Monthly Archives: February 2011

Photini, Witness to the Faith

In the Orthodox Churches of the East, the Samaritan Woman, traditionally known as Saint Photini, is commemorated on February 26.

According to Eastern tradition, after her life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus at Jacob’s Well narrated in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John, the Samaritan Woman was baptized on the day of Pentecost and received the name Photini (Latin, Photina), meaning “the enlightened one”.  She thereafter labored in the spread of the Gospel in various places, finally receiving the crown of martrydom in Rome with her two sons and five sisters during the Neronian persecutions.

In Greek sermons from the fourth through the fourteenth centuries, she is called “apostle” and “evangelist”, and in Orthodox tradition is called, like Mary Magdalene, isapostolos:  equal to the Apostles.

The Collect

Almighty God, as the Samaritan woman drank with great and ardent longing of the waters Christ the Savior gave to her:  Grant us so to drink of this living water, that we may in this life be faithful in proclaiming him who is the Messiah, and in the life to come gain everlasting life and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Ethelbert, King of Kent, 616

Early in the year 597, a small band of Benedictine monks, sent as missionaries to the English by Pope Gregory the Great under the leadership of Augustine, prior of the pope’s own monastery on the Coelian Hill in Rome, landed in southeastern England in the kingdom of Kent.  Welcomed at Thanet by the pagan Kentish king, Ethelbert, and his Christian Frankish wife, Bertha, the king granted them a dwelling in his capital city of Canterbury.  In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Venerable Bede writes that as the monks approached the city, bearing before them a silver cross and an icon, “the likeness of our Lord and Savior painted on a board”, they sang this prayer:

We pray Thee, O Lord, in all Thy mercy, that Thy wrath and anger may be turned away from this city and from Thy holy house, for we are sinners.  Alleluia.

Once in Canterbury, Bede tells us that the monks “began to emulate the life of the Apostles and the primitive Church.”  He writes,

They were constantly at prayer; they fasted and kept vigils; they preached the word of life to whomsoever they could…They practiced what they preached, and were willing to endure any hardship, and even to die for the truth which they proclaimed.

Their mission to the Kentish people met with great success.  Conversions followed rapidly – so rapidly, in fact, that extant sources tell us that Augustine and his monks were hard-pressed to keep pace.  In a letter to Eulogius, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Pope Gregory wrote that on Christmas Day of 597, over ten thousand converts were baptized in and around Canterbury.  (Even allowing for some exaggeration, this indicates that large numbers of the Kentish people became Christians through the Augustinian mission.)  Around 601, Ethelbert, who had remained friendly to Augustine and his monks and sympathetic to the Gospel from the beginning of the mission, was converted to faith in Christ and was baptized, becoming the first Christian king in England.

Ethelbert (in Old English, Æthelberht) was king of Kent and the third bretwalda of England, exercising overlordship over all the country south of the River Humber.  Under his rule, Kent was the most cultured of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.  The kingdom had close ties with the Frankish Rhineland, and Ethelbert had married the Frankish princess Bertha, daughter of Charibert, king of Paris, before 588.  Bertha, a Christian (as the Franks had been for nearly a century), had married Ethelbert on condition that she be allowed freely to practice her faith and to bring with her the bishop Liudhard as her chaplain.

When, at Ethelbert’s invitation, Augustine and his monks took up residence in Canterbury they assembled to worship, to celebrate the Eucharist, to preach, to pray and to baptize in an old church in the city, built perhaps two centuries before and dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours.  This old church, which was probably already in use by Liudhard, Queen Bertha’s chaplain (it was perhaps he who had dedicated the church to Saint Martin), stood as a reminder of an earlier Christian presence in Britain, a presence that predated the invasions of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in the fifth and sixth centuries and went back to the days of Roman Britain.  With the king’s strong support, Augustine established episcopal sees at Rochester and at London, then the capital of the kingdom of the East Saxons (Essex) and under Ethelbert’s overlordship as bretwalda.

Ethelbert was the first Anglo-Saxon king to leave a code of laws, which included a law protecting the clergy and churches by exacting very high compensation for damage done to them.  He died on February 24, 616 and was buried beside Bertha in the side chapel of Saint Martin in the church of the monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which he earlier had built outside the walls of Canterbury.

The Collect

God our ruler and guide, we honor you for Queen Bertha and King Ethelbert of Kent who, gently persuaded by the truth of your Gospel, encouraged others by their godly example to follow freely the path of discipleship; and we pray that we, like them, may show the goodness of your Word not only by our words but in our lives; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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

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Saint Matthias the Apostle

Saint Matthias the Apostle

In the nine days of waiting between the Lord’s Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, the disciples remained together in prayer. During this time, Peter reminded them that the defection and death of Judas had left the fellowship of the Twelve with a vacancy. The Acts of the Apostles records Peter’s proposal that “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). Two men were nominated: Joseph, called Barsabbas who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. After prayer, the disciples cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, who was then added to the eleven Apostles.

Nothing further is told of Matthias after his selection.  The accounts of his ministry and death are vague and contradictory.  Nicephorus, a medieval Byzantine historian, writes that Matthias first preached the Gospel in Judea, then in Colchis on the Black Sea ( in what is now Georgia), and that he was crucified there.  A marker placed in the ruins of a Roman fort at Apsaros in the Georgian region of Adjara claims that Matthias is buried at the site.  The Synopsis of Dorotheus and an extant Coptic Acts place his evangelistic work in Ethiopia (which Nicephorus treats as a synonym for Colchis).  Another tradition holds that he was stoned to death at Jerusalem and afterwards beheaded (hence his being depicted in Western iconography with an executioner’s axe).  Helen, mother of Constantine, is said to have brought the relics of Saint Matthias to Rome, though the apostle may have been confused with another Matthias, an early second century bishop of Jerusalem.

The traditions are unanimous in depicting Matthias as an exemplary apostle.  He seems an appropriate example to Christians of one whose faithful companionship with Jesus qualifies him to be a suitable witness to the resurrection, and whose service is unheralded and unsung.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with additions

The Collect

Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through 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
Acts 1:15-26

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;

and

“‘Let another take his office.’

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Psalm 15
Domine quis habitabit

LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the LORD.

He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.

He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

The Epistle
Philippians 3:13-21

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

The Gospel
John 15:1,6-16

[Jesus said] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

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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).

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Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Martyr, 156

Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Martyr

Polycarp was one of the leaders of the Church who carried on the tradition of the apostles through the troubled period of Gnostic heresies in the second century. According to Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, who had known him in his early youth, Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle, and had been appointed a bishop by “apostles in Asia”. Polycarp is traditionally believed to be the “angel of the church in Smyrna” addressed in Revelation 2:8-11.

We possess a letter from Polycarp to the Church in Philippi, whose text reveals his firm adherence to the faith and his pastoral concern for fellow Christians in trouble.

The epistle concludes:

May God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest himself, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, further your growth in faith and truth and in meekness that is perfect and without a vestige of resentment, as well as in patient endurance and long-suffering and perseverance and purity. May he also grant perfect fellowship with his saints to you, and along with you, to us, and indeed to all who are under heaven and destined to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and his Father, who has raised him from the dead. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings and magistrates and rulers, and for such as persecute and hate you, as well as for the enemies of the Cross. Thus all will come to see how well you are doing, and you will be perfect in him.

Polycarp traveled to Rome around the year 155, shortly after Anicetus became bishop of Rome, to discuss questions regarding the time for observing the Pasch (Easter).  Polycarp, with many Christians in Asia, observed the Pasch according to the Quartodeciman reckoning; i.e.,on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan (whether that fell on a Sunday or not), while Anicetus, in common with most Christians in the West, observed the Pasch on the Sunday following the fourteenth day of Nisan.  According to Irenaeus,

Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the [Quartodeciman] observance inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of the Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to keep it: Anicetus said that he must hold to the way of the elders before him.

Neither Polycarp nor Anicetus could persuade the other of the correctness of his reckoning, but they did not consider it sufficient cause to justify a schism.  Indeed, Irenaeus tells us that Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect, and the two parted in peace with the matter unsettled.

In his Book on Ecclesiastical Writers, Jerome writes that while in Rome, Polycarp found heretics there who had been led astray by the doctrines of Marcion and the gnostic Valentinus, and that he brought many of them back to the faith.  Marcion met Polycarp one day by accident, and asked him, “Do you recognize me?” to which Polycarp replied, “I recognize the devil’s eldest son!”

An authentic account of the martyrdom of Polycarp on February 23 is also preserved, written from the account of an eyewitness named Marcion (not to be confused with the second-century heretic of the same name). The martyrdom probably occurred in the year 156. The account tells of Polycarp’s courageous witness in the amphitheater at Smyrna. When the proconsul asked him to curse Christ, Polycarp said, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The account reports that the magistrate was reluctant to kill the gentle old man, but his hand was forced by the mob, who clamored that he be thrown to wild beasts, as was the fate of other Christians on that dreadful day.

The magistrate refused to throw Polycarp to the wild beasts, claiming he had no authority to do so, but he had Polycarp burned at the stake. Before his ordeal, the saintly bishop looked up to heaven, and prayed:

Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in your presence, I bless you that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts with additions,
and with texts from Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, no. 6

The Collect

O God, the maker of heaven and earth, you gave your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Martin Luther, Presbyter and Reformer, 1546

Martin Luther, Priest and Reformer

Born in 1483 at Eisleben, Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt in 1501 and completed his Master of Arts in 1505. His father wished him to become a lawyer, but Martin was drawn to the study of the Scriptures and joined the Augustinian canons, spending three years at their monastery in Erfurt. In 1507 he was ordained a priest and went to the University of Wittenberg, where he lectured on philosophy and the Scriptures, becoming a powerful and influential preacher.  He was awarded a doctorate in theology in 1512 and joined the theological faculty of the University.

Luther had entered on the search for evangelical perfection with serious zeal and sought exactly to fulfill the rule of the Augustinian order, but he soon found himself struggling against uncertainties and doubts. His inward, spiritual difficulties were enhanced by theological problems, particularly the ambiguities in the nature and scope of the sale of indulgences and his discovery of the message of grace.

As professor of biblical exegesis at Wittenberg, his courses of lectures on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews during the years 1513 to 1518 show the growing richness and maturity of his thought. In 1514 he became preacher in the parish church, whose pulpit became the center of a long and fruitful preaching ministry in which Luther expounded profoundly and beautifully the Scriptures for the common people and related them to the practical context of their lives.

Having observed much that he found wrong with his Church and the world Luther “for the purpose of eliciting truth” drew up the Ninety-Five Theses and fastened them on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints’ Day. The theses did not deny papal prerogative, though by implication they criticized papal policy; still less did they attack such established teaching as the doctrine of purgatory. But they did stress the spiritual, inward character of Christian faith. Luther sent copies of the Theses to the Archbishop of Mainz (primate of Germany) and to his own bishop, but the printing press intervened. Copies of the theses circulated far and wide, so that what might have been a mere local issue became a public controversy discussed in ever widening circles.

The Reformation that was triggered soon spread over northern Europe and later over much of the world through Protestant missionaries. Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of “justification by faith” alone (sola gratia) led to a reformation of medieval doctrine and , along with other factors, to the rise of the protestant churches. (We should note that several unreservedly Roman Catholic clerics of the time, including Cardinal Contarini and Reginald Cardinal Pole, recognized that justification was by God’s grace alone, and that the teaching of sola gratia was agreed upon by a number of Lutheran Churches and the Roman Catholic Church in Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, published in 1999.) Luther was a prolific writer, and his commentaries, polemics, and practical devotional works became the hallmark of Reformation writings. His translation of the Bible into the vernacular High German made the Scriptures more widely available in his own homeland, influenced German literature, and influenced the translation of the Scriptures into many other vernacular European languages.

Luther remained professor of biblical exegesis at Wittenberg until late illness prevented his teaching, and he directed much of the reformation of the churches of Germany by personal contact and by his writing. He died February 18, 1546, in Eisleben, the town of his birth, and was buried in Castle Church in Wittenberg.

prepared from various sources

The Collect

O God, our refuge and our strength: you raised up your servant Martin Luther to reform and renew your Church in the light of your Word. Defend and purify the Church in our own day and grant that, through faith, we may boldly proclaim the riches of your grace which you have made known in Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda and Martyr, 1977

Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda and Martyr

On 6 January 1948 a young school teacher, Janani Luwum, was converted to the charismatic Christianity of the East African Revival, in his own village in Acholiland, Uganda. At once he turned evangelist, warning against the dangers of drink and tobacco, and, in the eyes of local authorities, disturbing the peace.

But Luwum was undeterred by official censure. He was determined to confront all who needed, in his eyes, to change their ways before God.

In January 1949 Luwum went to a theological college at Buwalasi, in eastern Uganda. A year later he came back a catechist. In 1953 he returned to train for ordination. He was ordained deacon on St Thomas’s Day, 21 December 1955, and priest a year later. His progress was impressive: after two periods of study in England, he became principal of Buwalasi. Then, in September 1966, he was appointed Provincial Secretary of the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. It was a difficult position to occupy, and these were anxious days. But Luwum won a reputation for creative and active leadership, promoting a new vision with energy and commitment. Only three years later he was consecrated bishop of Northern Uganda, on 25 January 1969. The congregation at the open-air services included the prime minister of Uganda, Milton Obote, and the Chief of Staff of the army, Idi Amin.

Amin sought power for himself. Two years later he deposed Obote in a coup. In government he ruled by intimidation, violence and corruption. Atrocities, against the Acholi and Langi people in particular, were perpetrated time and again. The Asian population was expelled in 1972. It was in the midst of such a society, in 1974, that Luwum was elected Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire. He pressed ahead with the reform of his church in time to mark the centenary of the creation of the Anglican province. But he also warned that the Church should not conform to ‘the powers of darkness’. Amin cultivated a relationship with the archbishop, arguably to acquire credibility. For his part, Luwum sought to mitigate the effects of his rule, and to plead for its victims.

The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches increasingly worked together to frame a response to the political questions of the day. On 12 February 1976 Luwum delivered a protest to Amin against all acts of violence that were allegedly the work of the security Services. Church leaders were summoned to Kampala and then ordered to leave, one by one. Luwum turned to Bishop Festo Kivengere and said, ‘They are going to kill me. I am not afraid’. Finally alone, he was taken away, tried by a kangaroo court, and executed on February 17, 1977. His body was buried later near St Paul’s Church, Mucwini.

adapted from the Westminster Abbey website

The Collect

O God, whose Son the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep: We give you thanks for your faithful shepherd, Janani Luwum, who after his Savior’s example gave up his life for the people of Uganda. Grant us to be so inspired by his witness that we make no peace with oppression, but live as those who are sealed with the cross of Christ; who died and rose again, and now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Thomas Bray, Presbyter and Missionary, 1730

Thomas Bray, an English country parson, was invited in 1696 by Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, to have oversight of the Church’s work in Maryland as the Bishop’s Commisary.  Long delayed by legal complications, Bray set sail for America in 1699 for his first, and what would be his only, visitation.  Though he spent only two and a half months in the Maryland, Bray was deeply concerned about the neglected state of the Church in America and the great need for the education of clergymen, lay people, and children.  At a general visitation of the clergy in Annapolis prior to his return to England, he emphasized the need for the instruction of children and insisted that no clergyman be given a charge unless he had a good report from the ship he came over in, “whether…he gave no matter of scandal, and whether he did constantly read prayers twice a day and catechize and preach on Sundays, which, notwithstanding the common excuses, I know can be done by a minister of any zeal for religion.”  Implementing a plan for the provision of free libraries that he had worked out while awaiting his departure for America, Bray founded thirty-nine free libraries in the colony as well as a number of schools.  Back home, he raised money for missionary work and influenced young English priests to go to America.  Bray’s endeavors for the consecration of a bishop for America were unsuccessful.

Among Bray’s educational endeavors was the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK), founded in 1698 by him and four laymen “to promote and encourage the erection of charity schools in all parts of England and Wales; to disperse, both at home and abroad, Bibles and tracts of religion; and in general to advance the honour of God and the good of mankind, by promoting Christian knowledge both at home and in the other parts of the world by the best methods that should offer.”  The work of the SPCK developed to such dimensions that, on his return to England, Bray founded the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in 1701 as a separate society for foreign missions.

In 1706 Bray was appointed Vicar of St Botolph Without, Aldgate, where he ministered until his death in 1730 at the age of 74.  He served the parish with energy and devotion, while continuing his efforts on behalf of African slaves in America and in the founding of parochial libraries.  Before his death he had been instrumental in the establishment of some eighty parochial libraries.

When the deplorable condition of English prisons was brought to his attention, Bray set to work to influence public opinion and to raise funds to alleviate the misery of the inmates.  He organized Sunday “Beef and Beer” dinners in prisons and advanced proposals for prison reform.  It was he who first suggested to James Oglethorpe the idea of founding a humanitarian colony for the relief of honest debtors, though Bray died before the Georgia colony became a reality.

Bray’s most widely circulated work was A Course of Lectures upon the Church Catechism, published in 1696.  He is commemorated in several Churches in the Anglican Communion on this date.

adapted from material in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

The Collect

O God of compassion, you opened the eyes of your servant Thomas Bray to see the needs of the Church in the New World, and led him to found societies to meet those needs: Make the Church in this land diligent at all times to propagate the Gospel among those who have not received it, and to promote the spread of Christian knowledge; 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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Cyril and Methodius, Monk and Bishop, Missionaries to the Slavs, 869, 885

Saint Methodius and Saint Cyril, Apostles to the Slavs

Cyril and Methodius, brothers born in Thessalonika, are honored as apostles to the southern Slavs and as the founders of Slavic literary culture. Cyril, who was originally named Constantine, was a student of philosophy and a deacon who eventually became a missionary monastic. Methodius was first the governor of a Slavic colony, then turned to the monastic life, and was later elected abbot of a monastery in Constantinople.

In 862, the king of the Moravians asked for missionaries who would teach his people in their native language. Since both Cyril and Methodius knew Slavonic, and both were learned men – Cyril was known as “the Philosopher” – the Patriarch of Constantinople chose them to lead the mission.

As part of his task among the Moravians, Cyril invented an alphabet to transcribe the native tongue, probably the glagolitic, in which Slavo-Roman liturgical books in Russian and Serbian are still written. The Cyrillic alphabet is thought to have been originated by Cyril’s followers.

Pressures by the German clergy, who opposed the brothers’ teaching, preaching, and writing in Slavonic, and the lack of a bishop to ordain new presbyters for their people, caused the two brothers to seek foreign help. They found a warm welcome at Rome from Pope Adrian the Second, who determined to ordain both men bishops and approved the Slavonic liturgy. Cyril died in Rome and was buried there. Methodius, now a bishop, returned to Moravia as Metropolitan of Sirmium.

Methodius, still harassed by German bishops, was imprisoned at their behest. Eventually, Pope John the Eighth released him, on the condition that Slavonic, “a barbarous language,” be used only for preaching. Later, the enmity of the Moravian prince caused Methodius to be recalled to Rome on charges of heresy. Papal support again allowed him to return to Moravia and to use Slavonic in the liturgy.

Methodius completed a Slavonic translation of the Bible and of Byzantine ecclesiastical law, while continuing his missionary activities. At his funeral, celebrated in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic, “the people came together in huge numbers…for Methodius had been all things to all people that he might lead them all to heaven.”

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, by the power of the Holy Spirit you moved your servant Cyril and his brother Methodius to bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people: Overcome all bitterness and strife among us by the love of Christ, and make us one united family under the banner of the Prince of Peace; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Caedmon, Poet, c. 680

Saint Caedmon, Poet

In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731, the Venerable Bede tells of an elderly lay brother, a herdsman named Caedmon, in the abbey of Streonæshalch at Whitby, presided over by the abbess Hilda (died 680, commemorated November 18). Though there must have been many before him, Caedmon is the first poet in English whose name is known to us, as he is also the first known Christian poet in the English language. One source suggests that Caedmon may have been of British origin, as his name is likely an Anglicization of the Cymric, Cadfan.

The Venerable Bede writes that at social entertainments, when Caedmon saw the harp coming towards him, meaning that it was soon to be his turn to play and to sing, he would leave the table and return home.

“Having done so at a certain time, and gone out of the house where the entertainment was, to the stable, where he had to take care of the horses that night, he there composed himself to rest at the proper time; a person appeared to him in his sleep, and saluting him by his name, said, “Caedmon, sing some song to me.” He answered, “I cannot sing; for that was the reason why I left the entertainment, and retired to this place because I could not sing.” The other who talked to him, replied, “However, you shall sing.” ­ “What shall I sing?” rejoined he. “Sing the beginning of created beings,” said the other. Hereupon he presently began to sing verses to the praise of God, which he had never heard, the purport whereof was thus : We are now to praise the Maker of the heavenly kingdom, the power of the Creator and his counsel, the deeds of the Father of glory. How He, being the eternal God, became the author of all miracles, who first, as almighty preserver of the human race, created heaven for the sons of men as the roof of the house, and next the earth. This is the sense, but not the words in order as he sang them in his sleep; for verses, though never so well composed, cannot be literally translated out of one language into another, without losing much of their beauty and loftiness. Awaking from his sleep, he remembered all that he had sung in his dream, and soon added much more to the same effect in verse worthy of the Deity” (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book IV).

Next morning Caedmon told the steward of the gift that he had received, and the steward conducted him to the abbess who, “in the presence of many learned men”, ordered Caedmon to tell his dream and to repeat the verses. All present concluded that “heavenly grace had been conferred on him by our Lord.” Thereafter, Caedmon put to verse any passage of Scripture expounded to him by the learned abbess and brethren, and Hilda made Caedmon a lay brother among the monks of the abbey, ordering that he should be taught the whole of sacred history.

“Thus Caedmon ‘ keeping in mind all he heard, and as it were chewing the cud, converted the same into most harmonious verse; and sweetly repeating the same, made his masters in their turn his hearers. He sang the creation of the world, the origin of man, and all the history of Genesis : and made many verses on the departure of the children of Israel out of Egypt, and their entering into the land of promise, with many other histories from holy writ; the incarnation, passion, resurrection of our Lord, and his ascension into heaven; the coming of the Holy Ghost, and the preaching of the apostles ; also the terror of future judgment, the horror of the pains of hell, and the delights of heaven; besides many more about the Divine benefits and judgments, by which he endeavoured to turn away all men from the love of vice, and to excite in them the love of, and application to, good actions; for he was a very religious man, humbly submissive to regular discipline, but full of zeal against those who behaved themselves otherwise; for which reason he ended his life happily”, ibid.

At the end of what Bede describes as a moderate (not life-threatening) illness, Caedmon perceived that death was near and asked to receive the eucharist. Having received communion in his hand, he asked whether all the brethren were in charity with him and free from anger. Replying that they were and asking whether he were in the same state towards them, Caedmon replied, “I am in charity, my children, with all the servants of God.” Taking communion, he marked himself with the sign of the cross, laid his head upon his pillow, and died.

“Thus it came to pass, that as he had served God with a simple and pure mind, and undisturbed devotion, so he now departed to his presence, leaving the world by a quiet death; and that tongue, which had composed so many holy words in praise of the Creator, uttered its last words whilst he was in the act of signing himself with the cross, and recommending himself into his hands, and by what has been here said, he seems to have had foreknowledge of his death”, ibid.

Caedmon was commemorated on February 11 at Whitby.

None of Caedmon’s poems has survived, save the nine lines recorded by the Venerable Bede in Latin and in several Old English versions among the Latin manuscripts of the Ecclesiastical History extant. The text below is from one of those manuscripts, with Michael Alexander’s translation following (from The Earliest English Poems, Third Edition, Penguin Books, 1991).

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder; swa he wundra gehwæs
ece Drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig Scyppend:
þa middangeard moncynnes Weard,
ece Drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, Frea ælmihtig.

Praise now to the keeper of the kingdom of heaven,
the power of the Creator, the profound mind
of the glorious Father, who fashioned the beginning
of every wonder, the eternal Lord.
For the children of men he made first
heaven as a roof, the holy Creator.
Then the Lord of mankind, the everlasting Shepherd,
ordained in the midst as a dwelling place,
Almighty Lord, the earth for men.

The Collect

Almighty God, you gave to your servant Caedmon singular gifts of rendering the holy Scriptures in verse, that the people of your Church at Whitby might be instructed in the faith and give praise to your holy Name: Stir up the hearts of your people, that they may joyfully sing your praises in this life and the life to come; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Creation: Saint Caedmon's Hymn

An audio file of Caedmon’s Hymn (in Old English) may be found at the website for the Norton Anthology of English Literature (scroll down to find the file).

The icon Creation:  Saint Caedmon’s Hymn is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

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Scholastica, Abbess of Plombariola, c. 543

All that we know of Scholastica comes from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great.  Sister of Benedict, the Abbot of Monte Cassino and father of Western monasticism, she too was born at Nursia in central Italy, around the year 480.  At an early age she consecrated her life to God, but probably remained at home.  After Benedict moved to Monte Cassino, she settled about five miles distant at Plombariola, either joining or founding a convent there.  As abbess of Plombariola, she followed Benedict’s monastic Rule.

Scholastica and Benedict met once a year in a house near his monastery, where they would praise God together and discuss spiritual matters.  At their last meeting, she asked him to stay longer to “keep on talking about the joys of heaven until morning”, but he refused, protesting that he could not stay away from his monastery.  At his refusal, she folded her hands on the table and rested her head on them in prayer.  The effect of her prayer was a violent thunderstorm that prevented Benedict’s leaving, and they spent the night together as she had wished, from which “both of them derived great profit from the holy converse they had about the interior life.”

Three days later Scholastica died, and as Benedict stood in his room looking up toward the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leaving her body in the form of a dove and entering into heaven.  After giving joyful thanks to God his sister’s eternal glory, he sent several of the brethren of his monastery to bring her body back to Monte Cassino, where she was buried in the tomb that Benedict had prepared for himself.  Upon his death, he was laid in the tomb next to her.

Scholastica is commemorated on this day in the general Roman Calendar and in the Calendar of the Church of England.

The Collect

Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable  through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The icon of Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica is © Conception Abbey.

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