Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary of Armenia, c. 332

Armenia was the first state to become officially Christian, and this set a precedent for the adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire in the fourth century (beginning with the emperor Constantine, and becoming more thoroughly so under the emperor Theodosius). As a buffer state between the empires of Rome and Persia, Armenia endured many shifts of policy, as first one and then the other empire became the kingdom’s “protector”.

Gregory, known as the Illuminator and as the Apostle to the Armenians, was born about 257. According to legend his father was an Armenian or Parthian of noble birth who assassinated the Persian king Chosroes the First. As an infant Gregory was rescued and taken to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he was brought up as a Christian. There he married a woman named Mary, who bore him two sons. About 280, he returned to Armenia as a missionary, eventually converting the Armenian king, Tiridates the Great (Armenian Trdat), to the Christian faith. With the king’s help, the country became Christian, and paganism was rooted out. About 300, Gregory was ordained a bishop at Caesarea. He established his cathedral at Vagharshapat, which came in time to be known as Echmiadzin (Ejmiadzin) and which remains to this day the seat of the Catholicos of the Armenian Church.

There is no record that Gregory attended the Council of Nicaea in 325, but according to tradition he sent his younger son Aristages in his stead, whom he had ordained as his successor as the catholicos (bishop) of the Armenian Church. Gregory spent his last years in ascetic solitude, and he died around the year 332.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Gregory the Illuminator to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Armenia: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The propers for the commemoration of Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary of Armenia, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

Among the works written by the late Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness is his Prayer of St Gregory, written in honor of St Gregory the Illuminator.

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Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, 1556

Thomas Cranmer was the principal figure in the Reformation of the English Church and was primarily responsible both for the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and for its first revision in 1552, as well as for the first version of the Articles of Religion.

Cranmer was born at Aslockton, Nottinghamshire on July 2, 1489. At fourteen he entered Jesus College, Cambridge where by 1514 he had obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees and a Fellowship. In 1526 he became a Doctor of Divinity, a lecturer in his college, and examiner in the University. During his years at Cambridge, he diligently studied the Bible and the new doctrines emanating from the Reformation in Germany.

A chance meeting with King Henry the Eighth at Waltham Abbey in 1529 led to Cranmer’s involvement in the “King’s affair” – the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Cranmer prepared the defense of the King’s cause and presented it to the universities in England and Germany, and to Rome.

While in Germany, Cranmer became closely associated with the Lutheran reformers, especially with Osiander, whose daughter he married. When Archbishop Warham died in 1532, the King obtained a papal confirmation of Cranmer’s appointment to the See of Canterbury, and Cranmer was consecrated on March 30, 1533. Among his earliest acts was to declare the King’s marriage null and void. He then validated the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Her child, the future Queen Elizabeth the First, was Cranmer’s godchild.

Cranmer’s sincere belief in the king’s supremacy in all matters, civil and ecclesiastical, was the mainspring of his political actions. This explains his many compromises with his reforming ideals; and it finally led to his undoing.

The only liturgical innovations of any consequence in Henry’s reign were the king’s order that an English Bible be placed in every church, and the publication in 1544 of the English Litany, drawn up by Cranmer at the king’s request during wartime.

In the reign of King Edward the Sixth, Cranmer had a free hand in reforming the worship, doctrine, and practice of the Church, leading to the publication of the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, which would come to be the defining text of Anglicanism. At Edward’s death the archbishop unfortunately subscribed to the dying King’s will that the succession should go to Lady Jane Grey, the king’s Protestant cousin, rather than to Mary, his Catholic sister. For this, and for his reforming work, he was arrested, deprived of his archbishopric, and imprisoned on the orders of Queen Mary the First, daughter of Henry the Eighth by Catherine of Aragon, and a staunch Roman Catholic who aimed to restore the English Church to papal obedience.

Cranmer wrote two recantations of his supposedly heretical doctrines during his imprisonment, but at the end, during a sermon given immediately prior to his execution, he recanted his recantations. He died heroically, saying, “forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for if I may come to the fire, it shall first be burned.” This he did at Oxford on March 21, 1556.

from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with amendments

The Collect

Father of all mercies, who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer renewed the worship of your Church and through his death revealed your strength in human weakness: by your grace strengthen us to worship you in spirit and in truth and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom: through Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.


The Collect is adapted from the propers provided for the commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Reformation Martyr, in the Church of England’s Common Worship.

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Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, 1711

Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells
(National Portrait Gallery)

Born in 1637, Thomas Ken was educated at Winchester College for boys and at Hart Hall, Oxford, and in 1657 he was made a Fellow of New College, Oxford. After serving several pastoral cures, he came to Winchester in 1672 as a teacher. During his employment at Winchester he wrote a book of devotion for the boys and possibly the morning and evening hymns for which he is perhaps best known, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun” and “All praise to thee, my God, this night”, both of which conclude with his metrical setting of the Gloria Patri, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”. In 1679 King Charles the Second appointed him chaplain to the Princess Mary at The Hague, during which service he publicly rebuked Mary’s husband, William the Prince of Orange and stadholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, for his ill treatment of Mary. Later appointed Charles’ own chaplain, in 1683 he refused the use of his house to Nell Gyn, the king’s mistress. Charles respected the boldness of “little black Ken” and in 1684 named him to the see of Bath and Wells. It was Ken who gave the king absolution on his deathbed. In 1688, King James the Second, who succeeded his brother Charles the Second and who was a Roman Catholic, commanded his Declaration of Indulgence, which granted liberty of worship to all Christians (including Roman Catholics) throughout the realm of England, to be read in all the churches. Ken was one of the seven bishops who refused to do so, for which they were briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London and tried in Westminster on a charge of seditious libel, all seven being acquitted by a verdict of “not guity” on the second day of the trial. (The seven bishops believed that the Declaration diminished the authority of the Church of England, and the opinion of the country was largely with them.) The case marked the limits of Anglican obedience to a Roman Catholic king, and James never recovered his authority. By the end of the year, James was overthrown in the Glorious Revolution by his daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange. Despite his opposition to Jame’s declaration, Ken joined the other Nonjuring bishops in refusing to take the oath of allegiance William and Mary as king and queen, believing themselves still to be bound by their oath to James as king, since – although deposed – he was still alive. He was thereafter deprived of his see and lived the rest of his life in retirement, though Queen Anne offered him his old see on the death of his successor. He respectfully declined the offer, despite the fact that by this time his previous oath had been dissolved by the death of James the Second in exile. Ken died on March 19, 1711 in retirement at Longleat, the country home of Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, a friend since his Oxford days. He was buried at the Church of St John the Baptist, Frome. A man of devotion and loyalty to the Church of England, he lived an ascetic life as a celibate and a scholar. He provided this epitaph in his will: “I die in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West: more particularly, I die in the Communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from all Papal and Puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross.”

prepared from various sources, including The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

The Collect Almighty God, you gave your servant Thomas Ken grace and courage to bear witness to the truth before rulers and kings: Give us strength also that, following his example, we may constantly defend what is right, boldly reprove what is evil, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. __________________________________________________

The propers for the commemoration of Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

Project Canterbury has published online a number of Thomas Ken’s works.

Traditionally, and in several Churches of the Anglican Communion, Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, is commemorated on this date. In this sanctoral calendar, because the commemoration of Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, is transferred to March 20 to accommodate the commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, on March 21, Cuthbert of Lindisfarne is commemorated on September 4, the date of the translation of his relics to Durham Cathedral.

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Saint Joseph

All that we know for certain of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the husband of the Mary, the mother of Jesus, is written in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke. He is called just, or righteous; that is, deeply concerned for living rightly according to the Law of God. He was of Davidic descent, but was not of noble or royal birth. He worked as a carpenter or builder. At the time of Jesus’ virginal conception and his birth, Joseph was betrothed to Mary. His doubts about her conception and the decisions to go to and to return from Egypt were the occasions for angelic admonitions that came to him through dreams. In the face of humiliation and scandal, he accepted the vocation of protecting Mary and being a foster father to Jesus. He provided care and protection for the infant Jesus and his mother in taking them to Egypt to escape Herod’s paranoiac slaughter of the children at Bethlehem, and he reared Jesus as a faithful Jew in their home at Nazareth. Joseph led his family to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover when Jesus was twelve years old, according to contemporary Jewish custom; and “in great distress” he and Mary sought out Jesus when on the return journey they had traveled a day from Jerusalem and could not locate Jesus among the home-going crowd of relatives and acquaintances, finally finding him in the precincts of the Temple, where he was sitting among the rabbis who were amazed at his understanding. Thereafter Joseph disappears from the Gospel accounts, save for a few references to Jesus as Joseph’s son, and later Christian tradition presumes that he died before Jesus began his public ministry.

The pseudepigraphal Protevangelium of James makes him elderly at the time of his betrothal to Mary, and almost all Christian art has depicted him so, but the demands implied in his protection of Mary and Jesus and in the upbringing of Jesus make this unlikely. A fifth or sixth century document known as the History of Joseph the Carpenter was influential in creating a liturgical devotion to Saint Joseph, which probably began in the East but which reached its full development much later in the West. It appears that liturgical devotion in Ireland and Britain preceded a general devotion to the saint, as there are martyrology entries for Joseph from the eighth century in Wales and slightly later in Irish sources, and the feast of Saint Joseph was celebrated at Winchester, Worcester, Ely, and other centers before 1100.

Saint Joseph is the patron of fathers, of laborers (especially carpenters), and of all who desire a holy death. In medieval art he seldom appears alone, but is nearly always depicted with Mary or Jesus. Many churches, hospitals, religious congregations, colleges and towns bears Saint Joseph’s name, and the frequent use of Joseph as a Christian name is some evidence of his widespread popularity.

The little that we know of him for certain is a testimony to a righteous man’s trust in God in the midst of perplexing and distressing circumstances.

prepared from material in Lesser Feasts and Fasts
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lesson
2 Samuel 7:4,8-16

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

Psalm 89:1-4, 26-29
Misericordias Domini

Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; *
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.

For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; *
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.

“I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:

‘I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'”

He will say to me, ‘You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.’

I will make him my firstborn *
and higher than the kings of the earth.

I will keep my love for him for ever, *
and my covenant will stand firm for him.

I will establish his line for ever *
and his throne as the days of heaven.”

The Epistle
Romans 4:13-18

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

The Gospel
Luke 2:41-52

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.


The scripture texts for the Lesson, the Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).

The icon of Saint Joseph is taken from the Holy Transfiguration Monastery icon store website.

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Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, 386

Born in or near Jerusalem around the year 315 and educated there, Cyril became a presbyter and was entrusted by Maximus, the bishop of Jerusalem, with the instruction of catechumens. These catechetical discourses are his most famous works and were probably written by him between 348 and 350.

This work consists of an introductory lecture, the Procatechesis, and eighteen Catecheses based on the articles of the creed of the Church of Jerusalem, and were given before the Pasch (Easter) to candidates for Baptism. These lectures may have been used many times by Cyril and his successors, and the form of them that we possess today may have been considerably revised from the original. They probably formed at least part of the pre-baptismal instruction that Egeria, a pilgrim nun from Spain, witnessed at Jerusalem near the end of the fourth century and described with great enthusiasm in her Travels.

Cyril’s Five Mystagogical Catecheses are lectures on the sacraments, delivered to the newly baptized after the Pasch, and are now thought to have been composed, or at least revised, by John, Cyril’s successor as bishop of Jerusalem, based substantially on Cyril’s own teaching.

Cyril became bishop of Jerusalem around 349 and soon became involved in controversy with Acacius, the metropolitan bishop of Caesarea and a leading proponent of Arianism, and his claims to precedence and jurisdiction over the Church at Jerusalem and its bishop. Cyril refused to appear before a council of bishops who charged him with contumacy and with having sold church goods to relieve the poor. (Earlier Cyril had secretly sold valuable ornaments, including a particularly valuable episcopal vestment that had been given to the church by the emperor Constantine, in order to feed the poor of Jerusalem in the midst of a drastic food shortage.) Constantius, the emperor at the time, was brought into the dispute, and Cyril was exiled in 357. He was reinstated as bishop in 359 by the Council of Seleucia, which also deposed his opponent Acacius, though Cyril twice suffered banishment later.

Cyril’s orthodoxy had been questioned, both by the Homoousians (the supporters of the Nicene formulation) and by the Arians. It is true that he was earlier doubtful of the term homoousios (of one substance (or being) [with the Father]), as were many of the “conservatives” during the Arian controversy who were uncertain of the creedal use of words not found in the Scriptures (like homoousios), but he later took full part in and consented to the conclusions of the Council of Constantinople in 381, which finally determined the Nicene formulation as the orthodox teaching of the catholic Church. Cyril was probably always orthodox in his intent, if not always in his language.

It is thought likely that Cyril instituted the observances of Palm Sunday and Holy Week during the latter years of his episcopate in Jerusalem. In so doing, he organized devotions for the many pilgrims who thronged Jerusalem during those days as they visited the sacred sites. These observances are described in delighted detail by the pilgrim nun Egeria, again in her Travels, and likely through the influence of pilgrims like her led to the development of Holy Week observances throughout the Church, East and West.

Cyril died at Jerusalem on March 18, 386. He was about seventy years old and served as bishop for thirty-five years, of which about sixteen were spent in exile.

prepared from material in Lesser Feasts and Fast
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

Strengthen, O Lord, the bishops of your Church in their special calling to be teachers and ministers of the Sacraments, so that they, like your servant Cyril of Jerusalem, may effectively instruct your people in Christian faith and practice; and that we, taught by them, may enter more fully into the celebration of the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The propers for Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland, 461

Magonus Sucatus Patricius was born about 385 in an unknown town of Roman Britain. He was the son of a certain Calpornius and of his wife, Concessa. Patrick’s father appears to have been a decurion (a town councilor) and was thus a man of some social standing. He was probably advanced in years when he took holy orders as his father (Patrick’s grandfather) Potitus had done before. Potitus was a presbyter, and Calpornius a deacon. Both had probably joined the clergy for the same reason: to escape the increasing financial burden of municipal office in the late Roman Empire. The atmosphere of Patrick’s home and social surrounding was, as he himself attests in his Confession, anything but devout.

At the age of sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders from the family estate, which was probably situated in southwestern Britain near the sea, at a place known as Bannavem Taburniae. He was sold as a slave in Ireland. Seventh century Irish tradition holds that Patrick served the druid Miliuc maccu Boin near Slemish in what is now County Antrim.

Up to the time of captivity, Patrick had led the life of an irresponsible upper class youth. He followed worldly ways and turned a deaf ear to the admonitions of the clergy. At school he seems to have cared more for games than grammar. On one occasion he sinned gravely, and this seriously trouble his conscience in later years. Of this time he writes in his Confession, “I did not believe in the living God, nor did I so from my childhood, but lived in death and unbelief until I was severely chastised and really humiliated, by hunger and nakedness, and that daily.”

In the solitude of Slemish, tending the flocks of a “barbarian” master, Patrick found God. His discovery enabled him patiently to endure the hardships of his servitude and to lead a life of prayer and voluntary mortification. At the end of six years he heard a voice in his dreams, announcing God’s forgiveness and bidding him to go to his country and his people. A ship, the voice indicated, was waiting to take him home. He walked two hundred miles before he found the ship which the voice in his dream had promised, a ship that was carrying Irish hounds to the continent.

When and how Patrick managed to return home to Britain is unknown. He seems to have found his parents still at his old home. They urged him to stay with them, but he became more and more convinced that God was calling him to take the Gospel to his former masters. In a dream he heard the voice of the Irish calling him back, and his dream was confirmed in spiritual experiences that he describes in words taken from the Apostle Paul.

For his education and formation, Patrick went to Gaul and became attached to the church at Auxerre, under its famous bishop Germanus. Here Patrick took learning seriously, making up for the misspent school days of his youth. He came to know the Latin Bible well, but to judge from his writings in an inelegant and sometimes rustic Latin, his scholarly achievements were modest. His spiritual life was all the more intense, and in due course he was ordained to the diaconate.

During these years, Patrick never lost sight of his ultimate goal: to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Irish. His opportunity came in 429 when Palladius, a native of Gaul and the archdeacon of Pope Celestine, recommended sending Germanus into Britain to combat the Pelagian heresy. In carrying out that mission, Germanus also considered the affairs of the small and scattered Christian communities of Ireland, who naturally looked to the Church in Britain for guidance. Under the circumstances, it seemed best to give the Irish their own bishop, and Patrick’s name was raised as a possible candidate. His superiors in Gaul had their doubts. This well-disposed but half-educated Briton was not the sort of man to be raised to such a responsible office. There seems also to have been opposition to his candidacy in Britain. Neither did Patrick consider himself worthy of the episcopate.

Palladius was nominated by a synod held in Britain under Germanus, and was sent to the Irish with papal authority in 431 as the first “bishop of the Irish who believe in Christ”. Patrick was sent from Auxerre to Ireland the following year, along with the presbyter Segitius, but before leaving Gaul, they learned that Palladius had died. On returning to Auxerre, Patrick was consecrated bishop, and he made for Ireland without delay. The Irish Annals date Patrick’s arrival to the year 432.

Our knowledge of Patrick’s missionary work among the Irish is drawn mostly from his own writings and from a circular letter which contains canons drawn up by himself together with the bishops Auxilius and Iserninus. Certain things stand out. Patrick concentrated early on the conversion of the princes, knowing that their subjects would follow their example. With the passage of years, he relied more and more on a native clergy, drawn mainly from the local nobility. In adapting the organization of the Western Church to the conditions of Ireland, where there were no cities, he made the tuatha, or local principalities or kingdoms, his dioceses; and the episcopal sees, called civitates (Latin for “cities”), were organized along quasi-monastic lines. (It is not clear that Patrick himself was a monk.) Monasticism in time became a defining characteristic of the early medieval Irish Church.

Patrick appears to have begun his mission in the north, the region he had known in his youth as a slave, where he early on established his episcopal see at Armagh, apparently because of its proximity to the most powerful king in Ireland. From the base of a small school and familia in residence at Armagh, Patrick made his missionary journeys throughout the island, to the west and the southwest. (Armagh remains the primatial see of the Irish Church, both for the Anglican Church of Ireland and for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, to this day.) There seems to have been little or only late contact with the Palladian Christianity of the southeast. That Patrick later exercised authority over the other bishops of the island may be seen from his censure of the bishops of Mag Ái.

Patrick’s missionary task was not easy. He met with strong opposition on the part of the druids and also of the older generation among the ruling class. He writes of twelve dangers to his life and declares that he has to face the possibility of martyrdom. He had severe critics even among his fellow Christians, in Ireland as well as in Britain and on the continent. In his native Britain feeling against him seems to have been particularly strong, and this opposition flared when he demanded the excommunication of the British prince Coroticus (Caradog), who in a reprisal raid against the Irish had killed or captured into slavery a number of Patrick’s new converts.

Patrick’s writings, his autobiographical Confession and The Letter to Coroticus, are the first literature identified with certainty from the British Church. Though he had little learning and less rhetoric, Patrick possessed sincere simplicity of life and a deep sense of pastoral care. He was concerned with abolishing paganism and idolatry, he made no distinctions of class in his preaching, and he was ready for imprisonment or death in the cause of Christ. He maintained into his old age a consciousness of his being an unlearned exile and formerly a slave and fugitive who learned to trust completely in God.

Under the year 441 the Irish Annals records Patrick’s “approval in the Catholic Faith” by the new pope, Leo the First (the Great), but nothing is known regarding the form of this act, and there is no evidence that Patrick journeyed to Rome to have received this papal approbation. According to seventh century tradition, Patrick died at Saul in Ulster on March 17, 461. He left Ireland, the country of his youthful slavery in which he came to know God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, a country that thirty years prior had been largely pagan, virtually a Christian land.

prepared from The Works of St. Patrick
(Ancient Christian Writers series, Paulist Press)
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

Almighty God, in your providence you chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The icon of Saint Patrick was written by and is © Aidan Hart, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

The propers for the commemoration of Patrick, Bishop and Missionary of Ireland, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, 604

One of the most important bishops of Rome and most influential writers of the Middle Ages, Gregory the First is one of only two popes (the other being Leo the First), to have been given the epithet “the Great”. Born around 540, Gregory was the son of a Roman senator and entered the service of the state as a young man. In 573, after he had served as Prefect of Rome, he sold his substantial properties, giving generously to the poor and founding six monasteries in Sicily and a seventh in Rome. The following year he retired to a monastic life in his own foundation of Saint Andrew’s on the Caelian Hill. There he became distinguished for the austerity of his life. Pope Benedict the First called him out of the monastic life to serve as one of the seven deacons of Rome, and in 579 Benedict’s successor, Pelagius the Second, appointed him apocrisiarius (ambassador) in Constantinople. After six years of distinguished service during which he learned of the larger affairs of the Church, Gregory returned to Rome to become abbot of Saint Andrew’s. Apparently convinced that the future of Christianity lay with monasticism and not with the declining Eastern Roman Empire, he hoped to lead a group of missionaries in taking the Gospel to the Anglo-Saxons in Britain after seeing English children or youth on sale as slaves in the Roman market around the year 573. He is said to have remarked on their beauty as being like that of angels, whereupon he was told that they were in fact Angles – causing him to say, Non Angli, sed angeli: “Not Angles, but angels.” But this was not to be his ministry. Shortly after he returned home from Constantinople, Pope Pelagius died of the plague, and in 590 Gregory was elected his successor. Reluctantly he accepted and was confirmed Bishop of Rome by the emperor in Constantinople.

During his pontificate he faced a number of crises: floods, famine, plague, and a Lombard invasion. There were also the overarching matters of the dominance of Constantinople of church affairs and the need of the barbarian peoples (the Germanic invaders and those beyond the remnants of the Western empire) to hear the Gospel. He fed the Roman populace with food from the papal granaries. He organized the defense of the city of Rome against the Lombard invaders, and in 592-3 he concluded a peace with the Lombards, separate from the Eastern Empire, virtually ignoring the Exarch of Ravenna, the Byzantine emperor’s representative in Italy. Gregory appointed governors to Italian towns, administered with prudence the vast estates of the Church of Rome, and assumed many of the roles of a civil ruler in the absence of imperial authority in Italy.

One of Gregory’s most notable achievements was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons. He personally took the lead in the whole process, sending Augustine, prior of his own monastery of Saint Andrew’s on the Caelian Hill, and a number of fellow monks to southeastern Britain, to the Jutish kingdom of Kent, where they achieved within a few years the conversion of the people and of their king, Ethelbert. Gregory continue personally to guide the mission in matters that perplexed Augustine by sending a supporting group of missionaries, along with liturgical vessels, books, and vestments, in 601; and by writing to Ethelbert and his Christian queen, Bertha on various matters. The close relationship between Rome and the English Church was continued by Gregory’s successors, and in many ways the Church in England was closer to the papacy than the Church in Gaul was. The first Life of Gregory was written in England, and from the biographies written by the Venerable Bede, Aldhelm, and the anonymous biographer of Whitby come eulogies of Gregory as “the apostle of the English”, “our father and apostle in Christ”, and “he from who we have received the Christian faith, he who will present the English people to the Lord on the Day of Judgment as their teacher and apostle”.

Gregory’s writings are remarkable for their volume and their quality. His principal achievement was to pass on to succeeding generations the wisdom of the Fathers of the Graeco-Roman world, such as Origen, Augustine of Hippo, and Ambrose of Milan, in such works as his Homilies on the Gospels and the Moralia on the Book of Job. His Pastoral Care, a classic on the work of the ministry, formed the medieval episcopate more deeply than any other book and was translated into English at the behest of the West Saxon king Alfred the Great. Both the Pastoral Care and the Dialogues, or Lives of the saints, were standards works in most early English libraries, and their popularity did not cease with the Norman conquest of England. Gregory’s letters (some 854 in all) reveal his wisdom, prudence, and preoccupation with problems both civil and ecclesiastical, including monasticism, the missionary role of the Church, the legitimacy of icons, the integrity of catholic doctrine, and the reproof of prelates who gave themselves grand titles. He himself preferred to be known as the “Servant of the servants of God”, a title preserved by his successors in the see of Rome to this day.

His role in the development of the Roman liturgy and its chant was considerable, though the extent of his role is disputed. He certainly modified various minor features and composed a number of prayers which formed the nucleus of the Gregorian Sacramentary, though this work reached its final form after his death. Many prayers in the sacramentary, if not actually written by him, were inspired by his through and phraseology. Since the tenth century his name has been associated with “Gregorian” chant: while the chant bearing his name arose from a later Carolingian synthesis of Gallican and Roman chant, he probably played a role in the gradual codification and adaptation of several preexisting forms of plainsong.

During much of his life he suffered from both gout and gastritis, but he seldom allowed these ailments to affect his work. Even when reduced to ill health just before his death, he still dictated letters and cared for the needs of the churches. He died, probably in his mid-sixties, in 604. He was soon declared a saint, and his feast on March 12 was given a high rank from early times and was universally celebrated, along with feasts of his translation (removal of his relics) on September 3 and the anniversary of his ordination on March 29. Some thirty-two ancient churches in England are dedicated to him, and he was highly esteemed in the East (where he is known as Gregory Dialogos on account of his Dialogues) and in ancient Ireland, where he was even given an Irish royal genealogy. This “Apostle to the English” is commemorated in the Calendar of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and in all subsequent Anglican sanctoral calendars.

prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

Almighty and merciful God, you raised up Gregory of Rome to be a servant of the servants of God, and inspired him to send missionaries to preach the Gospel to the English people: Preserve in your Church the catholic and apostolic faith they taught, that your people, being fruitful in every good work, may receive the crown of glory that never fades away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The icon of Saint Gregory was written by and is © Aidan Hart, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

The propers for the commemoration of Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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