August 3 – Anthony the Roman; Nicodemus

Anthony the Roman (1067–1147) was born demonymously, raised Orthodoxically (in the infant days of the East/West split), and orphaned at 17. He gave part of his considerable inheritance to the poor, tossed the other half into the sea in a barrel, and settled down to study the Greek fathers at a wilderness monastery for twenty years. When the “Latins” broke up the monastery for not submitting to the Pope of Rome, he went and lived eremitically on a rock on the seashore. After a year, a great storm came up and floated his rock to Novgorod. One source specifies that it sailed up the Neva and across Lake Ladoga, which means he sailed out through Gibraltar, around Spain, through the Dover Straits, and so on. I haven’t checked in Guinness, but this may win the much-coveted award for “longest journey on a floating rock.”

Once he learned the local lingo, he told the bishop about his journey and showed him his postcards. The bishop was amazed, and had a church built on the spot where Anthony landed (exactly three versts up the Volkhov from Novgorod). The next bishop priested and abbotified him. His keg o’ cash made the same trip, and some years later washed up nearby. Anthony had second thoughts about its jetsamification, and won it in court from its finder via the ingenious method of precisely describing the contents. “Must be yours,” the judge said. Anthony used the money to purchase land for the monastery, which he ruled wisely until he died, as do we all (die, I mean, not rule wisely) (well, Elijah and Enoch didn’t) (die, I mean). Anthony is considered the father of Novgorodic monasticism.

The Righteous Nicodemus (d. I cent.) was a member of the Great Sanhedrin, the rabbinical court that met to decide about “all aspects of Jewish religious and political life.” The Jewish Encyclopedia (and if they don’t know, who would?) says that this Nicodemus is probably the same as Nicodemus ben Gurion, who is spoken of in the Talmud as a wonder-worker. Just so you know whom you’re dealing with here.

New Testamentically, Nicodemus is mentioned only in John’s gospel, and only thrice. In chapter 3, he meets with Jesus at night and gets into a conversation about baptism. He asks how one can be born again when one is old, giving our Lord an in to talk about being born of the Spirit, and indeed the opportunity to say John 3:16. Without Nicodemus, in other words, televised American football would be a completely different place[1].

The second time we meet Nicodemus is in chapter 7, when he warns his fellow Sanhedrites (if that’s a word) that they cannot condemn a person before hearing what he has to say. They of course dismiss him, having their minds made up (“No prophet comes from Galilee, you moron”), but at least he tried.

Finally Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimathea bury our Lord’s body after the Crucifixion, contributing a mixture of “myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” For this reason he is honored in the Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholic rites on the second Sunday after Pascha, the Day of the Myrrh-bearing Women. I am trusting you not to draw any untoward conclusions from this.

After this, tradition (or Butler, but one hopes he isn’t just making it up) tells us, he retired from the Sanhedrin, and lived for a time in Gamaliel’s country house. His relics, along with those of St. Stephen, Gamaliel, and Abibas, were found on this day (or the day before if you’re Orthodox) in 428, and placed in the church of St. Lawrence (Aug 10) in Constantinople.

[1] Because no one would hold up signs in the end zone saying “John 3:16”. I know, I know, if you have to explain a joke….