Archive for the ‘Saints of the 200s’ Category

Feast of Sts. Gregory the Illuminator and Isaac the Great (March 23)   1 comment

Armenian Apostolic Church Logo

Above:  Flag of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT GREGORY THE ILLUMINATOR (CIRCA 257-CIRCA 332)

His feast day (The Episcopal Church) = March 23

His other feast day = September 30

and his descendant

SAINT ISAAC THE GREAT (CIRCA 345-SEPTEMBER 439)

Also known as Saint Sahak the Great

His feast transferred from February 10 and September 9

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Patriarchs of Armenia

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Although St. Bartholomew (a.k.a. St. Nathanael) introduced Christianity to Armenia, sources list both St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Isaac the Great as founders of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Traditional accounts of the life of St. Gregory the Illuminator blend the objective reality of his life with legends.  We can, however, be reasonably sure of certain details.  He, a native of Armenia, grew up and studied in Cappadocia, in Asia Minor, in the Eastern Roman Empire.  There he converted to Christianity.  Eventually St. Gregory returned to Armenia.  He became the “Apostle of Armenia,” converting even King Tiridates III “the Great” (reigned 287-330), once a persecutor of Christianity, circa 301.  The following year the monarch, who made Christianity the official religion of the realm, appointed St. Gregory the Patriarch of Armenia and Catholicos of the See of St. Echmiadzin and All Armenians.  St. Gregory retired to a monastery in 325.  There he died seven years later.   His successor as Patriarch and Catholicos was a son, St. Aristakes I (in office 325-333), who attended the Council of Nicaea (325).

Many of the earliest Patriarchs of Armenia and Catholicoses of the See of St. Echmiadzin and All Armenians belonged to a hereditary lineage, that of the Arsacid Dynasty.  After St. Aristakes I came St. Vrtanes I (in office 333-314), succeeded by his son, St. Husik I (in office 341-347).  His grandson was St. Nerses I “the Great” (in office 353-373).  St. Nerses I was a martyr, for a monarch he had rebuked poisoned him.  St. Nerses I’s son and eventual successor was St. Isaac (a.k.a. Sahak) the Great.

Armenia was in a geopolitically difficult position, for it bordered the Eastern Roman Empire on the west and the Sassanian (Persian) Empire on the east.  In terms of religion the Eastern Roman Empire had been influential in the kingdom for most of the period following the time of St. Gregory the Illuminator.  In 387 the Eastern Roman and Sassanian Empires partitioned Armenia.  The Eastern Romans gained Western Armenia.  Eastern Armenia became a Sassanian vassal state, which it remained until 428, when it became a province.

St. Isaac, of royal origin and born in 354, wed, but entered a monastery after his wife died.  He became the Patriarch of Armenia in 390.  As the Patriarch, St. Isaac established the independence of the Armenian Apostolic Church.  Also, he stopped the practice of married bishops, enforced Byzantine canon law, resisted Persian religious influences, built churches and schools, and encouraged monasticism.  Furthermore, Patriarch St. Isaac the Great supported the creation of an Armenian alphabet and translated part of the Bible into Armenian in cooperation with St. Mesrop (died 441).  St. Isaac also initiated the development of an Armenian liturgy.  Sassanian Persians forced St. Isaac to retire as Patriarch in 428, after 38 years in office.  Yet he returned to his post two years later, holding it for the last decade of his life.

Sts. Gregory the Illuminator and Isaac the Great did much to glorify God in their times and left enduring legacies for the Armenian people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 26, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TIMOTHY, TITUS, AND SILAS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Heavenly Father, Shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servants

Saint Gregory the Illuminator and Saint Isaac the Great,

who were faithful in the care and nurture of your flock;

and we pray that, following their examples and the teaching of their holy lives,

we may by your grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16

Psalm 23

1 Peter 5:1-4

John 21:15-17

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 718

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Feast of Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and Their Companions (March 7)   Leave a comment

perpetua_felicitas_revocatus_saturninus_and_secundulus_menologion_of_basil_ii

Above:  The Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and Their Companions

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT VIBIA PERPETUA (BORN IN 181)

SAINT FELICITAS, ALSO KNOWN AS SAINT FELICITY

SAINT REVOCATUS

SAINT CATHAGINIANS SECUNDULUS

SAINT SATURNINUS

Martyred at Carthage on March 7, 203

According to some accounts, Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (lived 145-211; reigned 193-211) forbade Christians to convert people.  Historian J. G. Davies, author of The Early Christian Church (1965), considered this story dubious, however.  Septimius Severus did, however, certainly preside over a vigorous persecution of Christianity in northern Africa in the early 200s.  Among the martyrs from that period were the five saints featured in this post.

These martyrs were Christian catechumen at Carthage.  Vibia Perpetua was a widow with an infant son.  Felicitas and Revocatus were her slaves.  Cathaginians Secundulus and Saturninus rounded out the group.  These five saints refused to make a mandatory sacrifice to the divinity of the emperor.  In so doing they made themselves enemies of the state, which considered such sacrifices essential to the well-being of the empire.  Perpetua refused pleas from her father to spare her life.  He went on to raise her son.  Felicitas, eight months pregnant at the time of her arrest, gave birth to a daughter, whom she entrusted to Christian friends.

Our saints died at Carthage on March 7, 203.  Animals killed Revocatus, Cathaginians Secundulus, and Saturninus in the arena.  Perpetua and Felicitas died by the sword in the same arena.  The soldier who executed Perpetua failed the first time; he pierced her throat between bones.  Then she guided the sword to its destination.

Perhaps so great a woman could not else have been slain had she herself not so willed it.

The Passion of SS. Perpetua and Felicity

The stories of these saints’ martyrdom has encouraged the faith of Christians since 203.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PEPIN OF LANDEN, ITTA OF METZ, THEIR RELATIONS, AMAND, AUSTREGISILUS, AND SULPICIUS II OF BOURGES, FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS ACROSS GENERATIONAL LINES

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY PUCCI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JULIA CHESTER EMERY, UPHOLDER OF MISSIONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP II OF MOSCOW, METROPOLITAN OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA AND MARTYR

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O God, the King of Saints, who strengthened your servants

Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions to make a good confession

and to encourage one another in the time of trial:

Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may be encouraged by their prayers

to share their pure and steadfast faith and win with them the palm of victory;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Daniel 6:10-16

Psalm 124

Hebrews 10:32-39

Matthew 24:9-14

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 263

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Feast of Sts. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Irenaeus of Lyons (February 23)   Leave a comment

ichthys

Above:  Ichthys

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (CIRCA 35-107/115)

Bishop of Antioch and Martyr

His feast transferred from October 17

met and wrote to

SAINT POLYCARP OF SMYRNA (69-FEBRUARY 23, 155/156)

Bishop of Smyrna and Martyr

His feast = February 23

met

SAINT IRENAEUS OF LYONS (CIRCA 130-CIRCA 202)

Bishop of Lyons and Martyr

His feast transferred from June 28

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So gird up your loins now and serve God in fear and sincerity.  No more of the vapid discourses and sophistries of the vulgar; put your trust in Him who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory and a seat at His own right hand.  All things in heaven and earth have been made subject to Him; everything that breathes pays Him homage; He comes to judge the living and the dead, and God will require His blood at the hands of any who refuse Him allegiance.  And He that raised Him from the dead will raise us also, if we do His will and live by His commandments, and cherish the things He cherished–if, that is to say, we keep ourselves from wrongdoing, overreaching, penny-pinching, tale-telling, and prevaricating, and bear in mind the words of our Lord in His teaching, Judge not, that you be not judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; for whatever you measure out to other people will be measured back again to yourselves.  And again, Happy are the poor and they who are persecuted because they are righteous, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

–St. Polycarp, the Epistle to the Philippians, Logion 2, in Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers, translated by Maxwell Staniforth and Andrew Louth (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1987), page 119-120

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This post replaces three older posts and emphasizes the relationships and influences that bound these three saints in faithful witness.  After all, one of my goals during the ongoing renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is to emphasize relationships and influences.

ignatius-of-antioch

Above:  St. Ignatius of Antioch

Image in the Public Domain

We know little about the life of St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose other name was Theophorus, or “Bearer of God” or “Borne of God.”  He was either the second (if one takes the word of Origen) or the third (if one believes Eusebius of Caesarea) Bishop of Antioch.  In 107 or 115 (depending on the source one consults) ten Roman soldiers escorted St. Ignatius on a long route from Antioch to Rome, to die by becoming lion food.  The purpose of the extended parading of our saint was to humiliate him.  Nevertheless, St. Ignatius conducted himself with dignity and therefore converted many people to Christianity.  Along the way St. Ignatius met St. Polycarp of Smyrna and wrote seven epistles:

  1. To the Ephesians,
  2. To the Magnesians,
  3. To the Trallians,
  4. To the Romans,
  5. To the Philadelphians,
  6. To the Smyrnaeans, and
  7. To Polycarp.

As St. Ignatius wrestled with his anxieties he encouraged others in their faith.

Since I had been impressed by the godly qualities of your mind–anchored, as it seemed, to an unshakable rock–it gave me much pleasure to set eyes on your sainted countenance (may God give me joy of it).  But let me charge you to press on even more strenuously in your course, in all the grace with which you are clothed, and to call all your people to salvation.  You must do justice to your position, by showing the greatest diligence both in its temporal and spiritual duties.  Give thought especially to unity, for there is nothing more important than this.  Make yourself the support of all and sundry, as the Lord is to you, and continue to bear lovingly with them all, as you are doing at present.  Spend your time in constant prayer, and beg for ever larger gifts of wisdom.  Be watchful and unsleeping in spirit.  Address yourself to people personally, as is the way of God Himself, and carry the infirmities of them all on your shoulders, as a good champion of Christ out to do.  The heavier the labour, the richer the reward.

–St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Epistle to Polycarp, Logion 1, in Early Christian Writings (1987), page 109

St. Ignatius, no advocate of sola scriptura, encouraged the frequent celebration of the Eucharist and considered Christian factionalism to be “the beginning of all evils” (the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Logion 8).

polycarp-of-smyrna

Above:  St. Polycarp of Smyrna

Image in the Public Domain

We also know little about the life and much about the death of St. Polycarp of Smyrna (69-115/156), who studied under St. John the Apostle/Divine/Evangelist.  St. Polycarp, a native and the Bishop of Smyrna, in Asia Minor, was a link between the Apostles of Jesus and St. Irenaeus of Lyons (circa 130-circa 202), the first great Catholic theologian.  St. Polycarp defended Christian orthodoxy against heresies, especially Marcionism (which sought to remove Jewish influences from the canon of scripture) and Valentinianism (a variety of Gnosticism).

In 106 or 114 our saint traveled to Rome to meet with Pope St. Anacetus (reigned circa 155-circa 166).  They agreed to disagree regarding the issue of Quartodecimanism, the position (dominant in churches in Asia Minor) that the churches ought to celebrate Easter on the date of 14 Nisan (the date of the Passover), regardless of the day of the week upon which that date falls.  St. Polycarp favored Quartodecimanism; the Pope thought that the celebration of Easter should always fall on a Sunday.

In 107 or 115, shortly after returning to Smyrna from Rome, St. Polycarp became a martyr.  Authorities arrested him at a pagan festival and burned him at a stake.

St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, perhaps a composite of two epistles (in the style of 2 Corinthians), has survived, fortunately.  (Many ancient documents have not survived, sadly.)  One Evarestus wrote The Martyrdom of Polycarp, which has also survived.  These two documents have provided much invaluable information about St. Polycarp.

Such then is the record of Polycarp the Blessed.  Including those from Philadelphia, he was the twelfth to meet a martyr’s death in Smyrna; though he is the only one to be singled out for universal remembrance and to be talked of everywhere, even in heathen circles.  Not only was he a famous Doctor, he was a martyr without a peer; and one whose martyrdom all aspire to imitate, so fully does it accord with the Gospel of Christ.  His steadfastness proved more than a match for the Governor’s injustice, and won him his immortal crown.  Now, in the fullness of joy among the Apostles  and all the hosts of heaven, he gives glory to the Almighty God and Father, and utters the praises of our Lord Jesus Christ–who is the Saviour of our souls, the Master of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church the wide world over.

–Evarestus, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Logion 19, in Early Christian Writings (1987), page 131

irenaeus

Above:  St. Irenaeus of Lyons

Image in the Public Domain

St. Polycarp met a very young St. Irenaeus of Lyons (circa 130-circa 202).  We know little about the native of Asia Minor, who studied at Rome and became a priest and Lyons.  We do know, however, that St. Irenaeus was a tolerant man.  Even as he argued against certain heresies he contended for the lenient treatment of heretics.  In the case of the Montanists, apocalyptic ascetics in Asia Minor, St. Irenaeus, who argued against their theology and practices, carried to a letter on their behalf to Pope St. Eleutherius (reigned circa 174-189) in 177/178.  Our saint favored toleration fo the Montanists.  The Pope, who did not consider them to be threats, did not countenance any actions against them.

In our saint’s absence Pothinus, the Bishop of Lyons, became a martyr.  In 178, when St. Irenaeus returned to the city, he became the next bishop.  As the Bishop of Lyons our saint wrote to Pope St. Victor I (reigned 189-198) in support of Quartodecimanism.  St. Irenaeus, the first great Catholic theologian, also wrote against Gnosticism.  Whereas St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) refuted Gnosticism with a Christian Gnosis, St. Irenaeus argued against that heresy by citing the goodness of creation and the resurrection of the dead, quoting scripture, and affirming Apostolic Succession.

Sts. Irenaeus seems to have become a martyr in 200, give or take a few years.

Sts. Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus were foundational figures in Christianity.  They were spiritual giants to whom we who follow Christ in the twenty-first century owe a great debt of gratitude.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 6, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICETIUS OF TRIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP; AND SAINT AREDIUS OF LIMOGES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF KRATIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, BISHOP, AND HERMIT

THE FEAST OF HENRY USTICK ONDERDONK, EPISCOPAL BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Grant, almighty God, that following the teaching of

Sts. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Irenaeus of Lyons,

we may know you as the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,

that we may be counted worthy ever to be numbered among the sheep who hear his voice;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Nehemiah 8:1-8 or Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:97-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Matthew 13:51-52

–Adapted from The Church of South India, The Book of Common Worship (1963), page 67

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Feast of St. Porfirio (February 9)   Leave a comment

porforio

Above:  St. Porfirio

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT PORFIRIO (DIED IN 203)

Martyr

Among the most notable characteristics of Christian martyrs during the Roman imperial period was the manner in which they died–that is, courageously.  They therefore helped to convert many observers.  This was the case with regard to St. Porfirio, originally an executioner in the service of the Roman Empire.  Our saint came to faith knowing that doing so might cost him his life.  It did so at Magnesia, Asia Minor, in 203, during the reign of the Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211).

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live where we have the freedom to practice our religion freely, without the threat of martyrdom, especially at the hand of the state, cannot imagine the courage required for St. Porfirio to confess his Christian faith.  Unfortunately, many people can grasp that concept, due to their experiences.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Almighty God, who gave to your servant Saint Porfirio boldness

to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world,

and courage to die to for this faith:

Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us,

and to suffer gladly for the sake our Lord Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

2 Esdras 2:42-48

Psalm 126 or 121

1 Peter 3:14-18, 22

Matthew 10:16-22

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 713

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Posted November 30, 2016 by neatnik2009 in February, Saints of 29-199 C.E., Saints of the 200s

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Feast of St. Fabian (January 20)   1 comment

st-fabian

Above:  St. Fabian

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT FABIAN (DIED JANUARY 20, 250)

Bishop of Rome and Martyr

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The glory of his death befitted the purity and holiness of his life.

–St. Cyprian of Carthage, writing to Pope St. Cornelius, quoted in A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016)

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Pope St. Anterus (reigned November 21, 235-January 3, 236) had died suddenly.  A week later, a crowd gathered in Rome as the election of the next Pope took place.  A dove alighted upon the head of St. Fabian, a member of that crowd.  He was a layman and a farmer from elsewhere in Italy.  The dominant interpretation of the dove’s action was that the Holy Spirit had chosen St. Fabian.  He was a good choice.

St. Fabian was a capable leader.  He sent St. Denis and his companions to Gaul.  St. Fabian also restructured the Church; he organized the local clergy into seven districts, each with a deacon and seven subdeacons.  This gave the Church a structure suitable for its growing numbers.  St. Fabian also opposed the heresy of Bishop Privatus of Lambesa.  (I have attempted in vain to locate a summary of that heresy, but I have learned that a church council condemned it.)  Furthermore, the Pope repatriated the bodies of Pope St. Callixtus I and Antipope St. Hippolytus, both martyrs who died in the salt mines of Sardinia.

St. Fabian became one of the first victims of the Decian persecution.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 29:  THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING

THE FEAST OF RICHARD WATSON GILDER, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF HENRY FRANCIS LYTE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PRISCILLA LYDIA SELLON, A RESTORER OF RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF THEODORE CLAUDIUS PEASE, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, you called Fabian to be a faithful pastor and servant of your people,

and to lay down his life in witness to your Son:

Grant that we, strengthened by his example and aided by his prayers,

may in times of trial and persecution remain steadfast in faith and endurance,

for the sake of him who laid down his life for us all, Jesus Christ our Savior;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

2 Esdras 2:42-48

Psalm 126

1 Corinthians 15:31-36, 44b-49

Luke 21:20-24

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 179

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Feast of St. Antony of Egypt (January 17)   Leave a comment

stanthony

Above:  Icon of St. Antony

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT ANTONY OF EGYPT (251-356)

Roman Catholic Abbot and Father of Western Monasticism

Also known as St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Anthony the Great, et cetera

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Let us not look back upon the world and fancy we have given up great things.  For the whole earth is a very little thing compared with the whole of heaven.

–St. Antony, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 34

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Asceticism is a vocation from God.  It, like other divine vocations, is not universal.  Asceticism has helped many people deal effectively with their idolatry related to physical and psychological attachments and appetites.  For others, however, it has not proven proper or useful.  So be it.

Asceticism was among the vocations of St. Antony of Egypt.  He came from a wealthy Christian family at Heracleas, near Memphis, Egypt, in 251.  St. Antony’s parents died when he was 18 or 20 years old, leaving him as the heir to a fortune and as his sister’s guardian.  Eventually, in church, he heard the gospel story in which Jesus told the rich young ruler, “Go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”  Our saint took this message to heart and acted on it, leaving just enough to meet his needs and those of his sister.  Years later he felt guilty for doing that much, given the biblical injunction not to be anxious about tomorrow.  At the age of 35 years St. Antony sold the rest of his possessions and gave himself to God.  His sister entered a convent (and eventually became an abbess) and he went off to live in the desert–to be precise, in a series of caves, huts, and cemeteries.  Our saint, a hermit for 20 years, survived the risks of wildlife and rejected temptations, such as wine, women, food, and indolence.  He remained healthy, living to the ripe old age of 105 years.

St. Antony ceased to be a hermit and became an abbot.  Not only did monks gather around him, but pilgrims came to him for spiritual guidance.  At Mount Kolzim, near the northwestern corner of the Red Sea, our saint was a magnet for those seeking to be near a holy man.  St. Antony, who encouraged Christians suffering under the persecution of Maximinus II Daia (reigned 305-313), was so removed from the priorities of the world that, when he received a letter from Constantine I “the Great” (reigned 306-337), he was not impressed.  In his final years St. Antony condemned the Arian heresy.

He died at Mount Kolzim in 356.  Our saint’s biography has come to us courtesy of St. Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373), author of the Life of Antony.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 20, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 29:  THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING

THE FEAST OF RICHARD WATSON GILDER, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF HENRY FRANCIS LYTE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PRISCILLA LYDIA SELLON, A RESTORER OF RELIGIOUS LIFE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF THEODORE CLAUDIUS PEASE, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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O God, by your Holy Spirit you enabled your servant Antony

to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil:

Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow you, the only God;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-3

Psalm 139:1-9 or 139:1-17

A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016)

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Feast of St. Macrina the Elder, Her Family, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (January 14)   1 comment

holy-family

Above:  A Family Tree

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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SAINT MACRINA THE ELDER (CIRCA 270-CIRCA 340)

Bridge of Faith

Her feast = January 14

mother of

SAINT BASIL THE ELDER (300S)

Attorney and Teacher of Rhetoric

His feast transferred from May 30

husband of

SAINT EMILIA OF CAESAREA (DIED MAY 30, 375)

Abbess

Also known as Saint Emmelia of Caesarea and Saint Emily of Caesara

Her feast transferred from January 11, May 8, and May 30

mother of

SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER (CIRCA 327-379)

Abbess and Theologian

Her feast transferred from July 19

sister of

SAINT NAUCRATIUS (300S)

Hermit

brother of

SAINT PETER OF SEBASTE (CIRCA 340-391)

Bishop of Sebaste and Theologian 

His feast transferred from January 9

brother of 

SAINT GREGORY OF NYSSA (CIRCA 335-CIRCA 395)

Bishop of Nyssa and Theologian

His feast transferred from March 9

brother of 

SAINT BASIL THE GREAT (CIRCA 330-JANUARY 1, 379)

Bishop of Caesarea and Theologian

Father of Eastern Communal Monasticism

His feast transferred from January 2 and June 14

friend of

SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER (CIRCA 329-389)

Archbishop of Constantinople and Theologian

His feast transferred from January 25

Alternative feast date on this calendar = February 25

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A HISTORY OF FAITH, FAMILY, AND FRIENDSHIP

In this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I transfer feast days frequently.  The most common reason for doing so is to facilitate the telling of narratives of holy men and women who have influenced each other and worked together.  Retaining ecclesiastically approved feast days obstructs that purpose sometimes.  With this post I move some feast days write about nine saints, with an emphasis on intergenerational influences.

For the purposes of this post I choose to begin with St. Macrina the Elder, although I could easily back up a few generations before her.  That, however, would create a post quite difficult to follow.  Focusing on three generations of one family and adding one friend, who came from a holy family also suffices.

I have covered St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger in the context of his family is a separate post.

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Our story begins in Neocaesarea, Cappadocia, in modern-day Turkey.

For nearly 30 years the bishop there was St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (circa 213-268), whose relics St. Macrina the Elder (circa 270-circa 340) kept.  She and her husband had converted from paganism to Christianity in that city, where the late bishop had kept the flame of Christian faith alive in his small flock during times of pestilence and persecution.  St. Macrina the Elder and her husband, whose name has not survived the ravages of the passage of time, endured many hardships for their faith.  Galerius, Caesar of the East (293-305) and Maximinus II Daia, Caesar of the East (305-310) and Augustus of the East (310-313), persecuted Christianity severely.  During this time St. Macrina the Elder and her husband had to live in the woods and forage for seven years.  The couple returned to Neocaesarea after the death of Maximinus II Daia, but the local authorities seized their property and forced them to beg on the streets of the city.  Eventually circumstances improved for the couple, who had a son, St. Basil the Elder.  His father died when he was young, so St. Macrina the Elder, a widow and a single mother, had to raise him.

St. Basil the Elder became an attorney and a respected teacher of rhetoric, a prominent position in that culture.  He, educated at Caesarea and Athens, settled down at Caesarea and declined an opportunity to teach in his hometown.  He married St. Emilia (a.k.a. Emmelia or Emily) of Caesarea (died in 375), who came from a wealthy family.  Her father was also a martyr.  St. Basil the Elder and Emilia had ten children, nine of whom lived to adulthood and five of whom became canonized saints.  The sainted children were:

  1. St. Macrina the Younger (circa 327-379),
  2. St. Basil the Great (circa 330-January 1, 379),
  3. St. Gregory of Nyssa (circa 335-circa 395),
  4. St. Peter of Sebaste (circa 340-391), and
  5. St. Naucratius.

Sts. Basil the Elder and Emilia raised their family in luxury.  Some of their children developed an unhealthy relationship with wealth, but the eldest child, St. Macrina the Younger, seemed not to have done so.  While St. Basil the Elder instructed his sons in rhetoric St. Emilia made sure that her eldest child received a fine education.  For St. Macrina the Younger, with her cultivated mind made possible by money, wealth was a tool, not an idol; she was willing use that tool for the glory of God while she lived ascetically.  She paid close attention to the education of her brothers, whom she encouraged to pursue religious vocations, urged to live ascetically, and influenced theologically.  St. Macrina the Younger also encouraged her widowed mother to help her found to abbeys–a convent and a monastery–on the family estate.  St. Emilia served as the first abbess of the convent.  St. Macrina the Younger succeeded her in 375.

Of the canonized children the least famous was St. Naucratius.  At the age of 21 years he turned his back on his legal career to become a hermit living near his family.  He cared actively for the poor and helped to take care of his mother, who had to bury him after he died suddenly at the age of 27 years.

St. Macrina the Younger professed monastic life and preceded her brothers in it.  When she was 12 years old St. Basil the Elder had arranged a marriage for her, but the intended groom died before the wedding date.  St. Macrina the Younger decided to renounce marriage, remain by her mother’s side, live simply, and help the poor.  She followed that path faithfully.  In 379, the same year her brother St. Basil the Great died, she also died.  Another brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, rushed to her bedside, her bed being two boards.  He wrote:

She was uplifted as she discoursed to us on the nature of the soul and explained the reason of life in the flesh, and why man was made, and how he was mortal, and the origin of death and nature of the journey from death to life again….All of this seemed to me more than human.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 308

The Cappadocian Fathers were Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger.  Two of the three were brothers.  St. Basil the Great (circa 330-January 1, 379) became the Father of Eastern Communal Monasticism, for he wrote the Rule of St. Basil (358-364).  First, however, he studied at Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens.  At Athens, he met and befriended St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (circa 329-389), who also came from a holy family.  These two saints became theological colleagues.

St. Basil the Great became a Doctor of the Church.  He, influenced by the example of his mother and sister, visited the chief monasteries in the East circa 357.  Then, in 358, he became a monk at the monastery on his family’s estate.  There he remained for five years.  St. Basil, ordained a priest in 364, was largely responsible for the administration of the Diocese of Caesarea from 365 to 370.  Then, in 370, he became the Bishop of Caesarea.  St. Basil resisted the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens (reigned 364-378), an Arian who persecuted orthodox Christianity.  The saint, holding his own as he confronted an astonished prefect fearlessly, said,

Perhaps you have never before had to deal with a proper bishop.

Valens, who feared St. Basil the Great, divided the Diocese of Caesarea in an effort to reduce the proper bishop’s influence.  So, circa 371, St. Basil ordained St. Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, as the Bishop of Nyssa.  St. Gregory did not want the job, for which he knew he was not suited.  The incident created a rift between the brothers.  In time, however, St. Gregory grew into the position.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger (329-389), son of St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Elder, Bishop of Nazianzus, also became a bishop against his will.  The Younger met St. Basil the Great Athens, where they were classmates.  He and St. Basil the Great collaborated on a major work, a selection of writings by Origen (185-254).  The Younger’s true calling was to be a monk spending his life in contemplation, but people kept placing him in leadership roles.  In 362 his father ordained him to the priesthood.  Ten years later St. Basil the Great, in a move related to the politics of Valens and the consecration of St. Gregory of Nyssa, forced the Younger to become the Bishop of Sasima.  This created tension in the relationship between the two friends.  The Younger even refused to serve as the Bishop of Sasima, for, he considered Sasima to be

a detestable little place without water or grass or any mark of civilization.

The incident caused the Younger to feel like

a bone flung to the dogs.

He went to Nazianzus and assisted his father instead.  After a few years the Younger became a monk in Seleucia.  By the time St. Basil the Great died the Younger had made peace with his old friend, at whose funeral he presided in 379.  Later that year he relocated to Constantinople, where he preached against Arianism.  Then, in 381, the Younger served as Archbishop of Constantinople for a few weeks before returning to his family estate.  There he spent the rest of his life in contemplation.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus the Younger, a Doctor of the Church, helped the Church to formulate its rebuttal of Arianism, the proposition that the Second Person of the Trinity is a created being.  His partners in this work included the other two Cappadocian Fathers, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa.  The Younger also argued against the Apollinarian heresy, the idea that Jesus was fully divine and partially human.

St. Basil the Great and his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, knew who they were, for good and for ill.  Both of them were sometimes tactless men who created and contributed to their problems.  As St. Basil wrote confessionally,

For my sins, I seem to fail in everything.

Sometimes this tendency to make enemies needlessly frustrated attempts to argue against heresies, as when St. Basil antagonized Pope St. Damasus I (reigned 366-384), his fellow opponent of Arianism.

Nevertheless, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, some of whose writings survive, cared deeply about the poor and acted to help them.  St. Basil condemned the wealthy who did not do all they could to help the less fortunate:

You refuse to give on the pretext that you haven’t enough for your own needs.  But while your tongue makes excuses, your hand convicts you–that ring shining on your finger silently declares you to be a liar.  How many debtors could be released from prison with one of those rings?

–Quoted in Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), page 260

St. Basil acted on his convictions.  On the outskirts of Caesarea he organized a new community and social services complex.  There the poor found health care and travelers and the poor found lodging.  They also had a church building in which to worship.  He lived in the community, for which he provided in his will.

St. Basil, a Doctor of the Church, fought the good fight.  He opposed simony, contributed to or wrote the influential Liturgy of St. Basil, and shaped the course of Christian theology.  He was also an outlier regarding classical pagan literature; he advised his nephews to use it as a tool for deepening their Christian faith.  This opinion put him in line with St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215).

St. Basil died on January 1, 379.  As he lay dying a crown waited outside.  When they heard that he had died, they proclaimed him a saint immediately.

St. Gregory of Nyssa followed in his father’s footsteps at first; he married and taught rhetoric.  (His wife was Theosebeia.)  Then he pursued a religious vocation.  As I have written in this post, St. Basil the Great ordained the Bishop of Nyssa circa 371.  St. Gregory did not seek this office.  In fact, he knew himself to be unsuited for it; he had difficulties being tactful and did not know the value of money.  False accusations of embezzlement provided a cover story for Arians to depose St. Gregory in 376.  He returned two years later, after the death of Valens.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, a mystic and an ascetic, came into his own and grew into his office after the death of St. Basil the Great in 379.  St. Gregory became a leading opponent of Arianism and, according to the First Council of Constantinople (381), a “pillar of orthodoxy.”  He died in 395.

St. Peter of Sebaste (circa 340-391) also defended Nicene doctrine.  He, like St. Gregory of Nyssa, had been an academic, but St. Macrina the Younger convinced him to pursue a religious vocation.  The youngest child of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emilia of Caesarea became a solitary ascetic.  Then, in 370, St. Basil the Great ordained him to the priesthood.  Ten years later St. Peter became the Bishop of Sebaste, in Armenia.  Although he did not write theological treatises, he did encourage St. Gregory of Nyssa to do so.

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I realize that you, O reader, have had to follow the proverbial bouncing ball.  I have led you on a journey through three generations that included two Macrinas, two Basils, and three Gregories.  Yet, given the frequent overlapping of the saints’ lives, I have decided that combining their stories into one post was the preferable method of writing about them.

This post is the successor to five posts, which I deleted shortly prior to taking notes for what you have read.  All of this has been part of an effort to renovate the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, starting with posts for January 1 and working all the way through to posts for December 31.  My progress so far has been encouraging, but, as you, O reader, can tell, January 14 is closer to January 1 than to December 31.  The possibilities of what await me have caused me to anticipate the intellectual and spiritual journey that will take me to the end of the renovation project.

I hope that you, O reader, will find reading about saints–in this case, the nine for this post–at least as edifying as the process of creating this post has been for me.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church.

Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace.

Where it is corrupt, purify it;

where it is in error, direct it;

where in anything it is amiss, reform it.

Where it is right, strengthen it;

where it is in want, provide for it;

where it is divided, reunite it;

for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Savior,

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:1-6, 20-22

Psalm 12:1-7

Acts 22:30-23:10

Matthew 21:12-16

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 735

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