September 3 – Anthimus of Nicomedia; Gregory the Great

Anthimus of Nicomedia (d. 303 or ca. 311) was the bishop of Nicomedia when its imperial court suffered a fire of unknown origin. The Christians, naturally, were blamed, and on the feast of the Nativity of Christ, 20,000 Christians were martyred in the church. (An uncommonly large church for that day. Perhaps it was larger on the inside than on the outside, like Snoopy’s doghouse.) At the request of his (remaining) flock, Anthimus fled to nearby Omana (if it doesn’t say “Omana,” it’s not…). While there, he sent letters home encouraging the brethren and sistren, but eventually his mailman was caught. Even under torture unto death, however, he did not betray the bishop’s whereabouts, but somebody must have, since the emperor (Maximinus or somebody else) learned of it. When the soldiers arrived to arrest him, Anthimus fed them a nice meal before revealing who he was. “You’re such a nice guy,” they said. “We’ll send a message saying you got away or something.” Anthimus demurred, “That would be like lying. You’ll have to do your job. Besides, what’s death to a Christian?” He explained the faith to them, and they believed and were baptized. Then they dragged him away, as commanded.

When they got to emperor, he had the torture implements all set out for Anthimus to see. “You’re trying to frighten me, aren’t you?” our hero said. “Bah. Execution is only frightening to cowards, who think this world is what’s important. Do your worst.” The emperor did his worst, and Anthimus followed so many of his followers into glory.

Gregory the Great (540–604) (aka Gregory Dialogus), while still on the rising arc of a promising political career (he was a patrician), sold everything, monasterified the family home, and became a monk. Before long he was deaconified against his will and sent to Constantinople by Pope Pelagius II (who was not a pelagian), in part to beg for military help in fending off the Lombards (who had heard about the food in Rome and wanted it for themselves, where “it” means the city, not the food). The Emperor demurred, either because his armies were all busy playing with the Persians, or because he had other diplomatic plans as regards the Lombards; my sources couldn’t agree. Greg knocked around the capital for six years, and got into a theological slugfest with the Patriarch (Eutychus), who opined that resurrected bodies would be lighter than air. Gregory tried to bring him down to earth.

Returning to Rome, he settled back into his monastery and soon became abbot. At one point he met with some Angle youths (from Britain, not Flatland), who were either slave boys for sale, or grown men there voluntarily. He immediately decided that Angle Land needed to hear the Gospel, and set out thither to preach. He was about three days out of town when a delegation from Rome caught him and hauled him back, presumably with some ulterior motive. Sure enough, when the Pelagius II went on to his reward, Gregory was elected pope. He sent a letter to the Emperor imploring him to reject the election, but it was intercepted, and a schedule of the election sent in its place. Greg was so horrified of the idea of being pope that while they all waited for the Emperor’s response, he served as interim pope. After the Emperor’s blessing came back, Gregory actually had to be physically picked up and carried to St. Peter’s Basilica for his consecration.

Among his works are rewriting of the western liturgy, codifying of the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts (used in the East), sending (St.) Augustine (May 27) to Canterbury, and getting his name attached to Gregorian Chant, either legitimately or anachronistically. (The Gregorian calendar is the fault of another Gregory.) He is the patron saint of, inter alia, stonemasons.