September 21 – John Maisuradze; Matthew the Apostle

John Maisuradze (ca. 1882–1957), after helping to rebuild a monastery in his homeland (Georgia), enrolled at the St. John Skete* of the Iveron Monastery of the Athonite* Peninsula in 1903. He was known for his simplicity and obedience, which was either remarkable or not, depending on how lax things were on Athos in those days. He was made a monk and a priest, in that order, and took the name John, after the Theologian, for whom he had a special devotion (figuring, no doubt, that anybody beloved of Jesus was probably an alright guy) (with which it is hard to argue). When things got “troubling” on the Holy Mountain, the Georgians all went back to Georgia. Given that Georgia was at the time under the Soviets, things must have been pretty bad on Athos.

Things were definitely bad in Georgia. John ended up at the Armaz Monastery, at which the Bolsheviks (spit) had left one living monk. Once, a band of incompetent Chekists broke in and shot both John and the other monk in the back and left them for dead. They both recovered and went on monking. Before long John was abbot at the Betania Monstery, where he ran the agriculture program and loved to welcome visitors, especially children, for whom he always had candy or some treat in his pocket. Once on his patronal feast, the kids tried to tousle his hair while he was sprinkling the church with holy water. John assured their shocked parents that the day was a joyous one, and the children were doing just fine.

John had the gift of miraculous healing, and many came to him with their ailments, Soviets be darned (I could say worse). Indeed, there was a group of covert Christians in the government who saw to it that the monastery was left unmolested. Finally John’s tremendous workload and ascetic labors (e.g. sleeping on a single board) (rather than two boards like slackers did) wore down his health, and he fell sick and died. He was canonized by the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2003.

Matthew the Apostle (I cent.) was, as everybody knows, a tax collector, back in the days when tax collectors were not as universally honored and cherished as they are today. Our Lord (that’s Jesus for those just tuning in) saw him at his tax collecting table (which may have been made by (St.) Joseph—think on that!) and said, “Follow me.” (Or the equivalent in, probably, Aramaic.) Matt (who was also called Levi, but not because he invented blue jeans) immediately got up and followed him.

He later invited Jesus to dinner, along with a lot of other tax collectors, the Twelve, and assorted sinners (not necessarily in that order). This was one of those instances where the Pharisees were keeping tabs on who went to whose house (sort of a first century low-tech NSA, if you will), and they made a holy stink about Jesus eating with the riff-raff (no, not the one on RHPS). In return he offered them not one, not five, but three aphorisms: (1) Sick people need doctors, not healthy people; (2) Mercy, not sacrifice, is the thing God likes; and (3) I came to call sinners, not the righteous.

After our Lord returned to right hand of the Father, Matthew wrote his gospel, probably in Aramaic, maybe, some think. (All we have now is the Greek, but that’s a great deal better than nothing.) According to Tradition, he preached the Gospel among the “Hebrews,” both in the Holy Land and also in a place near the Caspian Sea that is confusingly called “Ethiopia.” There he died (unless it was somewhere else), by stoning, burning, beheading, or old age, depending on whom you ask. His symbol is an angel, and he is the patron saint of tax collectors, stockbrokers, bankers, and many other people who really could use a patron saint.