March 18 – Cyril of Jerusalem; Frigidian of Lucca

Nicholas of Zhicha (1881–1956) was born in western Serbia. My sources don’t say what he did before 1902 but they agree he graduated from seminary in that year. In 1909 he entered a monastic order and was priested (on the same day). A sentence later (in one source) he became an archimandrite and then a seminary professor.

During the Great War (an numberless war until it was bequeathed a posthumous “1” by a subsequent war), Nikolai went to Britain on a diplomatic mission (details are thin) (okay, details are non-existent, at least in my sources). He earned a doctorate at Oxford on the philosophy of George Berkeley, which he wrote in French and defended in Geneva. (If you’ve ever read Berkeley, you will agree that it might as well be in French, or Linear A.) He also picked up honorary doctorates from Cambridge and Glasgow (they were just sitting there, and he picked them up). After the war he returned to Serbia, and was bishopified, serving in Zicha. In 1921 he went to America, where he was instrumental (he lost the lyric sheet) in setting up the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the United States and Canada. In 1922 he returned to Serbia, serving as bishop of Ochrid, whose prologue (The Prologue of Ochrid) (a book of saints and one of my major sources) he either then or later wrote. In 1934 he returned to Zicha, but (sadly) he did not write The Postlude of Zicha, which remains unwritten to this day, largely because I just made it up.

World War II brought civil war and other evils to Serbia, and Nikolai wound up in Dachau. He seldom spoke about it later, except to tell seminary students complaining about the rectory food that he gladly ate from garbage cans at camp. After the war he left Serbia, winding up (ultimately) in the United States. There he seminary-hopped, winding up (ultimately) at St. Tikhon’s, winding up (ultimately) as its rector. There he stirred up controversy by lecturing only in English. To his detractors he said (and I quote), “You have learned and heard enough. Time for the seminarians to learn something.” And they did, by gum.

Although Nikolai’s health never fully recovered from the war, he worked energetically to minister to Serbian expats, teach, and earn more PhDs. He was loved and respected by all who knew him, even (apparently) people who lectured in Russian. He died at St. Tikhon’s in 1956, his body was returned to Serbia in 1991, and he was glorified by the synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2003.

Frigidian of Lucca (d. 588) was the son of King Ultach of Ulster. After a stint studying in a monastery or two, he decided (God knows why) to leave the Emerald Isle for Italy, where he settled as a hermit near Mount Pisano. Before he knew it, they had elected him bishop of Lucca, which post he grudgingly accepted but only after the Pope begged him. There he rebuilt the cathedral (which those blasted Lombards had blasted), and organized the clergy into a community of canons regular*. Through all of this he still found time to make retreats into the countryside for prayer and solitude.

But his fame rests on the nearby River Serchio, which was always bursting its banks and wreaking havoc on the town. The citizens would constantly plague him about it, rather than do something useful like build a levy. Finally one day he grabbed a rake, walked to the riverbank, and scraped out a line in the dirt. “Yo, Serchio,” he said, “this is your new path.” The river, presumably bemused but nonetheless obedient, followed the curve the rake had made, which took it away from the city walls yet didn’t flood the nearby fields.

I want to say that Frigidian (the Italians called him “Frediano,” but they call cheese “formaggio” so what do they know?) is a patron saint of civil engineers, but unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be the case. Sure, there are already four, but what’s one more?