March 8 Saints of the Day – Theophylactus of Nicomedia and John of God

Theophylactus of NicomediaOn this day in 1978, the first radio episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was transmitted on BBC Radio 4. Nobody had any idea the impact the show would eventually have on towel sales.

The eastern calendar today salutes Theophylactus of Nicomedia (d. ca. 845). When the Seventh Ecumenical Council restored the use of icons in the worship of the Church, Patriarch (Saint) Tarasius tonsured a lot of his colleagues into the monastic fold. One of these was Theophylactus, who spent some time at a monastery on the Black Sea (where he miraculously provided water during a drought) before being tapped as bishop of Nicomedia (there are worse fates). There he proved a capable administrator with a heart for the poor and the suffering. Besides the usual churches, he built many institutions to care for the needy, and he personally served in them, even going so far as washing lepers with his own hands.

When a new iconoclast emperor arose (Leo the Armenian), the bishops of the church met with him in an attempt to talk some theological sense into him, or at least get him to stop persecuting the faithful, but to no avail. Theophylactus got so angry he told Leo that he would meet “great destruction,” from which no one would be able to save him. For his boldness he was sent into exile, where he spent the last 30 years of his life in suboptimal conditions. Leo reigned less than seven years before he was (ick warning) hacked to pieces in a locked church, his guards unable to get in to help him. Theophylactus’ relics were returned to Nicomedia when icons were restored under Empress Theodora.

John of GodThe western calendar hails John of God (1495 – 1550). After a stint as a somewhat wayward soldier (he was accused of “grievous sexual excesses”) and a time spent selling religious books and trinkets, John saw the infant Christ in a vision, in which he was given the name “John of God” and instructed to go to Granada. There he heard the preaching of John of Ávila, and went mad with remorse for his sins. Literally. He ranted and raved and was eventually put into an insane asylum. The standard of care in those days was apparently to beat the patient until they became sane. We have no epidemiological studies of the efficacy of this treatment, but I’m guessing the success rate wasn’t all that great. When John of Ávila heard about this, he visited the asylum, telling our saint he had done enough penance and it was time to help others. John calmed down, and began to serve the sick in the asylum’s infirmary until his discharge.

He then bought a house in town and opened a hospital, selling wood to pay the bills when he wasn’t tending the sick. He also used his funds to feed the hungry, both in his own home, and throughout the region. He even allowed prostitutes and vagabonds to stay in his hospital, and sought out prostitutes and helped them to start new lives, which apparently wasn’t the done thing at the time (made the johns angry for starters). When the archbishop criticized him for housing “bad women,” he replied, “The only bad person there is me.”

When his house caught on fire, he carried the patients out one by one on his back, returning into the flames each time until he could no longer do so. So many people wanted to join in the good works that he was forced to contemplate starting a religious order. (I’m beginning to think that in the west, post-Francis, this is as inevitable as hermits turning into monasteries, or bones being moved.) This evolved into the Hospitaller Brothers of Saint John of God, which has opened hospitals all over the world, and is still caring for the sick in the spirit of John of God.

John himself died of an illness (pneumonia?) he contracted after trying to save a drowning child. He is the patron of, among others, firefighters and alcoholics. His relics were last moved in 1757.

March 8 (Wikipedia)
St Theophylactus the Bishop of Nicomedia (OCA) – Main source
The Prologue of Ohrid (book on paper)
Theophylact of Nicomedia (Wikipedia)
Leo V the Armenian (Wikipedia)
John of God, Religious (St. Patrick’s, D.C.) – Main source
Saint John of God (SQPN)
John of God (Wikipedia)
Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God (Wikipedia)

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.