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July 12 Saints of the Day – Theodore & John the Varangians, and John Gualbert

On this date in 1543, King Henry VIII of England married his sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr, who was so broken up by his death that she waited a whole six months to marry a former paramour, thanking her lucky stars Henry died first.

Theodore and John the VarangiansTheodore and John (d. 983) were Varangians, that is, members of that ethnic group that includes today’s Norwegians, Swedes, and all that lot. In those days Varangians were a big presence in Kievan Rus’, which was on their primary trading route to Constantinople and all it represented (the Spice Road, the Mediterranean, Doner kebabs, etc.). Some of them were Christians, but most were pagans of the human-sacrificing variety — the kind you really don’t want to meet in a dark alley, light alley, market square, or anywhere else if you can avoid it.

After Svyatoslav (Olga’s son, whom we met yesterday) was killed by the Pechengs (which is fun to say — try it!), his lands were divided between his three sons, Oleg, Vladimir, and Yaropolk, the latter a Christian, albeit “of the Latin variety” (horrors). The Varengians manipulated Oleg and Yarapolk into a fratricidal war (the sources imply they were all unwilling), and when Oleg was killed, they pitted Yarapolk against Vladimir. The latter invited the former for a brotherly chat, but as he arrove he was ambushed and murdered. Vladimir then set up idols, and the human sacrifice thing started up.

Theodore and his beloved son John were Christians, and one day when the child sacrificers were stirring the tiles, John’s name was drawn (“evidently not by chance,” one source adds). When told of this, Theodore said, “Idols are just pieces of wood, and I worship the God who created heavens and earth and so on. No son of mine is going to be sacrificed by those devils.” Now, Theodore’s house, like many in the town, was built on pilings, and he stood at the top of the stairs and defied the pagans to take his son. “Send one of your gods to get him,” he taunted. Not in the mood to be taunted, they knocked away the pilings under the porch, and fell upon the two and killed them in short order. Thus were Theodore and John the first Christians to spill their blood on the holy soil of Russia (well, Ukraine nowadays).

A series of four wooden churches was built on the site, and each burned down (XI cent., 1240, XVIII cent., 1936). (We will avoid any Monty Python references here.) Replacement of the one destroyed in 1936 was still pending as of 2009. For reasons I cannot determine, the protomartyrs of the Rus’ are invoked by women who have suffered miscarriage.

John GualbertJohn Gualbert (ca. 993 – 1073) was a Florentine nobleman, soldier, and playboy. When his brother Hugh was murdered, he set out to find the murderer and bring him to justice (or run him through, which was probably about as close to justice as it got at the time). He finally found the man in a narrow place in the mountains (on Good Friday — an important detail), drew his sword, and was about to deliver vengeance. As the murderer fell on his knees and prayed for God to accept his soul, John saw a vision of the crucifixion of our Lord, and heard (as it were) the words, “Forgive them, Father.” Moved to pity, he forgave the man, and Christ (in the vision) bowed his head in thanks.

John became a monk at the very next monastery, but left when the abbot died, either fearful he would be chosen to replace him, or disgusted by the concubinage, nepotism, and simony of the monastery in particular and the greater church in general (as one might well be). He founded another monastery, where he and his monks lived lives of strict austerity and charity to the poor. He was known for his wisdom, miracles, prophecies, and humility, and was credited by Pope Alexander II with stamping out simony in Italy (but not concubinage or nepotism? interesting omission). He is the patron of forest workers and park rangers.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.


Bibliography
July 12 (Wikipedia)
Catherine Parr (Wikipedia)
Martyr Theodore and his son of Kiev (OCA) – Main source
Saints Theodore and John, His Son, Varangian Martyrs of Kyiv (Ukrainian Orthodoxy)
Image from Ukrainian-Orthodoxy.org
John Gualbert (Gualberto) (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Saint John Gualbert (SQPN)
Image from SQPN

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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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