These (sufferings and trials)have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1Peter 1:7. The sufferers may not understand why such things could happen to them. Why has God not protected them? The world shakes their heads at such atrocities and government authorities strategize to halt the persecution. But the ultimate understanding from a Christian perspective is that Christ is being revealed through such pain and horror.
Let us continue to pray for our current world situation where the practice of one’s chosen faith is prohibited and sometimes accompanied with cruelty, violence and death.