August 21 – Abraham of Smolensk; Bassa of Edessa

Abraham of Smolensk (d. ca. 1224) was the last of a long line of sisters—rather, the fulfillment of his parents’ prayers for a son, in pursuit of which they made twelve (no doubt lovely) daughters. When his parents passed away, he gave his inheritance to the poor, dressed in rags, and wandered through the streets of the city, praying for God to show him the way.

God was more than happy to show him the way to the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos, where he settled in and began learning theology from books in Greek, Latin, and Slavonic. After 30 short years, the igumen* of the monastery made Abraham a priest, whereupon he began a series of fiery sermons on the last judgment and living a worthy life. People came from wide and far to hear his sermons, and ultimately (can you see it coming?) he aroused the jealousy of his less popular monasterymates, and was shown the door. (“Nice door; I never really noticed it before.”)

He then joined the Exaltation of the Cross monastery, and began a beautification program at the cathedral. With the donations of the faithful, he purchased furnishings, commissioned icons, and in general spruced the place up good. He even painted a couple of icons himself, one each on his favorite two topics. He was strict with himself and his many spiritual children, and welcomed rich and poor alike to his cell.

He never laid off preaching about judgment and living a moral life, and as you probably realize, that’s never popular with people living immoral lives. He was accused of all manner of impropriety, heresy, and sexual naughtiness. The only thing they didn’t accuse him of was stealing candy from a baby, but that may be because they didn’t have candy yet in thirteenth-century Smolensk. (I made that up; they may well have.) He was tried and exonerated not once but twice, but they nevertheless forbade him to act as priest, and sent him back to the Theotokos monastery, presumably to keep an eye on him.

When a drought struck the land, the laypeople of the diocese, knowing this was a punishment from God for the ill treatment of the saintly Abraham, demanded that he be reinstated. The bishop re-opened the case, determined that Abraham was innocent (not a single baby had filed a complaint), and reinstated him. Abraham prayed for the city at some sort of service (sources vague; don’t ask again), and before he even made it back to his cell, it began to rain. The bishop, impressed, built a monastery for Abraham to head, and retired to it himself. Abraham was somewhat choosy about his monks, and only 17 were permitted to join. Within 75 years after his death, the great grandchildren of the babies whose candy he didn’t steal were writing services to him. He was also declared a saint in the sixteenth century by Pope Paul III, and is celebrated on both calendars on this day.

Bassa of Edessa (d. ca. 304) is also on both calendars today, so you can see I’m feeling ecumenical (don’t tell my bishop). She was the Christian wife of a pagan priest, and brought her three sons (Theogonius, Agapius, and Pistus) up in the Christian faith.

Eventually her hubby denounced her to the authorities, who forced her to watch as her boys were commanded to sacrifice to idols, tormented, and beheaded. She rejoiced that they had held firm in their faith, and would be rewarded with the crowns of martyrs. “These Christians are weird,” said the authorities, and tossed her in jail, where she grew faint from hunger until an angel brought her sustenance. Then, despite her tormentors’ best efforts, she remained unburned, undrowned, and uneaten-by-wild-beasts. After she shattered a statue of Zeus, they threw her into a whirlpool in the sea, but she was rescued by three shining figures (perhaps her sons, a source suggests) in a boat. Unfortunately, when the boat landed, she was recognized and beheaded.