May 27 – John the Russian; Anselm of Canterbury

John the Russian (ca. 1690–1730) was born in (what is now) Ukraine, and served as a soldier during the Russo-Turkish War. He was captured in battle and sold into slavery to a Turkish cavalry commander from Prokopion (in Asia Minor). As was not infrequently the case, he was threatened, tortured, beaten, and so forth to prove to him the superiority of the religion of the people who threatened, tortured and beat him, and somehow induce him to want to join them. (Once again I am inexplicably reminded of the auto da fe.) He stood resolute in his Christian faith, and in so doing won the respect of his master. He was put in charge of the stable, which became his home as well. During the daytime he fasted (an interesting point considering the fasting practice of Ramadan, I thought), and nights he would sneak out to keep vigil at the cave church of St. George.

When his master became very rich, he attributed this to the presence of John, whom he apparently regarded as a holy man. When his master was away on hajj and his wife wasn’t, John served at the table of a dinner party she was throwing, and suggested the master might enjoy a plate of the pilau being served. Everybody laughed at him, thinking he just wanted to eat it for himself. When the master returned, he related that a serving of pilau on one of his own plates (his name was engraved upon them) miraculously appeared in his hotel room, still steaming hot. This miracle got out, and John was regarded even by the Muslims as a saint.

When he knew his end was approaching, John asked the priest to bring the Eucharist, but out of fear, the priest sent it hidden inside an apple. Nevertheless John found it, ate it, and died in peace. His relics are in a church which bears his name in Euboea, Greece, except his right hand, which is at Pantaleimon on Athos*. A church commemorating him was built in Moscow in 2003. His prayers are sought by/for sick children and those with cancer.

Augustine of Canterbury (early VI cent. – 604) is also venerated on May 26, and May 28, depending on where you live and how “ordinary” your calendar is. Don’t ask. But first things first. In the centuries after the Roman withdrawal from Britain (410), things Christian became bleak under the incursing Saxon pagans (I imagine the British Christians did a bit of cursing about this themselves). Ultimately Pope (St.) Gregory the Great (Sep 3) sent a delegation of about 40 (including of course Augustine) to Christianize said pagans in 595. The delegation didn’t get far afield before they chickened out, and sent Augustine back to Rome to ask for permission to bag it. The pope agreed and they all lived happily ever after in Rome. Just kidding! The pope said get your bottomi to Britain, and other more encouraging things.

The delegation landed in Kent, whose king Æthelberht allowed them to preach, and was himself baptized shortly thereafter. Augustine set up a bishopric in Canterbury, although nobody knows when he was made a bishop (although Bede* knew by whom). Things went great, with monasteries, parish churches, and converts galore, and the pope even sent more missionaries in 601, one bringing Auggie’s pallium. Sadly, due to miscommunications all around the Christians in the far west were not brought into Augustine’s see. We lack the space here for me to tell you that some of the problems were the date of Easter, the organization of the church (monastically led rather than diocesan), and issues of tonsure, asceticism, and whether to have ham or turkey on Pentecost. I made that last one up.

Augustine (under instruction from the pope) repurposed pagan festivals to saints’ days, legislated the proper behavior of the laity and clergy, brought everybody under the pope’s authority (save the Welsh as noted), and broke ties between English and Frankish bishops. He died at the ripe old age of nobody knows, and was first buried in the cathedral that bears his name, then moved to the church of the monastery. He is one of the patron saints of England (one who has actually been there, unlike, say, George).