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January 23 Saints of the Day – Gennadius of Kostroma and John the Almsgiver

Gennadius of KostromaOn 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.

John the AlmsgiverOn 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)
Hegumen (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.


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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