February 10 – Haralambos and Scholastica

Icon of Haralambos, Greek, 17th centuryHaralambos (89–202) (aka Charalampus) was variously a priest in, or bishop of, Magnesia (famous for its milk†) in Asia Minor. This is a story of torture so those with weak stomachs might want to skip to Scholastica, below. But we’re not going to talk about what they did to Haralambos. You’ll see.

Local functionaries Lucian and Lucius had Haralambos arrested and convicted of being a Christian. He was sentenced to be tortured and killed—in spite of being (as anyone with a calculator could tell you) 113 years old at the time. “Do your worst,” he said. They tortured him in divers [sic] sick ways, but all he said was, “You are preparing my soul for eternal life.” Seeing this, two soldiers cried out that they wanted to be Christians too, and were beheaded on the spot; the same happened to three women spectators (torture being high entertainment in Magnesia in those days). Haralambos healed them all. Lucius was so hacked off (so to speak) that he took up the torture implements himself, only to have his arms hacked off by an unseen sword. Lucian spat in Haralambos’ face, and his head suddenly swung around 180° and faced the other way. They both prayed for mercy, were healed by our saint, and became Christians.

The next thing in the narrative is Emperor Severus catching wind of the saint’s many miracles and conversions, and dispatching 300 soldiers to fetch him, which they did. They set off toward wherever the Emperor was, tormenting Haralambos along the way, until one of their horses cried that the Emperor was an enemy of God and his soldiers were slaves of the Devil. A silence fell (understandably), and the torment stopped. Please feel free to pause here to make your own jokes using the term “horse sense.”

Back to our story. Seeking to test Haralambos, the emperor brought out a possessed man (whom he[1] exorcised) and a dead man (whom he raised). “He’s a sorcerer!” cried Prefect Crispus, and the Emperor ordered more tortures, but suddenly found himself suspended in the air, being whipped by unseen hands. His daughter Gallina was converted on the spot and suggested he knock it off. When he didn’t, she went into the temple and broke all the idols she could get her hands on. (Wotta gal!) Finally Haralambos was beheaded. His soul went to its reward, and his head went to Meteora, where it is kept at the Monastery of St. Stephen.

Painting of the Death of St Scholastica, Altar piece, by Johann Baptist Wenzel Bergl, 1765Scholastica (ca. 480–547) was the twin sister of Benedict of Nursia (Mar 14), founder of the Benedictines. A godly woman from a young age, she was the abbess of a monastery about five miles away from her brother’s. The two used to meet once a year in a neutral place (closer to Ben’s monastery than hers, it must be said) to worship together and talk. One year, perhaps knowing it was their last, she begged him to stay and pass the night in prayer and discussion, but he rebuked her and said he must return to his monastic cell to sleep. She clasped her hands and bowed her head, and instantly the sky went from being clear and blue to being overcast. Thunder crashed, and it rained so hard it was hazardous to even put your head out the door, let alone walk back to your monastery.

“What have you done!” Benedict cried. “Well,” she said, “you wouldn’t listen to me, so I prayed to God, and He did.” Bazinga! They spent the night in prayer and talk, and the next day Benedict went home. Three days later he saw her soul ascending to heaven in the form of a shining dove. He instructed his monks to lay her body in his own tomb, where (of course) eventually he joined her, thus uniting them in death as they were united at birth (awww!).

Her prayers are, naturally enough, invoked against rain and storms.

[1] “He” being Haralambos of course