Vladimir of Kiev and Olga, First Christian Rulers in the Rus

Olga (Helga, Ukrainian Olha), the grandmother of Vladimir the Great, was born at Pskov about 890. She married Prince Igor of Kiev, and after his death she acted as regent for their son, Sviatoslav. She instituted reforms of administration and finance in the Kievan Rus and was an early convert to the Christian faith among the Varangian, or Scandinavian, rulers of the Rus, a Viking-dominated territory deep in the lands of the Slavs. In 957 she visited Constantinople, where according to some accounts she was baptized, though other accounts hold that she had been a Christian for some years before her visit to the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Her baptism did not signal the conversion of her people, nor even of her own family, for the pagans rallied around her son, who resisted her efforts to instruct him in the Christian faith. Olga died in 969, and she is honored on July 11 in the Ukrainian and Russian Churches as Isapostolos, Equal to the Apostles.

Vladimir (Ukrainian Volodymyr) was born in 956, the youngest son of Sviatoslav of Kiev and a great-grandson of Rurik, the traditional founder of the Rurikid dynasty, who ruled the Kievan Rus and its successors principalities, and of the Russian state. Vladimir was made prince of Novgorod in 970. Two years later, on the death of Sviatoslav, a fierce struggle broke out among his three sons: Yaropolk, prince of Kiev, Oleg, and Vladimir. Oleg (or Oled) was killed, and Vladimir was forced to flee to his kinsman Haakon Sigurdsson of Norway. He returned in 980 with Norse support, captured the cities of Polotsk and Smolensk, and killed Yaropolk by treachery upon taking Kiev, thereby making himself master of all the Kievan Rus. A successful military leader, he expanded Russian control from southeast Poland to the Volga valley.

Although the Christian faith had won a number of converts among the people of the Kievan Rus since Olga’s time, Vladimir remained a thoroughgoing and even zealous pagan, taking numerous wives and concubines and erecting shrines to pagan gods. He may have attempted to reform Slavic paganism by promoting the thunder god, Perun, as a supreme deity. In 983, after one of his successful military campaigns, Vladimir and his army thought it necessary to offer a human sacrifice to the gods. Lots were cast indicating that a youth named Ioann was to be the sacrifice. His father Fyodor, a Christian, strenuously resisted the army’s plan, denouncing the pagan gods. “Your gods are just plain wood,” he said. “It is here now but it may rot into oblivion tomorrow. Your gods neither eat, nor drink, nor talk and are made by human hand from wood, whereas there is only one God — he is worshiped by Greeks and he created heaven and earth. And your gods? They have created nothing, for they have been created themselves. Never will I give my son to the devils!” An angry mob then killed Fyodor and Ioann, and they are venerated by the Orthodox Church as the protomartyrs of Russia.

This incident may have had some lasting effect on Vladimir, because by the late tenth century, having consolidated all the eastern Slavs under his rule in Kiev, for political as well as for intellectual and spiritual reasons he wanted to know which was the true religion. The Russian Primary Chronicle describes Vladimir’s sending out emissaries to various parts of the world in turn. His emissaries were not impressed with the Muslim Bulgars, who had no joy and forbade the use of alcohol. Neither were they impressed with Judaism, for the Jewish Khazars lives in exile from their land and Vladimir had expended much effort in creating an empire and did not want to risk losing it. The Catholicism of the Germans was unattractive, their worship lacking beauty. But when the delegation finally visited Constantinople and attended Divine Liturgy in the great Church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, they exclaimed, “We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth! God dwells there among men. We cannot forget that beauty.” In 988 Vladimir sent six thousand troops to the Byzantine emperor Basil the Second, who needed military assistance, asking the hand of Basil’s sister Anna in return. The emperor agreed, provided that Vladimir became a Christian. Vladimir was baptized by bishops from the Empire that same year. But the emperor was then reluctant to fulfill his part of the agreement, so that Vladimir attacked the Crimea, with the result that the emperor relented, and the Princess Anna became Vladimir’s wife. She was accompanied to Kiev by priests from the imperial capital. When the royal couple returned to Kiev, the people followed their prince’s example and urging and were baptized.

Despite the questionable and outright political circumstances of his conversion, Vladimir was wholehearted in his adherence to the new faith. He put away his former wives and concubines, amended his life, and publicly destroyed idols (he had the chief idol of Perun in Kiev scourged and thrown into the river). He became an ardent supporter of the Christian faith, had many churches and monasteries built, expanded judicial and educational institutions, aided the poor, and supported Greek missionaries among his people. The evangelization of the Kievan Rus proceeded rapidly, in part because Vladimir relied largely on physical compulsion, punishing those who resisted baptism. The emerging Ukrainian (and Russian) Church remained under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, but it remained friendly toward the West.

Vladimir’s last years were troubled by an insurrection led by his sons and by his former pagan wives, and he died in an expedition against one of them at Berestova, near Kiev, on July 15, 1015. He is commemorated on this day by the Eastern Churches as Isapostolos, like his grandmother Olga.

prepared from The New Book of Festivals and Commemorations and other sources

The Collect

God the All-Merciful, you brought your servant Princess Olga to the church and by the splendor of the Divine Liturgy you revealed to her grandson Vladimir the glories of your heavenly kingdom: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate them this day may be fruitful in good works and attain to the glorious crown of your saints; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Benedict of Nursia, Abbot of Monte Cassino, c. 540

Benedict, abbot and founder of the monastic communities of Subiaco and Monte Cassino, and the author of the monastic Rule that bears his name, is the patriarch of western monasticism. The primary source for our knowledge of his life is Book II of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great. Benedict was born about 480 at Nursia in central Italy and studied at Rome, where the style of life disgusted him. Rome at this time was overrun by various barbarian tribes, and the period was one of considerable political instability (the western Roman Empire had come to an end in the latter half of the fifth century). The old Roman society of the West was breaking down, and the Germanic kingdoms of the early Middle Ages were emerging within the boundaries of the fallen empire. Benedict’s disgust with the manners and morals of Rome led him to leave the city before he completed his studies, and he withdrew to cave above Lake Subiaco, about forty miles west of Rome, where there was already at least one other hermit. After a time disciples joined Benedict, whom he organized into into a dispersed community whose life was probably semi-eremetical in character. He encountered local jealousy which is said to have caused an attempt to be made on his life, and he withdrew around 525 to Monte Cassino, near Naples, where he wrote the final version of his Rule. He does not appear ever to have been ordained or to have contemplated the founding of an “Order” of monks. He died sometime between 540 and 550 and was buried in the same grave as his sister, Scholastica.

Benedict incorporated much traditional monastic teaching from John Cassian, Basil the Great, and the Rule of the Master, but the enactments of these were often considerably modified by Benedict. His outlook was characterized by prudence and moderation realized within a framework of authority, obedience, stability, and community life. His great achievement was to produce a monastic way of life that was complete, orderly, and workable, in which work and prayer were integrated. The monks’ primary occupation was liturgical prayer, complemented by sacred reading and manual work of various kinds. Benedict’s own personality is reflected in his description of what kind of man the abbot should be: wise, discreet, flexible, learned in the law of God, but also a spiritual father to his community.

Both by its intrinsic qualities and by the favor granted it by emperors and other rulers and founders, the Rule came to be recognized as the fundamental monastic code of western Europe in the early Middle Ages. Its flexibility enabled it to be adapted to the needs of society, so that monasteries became centers of learning, agriculture, hospitality, and medicine in a way almost certainly unforeseen even by Benedict himself.

prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord’s service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The propers for the commemoration of Benedict of Nursia, Abbot of Monte Cassino, are published on the Lectionary page website.

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Henry Venn, John Venn, and Henry Venn the Younger, Presbyters, 1797, 1813, and 1873

Henry Venn was born in Surrey in 1725. After his education at Cambridge, he was ordained and served several parishes in the area. In 1750, he became a curate in Surrey, where he developed the evangelical principles for which he became known. He moved to London in 1753, becoming curate of Clapham the following year, and his son John was born there in March 1759. Later that year, Henry moved his family to Huddersfield, where he served as vicar until 1771, working himself assiduously to the point of exhaustion. At Huddersfield his piety and zeal made a great impression, and his The Complete Duty of Man (1763), written against William Law’s The Whole Duty of Man, became popular among Evangelicals. After ill health forced his retirement from Huddersfield, he ministered to the end of his life in the living of Yelling, Cambridgeshire, where he influenced the great Evangelical priest and preacher Charles Simeon.

John Venn was educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and became rector of Little Dunham in Norfolk, and eventually of Clapham in 1792. He was one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society in 1797. It was at Clapham that he became a central figure in the group of Christian philanthropists known as the Clapham Sect. John was also an active participant in the movement for the abolition of the slave trade.

John’s son, Henry Venn the Younger, was born at Clapham in 1796. After his education at Cambridge, he was ordained and held various livings, eventually devoting himself in 1846 entirely to the work of the Church Missionary Society. He was secretary for thirty-two years, and his organizing gifts and sound judgment made him the leading member of the Society. His aim was that overseas Churches should become “self-supporting, self-governing, and self-extending”. He was instrumental in securing the appointment of the first African Anglican bishop, Samuel A. Crowther, in 1864 (see the entry for December 31).

The elder Henry Venn died on June 24, 1797, at his son’s rectory in Clapham. John died at Clapham on July 1, 1813; and his son Henry died at Mortlake, Surrey, on January 13, 1873.

compiled from Celebrating the Saints
and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

The Collect

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servants Henry Venn, John Venn, and Henry Venn the Younger to be a light in the world: 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, now and for ever. Amen.

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My apologies that I was late in posting this.

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Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles

The two great apostles whose ministry embrace the whole Jewish and Gentile worlds have been associated in Christian devotion since earliest times. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is one of the oldest of the saints’ days, having been observed at least since 258, and it was of such importance in the Middle Ages that it marked a turning point in the time after Pentecost, as also did the days of Saint Lawrence (August 10) and Saint Michael (September 29).

Simon, a son of Jonah, later called Cephas or Peter (Aramaic and Greek for “rock”), was probably born in Bethsaida of Galilee. He was a fisherman, working in partnership with the sons of Zebedee. He was married, and his mother-in-law, whom Jesus cured of a fever, lived with them; later he took his wife on his missionary travels. It is likely that he and his brother Andrew, as well as the apostle John, were among the followers of John the Baptist before they joined Jesus. Peter has a special place among the apostles. He was not only one of the inner circle with James and John, but he was often the speaker for the Twelve as a whole, and his name invariably was put at the head of the lists of the apostles. After the resurrection, Peter was the first of the Twelve to see the risen Lord, and he clearly acted as the leader, taking the initiative in the selection of Matthias, explaining the events of Pentecost to the assembled crowd, performing miracles, and making decisions.

Peter turned increasingly to missionary work, chiefly among the Jews [though it was he who baptized the first Gentile believers, Cornelius and his household], and the leadership of the church in Jerusalem passed to James the brother of Jesus. Peter was active in Samaria and in the towns of Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea in Palestine. Of his later missionary travels, little is known in detail, but tradition has connected his name with Antioch, Corinth, and Rome, and his stay, at least in the first of these, is confirmed by the New Testament. Although the Scriptures are silent about the latter part of his life, the weight of tradition (Clement, Ignatius, Dionysus, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, and others) makes it probable that Peter left Antioch about the year 55 and later went to Rome and suffered martyrdom there ca. 64.

Saul, later to be known by the Greek form of his name, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was born in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. He probably attended a local synagogue school, and he studied with the rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. He learned the trade of the tentmaker, and apparently at times supported himself by it. He was a Roman citizen and was “Hellenized” and cosmopolitan in outlook, but he was also a Pharisee and an ardent defender of the Jewish law and way of life. He persecuted the new and disruptive sect of Christians, and he was present at the stoning of Saint Stephen the deacon (see December 26).

After his conversion, perhaps about the year 34 or 35, he became a vigorous evangelist of the new faith. Because of the wealth of material in his preserved letters and in the Acts of the Apostles, probably more is known about the life of Paul that about the life of any other leader of the church in the apostolic period.

Paul began his missionary work in Syria and continued it in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Greece, and Macedonia. In some places he stayed only a short time; in others much longer. Ephesus was his home for two and a half years. On several occasions in his travels, he visited Jerusalem, and on his final visit there, perhaps about the year 55, he was arrested, tried before Felix the governor on the charge of provoking riots, and kept in prison for two years. He appealed his case to the emperor, and the account in Acts ends with Paul in the capital city of the empire, awaiting his hearing.

According to tradition, Paul made Rome his headquarters, traveled [west], possibly to Spain, and was killed in the imperial capital during the persecution under Nero. Paul’s traditional symbol is a sword, by which he was beheaded.

From the earliest days it has been believed that Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom on the same day, June 29, in the year 67, although some accounts give the year as 68 or the date as February 22. Traditions assert that Peter was crucified upside down on Vatican Hill (because he said that he was not worthy to die in the same way as his Lord) and that Paul, a Roman citizen, was beheaded near the Via Ostia, south of Rome. Saint Peter’s Basilica and Saint Paul’s Outside-the-Walls are said to contain the tombs of the two apostles; their skulls are said to be preserved in the church of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of the city of Rome. The pope’s claim to primacy is in large measure based on his being the bishop of the city in which Peter and Paul died.

taken from the New Book of Festivals and Commemorations
(Dr Philip H. Pfatteicher)

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lesson
Ezekiel 34:11-16

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

Psalm 87
Fundamenta ejus

On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded; *
the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are spoken of you, *
O city of our God.

I count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me; *
behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia:
in Zion were they born.

Of Zion it shall be said, “Everyone was born in her, *
and the Most High himself shall sustain her.”

The LORD will record as he enrolls the peoples, *
“These also were born there.”

The singers and the dancers will say, *
“All my fresh springs are in you.”

The Epistle
2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

The Gospel
John 21:15-19

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

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The icon of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

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Apologies…

for a long absence. I will be resuming the sanctoral calendar posts now, and the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist seems a fitting time to do so.

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The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

John the Baptist was born into a priestly Jewish family several months before the birth of Jesus. Events of his life and teaching are known from accounts in all four Gospels and in the writings of the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. John’s birth was predicted miraculously to Zechariah and Elizabeth, as is recorded in the Gospel according to Saint Luke. At his birth the aged Zechariah sang the hymn of praise, the Benedictus, the traditional Gospel canticle at Morning Prayer (at Lauds in the medieval Daily Office).

John lived in the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, and about the year 29 John began to preach a call to repentance and baptismal washing to enact that repentance. He gathered a group of disciples about him, from whom Jesus drew his first disciples: Andrew, and probably Simon Peter and John.

In the course of his preaching, John the Baptist denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers, and Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested an imprisoned, perhaps in the huge fortress of Machaerus, which Herod the Great had built in the wilderness east of the Dead Sea. It was there that herod Antipas had John beheaded. The narrative of his death has been told many times over in music, art, and drama as well as in the lessons and devotions of the Church.

Saint John the Baptist was highly regarded by the early Christians, and the Eastern Churches especially have accorded him an important place in their prayers and worship. The Eastern Orthodox Churches commemorate the Old Testament prophets, of whom John was the last and greatest. In the West, the preparatory proclamation of John is a focus of the Second and Third Sundays in Advent, and he is also honored on the First Sunday after the Epiphany as the baptizer of Jesus. The commemoration of his death is observed in many sanctoral calendars on August 29. At the time of the Reformation, the Lutheran churches and the Church of England retained the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist in their sanctoral calendars, and a few (as also the 1662 Prayer Book) retained the day of his martyrdom.

Saint Augustine in the fourth century noted John’s declaration about himself and Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and related it to this midsummer feast after which the days decrease in length.

adapted from the New Book of Festivals and Commemorations

The Collect

Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The First Lesson
Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

Psalm 85
Benedixisti, Domine

You have been gracious to your land, O LORD, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.

You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.

You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.

Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.

Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?

Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your mercy, O LORD, *
and grant us your salvation.

I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The LORD will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

The Second Lesson
Acts 13:14b-26

On the Sabbath day [Paul and his companions] went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:

“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’

“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.

The Gospel
Luke 1:57-80

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
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The Lessons 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 John the Baptist is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

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Monnica, Widow and Mother of Augustine of Hippo, 387

Born in north Africa at Tagaste of Berber parents, Monnica was married to Patricius, a Latinized provincial of Tagaste. By her patient persistence Monnica won over her husband, who was baptized the year before he died. By Patricius, Monnica was the mother of three children: Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetus. She is especially venerated as the mother of Augustine, later bishop of Hippo, and in her patient treatment of him through many years of anxiety ending in his conversion, she is seen as the model of Christian motherhood.

Most of our information about Monnica comes from Book IX of Augustine’s Confessions. We learn that that when he was young, Monnica enrolled him as a catechumen according to the custom of the day, but his dissolute life caused her so much distress that at one time she refused to allow him to live in her house. Advised by a presbyter of the Church that the time for his conversion had not yet come, she relented and gave up arguing with him, turning instead to prayer, fasts, and vigils, hoping that these would succeed where argument had failed. Eventually Augustine went to Rome, deceiving his mother about the time of his departure in order to travel without her. He went on from Rome to Milan, but Monnica followed him. She was esteemed by Ambrose, the bishop of that city, who also helped Augustine towards conversion to Christ and a deep moral transformation, which took place in 386. As a consequence, Augustine renounced his mother’s plans for his marriage, determining to remain celibate, and with his mother and a few close friends he withdrew for a period to prepare for baptism. Augustine was baptized in 387. Monnica and his friends set out on the jounrey to Africa with him, but she died along the way, at Ostia, where she was buried.

Augustine writes that his brother expressed sorrow, for her sake, that she should die so far from her own country. She said to her sons, “It does not matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord.” To the question, whether she was not afraid at the thought of leaving her body in an alien land, she replied, “Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world.”

Modern excavations at Ostia uncovered her original tomb, but her mortal remains were transferred in 1430 to the Church of Saint Augustine in Rome.

prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The image of Monnica is from Saint Monica’s Church in the Diocese of Trenton, from a study of the saint done by John Nava, the artist who created the stunning tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Saint Monnica is also depicted in one of the tapestry panels.

The propers for the commemoration of Monnica, Widow and Mother of Augustine of Hippo, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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