On this day in 1881, the combined Barnum & Bailey Circus debuted. Hailed as “the Greatest Show on Earth,” it had more clowns under one roof than any other circus in the world, save the U.S. Congress.
Our saint from the east today is Ambrose (né Besarion) the Confessor (ამბროსი აღმსარებელი ) of Georgia (1861 – 1927). Besarion went to the Kazan Theological Academy upon the death of his wife, writing a master’s thesis about the struggle between Christianity and Islam in Georgia entitled, “The Struggle between Christianity and Islam in Georgia.” After graduating he became Hieromonk Ambrose, and joined in the fight for the autocephaly of the Georgian Orthodox Church (which had been somewhat unilaterally revoked by the Russians in 1811). In 1908 he was suspended and exiled to Russia for (allegedly) conspiring to kill the Exarch. He was later exonerated and unsuspended, but kept in Russia. When the February (1917) Revolution came, Ambrose escaped back to Georgia and took part in the Synod voting to make the Georgian Church autocephalous. He was made Metropolitan of Chqondidi (which would make a great name for a songbird).
In 1921 the Bolsheviks invaded, and Georgia’s young independence was ended. Thousands of churches and monasteries were destroyed or converted to vulgar use, and clergy were persecuted. When the old Catholicos-Patriarch died (of cholera), Ambrose was chosen to replace him. Less than a year later he sent a memorandum to the Conference of Genoa (an international convention convened to fix the financial crisis in Europe) (it didn’t work) (but you knew that), delineating the depredation of Georgia and calling for help. The Bolsheviks, furious at being embarrassed on the international stage, arrested Ambrose and conducted a show trial (he was accused of hiding church treasures so the government couldn’t melt them down – no transparently trumped-up charges for that court). At the trial he very quotably said, “My soul belongs to God, my heart to my fatherland; you, my executioners, do with my body what you will.” The international stage nattered with consternation, and the Soviets backed off a little on the destruction of the Georgian culture, at least until the international stage was looking the other way again (as is ever its wont). Instead of execution, Ambrose received imprisonment, which destroyed his health. He died a year after being released in 1926, and was glorified by the Holy Synod of the Church of Georgia in 1995.
Our saint from the west today is Abraham Kidunaia (ca. 296 – ca. 366). Born into high-society Edessa, young Abe was forced into an arranged marriage, so on the day of the nuptials he walled himself up in a nearby building, leaving only a gap through which his family could feed him, and through which he could tell them he really wanted to be a monk. (None of our sources mention waste disposal issues, so don’t ask.) The family called off the wedding, and he settled quietly into walled-up life.
After ten years of this the bishop ordered him to come out, ordained him a priest (over his protestations), and sent him to Beth-Kiduna, an “intransigently pagan” village, as missionary. There, according to two of our sources (I think one was plagiarizing), he “built a church, smashed idols, suffered abuse and violence, and set a good example” (of what, they don’t say). It is from this village he gets his title “Kidunaia” – I kidunot. Within three years the whole village was converted, and he went off to be a hermit again, returning only to convert his niece. Said niece was a former anchoress who, seduced by a wayward monk, ran off to the city to lead a dissolute life. Abraham dressed as a soldier, and when she took him home to dinner, he talked her into returning to her former life. She went on to become Saint Mary of Edessa, which is better than anybody in the family dared expect. Abe’s (eventual) funeral was attended by a “large throng” (as opposed to a small throng), and his life was written by Ephraim the Syrian.
This Day in History for 16th March
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Wikipedia)
Ambrose (Khelaia) the Confessor (Orthodox Wiki) – Main source
Ambrosius of Georgia (Wikipedia)
Saint Abraham Kidunaia (SQPN) – Main source
St. Abraham of Kidunaia
Saint Mary of Edessa (SQPN)
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.