September 5 Saints of the Day – Zachariah, Father of John the Baptist, and Teresa of Calcutta

On this day in 1698, in his “Westernization” programme, Tsar Peter I of Russia imposed a tax on beards for all men except the clergy and peasantry. Even men with moustaches had to pay through the nose.

Zachariah, Father of John the BaptistZachariah, Father of John the Baptist (d. I cent.), was a priest in the Jerusalem temple, which was not a job for wimps. (If you answered “yes” to “Are you a wimp?” they threw your application away.) He had no offspring because his wife Elizabeth was barren. (They always blamed the woman. Of course they didn’t have microscopes and, um, — moving on.)

One day when Zachariah went into the temple to burn incense, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him, saying, “Fear not! For y’all will have a son, and you will call him John (this is not optional), and he’ll be one heckuva guy. Oh, and see he doesn’t drink booze.” Zachariah retorted nonplussedly, “Look, I’m a geezer and Elizabeth is no spring chicken.” Gabriel replied, “If you’re going to be that way about it, you will be both silent and unable to speak until the kid’s born.” And so it came to pass. After Zachariah went home and certain things happened, Elizabeth did in fact conceive. At her age this was a high-risk pregnancy, so she kept hidden until she was about five months along.

(Somewhere in there the most holy Theotokos conceived our Lord and came to visit Elizabeth, and John the B, still enwombed, did a backflip. But this is not their story. Back to Zach.)

When JtB was born, Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives all rejoiced. (Zachariah’s relatives are not mentioned. Your guess as to why; I’m stumped.) At the christening — wait, wrong religion. At the circumcision they were going to name him “Zachariah,” but Elizabeth insisted on “John the Baptist.” (Well, just “John.” The “Baptist” came later.) All eyes turned to Zach, who called for a legal pad and wrote, “What she said.” His tongue was loosed and his mouth was opened (good thing he could breathe through his nose) (wait, how did he eat for nine months?), and he praised God, and everyone wondered what kind of kid this kid would be. (One heckuva guy, of course.)

Ultimately Zachariah was murdered “between the sanctuary and the altar” (Mt. 23:35) for refusing to disclose the location of Elizabeth and John, who were hiding from the murderous Herod.

Teresa of CalcuttaBlessed Teresa of Calcutta (1910 – 1997) was born in Skopje (modern Macedonia) to Kosovan parents, and decided at age 12 that she wanted to be a nun in India. At 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto (not to be confused with the Sisters of Laredo, who had a cooler theme song), and removed to Ireland to learn English with a brogue. Soon she was in India, learning Bengali, taking the name Teresa (the Spanish spelling of Thérèse (de Lisieux)), and dropping the name “Agnes” like a hot samosa.

She taught in the convent school, but was increasingly drawn to the poor. In 1948 she followed what she called “the call within the call,” donned a simple white sari (with a fetching blue border), got some medical training, became an Indian citizen, and started working among the poorest of the poor. The work was grueling, and at times she was tempted to go back to the relative cushiness of the convent, but she stuck it out, and in short order founded the Missionaries of Charity, starting with a crew of 13. The sisters opened homes for the dying, orphans, lepers, and so on, and the order grew to include a men’s congregation, tertiaries (lay members), and like that. They now operate 610 missions in 123 countries.

Mother Teresa, as she came to be called, had a heart attack in 1983, and a series of other health issues led to her resignation as head of the MC in early 1997, and her death later that year. Although she has received criticism, both before and after her death, she was fast-tracked for beatification by Pope John Paul II, and is widely considered a modern-day saint by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

September 5 (Wikipedia)
The Bible (There are many great Bible resources online; my favorite is Bible Gateway). – Main source
Prophet Zachariah the father of St John the Baptist (OCA)
Image of Zachariah from OCA (copyright unknown)
Mother Teresa (Wikipedia) – Main source
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (SQPN)
Missionaries of Charity (Wikipedia)
Image of Teresa by Evert Odekerken via Wikimedia is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license. Don’t get me wrong; that doesn’t mean the licensor approves of its use here, or the page, or the Onion Dome, or anything else.