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December 14 Saints of the Day – Philemon, Apollonius, & Arianus of Alexandria, and John of the Cross

On this day in 1901, the first table tennis tournament was held, at the London Royal Aquarium. The rules were changed to disallow multiple paddles per player after the squid won in straight sets.

ArianusThe story of Philemon, Apollonius, & Arianus of Alexandria (d. 286) begins with the persecutions of Diocletian. Apollonius, a Christian, devised an ingenious scheme to avoid the dilemmic horns of idol worship and death: he convinced Philemon, a pagan, to swap robes with him and make the sacrifice in his stead. They swapped, but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: Philemon converted to Christianity. “Changed my mind,” he told Governor Arianus. “Not gonna do it.” His brother outed him as him, but Philemon stood his ground. “Just now converted. Go ahead and kill me.” “If I kill you, you will die unbaptized,” the wily Arianus said. Philemon saw his point immediately. “Is there anybody here who can baptize me?” he shouted. Not long after nobody stepped forward, a small cloud came down from heaven, rained upon Philemon three times, and blew away.

Apollonius had by this time found his courage, and joined Philemon. Together they were hung from a tree, and shot with arrows. One missed its mark and pierced Arianus’ eye. After some cursing, he begged Philemon to heal him. “After I die,” Philemon said (he and Apo were soon beheaded), “sprinkle dust from my grave on your eye, and you will be healed.” Arianus did, he was, and he converted to Christianity, resulting (eventually) in being called before the Emperor. As he left town he told his servants, “Look for my body to wash ashore in a few days. Bury me near Philemon.”

Diocletian had Arianus bound in chains, thrown into a pit, and covered with rocks, but when the he returned to his bedchamber, there was Arianus, lounging on the bed. “Jesus 1, Diocletian 0,” Arianus said (approximately). Dio then had him sewn into a bag and thrown into the sea, and you know the rest of the story due to my skillful foreshadowing.

John of the CrossJohn of the Cross (1542 – 1591) was born to a converso (high-top sneaker Jewish converts to Christianity) family near Ávila. His father Gonzalo had been an accountant for his rich relatives, but he was kicked out of the family when he married below his station (Mornington Crescent). Gonzalo died when John was seven, and the family was forced into terrible poverty (his older brother died of malnutrition). Finally Catalina, his mother, found work as a weaver.

John entered a school for poor children, became an acolyte, then joined the Carmelites. They sent him to University to study theology, philosophy, and Biblical Themes in Sixteenth Century Spanish Cinema. He was made a priest, and was considering becoming a Carthusian, when he had a fateful meeting with Teresa of Ávila, the mystic Carmelite reformer. Under Teresa’s guidance he founded a monastery of so-called “Discalced” (barefoot) Carmelites, and took the name John of the Cross.

Soon politics, both ecclesial and secular, broke out over Teresa and John’s reforms, and John was seized, tried, and imprisoned in a monastery in Toledo (Spain, not Ohio) by not-so-discalced Carmelites, who lashed him weekly to show him his desired reforms were too harsh. After about nine months of this he escaped to Teresa, was nursed back to health, and went right on reforming. The Discalced Carmelites demanded that Pope Gregory XIII recognize them as a separate entity, which eventually he did. John taught at the Discalceds’ first college, was one of the new order’s first “Definitors,” and wrote its constitutions. He traveled widely, establishing many monasteries and convents, until he was sidelined for disagreeing with the order’s Vicar General and was banished to a distant monastery, where he soon fell ill and died.

Almost immediately, various towns and monasteries started fighting over his body, with the predictable result that he’s buried in all of them. His poems Spiritual Canticle (which he began in prison) and The Dark Night of the Soul establish him as a giant among Spanish poets, of whom he is the patron saint.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History for 14th December
The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Vol. 4: December (book on paper) – Main source
Martyr Arianus of Alexandria (OCA)
Icon of Arianus from OCA (copyright unknown)
John of the Cross (Wikipedia) – Main source
Saint John of the Cross (SQPN)
Detail from Francisco de Zurbarán’s St. John of the Cross (1656) from the Archdiocesan Museum in Katowice (Poland) via Wikimedia (public domain)


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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