Saints Cyril and Methodius Day – February 14th

Ss Cyril & Methodius, University of Skopje

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 with much of the controversy instigated 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.

Block and Stone

In the hurriedness of a day, it can be useful to pause and reflect. Our liturgical calendar helps us remember by emphasizing the essential points in the life and work of Jesus on their various feast days and those of the Saints of the church as well. Regular calendars, of course, highlight civic events, anniversaries and holidays.

It so happens that 2019 is an anniversary year for the bell tower of the Church of the Transfiguration. Ten years ago at the dawn of 2009, the tower was about 1/2 built (not counting the very deep foundation which had been formed and reburied a couple of years earlier.) As soon as winter weather broke – probably in April – the Pizzotti crew returned to continue pushing the tower sky-ward: 60 feet, 70, big sound lantern windows installed by crane, 80 feet, 90-something feet for the top courses of block and stone. The last few feet to the peak height were taken by the timber and metal roof, again installed by crane.

Meanwhile, our CJ volunteer crews were mobilizing to blitz the laying of porphyry and bluestone pavements in and around the tower. Subject to the weather, it needed special care both in following the intricate design patterns and also to get all the pitching angles correct so water will not pool. As soon as we removed the staging from the tower walls, crews sprang into action during the first weeks of summer. No sooner was the pavement laid and sealed when a large metal shipping container arrived on a flat-bed and was offloaded (not without drama) by another crane. We unpacked all the wheels, frames for housings, headstocks and other arcane accoutrements needed to mount a set of English-style change ringing bells, and the ten beautiful new bells themselves!

How many stages and steps have come and gone in each of our lives since those days. Very hard to measure much less to enumerate. Still, it is well to stop and consider what the Good Lord has wrought among us, allowing us the great privilege of walking, working, learning (leaning) along with him in what he does. Quite amazing.

 

Star Struck

A sleepless night. Thoughts invade, sore muscles rebel, and I’m cold. Time to relocate. I quietly grab pillow and blankets and head downstairs to the couch, hoping a change of venue will help.

I sit for a while, looking out the window.  The wind ruffles leafless branches creating a layer of graceful movement beneath the clouds.  The stars shine particularly bright doused as they are with moonlight.

A memory taps me on the shoulder. The stars. My brother, when four years old, called them “tars.” He became the star of family folklore while toasting marshmallows over a campfire one night. With a clear voice, he announced, “The parks look like the tars up in the ky.”

We found the missing letters cute and funny, and they were. But now I recognize the profound observation of a sensitive four-year-old. God brought the stars down to earth for him that night for a closer look. The sparks looked like the stars up in the sky.  How beautiful and wise and straightforward.

It reminds me to listen carefully and take my time, from one heart to another.

Feast of the Presentation of Jesus – Candlemas

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is also known as Candlemas. The tradition of Candlemas blessing on the Feast of the Presentation dates to the 11th century and is inspired by words of the Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon), speaking of Christ as the “light to lighten the Gentiles”. 

In our community, as in many others, this celebration includes the blessing of the liturgical candles for the coming year. As our candles are handmade by our members, this service blesses the work that goes on throughout the year to keep the church supplied with candlelight.

This feast also celebrates ‘spiritual sight’.  Both Simeon and Anna, who had dedicated their lives to prayer were able to recognize Christ as the Messiah when Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple. Scripture verses from Malachi that point to the coming of John the Baptist are part of the lectionary readings for this feast. “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple…Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord.” Several of the Gregorian chant psalm antiphons for this Feast also link the offering of Christ in the Temple with our own salvation.

“Offer, blessed one, the child, your only one and the Father’s; offer him through whom we are offered, the price at which we were redeemed.”

“Go on, O regal virgin, bring forward the son with a sacrifice; he recalls all people to joy, who comes, the salvation of all.”

Icon: Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Sr. Faith Riccio, Community of Jesus

Feast Day of St. Marcella – January 31st

Sculpted stone pillar of Saint Marcella at the Church of the Transfiguration on Cape Cod

Sculpted stone pillar of Saint Marcella

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.

 

Sts. Timothy & Titus – January 26th

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

Saints Timothy & Titus

On January 26th, we celebrate the feasts of St. Timothy and St. Titus, two men best known for their companionship and commitment to the Apostle Paul. They were converted to the Christian faith at an early age by St. Paul, and spent their lives serving the Gospel and assisting Paul in his missionary work. Their lives remind us that we are strengthened by each other and that few, if any, can carry out God’s purposes alone. Timothy and Titus inspire me to ask God, who am I meant to be companion to and what missions are you asking me to assist or encourage? In a culture that stresses the importance of “do-it-yourself” or “make it you own,” Saints Timothy and Titus exemplify our need for companions and trusted friends to help us on our journey.

 

A Meditation on The Conversion of Saint Paul – January 25

Acts 9:3-7 As he (Saul) neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

I love the story of Saint Paul’s conversion. It has so much to teach us in our everyday lives. First of all, I’m struck with the mercy of God, that he would choose a man that was so vehemently against Christ. Paul, (or at that point, Saul) was sure he was doing the right thing by zealously persecuting Christians.

Secondly, I’m intrigued by Paul’s conversion process:

The Conversion on the Way to Damascus (Caravaggio, 1600)

 

First, there was light.

Then he fell to the ground.
Next, he heard the voice of Jesus.
He chose to believe the voice and say yes to it.

He was obedient to what Jesus said.
He fasted.
Temporarily blinded, he trusted others to lead him.
Baptized, he was spiritually reborn to solidify his conversion.

He received the strength of God, symbolized by taking food.

 

 

 

For us, in our daily conversion to be more like Christ, it is necessary that God’s light show us where we are not like Him. Often, we need to fall from the places where we think ourselves better than our neighbors, and therefore can’t love them the way Jesus wants us to. It takes hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit to convict us and to believe and say yes. Fasting from those places that distract us from going on our own “Damascus road” of His will can be so helpful. I have found that when the light of something about myself is very bright, I can hardly see straight, and I experience a moment of blindness. It is so helpful when I have a trusted friend to help lead me and help keep me on the way I hope to stay on! And finally, when there is an unwanted habit in me that has shifted, I’m barely aware that it has changed. I realize that I have more joy, and feel more centered in Jesus. What a wonderful testimony the story of Paul’s conversion is for all of us!

 

Feast of St. 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.

Confession of St. Peter – January 18th

Christ Giving the Keys to St Peter (Giovanni Battista Castello, 1598)

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.

St. Antony of Egypt – January 17th

St. Antony Abbot of Egypt holding a rosary and a staff, with an angel – from the Book of Hours of Simon de Varie

St Antony of Egypt, also known as Antony the Great and Abbot Antony, lived between 251 and 356. He was not the first Christian monk, but he is considered to be the Father of all Christian Monasticism and his writings are regarded as the first monastic rule. Most of what we know about him today is from the 4th century manuscripts of St Athanasius the Great.

Antony was born into a wealthy Christian family and inherited the family fortune at the death of his parents when he was just 20 years old. He heard the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler speaking directly to him: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21). After providing for his younger sister, he sold everything, gave the proceeds to the poor, and set out for the desert, where he lived in total solitude for the next 20 years. There he fervently prayed, fasted, rarely slept, and faced many fierce attacks and temptations from the devil, fighting physical, as well as spiritual, battles with evil spirits. Eventually word of Saint Antony’s holiness spread and drew crowds of pilgrims to seek him out and without trying to organize a community, he soon had a following of monks. Under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Maximinus in 311, Antony offered himself as a martyr, but he was so respected that he was refused! Although considered basically unlearned, Antony was invited to participate in the Council of Nicaea and he was influential in stopping the Arian Heresy.

Despite his extreme bodily asceticism and his intense desire to die for his faith as a martyr, Antony was strong of body and of soul and lived to be 105 years old!