On this day in 1880, John Philip Sousa became the leader of the United States Marine Band. Ducks everywhere rejoiced.
Romanos the Melodist (ca. 490 – ca. 556) was born in Emesa (modern Homs, Syria) or Damascus (modern Damascus). He was baptized as a boy and moved to Beirut (ancient Berytus), where he was deaconified, then to Constantinople (all shipping lanes led to Constantinople in those days), where he got a job as sacristan at the great Church of the Holy Wisdom.
Romanos was — how shall we say — sub-Pavarotic vocally. One fateful Christmas Eve, he was in the great church chanting. Horribly. Before he was halfway through they replaced him with somebody who knew where tune buckets hid their handles. The other minor clergy ridiculed him, and he was devastated. He curled up in the corner and fell asleep, whereupon the Holy Mother of God appeared to him, handing him a scroll and commanding him to eat it. “But it’s a strict fast!” he cried. (Kidding.) He ate it, and felt hymnographic power surging through him.
When he awoke the next morning he went back to the church and asked to be allowed to sing. He stood in the midst of the church on the Feast of the Nativity and sang — ex tempore, mind — the first-ever kontakion, “Today the Virgin Gives Birth.” Everyone was amazed, and the other deacons had to eat their hats. (Not as tasty as scrolls, if Ezekiel is any judge.) Nowadays only the first ikos of a kontakion (“kontakion” means “scroll spindle”) is sung in the services; the real deal is up to 19 ikoi long. Romanos went on to write over a thousand of them, of which 80 still survive.
Thérèse of Lisieux (1873 – 1897) was by her own admission “far from being a perfect little girl.” Her mother, a successful business owner, died when she was four years old, and she was devastated, changing from a spunky monkey to a weepy sheepy. At eight she attended a Benedictine day school, where she was a model student (although she struggled with writing and arithmetic). As the youngest and most tender-hearted pupil, she was the target of frequent bullying, although her father’s constant love and the companionship of her sister Pauline and cousin Marie helped her through. That and the chocolate (just kidding). When Pauline joined a Carmelite convent, however, Thérèse was once again devastated.
About this time she developed a tremor that was diagnosed as neurosis, but when one day she saw a statue of the Blessed Virgin smile at her, and her tremors were cured. At the prompting of her sister Marie she told this to the Carmelite nuns, but they accused her of lying. She was, well, devastated. Finally in 1886 she had a “complete conversion” when she learned with a shock that it was her father who left the gifts from the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. Something inside her clicked, and she lost the moping sorrow and self-pity that had followed her since her mother’s death.
A year later she tried again to become a Carmelite, but was again rejected because of her youth (this time she was not devastated!). A year later still she went on a pilgrimage to Rome with her father and sister Céline, where she was struck by the subsaintliness of the priests they met. This confirmed her calling to pray for the subperfect (earlier her prayers had caused a notorious murderer to have a guillotine-side repentance).
Upon her return she was finally Carmelitified. She devoured the works of St. John of the Cross, and had a special devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, taking everything that came to her with a quiet grace. She had entered the convent hoping to become a saint, but humbly realized that great works were not required and she could serve God in a “little way.” She wrote many poems, letters, and prayers; her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is considered a classic. She died after a painful bout with tuberculosis, and is the patron saint of, among others, Belgian and Spanish air crews.
Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.
October 1 (Wikipedia)
Romanos the Melodist (Wikipedia) – Main source
Venerable Romanus the Melodist, Sweet-Singer (OCA)
Icon of Romanos from Wikimedia (public domain)
Thérèse of Lisieux (Wikipedia) – Main source
St. Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway – Writings
Saint Therese of Lisieux (SQPN)
Photograph of Thérèse from Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule)