Monthly Archives: June 2011

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 rome 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.”


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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Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, c. 202

There is some doubt as the year of Irenaeus’ birth, with estimates varying from the years 97 to 160.  Most authorities settle on a year around 130.  Born in Asia Minor, Irenaeus learned the Christian faith from Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John.  Irenaeus later studied at Rome and then became a presbyter in the church at Lyons, at the invitation of its first bishop, Pothinus.  Lyons, then known as Lugdunum, was a flourishing trade center that soon became the most important of its kind in the West, and the principal see in Gaul.  During a sudden persecution which caused the imprisonment of many of the members of the church in Lyons, Irenaeus was sent to Rome to mediate a dispute regarding Montanism, a sect of enthusiasts whose teachings Eleutherus, the bishop of Rome, seemed to embrace.  On his return to Lyons around 178, Irenaeus was elected bishop, as Pothinus had been killed during the persecution.

True to his name (which means, “the peaceable one”), he acted as mediator again in a dispute in 190.  Victor, the bishop of Rome, had excommunicated the Quartodecimans (the “Fourteenthers”) of Asia Minor, who celebrated Easter on the same day as the Jewish Passover, the fourteenth day of Nisan, instead of on the Sunday following the fourteenth day of Nisan, with all other Christians.  Irenaeus urged patience and conciliation, and a result of his intervention, good relations were restored.  Some centuries later the Quartodecimans conformed to the practice of the catholic Church of their own accord.

Irenaeus’ enduring significance rests on his writings as a theologian, in particular a large treatise entitled, The Refutation and Overthrow of Gnosis, Falsely So-Called, usually shorted to Against the Heresies.  In it, Irenaeus describes the major Gnostic systems of thought, thoroughly, clearly, and often with biting sarcasm.  This treatise is one of our chief sources of knowledge about second century Gnosticism.  He also makes a case for teaching authority in Christianity that has deeply influenced subsequent thought, resting primarily on Scripture (of which the four Gospels are supreme) and emphasizing the interpretive authority in the continuity between the teaching of the apostles and the teaching of bishops and presbyters in the churches, generation after generation, in a visible and public succession (as opposed to the secret handing on of Gnostic doctrines from teacher to disciples).  Against the Gnostics, who despised the material and exalted the spiritual, Irenaeus stressed the doctrines of the goodness of creation and of the resurrection of the body.

In his other major treatise, the Demonstration of Apostle Preaching (which was rediscovered only in 1904), he also sets out the case against Gnosticism.  His principal points in this work are a clear reassertion of Christian monotheism, emphasizing the identity of the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New, and the unity of the Father and the Son in the work of revelation and redemption.

Irenaeus died at Lyons about the year 202 and was buried in the crypt of the church of Saint John (now Saint-Irenée).  According to a late and uncertain tradition, he suffered martyrdom for the faith.

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

The Collect

Almighty God, you upheld your servant Irenaeus with strength to maintain the truth against every blast of vain doctrine: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion, that in constancy and peace we may walk in the way that leads 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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Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, 444

Little is known of Cyril’s early life.  He was born at Alexandria and first became known as a young presbyter who was the nephew of the bishop of Alexandria, Theophilus, whom he succeeded in 412.  Cyril’s intransigent vigor was soon expressed in attacks on the Novatianists, the Neoplatonists, the Jews, and the imperial governor Orestes.  (The Novationists were Christians who were doctrinally identical with the catholics, but whose ancestors in the faith had stood firm against persecution.  The Novationists kept themselves separate ecclesiastically from Christian churches whose leaders had been less firm in their faith against Roman persecution.  Nearly a century earlier, the emperor Constantine had exasperatedly told a leader of the Novationists to set up a ladder and climb to heaven by himself.  The Neoplatonists were a school of mostly pagan philosophers.)  Historians disagree over the extent of Cyril’s involvement in the explusion of the Novationists and of the Jews from Alexandria.  Some of the Alexandrian Christians believed that the imperial prefect Orestes had been influenced against Cyril by the mathematician and philosopher Hypatia, who was lynched by some of Cyril’s followers.  The Orthodox historian John Anthony McGuckin wrote, “At this time Cyril is revealed as at the head of dangerously volatile forces: at their head, but not always in command of them.”

Cyril’s controversy with Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople, was the most important of his life.  The different exegetical traditions of Antioch (where Nestorius received his education) and Alexandria, sharpened by the rivalry of the sees of Constantinople and Alexandria for pre-eminence, embittered the quarrel.  Nestorius was believed to have taught that there were two distinct persons in Christ who were joined by a merely moral union.  Consequently, Nestorius taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary should be called Christotokos (Christ-bearer), since she was the mother only of the humanity of Christ, but not Theotokos (God-bearer).  Cyril taught that Christ’s two natures, divine and human, were intimately joined in a hypostatic union.  Cyril certainly and Nestorius probably appealed to Celestine, the bishop of Rome, who after examining the question in a council at Rome, condemned Nestorius’ teaching, excommunicated and deposed him unless he retracted, and appointed Cyril to carry out the sentence.  Nestorius refused, and the Council of Ephesus was summoned in 431.

Two hundred bishops took part in the council.  Cyril presided and proceeded to the condemnation of Nestorius, who had refused to appear, before the arrival of the bishops of the patriarchate of Antioch.  These bishops in turn condemned Cyril first but later (in 443) reached agreement with him.  The emperor upheld the condemnation of Nestorius and the title Theotokos became a touchstone of orthodoxy as the Council of Ephesus was recognized as the third Ecumenical Council.

Whatever may be thought of his intransigence and (sometimes) misunderstanding of his opponents, Cyril’s ability and distinction as a theologian are beyond dispute.  Traditionally he is regarded as the fearlessly outspoken defender of orthodox thought on the Person of Christ.  In addition to this, his writings contain fine passages on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the place of Mary in the Incarnation.  His writings, which are marked by precision in exposition, accuracy in thought, and skill in reasoning, include sermons and letters besides more formal theological treatises and biblical commentaries.  He died at Alexandria in the year 444.

taken from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, with amendments

The Collect

Heavenly Father, whose servant Cyril steadfastly proclaimed your Son Jesus Christ to be one person, fully God and fully man: Keep us, we pray, constant in this faith and worship; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, is commemorated in only one Anglican calendar:  that of the Church of England.  He is revered as a Teacher of the Church by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the West and in the East.


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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.

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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Etheldreda, Abbess of Ely, c. 678

Etheldreda (in Old English Æthelthryth, known in medieval times as Saint Audrey) was the daughter of Anna, king of East Anglia, and was born in Suffolk in the first half of the seventh century.  At an early age she was married to an ealdorman of the kingdom, but she remained a virgin.  On his death three years later (c. 655), she retired to the Isle of Ely, her dowry.  In 660, for political reasons, she was married again, this time to Egfrith, the king of Northumbria, who was then only fifteen years old and several years Etheldreda’s junior.  He agreed that she should remain a virgin, but twelve years later he wished to consummate their marriage.  Etheldreda, advised and aided by Wilfrid, the bishop of Northumbria, refused.  Etheldreda left Egfrith to become a nun at Coldingham under her aunt Ebbe.  Their marriage annulled, Egfrith married again.

Etheldreda founded the double monastery (for women and men) at Ely in 673.  She oversaw the restoration of an old church there, reputedly destroyed by Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, and built her monastery on the site of the present Ely cathedral.  For seven years she lived an austere life of penance and prayer, eating only one meal daily, wearing woolen clothes instead of linen, and keeping vigil each morning between Matins and dawn.  She died around 678 of a tumor on the neck.  She was revered as a woman of austerity, prayer, and prophecy.

taken from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Etheldreda, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; 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.

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Alban, First Martyr of Britain, c. 304

Alban, the earliest Christian in Britain who is known to us by name, is according to tradition the first British martyr to the faith.  He was a citizen of Verulamium, a city about twenty miles northeast of London, now known as St Alban’s.  (He may have been a soldier of the Roman army stationed at Verulamium, hence his iconographic depiction as a Roman soldier.) He gave shelter to a Christian presbyter who was fleeing persecution, hiding him in his house for several days.  Influenced by the presbyter’s devotion in prayer, Alban was converted to faith in Christ.  When the presbyter’s hiding place was discovered, Alban dressed himself in the presbyter’s cloak and was arrested in his place.  Refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods, Alban was sentenced to death.  After the conversion of one executioner, Alban was beheaded on the 22nd of June by another executioner, traditionally about the year 304, although more recent scholarship suggests a date of around 254, during the persecution under the emperor Decius.

Alban is the only saint in Britain whose veneration is continuous from Roman times.  A church was built on the site of his martyrdom, and the shrine was frequented at least up to the time of Bede.  The first mention of veneration at this shrine come in the late fifth-century Life of Germanus of Auxerre.  This work recounts the visit to Alban’s tomb at Verulamium by Germanus and Lupus in 429, when they removed some dust from it and gave relics of apostles and martyrs in its place.  King Offa of Mercia established a monastery at the shrine about the year 793, and by the thirteenth century St Alban’s ranked as the greatest abbey in England.  Alban’s relics were venerated there until the Reformation.  The great Norman abbey church, begun in 1077, now serves as the cathedral of the diocese of St Alban’s, created by act of Parliament in 1877.  The remains of a fourteenth century marble shrine of Saint Alban are contained in a chapel within the cathedral.

taken from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980), Celebrating the Saints,
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of 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 Alban is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.

The Venerable Bede’s account of the martyrdom of Saint Alban and his companions is found in Chapter VII of Book I of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

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Edward, King of England and Martyr, 979

Born about 962, Edward was the son of King Edgar and his first wife Æthelflaed.  Edward’s succession to the throne had been disputed, but he was chosen by the witan in 975 under the influence of Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury.  The writer Theodoric Paulus writes of Edward, that he was “a young man of great devotion and excellent conduct.  He was wholly catholic, good and of holy life; moreoever, in all things he loved god and the Church.  He was generous to the poor, a haven to the good, a champion of the Faith of Christ, a vessel full of every virtuous grace.”  He was a supporter of monasticism in England, as Edgar had been before him.  Edward’s violent death at the hand of an assassin at Corfe in Dorset was connected with a struggle for power among the magnates, the anti-monastic party in Mercia wanting as king his half-brother Æthelred, who was younger even than Edward.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Edward’s death:

“King Edward was slain at eventide at Corfe gate and was buried at Wareham without any kingly honors.”

But miracles were soon attributed to him, and his body was translated to Shaftesbury with great ceremony by Dunstan in 980.  In a charter of Æthelred of 1001 he was called saint and martyr, and in 1008 the laws of Æthelred ordered the observance of his feast all over England.  Evidence from calendars and litanies reveals widespread veneration of Edward from the early eleventh century.  Five ancient churches in England are dedicated to him.

Edward is commemorated as a saint not only by Anglicans, but by the Orthodox, who venerate him as a Passion-bearer; viz., one who accepts death ouf of love for Christ.  In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Edward is commemorated on March 18, the date of his martyrdom, and on June 20, the date of the translation of his relics by Dunstan.

prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and other sources

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.


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

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