December 1 – Philaret the Almsgiver; Agericus of Verdun

Philaret the Almsgiver (ca. 707–797) of Asia Minor owned huge tracts of land, villages, flocks, herds, and the only 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air in Anatolia[1]. He was exceedingly generous, bearing in mind our Lord’s words, “whatever you do to the least of these, and so forth” (Readers Digest edition). Nobody who came to Philaret went away unsatisfied, whether he asked for food, a cow, or a ride in the Chevy. Soon his coffers began to run low, but Philaret continued his charity, much to the chagrin of his wife Theoseva and their children, who gave him no end of grief and abuse. Kids those days.

Then the Arabs rode through the area and took nearly everything that wasn’t bolted down, leaving Phil with one field, two oxen, one horse, a cow and her calf, some beehives, and half a can of chrome polish. Not long after, one of his neighbor’s oxen got the shakes, and then the deads. The neighbor wept, because he had borrowed the ox from somebody else. He knew Philaret was down on his luck, but went to visit him anyway, thinking, “At least he can commiserate with me.” Philaret, however, gave him one of his own oxen. When Theoseva found out, she berated him for a long paragraph, but Philaret said he must obey the Lord. Needless to say, when that ox died, he gave his neighbor the other one.

In like manner he gave away the horse and the calf. The cow was so ensorrowed that she mooed like to wake the dead. “It is heartless to separate the cow from her calf!” Theoseva cried, in a blatant attempt to make him do you-know-what. “You’re right!” Philoret replied, and he gave the cow to the person who got the calf. Finally they had nothing at all, and were reduced to eating wild goosefoot, whatever that is.

One day a party passed through town in search of a suitable bride for the emperor. Philaret invited them to stay at his home, telling his wife, “Go, fix a banquet.” “With what,” she replied, “goosefoot?” “Well, at least go make the table look nice,” he said. But the couple’s neighbors heard about the visitors, and donated all sorts of birds and goats and a nice New York cheesecake to the banquet. When the envoys saw how lovely Theoseva was, they asked if the couple had any daughters. “Our daughters are all married, but I have some granddaughters,” Philaret said. When the Envoys saw the granddaughters, they knew they had found a worthy wife for their emperor in Mary, the tallest one (the emperor was tall). The whole family went to the Capital with her, and of all the maidens presented to him, the emperor choose Mary to be his wife, due to her humility, beauty, and height.

Philaret was lavished with gifts and money, which he gave away as fast as he could. When the emperor heard of it, he made him his almoner. When Philaret died, his face shone like the sun, and his relics have been responsible for many miracles.

Agericus of Verdun (ca. 521–588) was born to poor parents, one of whom was out working in the field when her water broke. Before you knew it, there was Aguy (as he was also called). He served (some years later) as a parish priest, and then as bishop of Verdun. He was well thought of by his contemporaries (Sts.) Gregory of Tours (Nov 17) and Venantius Fortunatus, who wrote of him admiringly, saying he shared with the poor whatever he had of food, clothing, and hope. He was held in high regard by King Sigebert I (and how many people can that be said of?), and baptized his son Childebert (“Child of Bert”). But Agericus was not able to save Sigebert’s enemy Bertefroi from the king’s soldiers. Bertefroi had sought sanctuary, and was murdered in the bishop’s private chapel. Aguy died not long after of a broken heart, grieving his inability to save Bertefroi.

[1] Quiz: Why is this unlikely? Use both sides of paper if needed.