August 24 – Appearance of the Theotokos to Sergius of Radonezh; Bartholomew

The Appearance of the Theotokos to Sergius of Radonezh (1385) took place on a Friday in Advent, as so many of the world’s great events do. (Actually I can’t think of any others, so I may have overstated my case.) He was resting after having read the Akathist to the Theotokos when he said to his disciple Micah, “Look sharp, company’s coming.” And sure enough, there came a voice saying (approximately), “Yo! All-Pure One arriving at gate three.” They ran out of the cell and there was the Mother of God herself, with special guests Peter and John the Apostles (who did not do an opening set). Sergius and Micah prostrated themselves, and the all-pure one said, “Fear not.” (That is such a cooler phrase than the semantically equivalent “Don’t be afraid,” don’t you think? ’Course you do.) “I’ve heard your prayers and will protect your monastery. It will endure, even after you exit, stage right.” After expounding a bit on this, she exited stage right-where-she-was.

Sergius got up first, and raised Micah, who pelted him with questions. “A moment, please, to collect my thoughts,” said Sergius. He also collected his other disciples, and together they sang a molieben*. Sergius kept this vision in his heart for the rest of his life, and his disciples kept a commemoration of it for the rest of theirs.

Sergius died (as have all monks to date who aren’t still alive), and in 1422 an icon commemorating the mystical event was placed upon his tomb. Ivan the Terrible borrowed this icon to take on his famous Kazan campaign in 1552, and it has subsequently accompanied the Russian army on many expeditions, helping secure victory for the Motherland. (Except in 1905 but we won’t speak of that.) A church built over the grave of St. Micah bears the name that starts our story, and an Akathist to the all-pure one is sung there every Friday. This feast is celebrated on August 24 because it’s the second day of the leavetaking (we Orthodox give up our great feasts very reluctantly) of the Dormition.

The Apostle Bartholomew (I cent.) (“Son of furrows”) (not fooling) is usually identified with Nathaniel because the two are mentioned repeatedly as companions of Philip (in the Synoptics and John, respectively), but are never seen in the same room together. After a while, suspicion gave way to certainty, except in the minds of the nay-sayers, who say, “Nay.” (Nathaniel is a given name and Bartholomew is a patronymic, which means something.) Nathaniel it was who said of Nazareth, “Can anything good come from that dump?”

After the pages of the New Testament close, Tradition picks up the thread and has Nathaniel as a missionary to India, Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Syria, Asia Minor, Armenia, and/or Lycaiona. (Cue: Beach Boys[1].) After a long and productive missionariate, he was flayed alive and crucified upside-down. His relics range from Dura-Europos, Syria (near modern Salhiyé), to Rome (of course) to Frankfurt to Canterbury.

Two miracle stories are associated with the gold and silver statue of Bartholomew in Lipari, Italy (where a large portion of his skin (I am not asking which portion) is said to have washed ashore). Once during a procession the statue got too heavy to carry, and had to be set down. Moments later a part of the city wall collapsed onto the procession route, right where they would have been had they not stopped. Centuries later the Fascists seized the statue to melt it down, but changed their minds when it was found to weigh only a few grams.

Among many other things and places, Bartholomew is the patron of Florentine cheesemongers.

[1]Let the reader understand.