August 24 Saints of the Day – The Appearance of the Theotokos to Sergius of Radonezh, and Bartholomew

On this day in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) redefined the term “planet,” resulting in Pluto’s demotion to “dwarf planet.” This made the new dwarf Grumpy.

Appearance of the Theotokos to Sergius of RadonezhThe Appearance of the Theotokos to Sergius of Radonezh (1385) took place on one of the Fridays of Advent, as so many of the world’s great events do. (I can’t think of any others right now, but still.) Sergius was resting after having read the Akathist to the Theotokos when he said to his disciple St. Micah, “Look sharp, we’re expecting company.” And what to their wondering ears should appear but a voice saying, “Yo! All-Pure One arriving at gate three.” They ran out of the cell and, sure enough, there was the Mother of God wrapped in a blinding light, with special guests Peter and John the Apostles. (They 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 here. It will endure, even after you exit stage right even.” After expounding a bit on this, she exited stage right-where-she-was.

Sergius got up first, and raised Micah, who immediately pelted him with questions. “A moment, please, to collect my thoughts,” said Sergius. Soon he collected other disciples, and together they sang a molieben (a type of saint-specific prayer service). 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.

BartholomewThe Apostle Bartholomew (I cent.) was an apostle named Bartholomew (“Son of תולמי, ‘furrows’”). He is usually identified with Nathaniel and in that guise is the one who when told that the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth, said, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from that dump?” The equation between the two names — one of which has the form of a first name and the other of a patronymic — comes 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.” (Not “Noo.”)

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*.) 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.

*Let the reader understand.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

August 24 (Wikipedia)
Appearance of the Mother of God to St Sergius of Radonezh (OCA) – Main (only) source
Image of the Icon of the Appearance etc. from OCA (Copyright unknown)
Bartholomew the Apostle (Wikipedia) – Main source
Saint Bartholomew the Apostle (SQPN)
Image of Bartholomew from SQPN (Copyright unknown)