February 12 – Alexis Metropolitan of Moscow and Julian the Hospitaller

Icon of Alexis, Metropolitan of Moscow by G. Zenovyev, 1690sAlexis, Metropolitan of Moscow (ca. 1296–1378) (né Elephtherios but it would be charitable not to press that) was a boyar’s boy, became a monk while still in his teens (oddly, nothing is said about running away from home), worked for 20 years for the Metropolitan, and was made bishop of Vladimir. During a time of religious turmoil, he nipped off down to Constantinople to consult with the Patriarch (one Callistus), who gave him the title of “All-Venerable Metropolitan and Exarch” of Kiev and Great Russia.

On the homeward journey, his ship was bestormed, and he vowed to create a church dedicated to whoever the saint of the day was on the day the ship landed. They landed on August 16, the feast of the Image Not-Made-By-Hands (q.v.). (He kept his promise.) Upon his landing, we are told, “Moscow delightedly came out to meet the saint,” which is pretty amazing when you consider that the closest shore of the Black Sea is some 600 miles away from Moscow as the double-headed eagle flies. (I’m not even going to consider the possibility they sailed from Constantinople to St. Petersburg, which was a swamp at the time anyway.)

This was a time of great political turmoil for Russia, and Alexis rode the storm with aplomb. He served for a time as regent for the Great Princeling, intervened in squabbles with Tver and Nizhny Novgorod, and fended off the Golden Horde, at one point by restoring, through his prayers, the eyesight of the Khan’s wife (she was a looker[1]). All the while founding multiple monasteries and churches and writing multiple letters and sermons. After his peaceful death he was buried in the Chudov Monastery (which he founded), exhumed and reburied 50 years later, then finally moved to the Epiphany Cathedral after Chudov was destroyed by the Communists.

Manuscript illumination of Julian the Hospitaller and Wife, circa 1430–40Julian the Hospitaller (I cent.?), thought by some to be merely a pious fiction (we assume he forgives them), was jinxed at birth by pagan witches to grow up to (spoiler alert!) kill both his parents. His father was determined to get rid of the lad, but his mother refused, although she often wept when she thought Julian couldn’t hear. Eventually he got the story out of her, and walked all the way from Italy (or France, or Belgium) to Galicia, married a virtuous woman (who can find?), and settled down.

Many years later his parents decided to look for him. (I can hear you shouting at the screen.) Somehow they ended up in Julian’s town, and asked the first passer-by for lodging. This was (who else?) Julian’s wife, and she greeted them joyfully, and put them in the master suite to wait for Julian to return from his hunting trip. An enemy (Satan?) came to Julian while he was hunting and said his wife was at that moment committing adultery in his own bed. He rushed home and, finding two people snoozing on his Posturepedic, pulled out his sword and killed them. Then he went down to the kitchen for a bite, where his wife greeted him joyfully. “Honey, guess who—”

It swiftly came out what had happened, and the two set off to Rome to seek absolution. (The witches seem to get off scot-free[2]) (ain’t that the way?). For penance, Julian and his missus built an inn (somewhere in Italy) for travelers and the sick.

Our story ends with Julian finally obtaining forgiveness. A leper nearly frozen to death came seeking shelter, and Julian gave up his own bed for him. The leper turned out to be an angel sent from God, who announced that Christ had granted forgiveness to Julian, then disappeared without paying his bill. Julian is the patron saint of ferrymen, carnies, innkeepers, travelers,—and murderers.

Moral: if you are prophesied to kill your parents, don’t leave home! Lest upon your eventual and inevitable reunion you not recognize them, and fulfill the prophecy. Ask Oedipus.

[1] Or at least she was after her sight was restored.
[2] Which is not to say they’re Scottish witches. That’s another story (which we shall not name).