The term “Maccabees” refers to the leaders of a Jewish rebellion which was staged against the Seleucid Empire some century and half before the birth of Christ. The history of these events can be found in the books of 1 & 2 Maccabees. The saints being commemorated today, however, are not the leaders of the rebels, but martyrs whose sufferings played a role in sparking the rebellion. Their story is found in 2 Maccabees 6-7.
In an attempt to crush Jewish culture and allegiance to God, the Hellenic Seleucids made it illegal to keep the law and those who did suffered terribly. Two women who circumcised their children were both thrown to their deaths from the city wall. Others who kept the sabbath were burnt to death. The only martyr whose name is supplied by the biblical text is Eleazar. Eleazar was an old man and a scribe who knew the law well. When forced to eat pork he spat it out, even under threat of torture. Wishing to avoid the unpleasant task of torturing an old, highly respected man to death, the authorities told him to publicly eat a piece of whatever meat he desired but to tell everyone it was pork. He again refused out of fear that he might cause the young men he had taught to lose faith. He responded “Wherefore now, manfully changing this life, I will shew myself such an one as mine age requireth, and leave a notable example to such as be young to die willingly and courageously for the honourable and holy laws” (2 Maccabees 6:27-28). Filled with indignation, the gentiles forgot their desire to spare him and beat him to death. As he died he called out “It is manifest unto the Lord, that hath the holy knowledge, that whereas I might have been delivered from death, I now endure sore pains in body by being beaten: but in soul am well content to suffer these things, because I fear him” (2 Maccabees 6:30).
After this seven brothers were brought before the king and were commanded to eat pork. When the oldest refused his tongue was cut out, his limbs cut off, and he was burned alive in front of his family. The second was scalped and, when he too refused to eat, was also cut in pieces and burned alive. The third put his hands forward and said “These I had from heaven; and for his laws I despise them; and from him I hope to receive them again” (2 Maccabees 7:11). Each in turn was killed, proclaiming their willingness to suffer and their hope in the resurrection. While this all happened, the mother urged her sons on in hope of the resurrection before she too was finally killed.
Given the Old Testament theme of blessings for obedience, it can be easy to wonder why these faithful were made to suffer. The author of the book gives us a reflection on this before the beginning of the martyrdom accounts:
“Now I beseech those that read this book, that they be not discouraged for these calamities, but that they judge those punishments not to be for destruction, but for a chastening of our nation. For it is a token of his great goodness, when wicked doers are not suffered any long time, but forthwith punished. For not as with other nations, whom the Lord patiently forbeareth to punish, till they be come to the fullness of their sins, so dealeth he with us, lest that, being come to the height of sin, afterwards he should take vengeance of us. And therefore he never withdraweth his mercy from us: and though he punish with adversity, yet doth he never forsake his people. But let this that we at spoken be for a warning unto us.” (2 Maccabees 6:12-17)
It is likely these martyrs that St. Paul refers to in Hebrews 11:35 (“others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection”) as it is only here that Old Testament figures are specifically tortured in the hope of resurrection. These martyrs have always been revered highly by Christians as martyrs for Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, and they provide a crucial link between the witness of the Prophets of old and the Martyrs of the last days.
St. Stephen I
Pope of Rome
St. Stephen I
Pope of Rome
St. Stephen was a native of Rome and was either serving as the archdeacon of Rome or as a priest when made Pope on May 12, 254. During his pontificate the Church faced a major pastoral problem. The Church was still recovering from the persecutions of Decian which had ended three years earlier. During that time many had denied Christ under pressure and some Christians had broken from the main body of the Church for various reasons, forming different sects such as the Novatians.
St. Stephen worked to edify the suffering church as pastorally as possible. When it came to those who had denied the faith and wished to repent, he held that they could be readmitted just as any other sinner could. Many schismatic groups were formed over the various approaches to this issue and when members of these groups began to seek readmittance to the Church it became necessary to determine exactly how this would be done. While some bishops, such as St. Cyprian of Carthage, held that anyone baptized by such a group needed to be rebaptized in the Church, St. Stephen held firm that as long as the baptism was in the name of the Holy Trinity the sacrament was valid.
St. Stephen died in 257 during the persecutions of Valerian, though it is not entirely clear if he was among the martyred. He is one of the most important early Popes and his tireless work to build up the Church of Christ based on the principles of mercy towards the fallen and his concern with healing the schisms affecting the Church of his time make him a shining example of Christian leadership in the face of issues still facing the Orthodox today.
King of Northumbria
King of Northumbria
St. Oswald was born a prince in the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. His father died in battle and he was forced to flee to escape his uncle’s plots against him. During his time away the budding church in his homeland relapsed into paganism but he became a Christian. He spent years at the monastery of Iona until he returned to reclaim the kingdom in 633.
The night before the battle St. Columba, who St. Oswald would have undoubtedly venerated at Iona, is said to have appeared to him and promised him victory. The next morning Oswald placed a simple wooden cross in the ground, the first cross ever in the area. He was victorious and reclaimed his place as king. For years miracles were performed at the site of that cross and splinters from it worked many acts of healing.
After he was secure on the throne he asked Iona to send missionaries to help christianize his people. The first missionary was unsuccessful, but his replacement, St. Aidan, fared much better. In addition to giving Aidan the full support of the throne and treasury in his mission, Oswald also took an active role by translating for Aidan until he could learn English.
One Easter, St. Oswald sat down to eat a fine meal. Just as he was about to begin, the steward charged with the distribution of alms came in and announced that he had exhausted the allotted amount and that there were still crowds of hungry people outside. St. Oswald ordered his own food to be taken outside and the silver dishes to be broken up and given away. St. Aidan, who was Oswald’s guest at the meal, took hold of his hand and said “may this hand never age”. This in fact happened as Oswald’s arm would be severed from his body and the arm would remain incorrupt. Oswald also united his warring neighbors not with arms but with diplomacy.
Oswald is said to have woken up hours before dawn every day and prayed until sunrise. He even closed his life in prayer. After reigning nine years he was killed in battle against the invading armies of the pagan King Penda. When he saw himself surrounded he prayed for the souls of his soldiers and was killed with hands uplifted. Penda then ordered his arms and head removed and stuck onto stakes. This is how it was discovered that his arm was incorrupt.
The site of his death was a pilgrimage sight for the Saxons. St. Bede records how soil from the field he died in worked miracles. On one occasion a pilgrim hung some soil from a post in his home and, when his home later burned down this post alone remained unburnt. Many people were healed at the site of his grave as well.
& his Deacons
& his deacons
St. Sixtus (or Xystus) was a Roman of Greek ancestry who was made bishop of Rome in 257. His predecessor, St. Stephen I, had strongly maintained that baptism need only be administered once, even if administered by heretics (provided it included the trinitarian formula). St. Stephen’s position was not held by other bishops, especially those of Africa under St. Cyprian. St. Sixtus worked hard to repair the relationship between the Churches and, while he always maintained that baptism need only be administered once, he stopped insisting that African bishops keep the Roman custom.
He had been Pope for about a month when a new wave of persecution broke out under Valerian. On August 6, 258 he was serving mass with six of his seven deacons (St. Laurence was the absent one) when he was arrested. Later that same day, after commanding Laurence to distribute the Church’s goods to the poor (see August 10), he was beheaded along with his deacons: Ss. Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, Stephanus, Felicissimus and Agapitus. His name, as well as that of Laurence and Cyprian, appears in the Canon of the Mass.
Pope St. Damasus I had the following epitaph engraved over the martyr's tomb: “At the time when the sword pierced the bowels of the Mother, I, buried here, taught as Pastor the Word of God; when suddenly the soldiers rushed in and dragged me from the chair. The faithful offered their necks to the sword, but as soon as the Pastor saw the ones who wished to rob him of the palm (of martyrdom) he was the first to offer himself and his own head, not tolerating that the (pagan) frenzy should harm the others. Christ, who gives recompense, made manifest the Pastor's merit, preserving unharmed the flock.”
St. Donatus moved with his family to Rome while a young boy, and was orphaned when his parents were martyred. He was raised by a priest named Pymenius and may have been taught the faith alongside Julian the apostate. When Julian began to persecute the church, Donatus moved to Arezzo, north of Rome, and preached there. He performed miracles and was made deacon. When the bishop Satyrus died, Donatus was made his successor.
St. Donatus sometimes used a glass chalice for administering communion. Emboldened by Julian’s actions, some pagans once came into the church and shattered the chalice while the bishop was administering communion. Miraculously, and despite the great damage to the cup, nothing spilled and, all the while praying intently, St. Donatus reassembled the chalice after collecting the pieces and joining them together. Shocked by this, seventy-nine pagans asked to be baptized. About a month after this episode St. Donatus and some companions were arrested. We know little about what happened next beyond the fact that after an imprisonment of about three weeks, St. Donatus was beheaded.
Ss. Cyriacus, Largus & Smaragdus
Ss. Cyriacus, Largus & Smaragdus
St. Cyriacus was the leader of these martyrs, who witnessed in 303. He became a Christian as an adult and gave all his considerable wealth to the poor. He was ordained deacon and, along with Ss. Largus and Smaragdus, began to minister to christian slaves who worked in the imperial baths. These slaves were largely christians of high rank who were enslaved for their faith and they were given the hardest tasks with little food. St. Cyriacus gave them great consolation in their sufferings. However, they were found out and arrested. They were also enslaved and they not only did their work well, but even did the work of the weaker slaves.
Emperor Diocletian’s daughter, Artemia, was possessed by a devil. When rumors that a slave at his baths could cure her reached Diocletian, he sent for Cyriacus. The saint cast out the demon and thus earned freedom for himself and his friends. Soon after the daughter of the king of Persia was also afflicted by a demon. St. Cyriacus was asked to travel east and help the girl, which he did. Upon his return to Rome he was arrested by Maximian, who was outraged that Diocletian had allowed his daughter to convert. He had St. Cyriacus tortured to death along with his companions Ss. Largus and Smaragdus and some twenty others. Among those who were martyred were the men Crescentianus, Sergius, Secundus, Alban, Victorianus, Faustinus, Felix, Sylvanus, and the women Memmia, Juliana, Cyriacides, and Donata. St. Cyriacus is one of the fourteen holy helpers and is invoked against temptation on one’s deathbed.
We know little of this saint beyond his role in the story of the persecutions of Valerian. In early August of 258 St. Sixtus and six deacons were martyred and St. Laurence was arrested and thrown in jail. St. Romanus was one of the soldiers charged with guarding him and was converted by the grace he displayed and the gospel he preached. He confessed himself to have become a Christian to his superiors and was executed on August 9, the day before his father in Christ, St. Laurence.
Ss. Tiburtius & Susanna
Ss. Tiburtius & Susanna
These martyrs both suffered in the city of Rome under Diocletian. While they had no relation to each other, the fact they both reposed on August 11 has led to a joint feast day.
St. Tiburtius was converted by St. Sebastian, who became his godfather. When persecution broke out in 286 he was betrayed by an apostate and arrested in his father’s house. When dragged before the pagans he confessed his faith and confirmed it with a miracle in which he was able to walk across hot coals after making the sign of the cross. The pagans, however, believed Tiburtius to be practicing witchcraft and had him beheaded. Pope St. Damasus I wrote the following epigram about him:
“When the sword cut the pious entrails of the mother,
the outstanding martyr, despising the prince of the world,
seeks the heights of heaven in the company of Christ.
Here for you will ever remain saintly honour and praises.
Kind Tiburtius, beloved of God, I beg you take care of Damasus.”
Of St. Susanna we know little. She was a virgin and her father is believed to be St. Gabinius. Her father had a church in his house and she was beheaded in this house in 295. The site of her martyrdom was turned into the titular church of St. Susanna, one of the oldest and most important churches in Rome.
Ss. Hippolytus & Cassian
St. Maximus was born sometime around 580 to a pious and aristocratic Christian family. He was taught the best of the Greek literary tradition and quickly showed himself adept at philosophical studies. When he was grown he entered government service under Emperor Heraclius. The politics of the day were concerned with unifying the Church in the wake of the council of Chalcedon. One of the methods chosen to do this was a new Christological formula which held that Christ had two natures but only one will, a belief called Monothelitism. This formula was thought to be a good middle position, however it only served to corrupt the basis of both Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian theology. St. Maximus understood that it undercut Chalcedonian Christology by blurring the distinction between Christ’s natures, which would lead to a Christ who cannot be called truly human or truly God. The Emperor, and many high ranking Church leaders, did not share his hesitation and proclaimed that Monothelitism was the official doctrine of the Church. Largely because of this, Maximus fled the court for monastic life in 614.
Maximus became abbot after a short time, however he was not to stay in his retreat long. As the Persian army advanced into the empire he was forced to flee to Latin Africa, settling outside of Carthage. While Monothelitism was gaining power in the East, the West totally rejected it. This allowed Maximus to sharpen his ideas and write openly. After a few years, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Pyrrhus, arrived in Carthage. Pyrrhus was a monothelite himself, but had lost favour in court over concerns of worldly politics. Maximus and Pyrrhus debated the issue for hours. St. Maximus did not defeat Pyrrhus, he won him. Pyrrhus renounced his views and even wrote a book defending the Orthodox position. Maximus and Pyrrhus then began to travel rallying support for the Orthodox in the East from Western bishops. Pyrrhus was received by Pope Theodore as Patriarch of Constantinople after it was explained to the Pope that he had renounced his heresy.
In 648 the Byzantine leadership issued the “Typos” (or “The Pattern of the Faith”). This document forbade any further discussion on the issue. Maximus had returned to Carthage a year earlier, but began to drum up support for a Western council to address the document. This council met in Rome in 649. There were 105 Western Bishops and 37 representatives of the East in attendance. The council soundly denounced both Monothelitism and the Typos, as well as Pyrrhus who had returned to his Monothelitism in exchange for having his Patriarchate returned to him, and it was likely Maximus who drafted the council’s declaration. The Emperor Constans II was infuriated and ordered Maximus and the presiding Pope, St. Martin I, arrested. Both continued to publish works in favor of the council for years until they were finally captured in 654.
St. Martin died of ill treatment before they reached Constantinople. St. Maximus, who was now in his seventies, was tried as a heretic. He held his ground and was condemned. At first he was only exiled, but was later falsely accused of treasonously helping the Muslims capture Egypt. He was recalled to Constantinople where his tongue was cut out and his right hand cut off before being re-exiled, this time to Scythia. After three years the Lord revealed to Maximus that he would die soon. He reposed in peace on 13 August 662. Miracles poured forth from his grave confirming his sanctity. His orthodoxy was confirmed at the 6th ecumenical council in 681.
St. Maximus is remembered as a staunch supporter of Truth. He is also remembered for his many works which include: a collections of reflections on difficult passages of scripture, reflections on the Lord’s prayer, lectures on Dionysius the Areopagite, and many defenses of Orthodox Christology. He also left us a clear articulation of theosis, being sure to emphasize that theosis is not works based. He wrote to his friend Thalassius:
“Nothing in theosis is the product of human nature, for nature cannot comprehend God. It is only the mercy of God that has the capacity to endow theosis unto the existing... In theosis man (the image of God) becomes likened to God, he rejoices in all the plenitude that does not belong to him by nature, because the grace of the Spirit triumphs within him, and because God acts in him” (Letter 22).
Ss. Hippolytus & Cassian
These saints have little to do with one another, but because of their relation to the 13th of August, have long been commemorated together.
St. Hippolytus was a priest in Rome who came into conflict with most of the popes of his day. He was the leader of a schismatic group who demanded harsher penances. When persecution arose in 235 both he and Pope St. Pontain were exiled to work in the mines of Sardinia. Sometime during the ordeal he was likely reconciled to the Church, as evidenced by his commemoration as a priest of Rome, not bishop. He was a prolific writer of sermons, liturgical documents, and canons and his writings give us extensive insight into the Church of his time. He is commemorated as a Martyr on the 13th of August, the date of the return of his relics to Rome.
On August 13, 363 St. Cassian was stabbed to death by iron pens in Imola, Italy. He was a school teacher known for strict discipline. When he refused to renounce the faith under Julian the Apostate he was given to his students who tied him naked to a wooden stake and killed him with their styli, or iron pens used for writing on wood or wax. This torture lasted for hours as the pens were short and the executioners weak. He is said to have encouraged them not to give up, but to keep going until he consummated his martyrdom.
Let us pray.
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we, on this day devoutly observing the feast of thy holy Martyrs, Hippolytus and Cassian; may thereby increase in godliness to the attainment of everlasting salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Very little is known about this saint. He was a priest at Rome during the Arian controversy. When the Emperor began to favour the Arian position he continued to hold Orthodox masses in his home. He spoke out for the Nicene faith and was imprisoned in a four foot wide cell until he died seven months later, likely in 357.
Father of the B.V.M
Father of the B.V.M.
St. Joachim lived at the end of the period of the old covenant. He was a righteous and God fearing man who kept the law along with his wife, St. Anne. The couple gave above what was demanded of them, giving away a third of their goods to the temple, a third to the poor, and keeping a third for their living expenses.
Despite this they had not been given a child, which in the minds of the people of the time was evidence of some grave hidden sin. Nonetheless they bore this reproach in silence until one day a priest forbade St. Joachim from presenting his sacrifice because of his supposed immorality. In his humility the saint retreated into the desert to pray in repentance for whatever sin he had committed and to ask for a child. His wife was also praying at the same time. It was then that an angel appeared to them both separately and announced that they would conceive. Their first and only child was a girl, Mary the Mother of God.
St. Joachim was an old man of some 70 years when his daughter was born, well past child rearing days. He did not live to see Mary grow-up and she was instead raised in Jerusalem by the priests of the temple before being entrusted to the care of St. Joseph.
St. Helen was the mother of St. Constantine the Great. Born around 250 to poor parents, her early life remains obscure until her marriage to Roman general Constantius I Chlorus in 274. Sometime after the birth of Constantine, her husband divorced her to pursue a more politically advantageous union. However it was she who gained the higher honor when her son became emperor and named her Augusta.
It is not clear exactly when Helen became a christian. She may have been raised a christian or she may have converted around the time of her son, but what is clear is that she used her position as Empress to edify the Church. In addition to the acts of mercy for which both she and her son were famous, she built grand churches in many of the towns she visited.
Yet it was while she was in her 70’s that she rendered her greatest work to the Church. In an effort to strengthen the Church for its new role of prominence she traveled to the holy land to build churches, locate holy sites, and gather relics for veneration. She built two churches of particular importance, the Church of the Nativity, and the Church of the Ascension. She also located the sites of many events in Our Lord’s life, most famously Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre. In an attempt to remove the memory of these events the Pagans had built a temple to Venus on the site, which Helen removed, even transporting the dirt the temple sat on to a trash heap. Amongst the relics she found were the nails and rope used to tie Jesus to the cross, Christ’s tunic, and the true Cross itself, whose discovery is commemorated on May 3.
The last years of her life were spent in service to the poor. She distributed alms generously and was even known to serve the poor herself. Her dress was modest and her high station in the world did not make her too proud to stand at prayer in the church next to the least of Christ’s brethren. She reposed in peace in peace in 330 with her son at her side, who buried her with honor in Rome.
This saint was a young man who was martyred in the late 3rd century, likely 274. He was from the noble Anicia family who lived in Palestrina, Italy, and it is unclear how he became a Christian. What is clear is that at the age of 15 he presented himself to the authorities and confessed his faith. He was thrown to the wild animals in Palestrina but, when they refused to touch him, he was beheaded. He is invoked against colic.
King of Deira & Passion Bearer
King of Deira & Passion Bearer
St. Oswin was kinsman of St. Oswald (August 5) and, due to the death of his father, was raised outside of the kingdom of Northumbria. When St. Oswald died there was a dispute over who should rule and while Oswy was declared king of part of the nation, others desired Oswin. The nation was divided into two and for seven years Oswin ruled in peace and St. Bede reports that he was not only kind and humble but also easy going and pleasant to all he met.
During his reign he helped St. Aidan (August 31) continue his mission. In order to help the bishop travel more easily he gave him a fine horse and a cart. St. Aidan, however, was not in the habit of taking worldly gifts and enjoyed the human interaction of walking through the countryside, so he promptly gave both to a beggar. Oswin took offense at this and told the bishop that they could have given away any number of inferior horses to the poor. St. Aidan rebuked the king for treasuring a mere horse above one of the children of God. Oswin was confused by this and sat mulling these words over. All of a sudden he began to weep and fell at the saint’s feet begging forgiveness. St. Aidan raised the king up and declared that he would soon depart this life, for his people did not deserve him.
The events which would bring this to pass began immediately. Oswy, desiring to possess the entire kingdom, declared war unexpectedly. Knowing that he could not win and wanting to avoid bloodshed, Oswin sent his army home and fled to a friend’s house. This friend, however, was working with Oswy and sent for soldiers who had Oswin killed. Eleven days before the repose of St. Aidan he was killed, according to what became a common Saxon saying, “if not for the faith of Christ, at least for the justice of Christ”.
According to the justice of the time, it would be Oswin’s closest kin who would seek vengeance. In this case that happened to be Oswy’s wife. Happily, however, vengence would not be necessary as Oswy repented and built a monastery where prayers would be offered for his salvation and the repose of Oswin’s soul. It was miracles worked here which confirmed Oswin’s sanctity. His relics were lost during the Danish invasions until they were revealed in a dream to a monk named Edward in 1065. They were lost during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Ss. Timothy (Bishop), Hippolytus & Symphorian (Martyrs)
Ss. Timothy (Bishop), Hippolytus & Symphorian (Martyrs)
These three martyrs shared a common feast day and, when their veneration spread to the city of Rome, they were eventually commemorated together liturgically.
Little is known about St. Timothy’s early life, but he was a preacher of the Gospel who came to Rome from Antioch during the pontificate of St. Miltiades. While in the city he stayed with St. Sylvester, who would be made pope a few years later and play an important role in the formulation of the Nicene Creed. He preached the Gospel faithfully for fifteen months before he was denounced to the prefect and arrested. He refused to apostatize under torture, even when his wounds were bathed in quicklime. Eventually, he was beheaded.
St. Symphorian was from the Gallic city of Autun. He was a young man who was denounced as a Christian. As he was led out to be killed his mother called out to him from the city walls to remember his God. He was beheaded on August 22, 178. His shrine became very popular in Gaul and he was one of the most prominent saints among the Franks. A monastery built at his tomb produced many saints, including Germain of Paris, who spread his cult to that city, and Genesius of Clermont. St. Gregory of Tours was devoted to him and records miracles of his performed at Tours in his History of the Franks.
There is some confusion about St. Hippolytus, or rather which St. Hippolytus was originally being commemorated. It is possible that he is the same one commemorated on August 13. It is also possible that he is a martyr of the same name from Portugal who was killed outside the city of Rome by being thrown into a hole filled with water in 225. Of this second Hippolytus we know nothing beyond the fact he was bishop of Porto and how he died.
St. Bartholomew (also called Nathanael) was one of the twelve. Sometime after Christ’s Ascension he left Jerusalem traveling with his best friend and fellow apostle St. Philip (it was Philip who had first brought Bartholomew to meet Christ). When their preaching upset the pagans of Hierapolis they were both nailed to crosses until an earthquake convinced the people to let them down. Bartholomew survived the ordeal, but Philip did not.
After this Bartholomew headed east, bringing with him a copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew. He preached in Syria, Persia, and India and after seeing success there he turned north, toward the Caspian Sea. Among the many miracles he performed was the casting out of a demon belonging to the daughter of King Polymios. When King Polymios was baptized court intrigue turned against Bartholomew, and he was condemned to death. After being hung on a cross for the second time in his life failed to stop his preaching, he was removed from the cross and skinned alive. It is reported that he encouraged his torturers to remove the flesh he had striven against for so long.
Centuries after his death his body was removed to Syria. As the Persian armies approached his tomb the christians fled with his body, but were forced to leave it to the advancing foe. The pagans then tossed his body into the Black Sea. Miraculously however, the coffin washed ashore on the Italian Island of Lipari where it remained until it was moved to the mainland to protect the relics from the Muslim invasions. There remains a famous silver statue of the saint on Lipari which has several miracles connected to it regarding its ability to change weight. On one St. Bartholomew’s day it turned so heavy that it could not be carried. This disrupted the parade and the whole town stopped just short of the wall which unexpectedly collapsed and would have killed many people if the parade had not stopped. Later, during World War II, the fascist regime wanted to melt the statue down for money, but it was found to only way a few grams and, supposing it to be a worthless fraud, it was left alone. After the war it was shown to be several kilograms of solid silver.
Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast bestowed upon us the august and holy joy of this day by the festival of thy blessed Apostle Bartholomew, grant unto thy Church, we beseech thee, both to love what he believed, and to preach what he taught. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
of Whitby, Virgin
of Whitby, Virgin
St. Hilda was born into the Northumbrian royal family around 614, while it was still overwhelmingly pagan. When she was thirteen her great-uncle, King Edwin, was converted by St. Paulinus and the whole family was baptized at Easter of 627. She was an ardent follower of her new God and, when Edwin died in battle and her family lost the kingdom, she entered a monastery founded by her now widowed great-aunt Queen Æthelburh.
Years later her widowed sister opened a new convent in Gaul. Hilda was now 33 years old and was considering joining her sister when St. Aidan asked her to consider using her abilities to strengthen the budding Church in her homeland. She agreed and a few years later opened a joint community for men and women at Whitby. Whitby became famous not only for the holiness of its monastics, but also for study of the Sacred Scriptures. Five bishops were produced at Whitby, two of whom, Wilfried and John of Beverley, became saints. All property was held in common and Bede reports that Whitby was a model of Christian Virtue.
Hilda led the monastery for about thirty years. During that time many kings and bishops came to her for advice. She also cared deeply for the common man, for example encouraging the poetic talents of the illiterate St. Caedmon. She was an able administrator and ran the day to day business of the monastery with ease. Under her guidance it grew to one of the main centers of English Christianity.
The last seven years of her life were plagued by fevers. This did not stop her from starting another monastery nearby at Hackness. On 17 September 680 she passed away quietly after receiving the viaticum. When she died the bells at Hackness rang by themselves and birds are said to have tipped their wings. One sister at Hackness saw a beam of light shining into the sky and knew that St. Hilda had reposed. Snakes in the area are also said to have turned into stone, and she is sometimes depicted with stone snakes at her feet. She is commemorated on August 25, the date of the translation of her relics.
Little is known of St. Zephyrinus until he begins his tenure as Pope on 28 July, 199. His pontificate was a troubled one, though by no means on his account. The Church was entering a time when no one living had any personal memory of the Apostles and because of this many heresies sprang up, all of which had to be dealt with. St. Zephyrinus took a cautious and merciful path, refusing to condemn ideas unless absolutely necessary and being willing to receive schismatics and heretics back into the fold after fairly brief periods of repentance. Among the most prominent heresies of his era were Modalists, who maintained that there was no difference between the divine persons (meaning the Father was Crucified and the Father came at Pentecost). Against them St. Zephyrinus maintained that he “acknowledged only one God, and this was the Lord Jesus Christ, but it was the Son, not the Father, Who had died.” This refusal to be more aggressive angered certain hardline orthodox Christians who went into schism led by St. Hippolytus. They would not be reconciled to the Church until many years after Zephyrinus’s repose. One schismatic Zephyrinus did bring home was a man named Natalius who, after he refused to deny the faith under torture, was offered 150 denarii a month to lead a schismatic group in the city. After receiving visions of Angels beating him all night he repented and asked to be received back into the Church. St. Zephyrinus shepherded the Church through the Severus persecutions, of which we know little. He died in peace on December 20, 217 and is commemorated on August 26, seemingly for no reason beyond the convenience of those observing his feast during the 13th century.
St. Augustine of Hippo
Bishop, Confessor & Doctor
St. Hermas, Martyr
St. Augustine of Hippo
Bishop, Confessor & Doctor
Many will know the life of St. Augustine from his masterpiece, Confessions. However, merely reading the confessions leaves one unaware of the life St. Augustine lived after his conversion. The following summary of his life will draw on both the Confessions and St. Possidius’s account of his life.
St. Augustine was born in North Africa to a pious mother, St. Monica, and a pagan father. He was a Berber and is in fact the native last speaker of Punic whose name we know. As a boy of 11 he was sent to Madaurus for school where he became familiar with classical Latin literature. At 17 he went to study at Carthage where he excelled. It was while a still a student that he committed his famous robbery of the fruit tree. He and his friends stole fruit one day, not from hunger, but because they enjoyed the sin itself. He later wrote, “It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself”. This experience later led him to reflect on the nature of sin’s control of human beings. After he completed his studies he began to teach, but, finding the students of Carthage below his level, he soon left for Rome.
In Rome he was cheated by several of his students. It was the custom to pay instructors on the last day of class and several regular students of his would be absent the last day. He consoled himself by furthering his own intellectual appetites, specifically by falling into Manicheism. This sect rejected the material word as an evil creation of an evil god, but held that the spiritual word was good. Many Manicheans were well connected and it was through them that he secured a post in the imperial city of Milan as the Imperial professor of rhetoric. At the age of 30 he had secured the highest academic honor in the Roman world.
In Milan Augustine began to grow skeptical of Manichaeism. At the same time his neoplatonic views and the prayers of his mother who had traveled with him began to lead him toward Christianity. He also became close with St. Ambrose, the bishop of the city. St. Ambrose was also an expert in rhetoric, but was a more experienced speaker. His holiness and knowledge quickly made a strong impression on Augustine, who had originally gone just to hear a talented speaker.
Finally one day while discussing St. Athanasius's life of St. Antony with some friends in his garden he began to be tortured by the realization that all his friends were becoming christians and experiencing new life while he delayed. He records this in his confessions: “I had been telling myself that my reason for putting off day after day the decision to renounce worldly ambition and follow you alone was that I could as yet see no certain light by which to steer my course. But the day had dawned when I was stripped naked in my own eyes and my conscience challenged me within: “Where is your ready tongue now? You have been professing yourself reluctant to throw off your load of illusion because truth was uncertain. Well, it is certain now, yet the burden still weighs you down, while other people are given wings on freer shoulders, people who have not worn themselves out with research, nor spent a decade and more reflecting on these questions.”
While sitting in the garden agonizing over what to do he heard the voice of a child saying “take and read”. He rushed back into the house and picked up the first book he saw, the letters of St. Paul. “I snatched it up, opened it and read in silence the passage on which my eyes first lighted: ‘Not in dissipation and drunkenness, nor in debauchery and lewdness, nor in arguing and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires.’ I had no wish to read further, nor was there need. No sooner had I reached the end of the verse than the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades of doubt fled away.” He was baptized by St. Ambrose at the Easter Vigil of 387, along with his illegitimate son Adeodatus.
St. Augustine writes of his joy:
“Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispel my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.”
Following his conversion he returned to North Africa. His mother, St. Monica, died with her son at her side just before he embarked. He briefly lived as an aristocrat until the death of his son, whereupon he gave away his worldly goods and turned his familial estate into a monastery. He was content to live as a lay monk for the rest of his life but God had other plans and in 391 he was ordained priest. St. Possidius relates:
“Now at this time the holy Valerius was bishop in the Catholic church at Hippo. But owing to the increasing demands of ecclesiastical duty he addressed the people of God and exhorted them to provide and ordain a presbyter for the city. The Catholics, already acquainted with the life and teaching of the holy Augustine, laid hands on him—for he was standing there among the people secure and unaware of what was about to happen. For while a layman he was careful, as he told us, to withhold his presence solely from those churches which had no bishops. So they laid hands on him and, as is the custom in such cases, brought him to the bishop to be ordained, for all with common consent desired that this should be done and accomplished; and they demanded it with great zeal and clamor, while he wept freely. But some, as he himself later told us, at the time ascribed his tears to wounded pride and by way of consolation told him that while he was worthy of greater honor the office of presbyter was but little inferior to the bishopric. But the man of God, as he told us, understood with greater comprehension and mourned as he apprehended the many imminent dangers which threatened his life in the direction and government of the church, and for this reason he wept. But their desire was accomplished as they wished.”
Four years later he was made bishop of Hippo, where he would spend the last fifteen years of his life. During that time he worked ceaselessly to lead Hippo and all of North Africa to Christ. He confronted heresy of every stripe, safeguarding Christian Orthodoxy. He was concerned solely with the salvation of his immediate flock and all of his works were meant for the pastoral context of Africa in the early 400’s. He never imagined that he would be thought of so highly throughout the known world. His works include many doctrine pieces like the City of God, scriptural commentaries like his excellent exposition of the Psalms, and over 350 sermons.
While serving as bishop he maintained his monastic rule. He was extremely generous and was known to melt down the sacred vessels to give away when the funds for the poor got low. He practiced frequent hospitality and on his table was engraved the phrase “Who injures the name of an absent friend / May not at this table as guest attend.” Once when several bishops ignored this warning he grew distraught and said that the saying must either be removed from the wood or he must go eat alone.
His last years were plagued by hardship as Africa was invaded by barbarians and his life’s work was largely undone before his eyes. Despite the fact that he was ill in these last days he continued to exhort his flock to trust in God. He encouraged his fellow clergy to forget their own interests and to serve their suffering flock, having faith in God.
Hippo was under siege during the last few months of his life. He told his friends that “I would have you know that in this time of our misfortune I ask this of God: either that He may be pleased to free this city which is surrounded by the foe, or if something else seems good in His sight, that He make His servants brave for enduring His will, or at least that He may take me from this world unto Himself.” Soon after this he grew very sick. One man with a sick relative came to St. Augustine and asked him to lay his hand on him and heal him. Augustine jokingly replied that if he had such power he would first lay his hand on his own head. At this the man revealed that he had been ordered here in a dream. Augustine immediately did as requested and the man’s relative was healed.
As his death drew closer he withdrew into prayer. At his request the penitential psalms were copied and placed above his bed. He repeated them over and over to himself while weeping freely. Finally on August 28, 410 he entered eternity. St. Possidius relates that he had no will as he had no possessions. Shortly after his death the Vandals broke off the siege, though they eventually returned and burned the city to the ground. The only building intentionally left standing by them were Augustine’s Cathedral and his library.
St. Hermes is a very early martyr. As is the case for many martyrs of the early 2nd century, we know little of him. He seems to have been a wealthy Greek freedman living in Rome. When he refused to worship idols he and some companions were exposed to a crowd who stoned them. His cult was prevalent in Rome and there was a catacomb was dedicated to him. Later in Christian history he gained a following in Northern Europe after some of his relics were given to the Franks by Pope Leo IV. His Church in Ronse (modern Belgium) was a major pilgrimage site and he became known as a great healer of mental illness.
St. Sabina was the widow of the Roman senator Valentinus. One of her slaves was a pious Christian named St. Serapia. Serapia was a young Syrian girl who had given away all her possessions to the poor and ever sold herself into slavery to have more to give away. Serapia’s godly life made a deep impression on Sabina, who became a Christian herself. During the persecution of Hadrian Serapia was denounced and beaten to death. St. Sabina collected her body and had it buried in the family tomb. When this was discovered a month later, she was also denounced as a Christian. She was asked to worship the idols and refused. The prefect ordered her killed, though, because of her high position, she was spared a painful death and departed to the Lord through beheading. In 430 her relics were brought to the Aventine Hill in Rome, where a Church had been built on the site of her old house.
Ss. Felix & Adauctus
Ss. Felix & Adauctus
St. Felix was a priest of the city of Rome. During the persecution of Diocletian he was accused of being a Christian and was brought forth to be tried. When asked to sacrifice to the idols he instead prayed over them and they broke. Infuriated, the pagans led him out of the city to behead him. As he was being led toward the execution site an unknown man jumped forward and proclaimed that he was also a Christian. The authorities arrested this man as well and they were beheaded together. When the Church came together to bury the men and pray for them it was discovered that no one knew who this second martyr was. Thus he came to be commemorated with St. Felix by the name he was buried under: Adauctus, or in Latin, “the added one”.
St. Aidan of Lindisfarne
Bishop & Confessor
St. Aidan of Lindisfarne
Bishop & Confessor
St. Aidan is believed to have lived at the famous monastery of Iona from a very young age. He was great ascetic and was well versed in the scriptures. One day news reached the monastery that the King of Northumbria, St. Oswald (August 5), had regained the throne after an exile in modern day Scotland, which included some time at Iona where he became a christian. The Saxons in his kingdom had almost entirely reverted to paganism and he wanted help from the monks in winning them back to Christ. A monk named Corman was sent, but he experienced no success. His report back to the monastery claimed that the Saxons were simply too stubborn to be won. When St. Aidan suggested that the problem lay in Corman’s inability to humbly give the people milk instead of meat, he was sent to replace Corman in the mission in 635.
Aidan set to work immediately. At first he depended heavily on the help of Oswald because Oswald had learned the Irish language during his exile and Aidan spoke no English. This changed in time and Aidan began to preach himself. He founded the monastery at Lindisfarne during the first year of his mission, which served as his base of operations and his episcopal see.
Aidan used very human methods in his work. He refused to ride anywhere and instead walked long distances with the purpose of having human conversions in mind. When he found anyone he would stop and talk to them about their lives and concerns. If they were pagans he would point them to Christ and if they were Christians he would encourage them in their walk. He personally founded several churches and trained clergy, sending promising young men back to Lindisfarne for instruction. It is not difficult to imagine the love that the Northumbrian people had for the humble and loving missionary.
On one occasion some visitors from a nearby kingdom announced they intended to return to their homes by sea. Aidan gave them a vial of oil and told them to pour it into the ocean during the storm and the sea would become calm for the remainder of the journey. During the voyage home a storm arose which threatened to sink the ship. As everyone on board was preparing to go down, a priest in the company remembered Aidan’s words and poured the oil into the sea. After this the sea became calm and the rest of the trip was pleasant.
At another time an enemy army besieged the royal city of Northumbria. When the walls proved too strong the enemy king, Penda, set fire to them. When Aidan saw the smoke from his cell in Lindisfarne he called out “Lord, see what evil Penda does!” and the flames immediately turned away from the walls and back into the enemy camp, thus saving the christian city.
St. Bede held Aidan up as the model bishop. He was humble and pious and led by example. He distributed alms generously and never kept gifts from the wealthy for very long before regifting them to the poor. He took care to avoid allowing bribery to aid his work by never giving the wealthy or powerful any gift beyond simple hospitality. He prayed often and was well read in the Sacred Scriptures, making a it point for his disciples to read or write every day.
He also popularized fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays.
After the death of St. Oswald the kingdom became divided. St. Oswin (August 20) was one of two rival claimants to the throne. After seeing how the saintly king humbly received a reprimand from his hand, St. Aidan declared that the Northumbrians were not worthy of such a king and Oswin would soon depart to the Lord. This prophecy came true and St. Aidan died eleven days later. Because he had no possessions or home a tent had to be set up for him against a nearby church to rest in. He died leaning against a wooden support. Twice this church was burned to the ground, but both times the wooden pillar remained unscathed. Many were known to receive healing both at this spot and from splinters taken from the wooden post.