Stephanie (Mary Catherine) Hamrick, Choir Director
Danielle (Phoebe) Kerr, Organist
Littie (Lydia) Hamrick
Stephanie (Mary Catherine) Hamrick, Choir Director
Danielle (Phoebe) Kerr, Organist
Littie (Lydia) Hamrick
|7:00pm||- Deacon's Mass/Silent Prayer|
How many of the saints of God have lived their holy lives in the terrible atmosphere of war, with the constant threat of attack and violent death? Perhaps it is this very atmosphere of terror that causes some Christians to follow the path of our Savior in sacrificing their lives for a greater good.
St. Alphege (Aelfheah), bishop and martyr, lived in England in a time of siege. He had been born around the year 953, had become a monk early in life and, after a few years, had retreated to the life of a hermit in Somerset. But St. Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury (and a relative), called Alphege from this solitary life first to be the abbot of Bath Abbey, and then to become Bishop of Winchester in the year 984.
In the 400 years since the arrival of St. Augustine and his monks to re-establish and spread Christianity in this land, the heathen had been converted, a degree of unity had been established in the Church, and missionaries had been sent to convert Germanic people. But the English had suffered through periods of brutal attacks by Scandinavian Vikings who invaded, plundered and pillaged, and sometimes remained to settle in the land. After a brief time of relative quiet, these raids began anew about the time of Alphege’s consecration.
This time the Norsemen were not satisfied with stealing goods and burning villages, but were intent on overtaking the English people and ruling the land themselves. Larger, more organized groups of warriors came, and they were led by the highest-ranking war lords. Christian England attributed the brutality of their attackers to the fact that they were heathen who prayed to the pagan gods Odin and Thor and who placed their faith in violent methods of warfare.
Bishop Alphege ministered faithfully to his people in the midst of this turmoil. Preaching Christ’s Gospel of peace, he continued to live the disciplined life which he had learned as a monk and he cared especially for the poor and destitute.
English rulers established a policy of paying tribute (the “Danegeld”) to the invaders, hoping to achieve some sort of peace with them. In 994 King Ethelred asked Bishop Alphege to negotiate with the Norse leaders Swein and Anlaf (Olaf). The holy bishp received a promise to end the violence from Anlaf (who, perhpas through the example of St. Alphege, was later baptized and became the first Christian king of Norway), but Swein was less willing to make such promises.
In 1005, Alphege became Archbishop of Canterbury, with responsibility for the care of all English souls. Despite the continuing devastation of war with the Vikings, he concerned himself with holiness of living and gave the people a perfect example in his own life. He called a local council in 1009 to deal with disciplinary matters.
The Danish invasion grew worse in 1011, culminating in the siege and capture of Canterbury in September of that year. Hostages were taken – the Archbishop among them – and a huge ransom demanded. This was paid for all but the Archbishop, who refused to allow his war-weary people to pay the required price. This decision proved fatal for St. Alphege. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described the next events in this way:
In this year , before Easter, there came to London ealdorman Eadric and all the chief councillors of England, spiritual and temporal. In this year Easter was on 13 April. And they remained there until after Easter, until all the tribute was paid, amounting to eight thousand pounds. Then on the Saturday the host [the Vikings] became greatly incensed against the bishop, because he was not willing to offer them any money, and forbade any ransom to be given for him. Morever they were very drunk, for wine had been brought to them from the south. Then they took the bishop, and led him to their tribunal, on Saturday evening, within the octave of Easter, and pelted him to death with bones and the heads of cattle; and one of them smote him on the skull with the iron of an axe, so that with the blow he sank down and his holy blood fell upon the earth, and his holy soul was sent forth to God’s kingdom. Then in the morning the bishops Eadnoth and Aelfhun and the citizens received his holy body, and brought it to London with all reverence, and buried it in St. Paul’s church, where now God makes manifest the miracles of the holy martyr.
The misery of the years of Danish invasion gradually gave way to acceptance of the Vikings as rulers. Swein’s son, Cnut, eventually became king of the whole realm (in 1019). As an indication of changed attitudes and a sign of reconciliation, King Cnut gave permission for the translation of St. Alphege’s relics (in 1023) to Canterbury, where they were re-buried near the high altar in the Cathedral, and many came to venerate. Another opening of the tomb in 1105 revealed that the saint’s holy relics had remained incorrupt.
Was St. Alphege simply a national hero, who was brutally murdered by the enemies of his country when he refused to give in to their demands? The Church has held that, in God’s plan, St. Alphege was a holy martyr, who in life as well as untimely and cruel death, showed charity, pity, and steadfast faith in the saving mercy of God. By his martyrdom, he witnessed for this faith both to his own people and also to their adversaries, who eventually converted to Christianity. Through the intercessions of St. Alphege, bishop and martyr, may God have mercy on us.
[Sources: From Alfred to Henry III: 871-1272, by Christopher Brooke; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translated by G. N. Garmonsway; The Pre-Conquest Church in England, by Margaret Dearnesley; The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, by Hugh Farmer; The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross.]
Fiery threats from Iran’s ruler, volatile relationships between Iran and other countries, and unrest among its citizens are not new in this century and the last. 700 years ago, when there was a Persian Empire, King Sapor II made life difficult for many and was especially cruel to Persians who were Christians. St. Simeon was singled out by the king for special attention and received the crown of martyrdom by his order in the year 341.
We know from his surname in the Persian language that Simeon was the son of a fuller. Beyond this, there are no other details of his early life until he became a disciple of Bishop Papa of Ctesiphon, the capital of the Persian Empire. When Bishop Papa died, Simeon succeeded him as the bishop of that city with responsibility for the Christians who were experiencing persecution.
The official religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism, in which the king was worshiped as “equal to the sun”. He was also called “king of kings” and “partner with the stars”. Under Sapor II, who had been declared king by the nobles of that land when he was still in the womb of his mother (one of the several wives of the now deceased King Hormuz), these accolades had been carried to extremes. Perhaps in an effort to solidify his questionable claim to the throne, Sapor had demanded adoration and complete loyalty from all his subjects.
Sapor’s increasing demands put Christians in an impossible situation. Many leading citizens had managed to practice their religion privately and maintain public positions of responsibility, but that was made more difficult by the severe taxation which King Sapor began to impose on them.
The Roman Emperor, (St.) Constantine, offered aid and encouragement to the Christians in Persia. This enraged Sapor, who wrote to Constantine complaining of his interference in Persian affairs and also complaining of the loss of Persian territory to Roman expansion. No doubt, some of Sapor’s animosity toward Christians was due to this political rivalry with the Christian Roman Emperor.
Bishop Simeon, in an effort to alleviate the suffering of his people, petitioned the king for a reduction in the religious tax that Christians were charged, but this also enraged Sapor, who began a series of bloody persecutions. The first, in 327, resulted in the martyrdom of many who professed the faith. After a lull of some years, the king again violently attacked the Christians in 339, and then in the following year, he began his final persecution – one which would last for nearly 40 years, until his death in 379. It was in this persecution that Bishop Simeon’s appeals to the king were ended.
The angry ruler decided that the Christian religion must be abolished in his land, so he ordered all churches to be destroyed and all Christians to be enslaved or killed. The bishop was brought before the court and, in the usual manner, was “tempted” with riches, power, freedom – anything that could be offered to entice him to worship the king and renounce Christ. But Simeon boldly proclaimed his steadfast faith in the true “King of kings”. He was finally brought before Sapor, bound by chains, and ordered to fall down before him. When the bishop refused, he was cruelly tortured and sent back to prison to await execution. This was Maundy Thursday.
As Bishop Simeon was led through the gate of the palace, he saw an elderly eunuch who served as the king’s Lord High Chamberlain. The bishop knew that this man was a secret Christian, but that, in order to avoid persecution, he had obeyed the king’s command and publicly worshiped him and the sun. When the man made a gesture of respect to the bishop, Simeon turned away and would not acknowledge this apostate. The man suddenly came to himself and realized the depth of his sin. In his remorse, he declared his Christian faith to the king, who had no choice but to order his execution. The king honored his servant’s request to have an official go before him announcing that he was being executed for his religious beliefs and not for any wrong-doing in his official capacity. The king thought this would be a deterrent for other Christians, but it only gave them greater courage.
The next day – Good Friday – a hundred Christians (among whom were five bishops and many priests and deacons) were beheaded, while Bishop Simeon was made to wait until last. As one of those awaiting execution began to tremble, another of the king’s officials who was also a secret Christian called out to the man to close his eyes and behold the light of Christ. His efforts to encourage another revealed his true identity and he was beheaded with the rest. Last of all, after watching and praying for each of the others, St. Simeon gave his life for his faith in Christ. This was on April 17 in the year 341. They all died in the sure and certain hope of resurrection with Christ.
May St. Simeon and his companions pray for all followers of Christ who live under the threat of persecution and for those who suffer for their faith.
Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea even for the living God. [Psalm 42:1, 2a]
St. Justin began life as a typical citizen of the Roman Empire. Born in Nablus, Palestine (Shechem in ancient Samaria) around the year 100, his pagan parents sought the best education of the day for their intelligent son. He studied science, rhetoric, poetry, history, and philosophy in Greece, Alexandria, and Ephesus, and examined in turn the ideas of the Stoics, the Peripatetics, the Pythagoreans, and the Platonists. But his insatiable thirst for knowledge was awaiting knowledge of eternal Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Justin’s introduction to Christianity came in a “chance” conversation with an old man while walking along the seashore at Ephesus. The man reminded the young philosopher that he could not fully comprehend the truth until God had revealed it to him. He began to tell how God had revealed himself in Jesus Christ, how this had been prophesied and prepared for in the Old Testament writings and how it had been recorded by the evangelists and teachers who followed Christ.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law, yea, I shall keep it with my whole heart. [Ps. 119:33, 34]
This was what Justin had been seeking all his life. He began to read the scriptures and became thoroughly convinced of the truth of what he read there. Receiving instruction from the leaders of the Ephesian Church (the successors of St. John the Apostle), Justin was baptized around the year 130.
Continuing in the role of philosopher and teacher, Justin now directed his energies toward that form of defense known as “Apologetics”. Particularly disturbed by the accusation that Christians were immoral and atheistic, he used his philosopher’s skills to outline the beliefs and practices of Christians in a logical, rational manner. Today, we are indebted to St. Justin for his descriptions of the Rite of Baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist in these times when the Church was only several generations removed from the Apostles.
Spurred by persecutions of Christians, the philosopher wrote an Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius which resulted in greater tolerance for Christians. However, this peace was short-lived, as persecution was renewed under the next Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Justin’s second Apology, addressed to the Senate, did not achieve his desire to convince pagans of the truth of the Christian faith.
Zeal for thy house hath consumed me, and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me. [Ps. 69:9]
Justin had moved to Rome around 150 and established a school of Christian philosophy. In those days, a philosopher or teacher made his living by gathering students around him, who paid him for his lectures. As a teacher’s livelihood depended upon having enough students, there was great competition among adherents of the various philosophical schools. Probably as much from rivalry as from a genuine philosophical disagreement, the Stoic philosopher Crescens publicly accused Justin and several of his students of being Christians and disloyal to the Emperor.
An account of the events following, copied from the official court report, still exists. Justin and his students were arrested, put into prison, and then put to the usual fatal test: they were ordered to make an incense offering to the Emperor – in effect, denying the one True God. Blessed Justin, who had searched so diligently for God, who had given his allegiance so completely to Christ, now had the opportunity to give his life for the True Faith. After refusing to sacrifice, he was beheaded and Justin, the philosopher, became St. Justin the Martyr in the year 165.
Justin’s earthly life bore much fruit: His apologetic writings convinced many who needed rational, logical explanations as a preparation for belief. His appeal to the emperor spared the lives of some Christians and his martyrdom gave courage to others who would also receive that crown. His unswerving search for the truth and his never wavering faithfulness to the Truth are an example for us in our increasingly anti-Christian times. May holy Justin pray for us to the Father.