December 29 – Marcellus, Abbot of the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones; Thomas Becket

Marcellus, Abbot of the Monastery of the Unsleeping Ones (d. 485), was born in Syria. He didn’t keep his parents long (through no fault of his own), and gave away his inheritance shortly thereafter. He wandered into Ephesus, found a spiritual director and a job copying manuscripts, and spent his off-hours being ascetic. His spiritual state was such that the church doors opened for him when he approached (which was miserable for the people inside when it was cold out and he was sweeping the steps).

Marcellus moved to Constantinople when he heard about the Sleepless Monastery, so called because the monks kept the psalmody going non-stop by praying in shifts. (Think of the sailors in an underway submarine, although without the military component, the big steel tube, or the water.) He was soon gifted (hi, grammar police!) with prophecy, and when he foresaw the death of the abbot, he feared he would be chosen as successor, and ran away. When they picked somebody else, Marcellus came back, but when that guy died, they made Marcellus abbot anyway. He started a program of feeding the poor, aided by a miraculously replenishing store of food. His saintly qualities attracted many monks, as well as contributions from wealthy donors, none of whom demanded any political favors (a miracle!).

We end with two stories. First, for adolescent males and the adolescent-male-at-heart, the story of a monk who was suffering from constipation. It got so bad he thought he was going to die (probably wished he would, judging from experi—um, stories I’ve heard). Marcellus put his hand on the monk’s stomach, and he immediately, um, well let’s just say we hope he wasn’t fully clothed at the time.

Another man came to Marcellus covered in festering wounds and other nasty topological features. A pagan, he vowed to convert if Marcellus would heal him. He did and he did, but after four days went back to his former religion. The skin condition returned, even worse than before. He came back and begged forgiveness. Marcellus healed him again. He lived as a Christian for a few days, then reverted again. This went on for weeks, until Marcellus said, “You know, you’re not deceiving me; you’re deceiving God.” The man said, “I’m going to stick with my old religion,” and died as he was walking away. Marcellus sat down and wept.

Thomas Becket (ca. 1118–1170) was born in Cheapside, London (as immortalized by the Eagles in their song “Lyin’ Eyes”). He worked for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald of Bec, both as clerk and as emissary to Rome. He studied canon law in Bologna, and in Auxerre (French for “oh, there”). Upon his return he was made Archdeacon, and before you knew it (if you weren’t paying attention), he was made Archbishop of Canterbury.

As ABC, he demanded greater independence from royal oversight and closer ties with Rome, but Henry II refused (thankfully no subsequent English king named Henry ever did that again). Hank forced the other bishops to sign the Constitutions of Clarendon, which bound the clergy to obedience to the throne, but Becket refused to sign, and fled to the continent. He threatened to excommunicate the king and put the country under interdict, but the Pope forbade him. Henry offered a compromise, Becket returned to England, and things were going great, until the heir apparent was crowned without Thomas’ involvement or consent. He excommunicated the offenders, whereupon the king said something that his retainers took to mean, “Won’t somebody kill this guy?” Subsequently a group of them did just that, whereupon Henry said, “That’s not what I meant.”

Becket was canonized a martyr just two years after his death. His fame was such that within a few years, a mosaic icon was made of him in a church all the way down in Sicily.