Monthly Archives: January 2014

Charles Mackenzie, Bishop and Missionary in Central Africa, 1862

Charles Frederick Mackenzie, Bishop and Missionary in Central Africa

Born in Peebleshire, Scotland in 1825, Charles Frederick Frazier Mackenzie was educated at St John’s College and Caius College, Cambridge. He left England for Natal in 1855, to serve as archdeacon to Bishop John William Colenso, working among the English settlers there until 1859. In October 1860 he was commissioned at Canterbury Cathedral as the first missionary of the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). Consecrated Bishop “of the Mission to the Tribes Dwelling in the Neighbourhood of the Lake Nyasa and River Shire” on January 1, 1861 at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, Mackenzie led the Mission’s first expedition up the Zambezi River into Nyasaland (now Malawi) and established a base near Lake Nyasa.

The missionaries’ preaching of the Gospel and their efforts to secure the release of slaves (who formed the core of Bishop Mackenzie’s mission community) led them into conflict with native leaders and Portuguese colonists and slave traders. The mission and the people among whom they lived and ministered lived under constant threat of drought, famine, and malaria. Eventually the mission’s supply of quinine was exhausted, and in an outbreak of malaria that claimed the lives of three others in his missionary party and of many natives, Bishop Mackenzie died barely a year after his consecration, on January 31, 1862. In his book, Celebrating the Saints, Robert Atwell writes that Bishop Mackenzie was “a man of transparent and humble Christian devotion.”

Charles Mackenzie is commemorated in the Calendar of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Charles Mackenzie, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of Nyasaland. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe, Witnesses to the Faith

Lydia was the Apostle Paul’s first convert to faith in Christ in Europe. A native of Thyatira in Asia Minor, in the ancient region known as Lydia, she resided in the city of Philippi in Macedonia. She was a merchant of goods dyed with the purple-red dye known as Tyrian purple, so-called because it was first extracted by the Phoenicians. Tyrian purple was extracted from the Murex sea snail and was highly prized in antiquity because it did not fade but became more vibrant and intense with weathering and exposure to sunlight. The Romans considered the dye a mark of high status: the stripe on the toga of a senator was dyed with Tyrian purple, and its use in the emperor’s toga led to its being known as “imperial purple”. The dye was all the more costly because of the difficulty of extraction. One modern writer has estimated that twelve thousand of the Murex snails yielded little more than a gram of dye, enough to dye only the trim of a single garment. Dealing in purple-dyed goods would require a good deal of capital, so Lydia was likely wealthy. When Saint Paul first met her, she was one of a group of women who met outside the city of Philippi for prayer on the Sabbath, and Saint Luke notes that she was a “worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14), suggesting that she was one of those Gentiles who kept some of the Jewish ethical and liturgical customs (including synagogue worship) without fully entering the Jewish community. According to the Acts of the Apostles, “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention” to Paul’s preaching that Sabbath, and she and her household were baptized. After this she prevailed on Paul and his companions to stay in her house, thus relieving him of the necessity of earning his support, as was his custom elsewhere. Although Lydia does not appear in any of Saint Paul’s extant epistles, his love for the church at Philippi is evident in his letter to that church, a love that doubtless began with Lydia’s hospitality.

Dorcas, or Tabitha (from the word for “gazelle” in Greek and in Aramaic) was a believer who lived in Joppa, and was known there for her good works and acts of charity, including the making of tunics and other garments for the widows of the church. When she died, the members of the church at Joppa sent messengers to the Apostle Peter, asking him to come to them without delay. On his arrival in the upper room where Dorcas had been laid, he “knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, arise'” (Acts 9:40), whereupon she was restored to life. This was the first such miracle by one of the apostles, and because of it “many believed in the Lord”. In the Acts of the Apostles Dorcas is called a “disciple” in a feminine form of the word that in the New Testament is applied only to her. Dorcas Societies, which provide clothing and other material needs for the poor, are named for her. The original society was founded in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1834 in thanksgiving for deliverance from a cholera outbreak, and to replace the bedding and clothing of the poor that had been destroyed as part of the effort to prevent an epidemic.

Phoebe, whose name means “bright” or “radiant”, was a diakonos of the church at Cenchreae, the eastern seaport of Corinth. The word diakonos may be translated deacon (or in some versions of the Bible, deaconess), though it may also be translated “helper” or “patron”, given that Saint Paul applies the word to himself in 2 Corinthians (11:23) and in Colossians (1:23,25) and does not mean that he is himself a deacon. In his letter to the Romans, Paul commends Phoebe to the church at Rome, that they might “welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many, and of myself as well” (16:1,2). Some consider the application of the word diakonos to Phoebe, along with 1 Timothy 3:11 (which in Greek reads, “and also the women”, rather than “their [deacons’] wives” as in a number of English translations), evidence that the early Church ordained women to the same diaconate to which men were ordained.

Whether or not this be the case, Pliny the Younger attests to the existence of deaconesses in the church in Bithynia in the second century, and documents of the late third and fourth centuries (including the Didascalia and the Apostolic Constitutions) describe the ministry and duties of deaconesses, including assisting at the baptism of women and visiting and ministering to the sick. The ministry disappeared in the West and declined in the East for a number of centuries, but was revived in the Lutheran Church in the nineteenth century, when Pastor Theodor Fliedner opened the first deaconess motherhouse in Kaiserwerth on the Rhine. At the request of a local pastor, Fliedner brought four deaconesses to American in 1849 to work in the Pittsburgh Infirmary. In following decades, other deaconess communities were founded in Lutheran population centers both in America and in Europe. In 1862 Elizabeth Catherine Ferard was licensed as a deaconess by the Bishop of London, thus becoming the first Anglican deaconess. From a deaconess community in London, deaconesses were eventually introduced into many Anglican Churches. The office of deaconess has disappeared in those Anglican Churches that ordain women to the diaconate, but the office has been maintained as a commissioned or consecrated lay ministry for women in a number of traditional Anglican Churches, including the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province in America.

Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe are commemorated on January 27 in the Lutheran Book of Worship and in the Calendar of The Episcopal Church. They are commemorated at For All the Saints on the first open day in the Calendar after January 27, because St John Chrysostom is commemorated on that day.

The Collect

Almighty God, you inspired your servants Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe to support and sustain your church by their deeds of generous love: Open our hearts to hear you, conform our will to love you, and strengthen our hands to serve you; for the sake of your Son 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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The Collect is taken from the New Book of Festivals and Commemorations, Philip H. Pfatteicher.

The icon of Saint Lydia is from the website of the Holy Transfiguration Monastery and is under copyright.

The icon of Saint Tabitha is courtesy of www.eikonografos.com and is used with permission.

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Thomas Aquinas, Presbyter and Theologian, 1274

Thomas Aquinas is the greatest theologian of the high Middle Ages, and, next to Augustine, perhaps the greatest theologian in the history of Western Christianity. Born into a noble Italian family, probably in 1225, he entered the new Order of Preachers founded by Dominic (the Dominicans, or Blackfriars as they were known in England). He soon became an outstanding teacher in an age of intellectual ferment. Because of his size and slowness, Thomas was called “the Ox”. His first master, Albert the Great, is said to have prophesied that although Thomas was called “the dumb ox, his lowing would soon be heard all over the world.”

Perceiving the challenges that the recent rediscovery, through Jewish and Muslim scholars in Spain, of Aristotle’s works might entail for traditional catholic doctrine, especially in its emphasis upon empirical knowledge derived from reason and sense perception, independent of faith and revelation, Thomas asserted that reason and revelation are in basic harmony. “Grace” (revelation), he said, “is not the denial of nature” (reason), “but the perfection of it.” This synthesis Thomas accomplished in his greatest works, the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles, which continue today to exercise profound influence on Christian thought and philosophy. Thomas was considered a bold thinker, even a “radical”, and certain aspects of his thought were condemned by the ecclesiastical authorities. His canonization as a Doctor (Teacher) of the Church on July 18, 1323, vindicated him.

Thomas understood God’s disclosure of his Name, in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM”, to mean that God is Being, the Ultimate Reality from which everything else derives its being. The difference between God and the world is that God’s essence is to exist, whereas all other beings derive their being from him by the act of creation. Although, for Thomas, God and the world are distinct, there is, nevertheless, an analogy of being between God and the world, since the Creator is reflected in his creation. It is possible, therefore, to have a limited knowledge of God, by analogy from the created world. On this basis, human reason can demonstrate that God exists; that he created the world; and that he contains in himself, as their cause, all the perfections which exist in his creation. The distinctive truths of the Christian faith, however, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are known only by revelation.

On December 6, 1272, after being recalled to Naples as regent of studies earlier that year, Thomas experienced a revelation of God, after which he dictated to his scribe no more. Of the experience he said that all he had written in comparison to what he had then seen was like so much straw.

Thomas died on the 13th of September in 1274, just under fifty years of age. In 1369, on the 28th of January, his remains were transferred to Toulouse. In addition to his many theological writings, he composed several eucharistic hymns of lasting value, including Adoro te devote (“Humbly I adore thee”) and Pange lingua (“Now, my tongue, the mystery telling”).

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts,
with additions from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

The Collect

Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; 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 Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Friar, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 407

John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, is one of the great saints of the Eastern Church. He was born about 354 in Antioch, Syria. Brought up by his widowed mother, he received the best education that Antioch could offer, both in oratory and in law. As a young man, he responded to the call of desert monasticism until his health was impaired through the austerities and dampness of his cave hermitage. He returned to Antioch after six years, and was ordained a deacon, serving until his ordination as a presbyter five years later. He then became a special assistant to the bishop of Antioch, particularly in the temporal care and spiritual instruction of the numerous Christian poor of the city.

In 397, he became Bishop (Patriarch) of Constantinople. On arrival in the capital city, he set at once to reforming the morals of the clergy, the court, and the people, whose corruption had been encouraged by the complacence and self-indulgence of his predecessor, Nectarius. He reduced the customary spending of his own household in favor of the poor and the hospitals. He enacted severe disciplinary rules for the clergy. He attacked the behavior, clothing, and makeup of the women at court, and denounced the practice of many Christians attending the races on Good Friday and the games at the stadium on Holy Saturday. His episcopate was short and tumultuous. Many criticized his ascetical life in the episcopal residence, and he incurred the wrath of the empress Eudoxia, who believed that he had called her a “Jezebel”. Taking advantage of John’s having sheltered four monks who had fled Egypt after the condemnation of their Origenist theology, his rival Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, convened a carefully packed synod that deposed John in 403 on a series of mostly false charges. He was then exiled, but when shortly afterwards an earthquake rocked Constantinople, a terrified Eudoxia recalled him to his see. His plain speaking soon brought the displeasure of the empress again, and his enemies secured his banishment after condemnation by an Arian council at Antioch in 404, on charges of his having resumed the duties of a see from which he had lawfully been deposed. Despite the support of the people of Constantinople, of Pope Innocent the First, and of the entire Western Church, he was exiled first to near Antioch, then to Pontus, and was finally deliberately killed by enforced traveling on foot in severe weather. He died on September 14, 407. Thirty-one years after his death, his remains were brought back to Constantinople and reburied in the Church of the Apostles on January 27.

John, whose epithet “Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed”, was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. People flocked to hear him, and they often dismayed him by applauding his sermons. His eloquence was accompanied by an acute sensitivity to the needs of his people. He saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care, and as a medium of teaching. He warned that if a presbyter had no talent for preaching the Word, the souls of those in his charge “will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm.”

His sermons provide insights into the liturgy of the Church, and especially into eucharistic practices. He describes the liturgy as a glorious experience, in which all heaven and earth join. His sermons emphasize the importance of lay participation in the Eucharist. “Why do you marvel,” he wrote, “that the people anywhere utter anything with the priest at the altar, when in fact they join with the Cherubim themselves, and the heavenly powers, in offering up sacred hymns.” To this day, the principal liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church is entitled, “The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom”.

His treatise, Six Books on the Priesthood, is a classic manual on the presbyteral office and its awesome demands. The priest, he wrote, must be “dignified, but not haughty; awe-inspiring, but kind; affable in his authority; impartial, but courteous; humble, but not servile; strong but gentle….”

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts and other sources

The Collect

O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; 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 John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle

Paul, or Saul as he was known until he became a Christian, was a Roman citizen, born at Tarsus, in present-day Turkey. He was brought up as a devoted Jew, studying in Jerusalem for a time under Gamaliel, the most famous rabbi of the day. Describing himself, he said, “I am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1).

A few years after the death of Jesus, Saul came in contact with the new Christian movement, and became one of the most fanatical of those who were determined to stamp out this “dangerous heresy”. Saul witnessed the stoning of Stephen. He was on the way to Damascus to lead in further persecution of the Christians when his dramatic conversion took place.

From that day, Paul devoted his life completely to Jesus Christ and especially to the conversion of Gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles describes the courage and determination with which he planted Christian congregations over a large area of the land bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

His letters, the earliest of Christian writings, reveal him as the greatest of the interpreters of Christ’s death and resurrection, and as the founder of Christian theology. He writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). His treatment throughout his letters of a theology in which Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the hope of Israel and the climax and fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham and renewed at Sinai, and his breathtaking rewriting of Israel’s central confession that the Lord God is One to include Jesus as that one Lord, is nothing less than brilliant.

Paul describes himself as small and insignificant in appearance: “His letters are weighty and strong,” it was said of him, “but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account” (2 Corinthians 10:10). He writes of having a disability which he had prayed God to remove from him, and quotes the Lord’s reply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore Paul went on to say, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul is believed to have been martyred at Rome in the year 64, during the persecution under the emperor Nero. As a Roman citizen, he would have been executed by decapitation.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; 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 26:9-21

[Paul said to King Agrippa] “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.”

Psalm 67
Deus misereatur

May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

The Epistle
Galatians 1:11-24

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.

The Gospel
Matthew 10:16-22

[Jesus said to the twelve] “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

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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).

The icon is a fragment from a 13th century Roman fresco.

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Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, 1893

Writing about Phillips Brooks in 1930, William Lawrence, who as a young man had known him, began, “Phillips Brooks was a leader of youth…His was the spirit of adventure, in thought, life, and faith.” To many who know him only as the author of “O little town of Bethlehem,” this part of Brooks’ life and influence is little known.

Born in Boston in 1835, and educated at Boston Latin School, Harvard University and Virginia Theological Seminary, Brooks began his ministry in Philadelphia. His impressive personality and his eloquence immediately attracted attention. After ten years in Philadelphia, he returned to Boston as rector of Trinity Church, which was destroyed in the Boston fire three years later. It is a tribute to Brooks’ preaching, character, and leadership that in four years of worshiping in temporary and bare surroundings, the congregation grew and flourished. The new Trinity Church was a daring architectural enterprise for its day, with its altar placed in the center of the chancel, “a symbol of unity; God and man and all God’s creation,” and was symbol of Brooks’ vision – a fitting setting for a great preacher.

Brooks’ sermons have passages that still grasp the reader, though they do not convey the warmth and vitality which so impressed his hearers. James Bryce wrote, “There was no sign of art about his preaching, no touch of self-consciousness. He spoke to his audience as a man might speak to his friend, pouring forth with swift, yet quiet and seldom impassioned earnestness, the thoughts of his singularly pure and lofty spirit.”

Brooks ministered with tenderness, understanding, and warm friendliness. He inspired men to enter the ministry, and taught many of them the art of preaching. Conservative and orthodox in his theology, his generosity of heart led him to be regarded as a leader throughout the Church.

In 1891, he was elected Bishop of Massachusetts. The force of his personality and preaching, together with his deep devotion and loyalty, provided the spiritual leadership needed for the time. His constant concern was to turn his hearer’ thoughts to the revelations of God. “Whatever happens,” he wrote, “always remember the mysterious richness of human nature and the nearness of God to each one of us.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

Collect

O everlasting God, you revealed truth to your servant Phillips Brooks, and so formed and molded his mind and heart that he was able to mediate that truth with grace and power: Grant, we pray, that all whom you call to preach the Gospel may steep themselves in your Word, and conform their lives to your will; 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 Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, are published at the website of the Lectionary Page.

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Vincent, Deacon of Saragossa and Martyr, 304

Vincent has been called the protomartyr (first martyr) of Spain. Little is known about the actual events surrounding his life, other than his name, his order of ministry, and the place and time of his martyrdom. He was a native of Huesca, in northeastern Spain, and was ordained deacon by Valerius, Bishop of Saragossa. In the early years of the fourth century, the fervent Christian community in Spain fell victim to the persecution ordered by the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian. Dacian, governor of the province of Hispania (Spain), had Valerius and his deacon Vincent arrested and imprisoned at Valencia.

According to one legend, Valerius had a speech impediment, and Vincent was often called upon to preach for him. When the two prisoners were challenged to renounce their faith amid threats of torture and death, Vincent said to his bishop, “Father, if you order me, I will speak.” Valerius is said to have replied, “Son, as I committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend.” The young deacon then told the governor that he and his bishop had no intention of betraying the true God. The vehemence and enthusiasm of Vincent’s defense showed no caution in his defiance of the judges, and Dacian’s fury was increased by this exuberance in Christian witness. Valerius was exiled, but Dacian ordered that Vincent should be tortured. While in prison, he is said to have converted his jailer. At one point, he was offered release on the condition that he burn the holy Scriptures that had been committed to his safekeeping, but he refused.

Accounts of his martyrdom were embellished by the early Christian poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius. Augustine of Hippo writes that Vincent’s unshakeable faith enabled him to endure grotesque punishments and, finally, death.

Devotion to Vincent spread rapidly throughout the early Church as he was venerated as a bold and outspoken witness to the truth of the living Christ.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Almighty God, your deacon Vincent, upheld by you, was not terrified by threats nor overcome by torments: Strengthen us to endure all adversity with invincible and steadfast faith; 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 Vincent, Deacon of Saragossa and Martyr, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

The icon of Saint Vincent is from a painting in the Chiesa di San Vincenzo in Cucciago, in the Diocese of Milan.

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Agnes, Virgin and Martyr at Rome, 304

As a child of twelve or thirteen years, Agnes suffered for her faith, in Rome, during the persecution of the emperor Diocletian, the last and fiercest of the persecutions of Christians by the imperial state. Intensely dedicated to Christ, her fifth century Acts tell that she refused arranged marriage, saying that she preferred even the death of the body to the end of her consecrated virginity. After rejecting the blandishments of her examiners, and withstanding the threats and torments of her executioner, she remained firm in her refusal to offer worship to the gods of the imperial state, and was executed by being pierced through the neck with a sword. Venerated as a martyr from shortly after her death, early Church Fathers, including Ambrose, Jerome and Prudentius, praised her courage and chastity and remarked upon her name, which means “pure” in Greek and “lamb” in Latin.

In his treatise On Virginity, Ambrose of Milan wrote

“Is this a new kind of martyrdom? The girl was too young to be punished, yet old enough to wear a martyr’s crown; too young for the contest, but mature enough to gain victory. Her tender years put her at a disadvantage, but she won the trial of virtue. If she had been a bride, she could not have hastened to her wedding night as much as she, a virgin, went with joyful steps to the place of her execution, her head adorned with Christ himself rather than plaits, with a garland woven of virtues instead of flowers.”

Pilgrims still visit Agnes’ tomb and the catacomb surrounding it, beneath the basilica of her name on the Via Nomentana in Rome that Pope Honorius the First (625-638 ) built in her honor to replace an older shrine erected by the daughter or granddaughter of the emperor Constantine about 350. On her feast day at the basilica, two lambs are blessed, whose wool is woven into a scarf called the pallium, with which the Pope invests archbishops. Pope Gregory the Great sent such a pallium in 601 to Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury. A representation of the pallium appears on the coat of arms of Archbishops of Canterbury to this day.

Agnes was commemorated from ancient times in England (probably from the time of the Augustinian mission to Kent), and her feast day is included in the Calendar of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, whence it has entered the sanctoral calendars of most of the Anglican Churches.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you choose those whom the world deems powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of your youthful martyr Agnes, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The propers for the commemoration of Agnes, Virgin and Martyr at Rome, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

The icon is from a fresco by Ambrogio Borgognone (1495).

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Fabian, Bishop of Rome and Martyr, 250

In 236, an assembly was held in Rome to elect a bishop as successor to Antherius. In the throng was one Fabian, a layman from another part of Italy. Suddenly, according to the historian Eusebius, a dove flew over the crowd and lighted on Fabian’s head. Despite his being both a stranger and not a candidate in the election, the people unanimously chose Fabian to be bishop, shouting, “Axios! He is worthy! He is worthy!” Fabian was ordained to the episcopate without opposition.

During his fourteen years as bishop, Fabian made numerous administrative reforms. He divided the Church at Rome into seven deaconries and established the custom of venerating martyrs at their tombs in the catacombs. Along with Donatus, the bishop of Carthage, Fabian issued letters condemnatory of Privatus, bishop of Lambaesis in Numidia, and of his heretical opinions. Fabian also brought back to Rome, for proper burial, the remains of Pontian, a bishop of Rome whom the emperor had exiled in 235 to a certain and rapid death in the mines of Sardinia.

The emperor Decius ordered a general persecution of Christians in 239 and 240, probably the first persecution carried out in all parts of the Roman Empire. Fabian was one of the earliest of those martyred at Rome, setting a courageous example for his flock, many of whom died in great torment.

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, praised Fabian in a letter to Cornelius, Fabian’s successor at Rome, as “an incomparable man, the glory of whose death corresponded with the holiness of his life.” Fabian was buried in the catacomb of Callixtus and was later transferred to the church of Saint Sebastian. The original slab which covered his gravesite survives in fragments, but the words “Fabian…bishop…martyr” are still dimly visible.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

O God, in your providence you singled out the holy martyr Fabian as worthy to be chief pastor of your people, and guided him so to strengthen your Church that it stood fast in the day of persecution: Grant that those whom you call to any ministry in the Church may be obedient to your call in all humility, and be enabled to carry out their tasks with diligence and faithfulness; 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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The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle

When Simon Bar-Jona confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responded, “You are Peter, and on this rock will I build my church.” This rough fisherman and his brother Andrew were the first disciples called by Jesus. Peter figures prominently in the Gospel accounts, often stumbling, impetuous, intense, and uncouth. It was Peter who attempted to walk on the sea, and began to sink; it was Peter who impulsively wished to build three tabernacles on the mountain of the Transfiguration; it was Peter who, just before the crucifixion, three times denied knowing his Lord.

But it was also Peter who, after Pentecost, risked his life to do the Lord’s work, speaking boldly of his faith in Jesus. It was also Peter, the Rock, whose strength and courage helped the young Church in its questioning about the mission beyond the Jewish community. Opposed at first to the baptism of Gentiles without their first submitting to circumcision, he had the humility to admit a change of heart, and to baptize the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household. Even after this, Peter had a continuing struggle with his Jewish conservatism; for Paul, writing to the Galatians, rebukes him for giving way to the demands of some Jewish Christians (the “Judaizers”) to dissociate himself from table fellowship with Gentile Christians.

Though the New Testament makes no mention of it, the tradition connecting Peter with Rome is early and virtually certain. According to tradition, Peter suffered martyrdom during the persecution under Nero. He is said to have been crucified head downwards, because he told his executioners that he was not worthy to be crucified as his Lord was.

As we watch Peter struggle with himself, often stumble, love his Lord and deny him, speak rashly and act impetuously, his life reminds us that our Lord did not come to save the godly and strong but the save the weak and the sinful. Simon, an ordinary human being, was transformed by the Holy Spirit into the “Rock”, and became the leader of the infant Church.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lesson
Acts 4: 8-13

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Psalm 23
Dominus regit me

The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The Epistle
1 Peter 5:1-4

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

The Gospel
Matthew 16:13-19

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

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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).

The icon is a fragment from a 13th century Roman fresco.

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