September 26 – Repose of John the Theologian; Nilus the Younger

The Repose of John the Theologian (ca. 100) refers to that John who, be they all same guy (and I’m not the one to deny it), is also called the Beloved Disciple, the Revelator, the Apostle, the Elder, of Patmos, the Evangelist, and Johnny Boy (but this last only by his mother). Brother of James the Greater (there is no indication he begrudged his brother’s moniker), son of Zebedee, and traditionally a first cousin to Jesus (his mum was Mary’s sister), he was one (with Peter and James) of the “inner three” disciples who were present at the Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only male disciple of the Lord to be present at the Crucifixion, where he was given the responsibility to look after the Theotokos, and one of two male apostles to witness the Empty Tomb of the Resurrection. His name appears on five books of the New Testament: a Gospel, three Epistles, and the Revelation.

After our Lady dormitted (Aug 15), John preached the Gospel in Asia Minor with his disciple Prochorus. Later the two were lost at sea when their Italian cruiseliner foundered and sank. Prochorus made it to shore, but after waiting a bit he gave up John as lost, and headed back to Ephesus, following the coastline. After a fortnight (is that a great word?), he found a body washed up on the shore, which turned out to be John, who turned out to be alive. Later still, John was hauled to Rome for trial, and sentenced to drink poison (which, despite tasting foul, did him no harm), then to be boiled in oil (which, in addition to giving his skin a youthful glow, did him no harm). He was then exiled to the island of Patmos, a beautiful, sun-drenched paradise on the Aegean. (“Please don’t throw me in the briar patch!” we can just imagine him saying at his trial.)

On Patmos, when not preaching the Gospel or fighting with pagan sorcerers, he dictated the Revelation to Prochorus. After his release he went back to Ephesus, where he wrote his Gospel account. At his command he was buried alive by his disciples, and when others came later and asked to see the body, the grave was empty. A chill wind passed among them, and they became very thoughtful. (Actually I made up the wind thing, but isn’t it atmospheric?) John was about 100 years old when he died (or did he?). He is also celebrated on May 8 in the East, and December 27 in the West. With apologies to Prochorus, his greatest disciple was arguably Polycarp of Smyrna (Feb 23).

Nilus the Younger (910–1005) was the son of Greek parents in Italy (hey, it happens). He definitely had a daughter, but opinion is divided on whether he was actually married. Nobody blames St. Augustine for setting a bad example, so we won’t, either. However it was, the daughter and her mother both died, and Nilus had a come-to-Jesus conversion experience. He became a monk after the order of St. Basil, which is to say, of the eastern/Byzantine variety. He travelled around to various monasteries, including Monte Cassino, famous for its favorite son Benedict of “Rule of St. Benedict” fame (Mar 14).

Nilus spoke out against the usurpation of the antipope Philogatos (“for the love of cats”), then against rightful pope Gregory V and Emperor Otto III for their harsh (for stomach-turning values of “harsh”) treatment of Philogatos and His Usurpers (one night only, tickets are going fast). He (Nilus) is most famous (among those among whom he is famous) for his founding of the Greek monastery of Grottaferrata (which is the funnest thing you’ll say out loud today; try it!), near Frascati in center-western Italy, of which he became the first abbot. He also spent time at a hermitage near Gaeta (a beautiful town which your intrepid hagiographer has had the privilege of visiting) when he needed to get away.