Our friends on the Old (Julian) Calendar are celebrating Christmas today! Merry Christmas to them! I am doing these little posts on the new calendar for two reasons: (1) that’s what calendar my parish is on, and (2) it is easier for an old-calendar person to look back 13 days than for a new-calendar person to have to wait 13 days. Although since I only started on the first of the year, the old-calendar people will have to wait anyway. But only at first. On we go.
In the Christian east, it is the day after the Great Blessing of the Water, known in warmer climes as Move the Towels to the Dryer (or Clothesline) Day. Today we celebrate the Synaxis of John the Forerunner, aka John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus. According to the Gospel of St. Luke, John was the first person to recognize Mary as Theotokos, although at the time (he was still in the womb) he might not have put it in exactly those words. After his Bar Mitzvah, John took to preaching in the wilderness wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and breath made of locusts and vituperation. An entrepreneur, he started a baptism business on the shores of the Jordan River, thus fulfilling what his father Zachariah had written on a tablet years before: “His name is John the Baptist.” As was celebrated yesterday, Jesus was baptised in the Jordan by John, and not, as has sometimes been said by overworked priests at house blessings, by Jordan in the john.
Christians on the western calendar today celebrate St. Raymond of Peñafort (1175-1275), a Spanish nobleman, philosopher, lawyer, author, confessor to the Pope, bishop, codifier of canon law — one of those polymaths who makes the rest of us feel like we haven’t done anything with our lives. And this was all before he turned 63 and had the mantle of leader of the Dominican order thrust upon him. Always the clever lawyer, however, by age 65 he had managed to change the rules of the order to allow the head honcho to resign, then promptly did so. He spent the last 35 years of his life harrying Spanish Moors and Thomas Aquinas. It is not said which of them resented it more.
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