August 13 – Tikhon of Zadonsk; Radegund

Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724–1783) (né Timothy) was the son of a reader who died young, and he and his brothers were forced as children to work for a crust a day (and not even a name-brand crust). At age sixteen he started seminary under a government scholarship. After fourteen grueling years (and that was the fast track), he graduated and was made an instructor. After another four years he was tonsured Tikhon and made in turn prefect of the school, an archimandrite, and igumen* and rector of a seminary.

Then one fateful day Novgorod became bishopless. The Metropolitan wanted to transfer Tikhon to a(nother) monastery, but the synod voted three times for a new bishop, and as Ethel Merman sang in 1959, “everything’s coming up Tikhon.” On the same day another bishop far away inadvertently commemorated Tikhon as bishop while cutting particles from prosphora at Liturgy[1]. That clinched it. Tikhon became bishop of Novgorod (later moving to Voronezh).

There he stamped out pagan practices, insisted his clergy own a copy of the New Testament and read it daily (gasp!), wrote spiritual treatises on the Christian life and right administration of sacraments, and in general ran himself ragged. After four years his health failed, and he retired to the Zadonsk Monastery. When in time he improved somewhat, the Met sent him an invitation to become igumen of another monastery, but his elder said, “Are you nuts? The Theotokos wants him here.” “Guess I’d better stay here then,” said Tikhon, tearing up the invitation.

The saint was hard on himself but very charitable with others. Once, he walked in on some brothers eating fish during Lent. They were mortified and feared the worst, but he soothed them by sitting down and eating with them. When a holy fool struck him and told him not to be so haughty (which anybody who knew him would have said was absurd), he thanked the fool, and paid him three kopeks a day for the rest of his life. He was granted many visions, and to know the day of the week(!) of his death (Sunday). He told his elder of a vision in which he was being helped up the Divine Ladder by a multitude of people. The elder said those were all the people he had helped throughout his life by his charity and his teachings. Shortly after this dream, he died—on a Sunday, as foretold. He is, in part, the inspiration for the character of Father Zosima in the greatest Russian novel ever written. But not the smell part—Tikhon’s body was found in 1846 to be incorrupt.

Radegund (ca. 520–586) was a princess in one of the three royal families of Thuringia. After various wars and assassinations, only she and her brother were left. She was taken as hostage by the usurper Clotaire I, who kept her in his villa (where she converted to Christianity) until she was of marriageable age, then marriaged her to himself. She thus joined his harem of six wives and/or concubines, and he was unnice to her due to her barrenness. When he killed her brother, she fled to the church, was made a deaconess, and founded the Convent of our Lady of Poitiers in Sydney. Heh just kidding. In Poitiers (which is nowhere near Australia). She ruled the convent with an iron nib—under her rule all the nuns learned to read and write, and worked doing so in the scriptorium. She was on chummy terms with (St.) Gregory of Tours (Nov 17) and the poet Fortunatus (who never saw a cask of Amontilladus in his life). Two of her poems survive. She is the patron saint “against scabs.”

The full name of Jesus College at Cambridge, as everyone knows but you, is “The College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge.” (“Virgin”? That could explain the barrenness thing.)


[1] Please do not ask me how that works.