Menas of Egypt (285–ca. 304 or 309)’s mother Euphemia, barren for years, prayed for a son (why doesn’t anybody pray for a daughter?) before an icon of the Theotokos, and heard a voice from the icon say, “Amen.” A “few months” later, there was Menas! He joined the army at 15 (just after his father died), and rose in the ranks rapidly (dad had been a governor).
When the Diocletianian persecutions got ugly, Menas discarded his belt (sort of like throwing away your dog tags, except dog tags don’t keep your trousers up), and went to live as a hermit. Five years later, he saw a vision of angels crowning martyrs, and heard a voice saying, “I’ve got three crowns for you, for celibacy, asceticism, and martyrdom.” He hurried to town, and proclaimed his Christian faith to the first cruel and ruthless government official could find. He was of course tortured, decapitated, and burned. Some of his relics eventually made it to Alexandria, where a church was built to house and honor them.
We end with a story. A pilgrim to St. Menas’ church was hosted by a certain man in town. Seeing that the pilgrim had gold, the host slew him, dismembered him, and hid his bits in a basket. Just then a man on a horse with a military uniform (the man had the uniform, not the horse) rode up and said, “Where is that pilgrim guy?” “What guy?” asked the murderer, shifting his feet and whistling towards the ceiling. Menas (for it was he) found the basket, and asked, “What have we here?” The murderer fell down at his feet as if dead. Menas reassembled the pilgrim, bade him awake, and accepted his thanks. He then gave the murderer a good talking-to, forgave him, and sent him on his way.
Martin of Tours (316–397) was born in Hungary and raised in Pavia (Italy). Like Menas he was soldierified at fifteen. After he had been in the service for either twenty-five or two years, Martin declared, “I am a soldier of Christ and cannot fight,” and was brigged for cowardice. To prove his courage he proposed walking before the troops into battle, but fortunately or otherwise, the hostilities ended diplomatically before he got the chance.
He was discharged, and went to Tours to study under Hilary of Poitiers (Jan 13), with whom he stood staunchly for Trinitarianism against the Arianism of the day. When Hilary was deposed, Martin wandered a bit, converted a brigand, confronted the devil, converted his mother (but not his father), and ended up hermiting on an island. When Hilary was undeposed, Martin returned, and founded the oldest monastery in Europe (according to one source). One day he was summoned to Tours to heal a sick man, but when he arrove, he learned of a plot to make him bishop. He hid in a barn, but the geese (who were apparently in on the plot) betrayed him by their squawking. He was dragged to the cathedral and bishopified, still saying, “But, but, but….” As bishop he founded monasteries, introduced a parish system, and destroyed pagan shrines. One time, the pagans of a region agreed to cut down their sacred tree if he would stand in its path; the tree swerved to miss him as it fell. He staunchly argued against putting heretics to death, and opined loudly that emperors need to keep their noses out of such things. Toward the end of his life, he founded the abbey of Marmoutier, and retired from the world. He is, of course, the patron saint of geese.
We end with the most famous Martin story. During his soldiery days, Martin met an ill-clad beggar on the road. Instinctively, he cut his military cloak in two, and gave the man half. That night he had a vision in which Christ, wearing half of Martin’s robe, said to the angels, “This is Martin. He’s not even baptized yet, yet he clothed me.” Martin was duly baptized. His half of the cloak, long treasured as a relic, is called “the first flag of France.”