Saints Cyril and Methodius Feast Day—February 14th

Celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church on May 11th, the Catholic and Anglican churches chose a February feast day for the two brothers, Cyril and Methodius.  Born in Thessalonica, Greece, both men spent the majority of their missionary years in Eastern Europe and were instrumental in the translation of the Gospels into Slavic languages.

Cyril (825-869) was primarily a philosopher and later an ordained priest.  Methodius (826-884) served five years as governor of a Slavic region in the Greek empire and eventually became a monk.  In 861, both men traveled as missionaries to Russia.

Cyril developed the Cyrillic alphabet, which enabled the Slavic translation of the Psalms and the New Testament and gave the brothers’ the ability to preach and celebrate Mass. They wrote a Slavic Civil Code as well to improve the lives of the common people.  The Cyrillic alphabet is still used in modern Russia and other Slavic nations. For their dedication and work, Cyril and Methodius earned respect and the title “Apostles to the Slavs.”

Both men suffered for their faith and came under the scrutiny of the church hierarchy, led primarily by German clergy.  A contributing factor was that Saints Cyril and Methodius served the people as one of them. Called to Rome and forced to defend their actions, the papacy declared emphatically for the two brothers and not only exonerated them but sought their consecration as bishops.

Cyril died before his consecration and Methodius, though consecrated, was deposed by a German synod and imprisoned for two years. They lived, as Christian Saints often do, misunderstood for their zeal and venerated after death for that very same unquenchable love for God.

Saints Cyril and Methodius

Feast Day of Saint Scholastica—February 10

During the general time period of St. Scholastica’s birth in 480, Italy was in turmoil with the Ostrogoths and other Germanic tribes invading much of the land. Although these tribes used the already existing well-organized Roman political and bureaucratic system, they had much political power. 

Scholastica, born into a wealthy family in Norcia in central Italy, grew up, however, in relative peace and luxury with her beloved brother, Benedict, who was possibly her twin. As a child and later as a nun, Scholastica was deeply committed to God, becoming the leader of the first Benedictine convent, under St. Benedict’s authority and following his Rule. It is interesting to note that in that era, nuns like St. Brigid in Ireland and St. Hilda in England experienced a greater degree of independence until the Church in Rome became more powerful in Northern Europe.

Nevertheless, the obedient Scholastica proved her spunkiness and her closeness to God in what turned out to be her last meeting with Benedict. Because women were not allowed in the monastery of Monte Cassino where Benedict was the abbot, the brother and sister visited each other in a nearby farmhouse – once a year. Sensing she was nearing the end of her life, Scholastica asked Benedict to extend the visit into the night hours to continue their talk about God and heaven. Benedict refused, putting the Rule ahead of his natural affection for her. At that juncture, Saint Scholastica prayed for God’s intervention. The apparent answer was a severe thunderstorm of such incredible fury, it forced Benedict to stay the night. Three days later, St. Benedict saw Scholastica’s soul in the form of a dove, fly to heaven!

Putting God first as she had promised when taking her vows as a religious,  Saint Scholastica exemplified the teaching of Jesus that those who leave houses, or brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or fields, for his name’s sake, receive life a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (Mt 19:29). Like all who follow Jesus, she proved the truth of His words.

Beauty in Broken Places

The Japanese art of wabi-sabi, or finding beauty in broken things has so much to teach us. Craftsmen take a damaged piece, and instead of throwing it away, practice kintsugi, which is a method of restoring it with lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The once-broken piece, with its gold-filled cracks, is more precious and beautiful than it was originally.

We are all needy and broken, and sometimes it is so hard to be vulnerable and open about the areas that need care. Jesus was broken for us so that He could heal our wounds. He wants to touch our broken places, and when He has healed them, His sanctification will leave His Beauty in us.

“In a large house, there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful for the owner of the house, ready for good work..” — 2 Timothy 2, 20-21

Photo Credit: Kintsugi Bowl – Ruthann Hurwitz

Kintsugi Bowl

Feast Day of Saint Marcella January 31st

Saint Marcella was born in Rome in the year 325. The daughter of Albina, an educated and wealthy woman, she emulated her mother in both piety and benevolence.  

Because of her wealth and beauty, Marcella was part of fashionable Roman society. At a young age, she married an equally wealthy aristocrat who died only seven months later.  Rather than re-marry, Marcella chose the life of a widow, devoting herself to charity, prayer, and a life of poverty and service.  

Rather than beautiful dresses of the latest fashion, she decided to wear a coarse brown garment. Her hair was of a simple style, and she wore no makeup. A community of women formed, known as the brown dress society.  They spent their time in praying, Biblical studies, singing, and serving the needy. Marcella’s once palatial home became a refuge for the poor.

Saint Jerome came to Rome in 382 and lodged at Marcella’s “hospitality house”, which Jerome referred to as her domestic church. There, with Marcella’s assistance, he spent three years on a Latin translation of the Bible.  He held Marcella in high regard, recognizing her Christian devotion and scholarship, as well as her vast knowledge. Jerome became the spiritual guide of Marcella’s Brown Dress Community. She, on the other hand, helped Saint Jerome control his legendary temper and intervened when quarrels with his opponents threatened to escalate.

In the year 410, Visigoths invaded Rome and brutally attacked Marcella in her residence.  She was scourged, beaten and suffered other tortures for riches she no longer had. Marcella and her pupil, Principia, were taken to the church of St. Paul where Marcella died the following day.

Saint Marcella, widow, and martyr, is revered for her contribution to early monasticism and her sacrifice of riches to the poor and needy.

Sculpted Stone Pillar of Saint Marcella at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Sculpted Stone Pillar of Saint Marcella

Feast Day of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus January 26

St. Timothy
“…God gave us a spirit of love and of power,” wrote St Paul in II Timothy 1:17. This truth accompanying Timothy’s conversion to Christ in his late teens influenced him throughout his life. Growing up in the first century in Lystra, in today’s Central Turkey, Timothy’s father was Greek and his mother a Jew. Greatly influenced by his mother and grandmother, he loved the Old Testament Scriptures. When he heard St Paul preaching the Good News in 47 A.D., he was readily converted and went on to support and serve the Apostle, who was like a father to him. Timothy traveled extensively with St Paul in Southern Europe and Asia Minor. He spent three years in Ephesus, the center for the worship of the goddess, Diana, beloved by the Ephesians who benefited financially from this worship. The message of Paul and Timothy later proved to be a real threat to this worship. Timothy continued to help the Apostle Paul convert and nurture new Christians in their faith. A help to Paul during his first imprisonment in a house in Rome, Timothy was unable to support him during his later imprisonment in a Roman dungeon. It is from this dungeon, just before he was beheaded that the Apostle Paul wrote his last and encouraging letter to Timothy.  This letter helped him over the next three decades faithfully care for the churches the two had established.

St Titus
Early in the first century, another notable saint was born. Titus, from a wealthy pagan family, received an excellent education in Hellenistic philosophy, ancient poets, and the sciences. As an affluent young man, Titus made the unusual choice to live a virtuous life. Not surprisingly, when he was twenty, he was warned in a dream to leave Hellenistic wisdom behind.

Consequently, he started studying the Old Testament and, in particular, the book of Isaiah, both of which prepared him to realize the importance of the Good News that Paul preached. When he heard about Jesus, he was converted and baptized. As a deeply committed Christian, Titus was proof of the power of the Gospel to the Gentiles. When he went with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, this truth became more evident.  Many there felt it was essential to become circumcised in order to become a Christian. However, Titus, backed by the Apostle Paul, stood his ground! Like Timothy, Titus also spent three years helping Paul build up the church in Ephesus. However, perhaps his greatest achievement was the reconciliation he achieved and solutions provided to problems in the Corinthian church. St Titus remained faithful to preach the Gospel wherever he went.

 Each of these men, different in temperament and background, was called by God when young. Each took risks and stepped out to follow Christ. They were aided by the Holy Spirit to achieve things they could never have done in their own strength. They listened attentively to the Apostle Paul and were instrumental in building and strengthening the first-century church. In 97 A.D, Timothy courageously took a strong stand against idol worship and consequently died a martyr, Titus also spoke against idol worship. When no one listened, he prayed so effectively that the statue of Diana fell and shattered, a miracle which attracted many to faith in Christ. St Titus, a true soldier of Christ, died in his late nineties in 107 A.D.

Sculpted wooden panels of Saints Timothy and Titus at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Saints Timothy and Titus

The Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle—January 25th

Today we commemorate one man’s journey from violent persecutor to zealous missionary. Saul, born at Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, was both a Roman citizen and a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin. In his own words, he admits, “for you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” Galatians 1:13-14  

His presence as a young man at the stoning of Stephen indicates Saul was born near the advent of the Christian era. A well-educated man, Saul, renamed Paul at his subsequent conversion, sat at the feet of the great scholar, Gamaliel. He acquired in-depth knowledge of exegesis (the critical study of a text), was trained in the practice of debate and versed in ancestral law. A Pharisee passionate in his beliefs, Saul returned to Tarsus, where his religious zeal developed into religious fanaticism, his specific target, the fledgling Christian Church. He was a man well-armed with legalistic righteousness and a fierce determination to annihilate the followers of Jesus.

Saul, who never met the Lord Jesus before His crucifixion, instead encountered the Risen Christ while traveling to Damascus. Appearing in a blaze of glorious light, Jesus asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 

To which Paul replied, “Who are you, sir?” 

The Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Acts 9:4-5 He then sent Saul on to Damascus to await further instructions. Saul was emotionally shaken and stricken blind. His companions took him by the hand and led him along the Damascus Road. Profoundly affected by his encounter with Jesus, he did not eat or drink anything for three days and remained without sight. A man named Ananias received divine instruction to visit Saul and to lay hands on him. He prayed for Saul’s vision to be restored and that the Holy Spirit fill his heart. Immediately, Saul’s sight was restored.

The spiritual significance of the Damascus Road experience changed Saul’s life forever. As ardently as he once believed in the supremacy of ancestral law, he now preached fellowship with the risen Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation. At his conversion, his name was no longer Saul but Paul. He consulted with Peter and began his missionary journeys, called by Jesus, to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Saint Paul spent the remainder of his life as a missionary, established local churches, and recorded their accomplishments and failures in a series of letters. Those letters continue today to shape and inspire the church of the risen Christ.

Paul gave up all he was, and all he knew for Christ. In his own words, “What is more, I consider everything loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things.” —Philippians 3:8

Sculpted Wooden panel of Saint Paul at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Saint Paul

 

Feast of Saint Agnes— January 21

St. Agnes was one of the most celebrated saints of the Middle Ages. Saints Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine all preached sermons about her exemplary life.  She died somewhere near the age of thirteen. We wonder how a child could be so commendable. She hadn’t been tried through years of testing or proven through accomplishment.  Her parents were well-to-do Romans of the 4th century, so she would not have suffered poverty or neglect, and may even have been spoiled.

Agnes did not become a saint by how she lived, but by how she died.  She became a Christian in a time of persecution, and held on tenaciously to her faith, despite all odds.  In today’s language, she knew who she was, what she wanted, and would not let anyone, or any situation, push her off-course.  She was one of the “overcomers” in Revelation 12:11 who “loved not their lives unto death.” The fact that she was only 12 (or 13) is awe-inspiring.

Her difficulties began when she spurned the son of a Roman prefect.  When he found out she was a Christian, he denounced her. Many attempts were made to force her to give up her faith, and she rejected them all.   According to accounts, she went to her death happily knowing she had remained true to herself and her God. The year was 304, during the last wave of Christian persecution under Diocletian.  Two years later, Constantine became the new Roman Emperor. In 313, the Edict of Milan was issued, which ended all the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Who knows how the well-known story of Agnes’ bravery may have influenced this change.

The name “Agnes” is like the Latin agnus, which means lamb.  She is often portrayed in art holding or alongside a lamb.

The Confession of Saint Peter — January 18

Jesus asked, “But what about you?” And Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”  Matthew 16:15-17

Peter listened, heard, and reacted, just as he had when first called to discipleship. His legacy is that of a man of flesh, capable of a bold declaration of belief and equally capable of losing faith in a moment of fear and weakness.  Luke 22:54-62 describes Peter’s denial of the Lord he loved and followed: “Woman, I do not know him.” And he denied not once, but three times. Still he is the rock upon which Christ built His church and to whom He gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 

Today we love and honor Peter for his humanness, his weakness made strong through faith, and his life restored by forgiveness. 

Saint Peter

Saint Antony of Egypt, Bishop — January 17th

Known as Antony the Great, he was born to wealth, an Egyptian monk, who exemplified scripture, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” Mark 10:21b

Antony’s long life spanned the years 251AD – 356AD, and he spent much of that time as a solitary ascetic, practicing personal mortification, devotion to prayer, and manual labor.  He was, however, not an antisocial man, and many people sought him out for spiritual guidance and healing.

If we trace his life in years lived, we arrive at the following:

Age 20 Began to practice asceticism

Age 35 Withdrew to absolute solitude on a mountain along the
The Nile named Pispir (now Dayr al-Maymun)

Age 54 Ended his retreat and organized the monastic life of
nearby like-minded hermits

Age 60 Desired to be a martyr in the Roman persecution
of Christians, exposing himself to danger

Age 88 An ardent soldier against the Arian heresy

Age 105 Died of natural causes in a cave on Mt. Kolzim, Egypt

Saint Antony was a Holy Man who lived a holy life. As a result of his example, many adopted an ascetic lifestyle, and Antony earned the title Father of Monasticism. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this quiet, shy man was his ability to inspire the love of God and the assurance of a joyful life without fear.

Community of Jesus

 

Bells Ringing – A Christmas Meditation

Imagine yourself sitting on the side of a hill. The sun has just set, and the stars are appearing. One by one they appear, until all you can see are tiny sparkles, filling an endless black sky. Though you don’t yet know it, you are witness to a new era.

It is a peaceful night, and you can hear your sheep softly calling one another, as you marvel at the stars. Your friends build a fire, and you get up to help them. Minutes later, a blazing fire warms you and your supper of bread, broth, and meat. You eat, filling your belly as you talk with friends, all the while keeping an eye on the sheep.

After the meal, you decide who will take the first watch; then, you lie back on the earth. The ground cover is soft and cool. Just as you drift off to sleep, a blinding light flashes above you. Confused, you sit up and shield your eyes from the too brilliant light.  You hear melodious voices, angelic voices, singing praises to God and glorifying Him. With deafening beauty, they tell you to go to Bethlehem, and in a manger, you will find the Christ Child. The lights and voices vanish.

In shock, you look around and see your friends equally so. Together you decide you must do what the heavenly lights and voices have ordained. Shepherds and sheep journey to Bethlehem.

Upon reaching the town, you find a young mother and father cradling a baby. They took shelter in a manger, surrounded by livestock. You are blessed to play a part in this strange and beautiful tableau and sense something special about the child.

Two-thousand years later, we have bells and their joyous calling to remind us of the angels’ song. The angels’ song that brought the shepherds to the Christ Child…and the ever-present angels’ song emanating from our bell tower, call us back to God.  During Christmas ringing, we remember the shepherds and the angels’ visit that stand as holy examples of praise, obedience, and blessing.