May 2 – Boris of Bulgaria; José María Rubio

Boris of Bulgaria, Equal-to-the-Apostles (d. 907) (Борис-Михаил) was the founding prince or king or khan or knyaz or archon or tsar (delete as needed) of the First Bulgarian Empire. Boris began his reign during a time when war was even more popular a national pastime than it is now. During one conflagration he managed to capture a Byzantine monk, and in turn his sister was captured by the Greeks. Thus did Boris learn about Orthodoxy, and his sister (whose name I could not discover) (ain’t that the way of it, ladies?) was baptized. Monk and princess were exchanged in a prisoner swap, and Boris got another earful about the Christian faith. Finally, Methodius and Cyril were run out of Greater Moravia, and the former came to light in Bulgaria, filling Boris’ other other ear. Boris was baptized (taking the name Michael), along with his family and many of the nobility. He then imported some Byzantine priests to evangelize and baptize the countryside. We won’t go into exactly how voluntary that was; our sources are at war and many experts find crossfire unhealthy.

Boris appealed to the Patriarch of Constantinople (Photius I) for instructions on how to make the Bulgarian church autocephalous. Not liking the answer, he thumbed his royal nose at the Patriarch and asked the Pope of Rome (Nicholas I) the same question. In response, the pope sent a raft of missionaries. Photius raised a holy stink about sheep-stealing, words were said, and before long you had the so-called Photian Schism, a temporary break between Rome and Constantinople which was a small step for a schism, but a giant leap for schism-kind, contributing directly (scholars say) to the (to-date) permanent schism of 1054. Neither Pope nor Patriarch could abide a Bulgaria overseen by the other, so the Bulgarian Church has been autocephalous ever since.

After creating a Christian kingdom and an autocephalous Bulgarian Church, Boris abdicated in favor of his son Vladimir, retiring once and for all to a peaceful monastery. Only to resume the kingship when Vladimir apostatized and tried to take the country back to paganism. Boris deposed him and replaced him with son #3 (Simeon), with a stern glare and a warning that he could do the exact same thing a second time if need be. He then settled down immovably in his monastery. Until Simeon bungled a military campaign against the Magyars and Byzantines, and Boris once again took up the sword. Once that was sorted, he provisionally monasticized, and remained so for life.

José María Rubio (1864–1929) was ordained in 1887 and desired to become a Jesuit, but was responsible for the care of an elderly priest who took nineteen years to die. José worked as a vice-parish priest (a vice-parish is a parish in the red light district) (kidding) and a parish priest, and taught metaphysics, Latin, and pastoral theology at the seminary in Madrid. (Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.) He was an incisive preacher, and people used to line up around the block to confess to him, while other confessors sat in lonely booths and read or something. (Details are thin.) He was devoted to the poor, and sought to provide not just for their material needs, but also their spiritual needs, with special programs just for them.

We end with a story. One night José met a woman who sent him to see a man at such-and-such an address, who was dying. “Someone is playing a joke on you,” said the man. “I’m in fine health.” Nevertheless he invited José in, and gave him a drink. As he sat there, the saint saw a portrait on the wall of the woman who had sent him. “That’s my mother,” said the man, “but she died years ago. While you’re here maybe you can hear my confession, since I haven’t been to church in years.” So he made his confession, and died that very night.

José was canonized in 2003 by Pope John Paul II.