July 14 – Nicodemus the Hagiorite; Kateri Tekakwitha

Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1748–1809) (Νικόδημος ὁ Ἁγιορείτης) was born on Naxos (that’s an island), had an abbreviated education due to Ottoman obnoxity, and matriculated at Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos* in 1775.

Immediately (or shortly thereafter) he buckled down to writing and compiling works of Orthodox piety. He is responsible for the publication of the Rudder, a compilation of canons, as well as the Philokalia*, a passel of pieces on prayer. (One source enjoins us to read the English translation of the Rudder with care, as the translator interspersed his own opinions with those of the original without indicating which were which. Doesn’t that just untie your chotki!) He also wrote books about the saints, as well as service books and collections of hymns, including some of his own (indicating, naturally, which were which).

According to his contemporaries he had no malice, but did have profound concentration (much greater than 100 moles per liter) (no moles were harmed in the making of that joke). He knew the Scriptures by heart, including chapter and verse numbers (whoa!), and could recite long passages from the Fathers (when no other matters were pressing). To sum up in two words, “impressive dude.”

Kateri Tekakwitha (ca. 1656–1680) was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a captured Christian Algonquin woman. When she was four years old both her parents and her baby brother died of smallpox, and she was left orphaned, scarred, and visually impaired. Thereafter she shunned social gatherings, in part out of self-consciousness about her smallpox scars. When she was about ten, her village was destroyed by the French, and the Mohawk in that area were forced—um, agreed by treaty—to accept Jesuit missionaries in their villages.

When Kateri’s village was attacked by Mohicans from the east, the village priest recruited a number of girls, including Kateri, to help tend the wounded, bury the fallen, and run provender (or victuals, or comestibles—all great words) to the defenders. After the attackers were subdued, Pierron pleaded unsuccessfully with the villagers to not torture the captives, then tended the torturees, baptizing as many as he could before they died.

Kateri (“Catherine”) had long since decided to remain a virgin, and rebuffed her aunts’ attempts to marry her off, once even fleeing the room when a potential suitor sat next to her. She was punished severely, but eventually the aunts gave up (Mohawk, Italian, Anglo-Saxon—this pattern is clearly universal). After two long years of catechesis (the Jesuits were keen to prevent reverts among their converts), she was baptized. She stated her desire to remain a virgin for Christ, and is counted as the first such among the Mohawk. She then went to a religious (albeit not religious*) community and was instructed further in the faith. Although her priests told her to slack up a bit on her self-mortifications, they finally took their toll, and on Holy Wednesday she breathed her last words, “Jesus, I love you.” After her death her face glowed with a heavenly radiance, and she appeared to three people to tell them goodbye. Years later (2006) her prayers healed a given-up-on boy from a flesh-eating disease.

Her position among Native Americans is a matter of some dispute—many revere her as a patron saint, while others denounce her as not embodying true Mohawk womanhood (and repeat rumors about her supposed inconstancy). Pope Benedict XVI canonized her in 2012 after intense lobbying by a monastery in (of all places) Mexico. She is the patron saint of environmentalists and (some) Native Americans, and is the Catholic Church’s first non-Hispanic American native saint.