On this date in 1946, Estonian school girls Aili Jõgi and Ageeda Paavel blew up the Soviet memorial in Tallinn. The Soviets reportedly did not get a bang out of it.
Arsenius the Great (354 – 449 or 450), a philosopher and rhetorician, was just giving up teaching to seek a life of monastic solitude when Emperor Theodosius collared him to teach the royal spawn. He refused at first, but consented after a stern talking-to by the Pope (St. Damasus). Uncomfortable in the spotlamp, he prayed for guidance, and a voice said, “Flee from men.” Within hours his resignation was on the table and his body was on the boat. For Alexandria, that is, whence he footed it to Scetis and begged to be monkified. He called himself a poor wand’ring one (cue G&S), and although they could see he was well-educated, they were too polite to bicker. Abba John the Dwarf (we’re not going to make any height jokes — that would be low) took him on as apprentice. To test his humility, at mealtime John threw down a crust, saying, “Eat if you want.” Arsenius crawled to it on all fours, and picked it up with his mouth. This charmed John, and he welcomed him to the community.
After some time with the brethren, a voice told him, “Shut up and get lost” (well, “flee from men and practice silence”), which he did. To earn his living, he wove baskets from reeds he soaked in water he never changed, which naturally stank up his cell something fierce — a sort of olfactory hairshirt. (He sold enough to feed himself, so we have to assume that they lost the smell before he put the price tags on.) Needless to say monks and pilgrims swarmed to him for advice and “words” (spiritually-edifying, koan-like bon mots dispensed by Desert Fathers). When a brother confessed that he didn’t want to read the Scriptures because he didn’t understand them, Arsenius told him to read them anyway — “If nothing else, it keeps the demons away.” He also said, “I have often regretted things I’ve said, but never my silence.” From which we may conclude he never failed to warn anyone who was directly in the path of an out-of-control omnibus.
Peter of Tarentaise (1102 – 1175), “the Runaway Bishop,” entered a Cistercian monastery at 20, and by the time he was 30 he was chosen abbot of a monastery high in the Alps overlooking the road between Geneva and Savoy. These were the happiest days of his life, spent hobnobbing with the Count of Savoy, founding a hospital and hospice for travelers, chatting with the sick, and personally seeing to the needs of same. Then, when he was 40, disaster struck — the bishop of Tarentaise was deposed, and Peter was forced into the slot at the insistence of St. Bernard, who could be pretty dogged about such things. Peter made an excellent bishop, and brought some discipline to the lax clergy, replacing where necessary. We also find he founded foundations to educate the young and care for the poor. In his spare time he worked miracles of healing and multiplied victuals when they got too subtracted.
After thirteen years of this he snuck off to a remote monastery and enjoyed a quiet and contemplative year, after which he was found out and dragged back to his see. He got right back to work, creating travelers’ refuges on the mountain passes, and creating a soup kitchen, pain du mai (Maybread), to feed the local farmers during the hungry weeks of late Spring.
During this period he also spoke out boldly against the antipope Victor, even to the face of his supporter the Holy Roman Emperor. He was also sent to broker peace between the warring kings of France and England, although this proved beyond his capacity. On the way back he caught something, and died before he made it home. He is somewhat eclipsed by another Peter from Tarentaise, who went on to become (the merely Blessed) Pope Innocent V, which hardly seems fair.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
May 8 (Wikipedia)
Venerable Arsenius the Great (OCA) – Main source
Peter of Tarentaise (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Peter of Tarentaise (Wikipedia)
On this day in 1918, the first Tarzan movie, “Tarzan of the Apes,” premiered. Sadly, like all subsequent Tarzan movies, it passes over in silence the key existential question of Edgar Rice Borroughs’ novel: why would such a man — separated from civilization as a child and raised by wild animals — shave?
Today on the eastern calendar we celebrate the Translation of the Relics of John Chrysostom (347 – 407). As everybody except one of my sources knows, “Chrysostom” is Greek for “Golden Mouth” (NOT “golden tongue” for crying out loud, which would be “Glottalstop”). John was given that name because of his remarkable skills as an orator. He served as Archbishop of Constantinople, had various and sundry fights with various and sundry Arians (including and especially the extremely unpleasant Empress Eudoxia), and compiled the liturgy which bears his name.
Our story begins 30 years after the great man’s death. His disciple and successor Proclus (which means “For Clus”) finally got around to preaching a sermon praising John, saying (somewhat ironically) that it would take somebody as great a preacher as John was to worthily praise John. He was sure as heck determined to give it a try, however, and after about half an hour of this his hearers got impatient, and demanded that if John was so marvelous, what was he doing buried in some hick town, and not the capital? It would be impolitic to suggest they were just trying to get Proclus to cut it short, so we are not even going to entertain that notion. They got permission from the emperor (Eudoxia’s son, which matters as you will see) to move the saint’s relics from the boonies to the big city. The booniites, it must be said, were unhappy about this, but they were only booniites, so it didn’t matter.
Strangely, though, when the workers went to lift the relics from the grave, they found them immovable. They fired off a quick Tweet to the emperor (@Theodosius #ImmovableRelics #Stymied), who sent a letter by return Chariot Express apologizing to John for the imposition, and when the letter was placed on the relics, they became as light as a thing that is easily lifted. They were carried back to Constantinople, and after a miracle or three, and an impassioned prayer by the emperor to not hold his mother’s sins against him (which stopped an ongoing earthquake at her tomb, possibly caused by her rotation), the relics were interred at the cathedral.
On the western calendar today we celebrate Angela Merici (1474 – 1540), who was born in a small hamlet in Lombardy. She lost her parents at 10 and her beloved sister at 15, whereupon she joined the Franciscan third order and prayed for her sister’s soul. We don’t know if she prayed for her parents; maybe they didn’t need it. Ultimately she had a vision showing her sister in bliss with the saints in Heaven. When she was 20 her guardian uncle died, and she moved back to her natal village to open a small school for small poor girls, who were inexplicably going uneducated in that place and time. On a trip to Rome in 1525 she was collared by Pope Clement VII, who wanted to make her head of an order. Sadly there were no flies on the wall at that particular meeting capable of taking notes, or if there were, none of their notes have come down to us. Nevertheless we know that she turned him down and returned to Lombardy to continue her ministry. Maybe for the risotto too, and if so who could blame her? (The pope got over it.)
Once home she founded a group of women to expand her teaching ministry, which eventually grew into the Company of St. Ursula, or Ursulines, named after a third, fifth, or seventh century (depending on whom you ask) British martyr whose name means “She-bear.” One begins to understand why the Pope didn’t win the argument. This was the first non-cloistered and first education-specific order of women in the Catholic Church. Angela is the patroness of the handicapped/disabled, the sick, and the orphaned.
This Day in History for 27th January (History Orb)
Tarzan of the Apes (film) (Wikipedia)
Tarzan of the Apes (1918) (IMDb)
The Translation of the Relics of St. John Chrysostom (Father Alexander.Org)
Translation of the Relics of St. John Chrysostom (Mystagogy)
Translation of the Relics of St. John Chrysostom (Praying with My Feet)
St. Angela Merici (Catholic Online)
Angela Merici (Wikipedia)
Saint Angela Merici (SQPN)
Saint Ursula (Wikipedia)
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
On this day in 1908, Lord Baden-Powell of England organized the first boy scout troop out of frustration that earlier in the week his mother couldn’t find anyone to help her across the street.
Today our Orthodox saint is Xenia of Petersburg (ca. 1731 – 1803), one of the most famous and popular saints in Russia. Xenia married a dashing army officer (who was also an Orthodox reader, yo!), and when he died suddenly and young, she was distraught. Fearing that he might have had unconfessed sins, she put on his clothes, called herself by his name, and went about doing good deeds. This fooled nearly 10% of the most severely nearsighted people in town, until she opened her mouth. But she was so kind, nobody cared. Except her husband’s family, who tried to get her declared incompetent on the grounds that selling all you have and giving it to the poor is crazy. Thus she is called “fool for Christ.” I suppose they really thought she was a nutjob for Christ, but that’s not a Russian word and hadn’t been invented yet, anyway.
She spent her days wandering the streets with the homeless, and her nights praying at the Smolensk cemetery. (I’m assuming she slept crepuscularly.) Before long, workers building a church in the cemetery would come to the building in the morning to find hundreds of bricks already atop the scaffolding. Knowing that the rats in that part of Petersburg, although large, were incapable of such a feat, two of them lay in wait one night to spy on the site. Crazy, huh? You’ll never guess who was moving the bricks up the ladder. Go on. Guess.
One day it is said she walked through the streets calling, “Blini! Blini tomorrow! All of Russia will bake blini tomorrow!” Blini are associated with funerals and mourning in Russia. And sure enough the next day Empress Catherine II died, and all Russia mourned (except the people who didn’t like her) and baked blini (except the people who didn’t like them). Her prayers are invoked by those needing jobs or spouses (or a spouse with a job), those who fear or suffer loss by fire, and those who misplace their kids. She was officially recognized a saint in 1988.
Our Roman Catholic saint today is Francis de Sales (1567-1622), bishop of Geneva. Born into a noble family and sent to all the best schools, Francis had an existential crisis one day arising from a discussion about theology (back when people actually cared enough about theology that it could do that). The crisis ended when he prayed to Mary at the Church of St. Étienne de Grès in Paris, and in short order he became a tertiary (lay associate) of the Minim Order (friars measuring 1/60th of a dram).
He obtained a double PhD in law and religion from Padua, and his father had already lined up a position and a wealthy heiress for him, but he became a priest instead, and ultimately the Bishop of Geneva. At the time Geneva had been taken over by Calvinists in much the same way that Haight-Ashbury was taken over by hippies in 1967, and the see was in exile in Savoy. He evangelized among the Protestants, and obtained a reputation as a spellbinding preacher (in my experience an oxymoron but, hey, he was a saint), as a friend of the poor, as a mystic, and as “something of” an ascetic, whatever exactly that means. (Wore hairshirts on Wednesdays and Fridays? Carried one link of a heavy chain?)
A ton of schools are named after him as well as an atoll in the Seychelles (and how cool is that?), and he is the patron of confessors, deaf people, any number of dioceses, and Champdepraz, Italy (q.v.). He also wrote a number of books, treatises, and letters, and is thus reasonably the patron of authors, educators, journalists, teachers, writers, and the Catholic press, all of whom by all accounts could certainly use a good patron saint.
January 24 (Wikipedia)
St. Xenia of Petersburg (Russian Crafts)
Xenia of St. Petersburg (Orthodox Wiki)
Xenia of Saint Petersburg (Wikipedia)
Life of St. Xenia of St. Petersburg (Firebird Videos)
Life Of St. Blessed Xenia of Petersburg (Serfes.Org)
Francis de Sales (Wikipedia)
St. François Atoll (Wikipedia)
Third order (Wikipedia)
Minim (religious order) (Wikipedia)
Saint Francis de Sales (SQPN)
Champdepraz (Bing Images)
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
On this day in 1957, American inventor Walter Fredrick Morrison finally sold the rights for his flying disk to the Wham–O toy company, which renamed it the Frisbee. Morrison had tried to pass on the patent several times before, but his dog kept bringing it back.
Today’s saint on the eastern side of the calendar is Gennadius of Kostroma (d. 1565), who spent his teenage years visiting monasteries and pining, much to his parents’ dismay. Finally, one night he changed into ragged clothes, climbed out onto the roof and down the drainpipe, and fled from their home, catching the next footpath to Moscow. But although he had spent his whole life dreaming of joining a monastery, when he finally got the chance, he couldn’t find one he liked. This one was too large; that one was too soft — none of them was ju-u-u-ust ri-i-i-ight. A chance encounter (if chance it was — we all know the Lord moves in monasterious ways) led him to Vologda, where he was finally tonsured (by St. Cornelius). But Vologda wasn’t just right either, so before long the two packed up and moved to Kostroma. And the rest, as they say, is monastery. Which is to say, like many a hermit, he attracted a following that grew into a monastery, and he became its first igumen (abbot).
Gennadius spent his time humbly, even after he became igumen, chopping wood, baking prosphora (holy bread), and painting icons. He also carried around heavy chains, just in case somebody needed them, although nobody ever did. It is said he had the gift of clairvoyance, and once, while staying with a nobleman in Moscow, he told the man’s daughter that she would someday become Tsarina. Foolishly she didn’t run screaming, and she ended up being the wife of Ivan the Terrible. Be careful what you ask for.
On the western side of the calendar today is John the Almsgiver/Almoner/Merciful/etc. (c. 610-621). John was born on Cyprus, lived for a while, and then was made Patriarch of Alexandria, where he became known for his works of charity (hence the name). During his tenure the patriarchate cared for over 7,000 poor people a day. He liked to sit among the beggars on the church steps, talk with them, settle their disputes, and maybe even trade sandwiches if he got one he didn’t like. He also visited hospitals three times a week, although even in the seventh century those weren’t great places to eat.
One story is told about a rich man who gave a sumptuous bed covering to the Patriarch. He used it one night, then had it sold, and the money given to the poor. The rich man bought it back somehow (found the house with the three gold balls over the door, one supposes), and gave it to John again. Who again sold it, and gave the money away. This happened several times. When asked how long this would go on, John said, “We’ll see who tires first.” My source doesn’t say who that was, but if I were a betting man. . . .
John had his craftsmen start to build a coffin (some say tomb) for him, then ordered them to stop before it was completed. He instructed them to come to him daily and ask, “Should we finish it yet?” By this he reminded himself of his own mortality, and gave the casket (tomb) builders something to look forward to when work was kind of slow. He left Egypt when the Persians overran it, and having seen a vision saying it was time to go, sailed off to die at home in Cyprus. After his death his body had a few more adventures (yet another theme I’m sensing), and ended up in Bratislava, Slovakia (as who wouldn’t?), where his coffin (tomb) was finally completed. John is the patron of Casarano, Italy, but I’ll be dinged if I can figure out why. He is also celebrated by the Orthodox on November 12.
January 23 (Wikipedia)
Flying disc (Wikipedia)
Venerable Gennadius of Kostroma (OCA)
The Monk Gennadii of Kostroma and Liubimograd (Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Moscow)
St John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria (OCA)
John the Merciful (Wikipedia)
Omer Englebert, Lives of the Saints (book on paper)
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.