Tuesday, June 27, 2017

June 27 - Sampson of Constantinople, Physician, Healer, Hospitable

Sampson's parents were wealthy Christians in Rome after the Edict of Milan. It was the fifth century when Sampson was born and when he received his education.Like many children of wealthy and influential parents in Rome, Sampson received a broad and diverse education in the natural sciences, humanities, and other secular disciplines. At home he was educated and brought up in the faith of his parents and the martyrs who had passed from this world with courage and perseverance. The discipline that Sampson most loved was that of medicine and though it was not as sophisticated as what we might call medicine today it was still a challenging and rewarding field of study for any who dared to pursue it. In his study Sampson found that he had a talent for medicine and a passion to help and heal people. Just as he was starting to ply his new trade his parents died and their many possessions and servants were left to him. Sensing God's call Sampson decided to give away his new found wealth and release his parents' servants from their service. He entered willingly into a kind of poverty that was profound and entirely unexpected. Furthermore, his decision was largely inexplicable for the people who knew Sampson and his medical gifts--they must have wondered if he had lost his mind to give away so much to take upon himself the yoke of poverty.

Having been freed from the hooks of the world that bound him to a perpetual race to consume and produce, he set out from Rome for the East. As he traveled, he offered healing and comfort to the sick and dying he met along the way. God provided for his needs both from among those he healed and from other Christian congregations along his path. While he journeyed, though, he began to feel God calling him to a specific location. When he had set out he simply felt God's will leading him eastward but as he drew close to Constantinople he felt an irresistible pull toward the confines of that great city and its teeming masses of sick and homeless. He continued healing and taking care of the sick and homeless in Constantinople for some time until he obtained a home through the charity of others. Once given a home he turned it into a shelter for those without homes or places to live. Each wanderer and sick person was welcome in the home of Sampson as he endeavored to treat each person that came to his home as he would treat Jesus himself. Eventually, the church in Constantinople ordained Sampson--the itinerant worker of healing and wonders--as a priest of the Church.

Shortly thereafter, the emperor Justinian the Great himself had a dream. Justinian was very sick and could find no relief from his illness. In Justinian's dream he was directed by God to find the man they were calling Sampson the Hospitable. Justinian was assured that if Sampson would simply lay his hand upon the infected area of Justinian then he would be healed from it. Justinian went out the next day looking for Sampson among the medical community but could not find him in any of the places he expected to find physicians. Eventually, he overheard a homeless man talking of healing and Justinian was able to determine he was speaking of Sampson. He was perplexed that a great physician would heal without charge but asked the man where he could find Sampson. When he found him he was healed nearly immediately and without charge. Justinian offered him a fortune in compensation but Sampson refused it--he worked for free and by the will of God. Instead, Sampson asked Justinian to build a hospice for the poor, the sick, and the dying in Constantinople. Justinian did it gladly and Sampson became its first resident healer and caretaker. Every day its doors were open to those who needed healing and treatment but had no money to offer in payment. Money was not the motivation in Sampson's hospice but, rather, it was the will of God for humans to care for humans and in doing so, to find redemption through love.Sampson died peacefully years later but his hospice would continue to operate for over 600 more years.

Monday, June 26, 2017

June 26 - Germaine Cousin, Shepherdess, Abandoned, Victim of Abuse

At the sound of the church bell Germaine knew that she should hurry. It was a long way from the field where she was tending sheep to the church where she would receive the Eucharist and worship the God who had been born, murdered, and raised from the dead. With her deformed hand and the sores and marks upon her neck from her scrofula Germaine knew she would attract attention from the crowds--as she usually did--but Germaine was undeterred from their confused and disgusted looks because she knew that Jesus welcomed her into his presence and waited patiently for all his sheep to return home. What mostly amazed the crowds, though, was that such a woman as Germain--who had clearly suffered and had reason to doubt the existence of grace and goodness--seemed so eager to extol the abounding love of God. So, Germaine took her staff in hand and planted it firmly into the soft soil of the pasture. Looking around at the many sheep in her care Germaine offered a prayer to God confidently asking for God's protection over those placed in hers.Though there were wolves in the nearby forest who would gladly consume the sheep she had no fear of them because God had always protected the animals under her care at her request. Having handed their lives over to God Germaine made haste to get to the church before the service started.

That night after finishing her work in the field and having returned the sheep to their owner Germaine made her way back home to her father's farm.Germaine's mother had died when she was only an infant but her father had remarried and as sheapproached she could tell that her stepbrothers and stepsisters were just then sitting down to their nightly meal with her father and stepmother. She didn't bother to go into the home, though, because she knew she would be unwelcome. From the first day that her stepmother had arrived in her father's home she had outcast Germaine partly for fear that her deformity and disease--a form of tuberculosis that attacked the lymph nodes in her neck--might be passed on to her own children and partly because she was the daughter of her new husband's first wife and represented a love and life beyond her domination. Germaine's father caved to his new wife's insistence and Germaine was forced to sleep in the farm's stable or in a nearby tree. If she was exceptionally lucky and it was exceptionally cold she was occasionally allowed to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs of the home. She was fed a meager allowance of bread and water and often punished severely with scalding water by her stepmother for perceived slights and imagined wrongs. She accepted her stepmother's abuse and prayed that she might be healed from the illness of soul that produced such evil within her.

Each day Germaine went out to live the lonely life of a shepherdess and bring home what little money she made to her father and stepmother. The small amount of bread and water afforded to her was often far less than she needed but she was still quick to give it away to those she met who were hungry. On more than one occasion Germaine prayed over the bread and multiplied it so that the many children who had come to learn the Faith from her--as they often did without the fear and disgust of their parents--might eat with her, as well. She never missed a service of worship at the church and was thankful for the little kindnesses she occasionally received from passersby and from the clergy. Germaine prayed simply ("Dear God, please don't let me be too hungry or too thirsty. Help me to please my mother. And help me to please you.") but had a faith in God's goodness and providence that was both unexpected and unshakable. One night her father finally came to his senses and decided to go and bring his daughter--now twenty-two years old--in from the cold to sleep in a bed in his and her own home. He tried for a while but Germaine resisted her father's mercy because she knew her stepmother still refused. One morning he went to rouse her from her sleep in the tree because she had not awakened at her usual time. He found her dead from a combination of abuse and exposure. Germaine died without the comfort of her family but within the embrace of her Lord and Savior.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

June 25 - Peter and Febronia, Newlyweds, Prince and Princess, Committed to Each Other

Peter was the second son of Yuri Vladimirovich the prince of Murom in what we might now call Russia. Eventually he became the prince of Murom himself. He had been raised in the Christian faith by his family and friends and this provided him some comfort but it did not immediately address Peter's most pressing issue: the leprosy he had contracted shortly before taking the throne. Each day presented fantastic opportunities for a prince like Peter and his faith instructed him to use his power to take care of those who had been outcast. He had a calling and was equipped to do God's will for his life but he struggled daily under the burden of his disease. Likewise he prayed daily for either healing from or understanding of this burden. One night after many days in God's service as prince of Murom he received an answer to his prayers that offered both healing and understanding. He was told that there was a woman who was the daughter of a beekeeper and a peasant named Febronia. If he would go to her, then she would work a wonder over him and heal him. Peter went to find her the next day.

When Peter saw Febronia he gasped at her beauty. As prince had been surrounded by pretty women who were both alluring and flirtatious.Yet in Febronia he saw something different--she was only a peasant but there was a beauty within her that seemed to shine only for Peter.For a moment he forgot all about anticipated healing and sought only to talk to this woman who so thoroughly captivated him. Each day he would return to her home only to rest in her presence and learn more and more of who she was and what she believed.He was encouraged to learn she was a Christian but was even more encouraged by the fact that she held no disgust for his leprous appearance and, in fact, seemed to see some beauty within him that had been made only for her. Peter told Febronia about his vision and she seemed humbled by the very thought that God would use her to heal a prince. She agreed to pray over him and to serve God's will by fulfilling God's promise of healing. But before she could pray, Peter asked her to marry him after she was done working God's wonder over him. She agreed to his proposal and then prayed for his healing as his beloved fiance. Peter was healed at the request of his beloved--made whole by the love of another and the will of God--and soon the two were married.

There was one very big problem with this fairytale romance, however. The Russian nobles detested the very thought that a noble prince would marry a peasant. Even worse was Peter's clear infatuation and devotion to Febronia who they viewed as an unworthy commoner. They came to Peter and they urged him to cast his peasant wife aside. They appealed to his sense of tradition and nobility but this proved unsuccessful.They encouraged him to be thankful to Febronia for the healing--perhaps even pay her handsomely--but not to persist in marriage to a woman unable to attain nobility by their standards. Peter stoutly refused and remained committed not only to his beloved wife but also to their common faith which taught them the value of devotion and vows. So, Peter and Febronia were forced out of Murom and they traveled by boat away from the city. In their travels and wanderings they knew that they were "home" as long as they were with each other. They performed miracles and wonders as they traveled and their reputation not only as wonder-workers but, also, as devoted husband and wife spread. They died as they had lived--together and within the same hour. They were buried in the same grave for they shared one life.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June 24 - G.K. Chesterton, Author, Wit, Prince of Paradox

Perhaps nobody in the history of Christianity has so clearly understood the power of humor and wit to indicate truth as Gilbert Keith Chesterton did. G.K., as he was known, was a writer who was also dubbed the "prince of paradox" because of his uncanny ability to formulate short but insightful sentences that seemed, at first, to smack of wrongness only to give way to sublime truth. He was educated in both art and literature but never received a degree in either subject. Instead, he became associated with publishing houses and freelance journalism. He had been raised a nominal Christian but found himself fascinated by religious and philosophical subjects from a relatively young age. Consequently, he "drifted" closer and closer to the Church as the years wore on and his writings led him closer and closer to Truth. He was an apologist of a sort that was difficult to confront. His humility and compassion in the presence of his opponents presented them with ample opportunities to demonstrate their own conceit or ruthlessness if any was present in them. It wasn't enough for G.K. to win arguments and debate--he truly wanted to love people even as he contradicted them.

G.K. wrote many books--both fiction and non-fiction--which are still reprinted and read today. Once he was asked by the writers of the British newspaper The Times to add his voice to a chorus of highly regarded thinkers and speakers on the subject: "What's wrong with the world?" The great minds of the day were given room to make their arguments for inherent flaws of the world as they saw it. G.K., however, took a different approach and tendered the briefest of all responses when he wrote:
"Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G.K. Chesterton"
Though it was clearly a humorous and witty response, it was also a statement of G.K.'s deeply held Christian convictions. In this witty response, G.K. was able to insist upon the fallen nature of humanity and its own need for redemption from some outside source. The humor of the letter enabled its message to slip by the intellectual defenses of the readers and lodge a particularly potent paradox within their minds.

G.K. can only truly be understood by reading his work and contributions to the faith. Accordingly, I will close with a selection of some of my favorite quotes:

"By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece."

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”

“You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.”

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”

“The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.

“There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

“It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”