February 27 — Raphael of Brooklyn; Leander of Seville

Raphael of Brooklyn (1860–1915) was born in Beirut as رفائيل هواويني‎, and educated in Orthodox schools/academies in Damascus, Halki Island (Turkey), and Kiev. He was a model scholar, and was highly thought of by those in high places, until he got embroiled in the politics of Patriarch picking in 1891. He was suspended, and wrote a handful of nasty newspaper articles about it, but was reinstated after he cooled down and asked for forgiveness. He was sent to New York in 1895 by Tsar Nicholas II (“of Russia,” one source helpfully adds, in case you were confusing him with some other Tsar Nicholas II), after a request by the locals. He traveled across the continent, seeking out Orthodox Christians of all ethnicities and persuading them to return to the fold (if they had unfolded). He founded 30 churches, and performed countless weddings and baptisms. He also healed a breach in the Arab Christian community, and helped in the founding of St. Tikhon’s Seminary (as opposed to the finding, which is easy if you have the right map app).

Scarcely nine years after he landed, he was bishopified by (inter alia) (St.) Tikhon of Moscow—the first Orthodox bishopification in North America. He was seated in Brooklyn, and there (unlike the Dodgers) he stayed. He received many invitations from the Old Country to higher office, but consistently turned them down. Like any decent saint, sometime after his untimely death (at 55), his bones were moved—in his case, to Antiochian Village, Pennsylvania, in 1989. He was glorified by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) in 2000.

Leander of Seville (534–600) was born into a very holy (all four kids were sainted) and possibly well-connected (accounts vary) Cartagenian family, became a Benedictine, and was made Bishop of Seville. (Our sources weren’t real diggers.) He founded a prestigious school, and worked with Princess Inguthis to convert her Visigoth (and thus Arian) husband Hermengild to Trinitarian Christianity. It worked, but led to enmity between the prince and his Arian father Leovigild—although not nearly as much as his (failed) attempt to usurp the throne. Hermengild and Leander (and presumably Inguthis, although she drops out of the story at this point) were summarily exiled. Leander went to Constantinople, where he met Gregory the Great (Sep 3) (although at the time only his mother called him that), and the two became fast friends, exchanging warm letters that are still extant[1].

Back in Hispania, Leovigild and Hermenegild truced briefly then fell out again. When Hermenegild refused to take communion from an Arian priest, he lost his head. Literally. Dad died not long after his filicide, and his son Reccared, head intact, ascended the throne.

On hearing this, Leander hightailed it back to the peninsula and converted Reccared to the Trinitarian faith (possibly with help, although the sources here are no help). In 589 he called and presided over the Third Council of Toledo, which once and for all turned the Visigoth Kingdom of Hispania away from Arianism, at least officially. For the rest of his life he worked on “extirpating” pockets of Arianism in his diocese. (A fine word; look it up, it’s good practice.) He also wrote a rule for nuns (“wash behind both ears” was not it) for the use of his sister (an abbess), and revised and unified the Spanish Mass[2], introducing the use of the Nicene creed. When he died he was succeeded as bishop by his brother (St.) Isidore (Apr 4), who lauded him for his suave eloquence and brightly shining virtues (clearly any sibling rivalry between them had long since been worked through), and for his tireless work in converting the peninsula to Trinitarian Christianity.

[1] Although they’re room temperature by now.
[2] Not to be confused with Spanish moss, of course. Mnemonic: The Spanish mass connects us to the Tree of Life; Spanish moss is connected to living trees.