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.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

June 23 - Anthony of Padua, Preacher, Franciscan, Called

Ferdinand--for this was the name Anthony of Padua was known by for many of his years--had turned his back on the life appointed for him by his noble and wealthy parents in favor of a life of monastic discipline and devotion. He received a competent education in the Augustinian school but in doing so turned down the excellent education offered by his family's connections and influence. Regardless of the opportunities offered to him, though, Ferdinand was only willing to live the life that God had called him to live. In pursuit of his calling, he became the monk in charge of hospitality at the Augustinian abbey of Saint Vincent outside the city walls of Lisbon, Portugal. One night he gave rest and comfort to five Franciscan monks who were traveling for Morocco to preach to the Muslim inhabitants there. Ferdinand was energized by their clearly passionate obedience to the calling God had placed upon their lives even in the face of probable death. He was not surprised when he soon hosted them again--though this time it was their corpses he cared for--at the abbey as they were sent home from the mission field as martyrs. Each of the men had died for a Kingdom that places demands on its citizens and a Lord who promised life through death. Impressed as he was by their bravery and commitment, he asked for and received permission to leave the Augustinian abbey and become a Franciscan monk. Upon this occasion, he took the name Anthony.

Anthony had become a Franciscan so that he might follow in the footsteps of the men whose callings had been so clear and sacrifices so definitive. He soon set out to travel to Morocco to take up the calling of the men who had been martyred. Anthony made this decision knowing that his own martyrdom was the likely outcome of such a calling but he went willingly and eagerly. While traveling, however, he became severely ill and was forced to turn around and return to Portugal to seek medical attention and time to recover. Anthony was heartbroken that he would be turned back fromMorocco and what he perceived to be his calling but he did so knowing that God's will could not be frustrated and that if it was God's will for him to go to Morocco then he would find his way there. Yet again, though, circumstances changed for Anthony when his ship was wrecked on the coast of Sicily. Anthony had no connection to Sicily but it seemed as nice a place as any for him to recover and continue his life of monastic service and devotion. He had the opportunity to go to Assisi and after the occasion of his presence passed he remained there as a servant of God who seemed lost in his calling. Anthony must have felt adrift in God's plan to be so far from home and so far from anywhere he had ever imagined God guiding him. In Italy Anthony was an unknown and of no consequence. Yet, Anthony continued to wait for God to do God's will and allow him to join into the work of the Kingdom in the world--he was content to wait on God's guidance because he trusted that God's calling upon him was true and complete.

Anthony ended up in San Paolo because of his illness and his relative obscurity among Italian Franciscans. One day a group of Dominicans and Franciscans gathered together for the purposes of an ordination. The Franciscans had assumed that surely the Dominicans would be prepared to preach--after all, the Dominicans were the Order of Preachers. The Dominicans had assumed the Franciscans would have a preacher since they were hosting the day. Consequently, nobody was prepared to preach on the occasion of the ordination. The monks decided that humble Anthony would preach and he objected to their insistence. They overruled him, though, and he was compelled by his obedience to his brothers and his Lord to do as they asked. He ascended to the pulpit and swallowed nervously. Finally, he began preaching whatever it was that the Holy Spirit directed him to say. At first, it was halting and hesitant but as the Spirit gripped Anthony the words came clearly and powerfully through him to the attentive audience. They were astonished at the clarity of the words he brought forth on that day and he gained a reputation of spirited preacher in the small community. His reputation began to spread from that day and soon he was not only preaching sermons to the many who were desperate to hear words of hope, faith, and love but he was also working wonders in the crowds that came to see him. The man who feared he had missed God's calling found it seemingly by accident when called upon to preach the Word of God. For the rest of his life he preached and worked wonders and lived into the wondrous calling God had known from before his birth and Anthony only found out a day at a time.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22 - Alban, Protomartyr, Convert, Hospitable

It's hard to guess why Alban had agreed to shelter Amphibalus. Maybe he didn't know why Amphibalus needed a place to live or maybe he did and thought that he might be compensated for his charity.Perhaps, he wanted to be kind to a man who was obviously in need. Regardless, though he was a Roman soldier and loyal to the Roman gods and values, Alban invited the Christian priest Amphibalus into his home and gave him both a place to sleep and meals to eat. As is the case for those who demonstrate love through hospitality, he began to genuinely question Amphibalus on matters both mundane and essential. Soon, Amphibalus made it clear to Alban that he was a Christian priest and he carried with him a story greater than any Rome could offer. Alban was intrigued by the simultaneous confidence and humility of the priest and he listened attentively as Amphibalus both prayed and explained the Faith that was so dear to him. He learned that Amphibalus was on the run from the emperor and the terrible imperial decree of death and destruction for those who dared to swear their allegiance to any Kingdom besides Rome. Alban knew that his lords had labeled this man a traitor and criminal but the life giving story he told suggested that perhaps it was Rome that had it all wrong. Soon, Alban was converted to the faith of the priest and baptized. He had made a decision to condemn himself in the eyes of Rome for the hope of mercy and life more abundant.

The next morning Roman soldiers arrived at the place where Amphibalus had been hiding and they knocked on the door of Alban's home with orders from the emperor. Before he opened the door, Alban made an important decision. He had heard the story of Amphibalus and the Lord Jesus and knew well that there is no greater love than to lay yourself down for another. So, he took the cloak and hood of Amphibalus while he slept and opened the door silently to greet the representatives of Rome on his threshold. They threw him to the ground and tied his hands behind his back. Alban offered no word to them and, instead, prayed that he might have courage enough to see his plan through to the bloody end. They brought him before the governor and he was beaten severely. As he was beaten his hood fell back from his face and his true identity was revealed. Not only was he not the accused priest but he was, also, a Roman soldier who had apparently allowed himself to be turned over into the hands of the Roman empire to protect a Christian priest. The governor was furious at being fooled and at the audacity of Alban to perpetrate such a scheme. He ordered Alban to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods so that, perhaps, he might have mercy on this fallen soldier. Alban shook his head and uttered the words that signed his death warrant: "I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things." With his profession of faith he had sealed his fate.

He was beaten severely again and then forced to walk to the top of a hill where he would be executed. Being a Roman citizen he was condemned to decapitation at the hands of an executioner. As they walked to that lonely place of death his crimes were intoned to the crowds who watched questioningly. Each step deepened the conviction and shame in the heart of the executioner and he began to ask questions of Alban as to why he was going to give up his life instead of make the same sacrifice he had made so many times before. Alban told the executioner of his own faith and the fundamental conviction that gripped his heart:Jesus who had been executed had been the True God and had died so that sinners might find grace and true life in this world. The executioner was astonished at not only the words of Alban but, also, the confidence with which he walked to his certain death. When they arrived at the place of Alban's death the executioner confessed Jesus as his Lord and refused to be a party to Rome's imperial death sentence. He was arrested by the soldiers and held there to watch as a second executioner finished the task and made a martyr of Alban. Soon thereafter, the executioner joined him in martyrdom. Eventually, Amphibalus was caught, as well, and he suffered the same death in the same place for the same crime of allegiance to the same Lord.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21 - Ephrem of Syria, Deacon, Teacher, Harp of the Spirit

Ephrem was the child of Christian parents who were active in their congregational family in Nisbis. This was a mark in the favor of Ephrem's potential spiritual growth. From birth he was raised hearing the stories of life through death and the redeeming power of pure, unblemished love. We cannot and should not underestimate this for a single moment. Further, the congregation that Ephrem was a part of--and into which he was eventually baptized--was led and cared for by Jacob of Nisbis. Jacob was one of the men who signed the documents of the First Council of Nicea in 325 when Ephrem was almost twenty years old. This meant that Ephrem was learning from one of the pillars of the Church how best to likewise become a great leader of the Church and devoted follower of the Church's bridegroom. He was baptized by Jacob and eventually appointed both deacon and teacher. But Ephrem took an interesting approach to his educational vocation. He did not ask his students to memorize and he did not teach them in the lecturing didactic style so common at the time. Instead, he wrote poetry and hymns. Ephrem was convinced that the great mysteries of God could not be handled with the calculating hands of academia and must be carefully cradled by the hands of the arts. With poetry and music the mysteries of the Faith could flourish and not be "solved" but, instead, be entertained, experienced, and appreciated.

Constantine died in 337 and the Persian ruler Shapur II began to raid the northern portions of Roman Mesopotamia. These attacks were repelled, according to Ephrem's hymns and poetry, by the mighty prayers of Jacob of Nisbis. But some twenty years later they were picked up again and the Roman empire was willing to make a deal because of the chaos ripping through its power structure in the wake of the death of Julian the Apostate in battle. Since Constantius II was not willing to attend to the needs of the cities of norther Mesopotamia and the new ruler Jovian was willing to sacrifice the cities to save his army, the city of Nisbis was turned over to Shapur with the understanding that its Christian population would be banished. Ephrem led the community in its exile and they eventually landed in Edessa. In Edessa, Ephrem helped to rebuild the congregation and continued to teach them through the wonders of poetry and hymnody.Even as rival teachers tried to engage him in formulaic debate he refused to abandon the world of the arts for the world of academic discourse. He wasn't concerned with winning arguments and solving intellectual puzzles, he was concerned with taking care of the mysteries and proclaiming what amounted to nothing more than foolishness to most.

In the year 373 famine hit Edessa and tore through its occupants with ferocity. A plague resulted from the widespread starvation and death. Ephrem led his congregation to care for the sick, hungry, and dying and did so by example. Eventually, he succumbed to the plague that afflicted those he loved and cared for. Through the years, we still have four-hundred of Ephrem's hymns so we can trust that there were thousands of hymns and poems at his death. He left a legacy of love and mysterious providence behind him to the Church he loved and served. This legacy was inspired in him by the Lord he loved and of whom he wrote:

Your Bread kills the Devourer who had made us his bread,
your Cup destroys death which was swallowing us up.
We have eaten you, Lord, we have drunk you,
not to exhaust you, but to live by you.
See, Lord, my arms are filled with the crumbs from your table;
there is not room left in my lap.
As I kneel before you, hold back your Gift;
Keep it in your storehouse to give us again!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June 20 - William Carey, Called, Discouraged, Missionary

Sometimes when you have something you feel you must say, it burns in your heart and demands to be loosed. This feeling goes beyond an urge or an inclination and seems to take on a life of its own.It rises from your heart to your throat and rests on your vocal chords just waiting for your will to give it life--if you won't agree to say it then it will eventually recede but leave you with the pervasive feeling that an opportunity was missed. These are the moments when the Holy Spirit seems to rest upon our shoulders and speak every word into our ears--as if God is only using us as a mouthpiece to proclaim the Kingdom of God to a world desperate for liberation. These moments speak powerfully to us, not only in the moment but, also, in the aftermath, and should not be ignored. William Carey had one such moment when he felt a passion for the lost and dying burning within his heart. He knew that Jesus was calling him to speak out at the minister's meeting but he also knew that he was only a young man in his mid-twenties. He didn't want to be taken for a fool among his more senior colleagues who were both respectable and influential.

But, that passion--a question of whether or not the assembled ministers were taking Christ's Great Commission seriously--refused to recede and only burned stronger within him. Soon, William was pinned between two painful options: he could retain the respect and acceptance of his colleagues but quench the movement of the Holy Spirit, or he could speak the words he felt he was called to say and sacrifice his own ambition upon the altar of God's calling.This was a colossal struggle waged within the confines of William's mind and heart as the business of the meeting proceeded. He knew that the assembled ministers were known as "hyper Calvinists" and that they felt that mission work and evangelism was of no use or profit--after all, God would save whoever God wanted to save regardless of what people did. But, William couldn't shake the feeling that Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations was still binding upon Christians even in the eighteenth century. He had become Baptist because of his willingness to dissent from the official State Church but this dissent seemed even more painful and costly. Finally, William cleared his throat and asked the question he had been led to ask: "Gentlemen, is it not our duty--the duty of all Christians--to spread the Gospel to all the world?" Silence flooded into those brief moments after his question as each mind stopped to consider what he had said and formulate a response. In that moment, William felt relief but one of the elder leaders in the group interrupted that cathartic moment with his response, "Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine." This resistance characterized the rest of William's ministry.

William gathered missionaries around himself and though he was resisted from seemingly every angle he formed a missionary society and moved to India to spread the Gospel to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.The British East India Company opposed their arrival in India and so they found it hard to sail there but, eventually, a Danish ship gave them passage to Calcutta. They struggled to reach out to a people who didn't seem interested all the while suffering disease, fatigue, and depression. They honored the cultural distinctions of India and the Hindu religion but vehemently repudiated the caste distinctions that dehumanized some while privileging others. This group began printing the Bible in the language of the people and preaching a message that became increasingly well received as they continued to oppose the dehumanizing forces of the society. Offering both liberation and salvation, they became proponents of a new creation and a Kingdom "not of this world." More and more missionaries were coming to join this foothold of the Kingdom in India but this presented yet another terrible point of resistance. Many of the new missionaries were unwilling to suffer the same rigors as William and his friends and were soon demanding both a separate house (unlike the communal house that William and friends had lived in) and servants to attend to them. Eventually, William broke away from the society he had founded and continued preaching and teaching on his own. He died in 1834--still preaching and teaching to the day he died. Though he faced resistance throughout his life, he had chosen the path of the Spirit and renounced the path of comfort--in doing so, he gained the Kingdom.

Monday, June 19, 2017

June 19 - Jude, Martyr, Apostle, One of the Twelve

Jude was born into a world of oppression and nationalism. He was the son of Cleophas and Mary; born in Palestine and raised up under the thumb of the Roman empire. Though he was taught by Rome to keep to himself and make no trouble, he had a remarkable spiritual pedigree that directed him to live otherwise. His father would go on to become a martyr who refused to stop preaching the good news that God had not only become human and died for our sins but, furthermore, had risen from the dead and conquered both sin and death. For daring to speak of a power supreme to Rome and refusing to submit himself first to the empire, he was executed and made a martyr. His mother was the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and was present at the crucifixion to take the body of her blood relative and give it over to burial. He himself was called by Jesus to become a disciple and he laid down anything that prevented him from taking up this call. Soon, he was one of the twelve closest disciples of Jesus--his second cousin--and received a practical education in radical love and ministry. Then, Jesus was arrested, beaten, tortured, and executed for daring to speak of a Kingdom other than Rome that was worthy of allegiance--a Kingdom not of this world. Jude wasn't there for the crucifixion even as his mother wept for their Lord and Savior.

After the resurrection, Jude anticipated that the Kingdom of God would soon take its place in the world in a powerful and obvious way that compelled all who heard of and saw the wonders to pledge their allegiance to the Kingdom of God and forsake the powers of this world. But Jude, like the others, had overestimated the ability of people to turn their backs on the masters who held them in bondage.In essence, he underestimated the power of sin and brokenness to perpetuate slavery in the souls of the people. Finally given a chance to trade the broken systems of the world for the glorious Kingdom, Jude was distressed to find people remaining in their sin simply because it was comfortable and familiar. At Pentecost, Jude was among the group of people who were anointed by the Holy Spirit and given a charge to go forth and take the Gospel to all peoples. Jude traveled with Simon the Zealot and visited Mesopotamia, Libya, and Persia among other places. Everywhere they stopped they preached, healed, and performed miracles. Of particular interest was Jude's tendency to perform exorcisms upon the stone and wooden gods of the people he found. When confronted with an idol that wordlessly laid claim to many souls, he would pray quietly and then dramatically point at the idol. With a scream, a demon would flee the idol at the command of God and the idol would crumble or splinter in the presence of the people.

The things that Jude did could not and would not go unnoticed for long. While in Lebanon and preaching they finally attracted enough ire through their words, healings, and exorcisms that they were set upon by an angry crowd. Every time Jude freed another soul from slavery to some power of this world, somebody stood to lose something whether it was Rome or the priests of the gods he defied. They took him from his makeshift pulpit in Beirut and they beat him savagely with a club. Taking turns so that his agony would be ever fresh, they tried to find new ways to make an old means of torture shut him up. Instead, he continued to use the breath he had left to preach a message of love for enemies and forgiveness for all people regardless of sin. He continued to proclaim release from captivity even as he suffered for daring to believe in it. Finally, they beat him to death and cut off his head as a trophy. Though they thought they were eliminating the presence of the Christians among them by executing their leader, they only exacerbated the sincerity of the message. In essence, they had finally given Jude an opportunity to demonstrate his genuine trust that love was enough and forgiveness was the right of all people. With that bloody club his accusers set him free from a world of oppression even as he spoke of a Kingdom not of this world but open to all.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 18 - Leontius, Hypatius, and Theodulus, Martyrs

By the order of the emperor Vespasian, the Roman senator Adrian was declared governor of Phonecia. Adrian was given the charge of discovering and punishing the rapidly growing contingent of Christians in the area. Further, Adrian knew the ways of death and punishment that Rome taught to be used on those who resisted the imperial way. Knowing that Tripoli was the cornerstone of any potential control of Phonecia, he gathered intelligence on the Christians of Tripoli while he journeyed there from Rome. What he learned was that there was one Christian in particular who was practicing and encouraging the practice of hospitality in Christian homes throughout the city and the larger region. This kind of radical hospitality revealed a void at the base of the imperial values of self-obsession and angered an empire that had no time for the naive love of the Christians.Especially maddening was Leontius' occupation: Roman soldier and military chief. So, Adrian sent one of his prized tribunes, Hypatius, along with a contingent of soldiers ahead of him to arrest and hold Leontius so that when Adrian arrived, he could try and execute a leader among the Christians as an example to the others on his first day in Phonecia. Adrian wanted to set a precedent for Rome's way of death and punishment.

Hypatius knew his orders very well and so he led his group of soldiers--including his dear friend Theodulus--in executing the governor's will in Tripoli. But, as they approached Tripoli, Hypatius became very ill. The soldiers stopped and set up camp to care for their dying leader. Voices were hushed as Hypatius languished alone in his tent and drew nearer and nearer to death by the second. Though the empire claimed to control death, they could do nothing to protect themselves from its power when disease and tragedy crept through their camps and homes. As Hypatius drifted between fitful sleep and awakened agony he had a vision of an angel standing before him. The angel said to Hypatius: "If you wish to be healed, you and your soldiers should say three times: 'God of Leontius, help me.'" Hypatius refused to do so but told his dear friend Theodulus what he had seen. The soldiers were eager to save the life of their commander and so they prayed what the angel had taught and Hypatius was miraculously healed. The soldiers were astounded and Theodulus himself was converted to the faith of Leontius in the wake of such a miracle. Hypatius was left with questions but he still had his duties and so he and his soldiers continued on to Tripoli. When they arrived, they were hungry and tired and a hospitable person took them in for the night. Unbeknownst to the soldiers, their host was Leontius and, though they were unaware of the identity of their host, Leontius knew who they were and why they had come.

In the morning he revealed his identity to the men and they were awestruck that he knew they had come to arrest him so that he might be executed for his faith. His audacious hospitality purchased their attention and they listened to him explain the Christian faith and the way of love and redemption. Theodulus had already converted and so he not only professed his faith in front of his friends and peers but, also, preached the same gospel to them that Leontius confessed. Hypatius soon became a Christian, as well, and the three men prepared for the arrival of Adrian.They knew that Adrian's arrival likely meant their deaths and so they prayed one with another and tried to ready their minds and hearts for the challenge of their martyrdom.The converts among them were baptized shortly before Adrian arrived and sent yet more soldiers to arrest them when he found out what had happened to his tribune and soldiers. Leontius was forced to watch as both Hypatius and Theodulus first refused to renounce their new found faith and then were beaten and executed. He was returned to his cell and left to think about the brutality he had witnessed but when Adrian brought him out again Leontius was still unwilling to renounce his faith. So Adrian had Leontius hung upside down by his feet and a heavy weight tied around his neck. This did not kill him at first but it slowly stretched him to death. While he suffered, he was beaten on the chest, stomach, and back with wooden rods. Eventually, they beat him to death and tossed his body outside of the city along with the bodies of Hypatius and Theodulus. The local Christians who had learned hospitality from Leontius sneaked out to the bodies that night and buried them with a Christian funeral.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

June 17 - John XXIII, Pope, Reformer, Friend of the Sick and Prisoners

On the ninth day of October, in the year 1958, pope Pius XII died from complete heart failure brought about by overworking and taxing himself in service to the Church. The death of Pius XII was entirely unexpected among the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church but soon they were meeting in conclave to select the next pope. Any Roman Catholic man was eligible for selection but there was one man in particular who was considered the likely successor to Pius XII: Giovanni Montini, the archbishop of Milan. The diocese of Milan was the largest Italian diocese and Pius XII had appointed Montini to serve as its archbishop because of a great trust he held for him. But, Montini was not a cardinal and was not present for the conclave. This made the potential selection of Montini uncomfortable for some of the cardinals.Though any Roman Catholic man was eligible-- regardless of vocation, calling, or appointment--it was the usual practice of the conclave at the time to select a cardinal to become the next pope. Wanting to select Montini but unable to do so easily, they selected an older cardinal--Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli--to serve as pope. They expected that he would be a nice buffer between the nearly twenty year papacy of Pius XII and the very likely eventual papacy of Montini. Though Roncalli was selected as something of a stop-gap pope (Montini was selected to succeed Roncalli and took the name Paul VI) he understood it to be a powerful calling with important duties nevertheless.

Roncalli selected the regnal name of John even though it hadn't been used in over 500 years. The last pope to use the name John had divorced himself from the other cardinals and from the pope to select their own pope and establish a different route of apostolic succession. This meant that the previous pope John was better known as antipope John XXII. By choosing the name John, and the number XXIII, Roncalli affirmed the antipapal status of the previous John while redeeming the name for use among future popes. John reasoned that the history and tradition of the name John was greater than that of one antipope who had strayed from the path. In doing so, John insisted that the Church's work was comprised of both confession of sins and redemption. One of his first acts was a surprising one for any pope--let alone a pope who was 77 years old. He made visits to the local prison and children's hospital to provide pastoral care for both the sick and the incarcerated. He laid his hands upon children with polio and lifted them up in his prayers and visited prisoners, insisting, "You could not come to me, so I came to you." From the outset, John established his papacy as one concerned with others and the great commandment of loving others.

In his short tenure as pope--a little less than five years--he also began the process of renewal and reformation within the Church he loved and served. It was at John's insistence that the Second Vatican Council was convened and conversations were begun about how best to reach out ecumenically and how best to approach and address a rapidly changing world. John was unwilling to see his beloved Church fall behind in its calling to love the world and so he sought to renew and reform it. Under John's leadership, the Church began to accept that some things might have been done wrong in the past and that stoic refusal of change was neither Christian nor acceptable. John himself would not live to see the end of the Second Vatican Council but it would be finished under the guidance of his successor pope Paul VI (Montini--made a cardinal by John's efforts). John died on the third of June in the year 1963 having served the Church he loved with devotion and great pride even though he was thought of as little more than a "place holder" at first. Even now he is remembered for his ecumenical efforts and his insistence of the primacy of love and compassion when interacting with the world and those in need.

Friday, June 16, 2017

June 16 - Tikhon of Amathus, Bishop, Generous, Did Much With Little

Tikhon was born in the city of Amathus on the island of Cyprus. He was born into a Christian family and was brought up in the faith of his parents.They taught him to read at a young age and they did so by teaching him to read the scriptures so near and dear to their hearts. That way, at least, if he didn't learn to read well and benefit from the rare skill, then he would at least hear the life changing stories contained therein. He had the opportunity to receive education--a relative luxury at the time--because his father owned and operated a fairly successful family business: a bakery. Growing up in a family with a business meant that Tikhon received regular opportunities to help the family prosper economically. When his father needed to leave the shop, Tikhon would mind the wares and make the sales necessary. As he got older, Tikhon was able to begin baking while running the shop in his father's occasional absence. Eventually, as is the way of family businesses, Tikhon was essentially a coworker with his father when he was not busy with some other more pressing matter.

So, it was no surprise when Tikhon was left in charge of the bakery once again but it was surprising to his father what he did when hungry people came begging. Tikhon took a loaf of bread, broke it, and gave it into the hands of the hungry people on the doorstep. He invited them in for a little while so that they might find some momentary shelter and eat in peace. He broke another expensive loaf of bread and began baking yet more for them. He did it all, of course, because he felt that the faith he had learned at the knee of his mother and father commanded him to do so. When he was presented with the opportunity to do what Jesus had taught Tikhon didn't know that most would avoid this command and, instead, followed the words of Jesus.Specifically, he gave food to the hungry because Jesus had said that those who feed the hungry are, in actuality, feeding God. So, he treated those hungry people in the shop with the love and attention that he desired to lavish upon God in the flesh. In a very real way, he was able to draw closely into the presence of God by handing over hot bread into the hands of one unable ever to pay for a slice--let alone a whole loaf. Then, Tikhon's father came home just as Tikhon was handing over yet another expensive loaf--it seems that generosity truly is an addiction--and saw what was happening to the valuable bread meant to be sold to support the family.

He rushed Tikhon's beloved guests out of the shop and asked Tikhon what he thought he was doing. He began to lecture Tikhon about the need of the family to support itself and how giving away bread robbed his own family. He mentioned that the granary where they kept the wheat was nearly empty because he had made bread in anticipation for some festival or feast. Now, that bread was in the stomachs of the hungry. He assented that it was good to feed the hungry as Jesus had commanded but not to do so so radically and lavishly. After all, wouldn't the crusts be enough for the hungry? Tikhon, however, with honest and sincere faith asked his father if he had forgotten what God had promised. "I wasn't feeding the hungry. I was feeding God. Didn't God tell us that we would receive again one-hundred-fold for what we have given away in love?" His father agreed that this was the command but refused to accept such naive idealism--having been thoroughly indoctrinated by the world's gospel. So, Tikhon led his father to the granary where, miraculously, it was filled to overflowing with wheat. At the sight of such a promise miraculously fulfilled, Tikhon's father repented and insisted that they must continue to bake and break bread for the poor and the hungry--and so they did for many years even after Tikhon's path led him away from Amathus and elsewhere into God's service.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 15 - Amos, Outcast, Trouble Maker, Voice of God

Amos had a message that was unwelcome but needed. Since he was called to speak for God to a people who had grown fat on success given by God's grace, he knew he wouldn't be heard. But sometimes--perhaps always--the job of a prophet is to speak truth even in the face of ignorance and resistance. So, Amos spoke as God directed him:

"Hear what God had to say to us, Israel, and know that it doesn't make me happy to say it for it is a sad word for me, as well:

Sweet, lady Israel is falling and will not rise from the dust.
She will be abandoned by all
and will have none to pick her up in her hour of need.

For thus says the Lord God:
only one of every ten soldiers who leaves the city shall return.

This is what God has to say to us:
Seek God and live
but don't chase after Bethel,
place no confidence in Gilgal,
and don't entrust yourselves to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal shall be cast away and Bethel shall fade from the earth

Take time now to seek God and to find life in the seeking
or know that God's wrath--which we deserve--will consume us like fire
it will devour our sin and we will catch fire with it.
Oh, you who turn justice to vanity! 
You who bring the stain of sin to righteousness!

Remember the one who made the stars that others kneel before
who brings light into the deepest darkness
who brings the dark of night to even the brightest day
who commands the chaotic waters of the seas,
who bends their wills to serve His

Remember this one! The Lord is His name
who displays even greater power still against the strong
so that even the strongest of us are nothing before Him.

Those strong ones among us hate those who correct them, 
they loathe the one who
 has the audacity to speak truth.

So, listen up, strong people and know that because you trample the poor whom God loves
and tax the have-nots to increase your wealth
You may have built a beautiful house like none other
but you shall not live in it;
You may have planted a gorgeous vineyard, but you will not enjoys its wine.
For God knows your many sins
and knows just how grievous they are--
Yes, God knows that you afflict the righteous and are bought by bribery.
God knows you push the needy aside in public and have no patience with God's beloved.

If you know what's good for you then you'll shut your mouth; 
because there is plenty of punishment to go around.

Why not try seeking God and rejecting evil?
In doing so, you might live,
and the Lord God Almighty will walk alongside you,
just as you have already claimed--it's not too late!

Despise evil and love goodness,
and reclaim the healing power of justice performed in public;

If so, it's possible that the Lord God Almighty
might offer undeserved grace to the remnant left after God's judgment.

This is what the Lord God Almighty has to say:
The cities will be filled with wailing
and in the streets the word on everybody's lips will be 'Alas!'
Farmers will turn from their hard work to the harder work of mourning,
and those whose lips are skilled in lamentation will give themselves over to wordless grief.
The vineyards will be filled with the cries of the people 
for God will pass through the people in judgment.

But, woe to those who anxiously await the day of theLord's judgment!
Who would want the day of the Lord's judgment?
It is a dark day--not a bright one;
it will be as if someone fled for their life from a lion, 
and ran into the arms of a bloodthirsty bear.

or went into his home--a place of safety--and rested his hand on his wall,
only to be bitten by a snake.
Is there some joy in God's coming judgment that we might look forward to it?
Is there some silver lining to that dark cloud?
Don't you get it?
God hates--despises--the festivals of our people
God takes no delight in our solemn assemblies--in all our self-obsessed pomp!
Even though we lift up offerings and sacrifices in the name of ritual
God will not receive them.
We offer our best in mechanical repetition of past ritual
but God will not even look upon the heartless offering.
God won't listen to the noise we call songs of praise if our hearts are not in the right place
God has no time to hear beautiful melodies from darkened hearts.

You want to please God?
Then, let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 14 - Elisha, Prophet, Friend and Follower of Elijah, Abandoned Everything

Elisha wasn't expecting to become a prophet on the day he set out from his home--not too far from
 the home of his father Shaphat--to plow the land that would once again bring forth food for the whole family. No, he had been planning on doing the work demanded of him by his station in life--he knew that farmers had to work to live. So, he had taken all twenty-four of his oxen and yoked them together in pairs. Then he had lined the twelve yoke of oxen ahead of the plow and set the blade of the plow into the earth. At his command, the oxen surged forward and pulled the plow through the rocky soil. The land wasn't rich with nutrients or especially flat but it was all Elisha had and so he took care of it as best he could. After all, his life depended on his ability to deliver sustenance from hard and rocky soil. As they plowed, a prophet walked by and Elisha stopped to watch him. He knew this man to be Elijah and he took a moment to think of what Elijah's life must have been like. As Elisha stood behind the oxen thinking, Elijah took off his mantle and threw it over Elisha's neck. Elisha instantly knew what this meant--he knew what Elijah was wordlessly asking.

He left the oxen in the field and ran after Elijah to catch him since Elijah had not stopped walking since he threw the mantle. He caught up to him and said, "Elijah, if you'll wait a bit, then I'll go and kiss my mother and father goodbye and follow you." Elisha knew that the mantle had been Elijah's invitation for Elisha to become his student and follower. He also knew that following after Elijah would be the biggest change his life could ever know and likely meant he would never again see the face of his mother and father. Sometimes, callings make high demands and expect more than we are often comfortable giving--but that doesn't make them any less important or valuable.

Elijah responded, "Go on then, if you're going to follow me then it's going to be with a clean heart and conscience." Then, Elijah sat down in the road and prayed before his God--the same God whom Elisha prayed before every day and every night. Elisha drove the oxen back home and left them in their yokes once they reached his house. He ran to the home of his mother and father and excitedly told them what had happened by the road only moments ago. They were excited for him, as any good father and mother would be, but they, too, knew what it meant: a calling was taking their son away from them and they would never see him again. So, through tears and laughter, parents and son kissed and told their love and devotion. Then, Elisha ran back to his oxen with only one more plan in mind.

He took all twenty-four of his oxen and slaughtered them one by one. He had something in mind and couldn't leave the place of his birth and most of his life without doing one last thing. He broke down the plow that had been entrusted to him to farm the soil and set it ablaze. Slowly and purposefully, he began to roast the slaughtered oxen. The smell began to attract visitors and when they came they were given large portions of meat. Meat was a rarity at the time and this was a feast. It was some type of celebration and the crowds appreciated it but it was also lunacy for a man to slaughter his own oxen to feed onlookers. Sometimes a calling is lunacy not only in the eyes of the world but also in the eyes of the called.It must have been hard for Elisha to break those years of tradition but in roasting those oxen he further committed himself to a new tradition: the life and ways of a prophet.

Having fed the people the meat from his two dozen oxen, Elisha bid them farewell and returned to Elijah who was still praying on the road. "Ready to go?" Elijah asked.

"More than ever," Elisha replied.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

June 13 - Aquilina, Martyr, Adolescent, Willing to Suffer

Aquilina was another subject of the expansive Roman empire at the end of the third century. She was born in Byblos in what we now know as Lebanon. Her family was Christian and so she was raised in the faith of her parents and the Apostles. That which she received had been passed down for many years from mouth to ear with a hopeful faith that God would guard and guide the transmission of it time after time after time. So, she received the story through catechism from the Bishop of Byblos--from a man called by God and appointed by the Church named Euthalios--and it changed the way she looked at everything. When she first heard the sublime notes of that sweet story, her heart leaped in her chest and she could no more than affirm it with her every word and breath. She became enamored with the sweet and simple truth of it and took to her studies with vigor and eagerness. Though she was only twelve she somehow sensed that her faith must grow and increase for the days that were to come. Days that for a twelve-year-old girl were coming all too quickly.

She preached in the streets because she could no more hold in the story she had learned than she could simply stop being. This preaching was effective and many people her own age found themselves enthralled by her honesty and sincerity. But because of the preaching she did in the streets she attracted the attention of the magistrate Volusian. Volusian was under the command of Diocletian and knew that Christians were being punished throughout the empire. He asked her, "Out in the streets--why do you preach the story of the Christians?"

She responded, "I am a Christian. That's why." This was confusing to Volusian who could not fathom such a young girl easily accepting a Gospel that taught the only way to live was to die and that it was better to perish painfully than to renounce faith in Jesus whom had been crucified.

In his confusion, Volusian said to Aquilina, "Don't you see that you're leading your friends and peers down a road that leads to death? It leads them away from faith in the gods of Rome to faith in one who was crucified at the hands of Rome. Don't you know that the empire condemned your 'God' to death and even now condemns all of his followers to follow him in death? You should leave this mistake behind and place your faith in the gods of Rome. If you won't, even though you are but a little girl, then you will suffer a horrible death."

Aquilina responded, "You don't understand, I'm not afraid to suffer. I'm not afraid in the least. Rather, I look forward to it because I know that in it I will be able to be like Jesus. In that glorious death, I will find resurrection and glory." Volusian then ordered that she be tied to a post and flogged. As the ministrations of Rome tore at Aquilina's flesh, Volusian insisted she deny her faith. Aquilina, however, responded "Not even Satan himself would be able to make me suffer enough to break my faith--not with the help of my Lord Jesus. So, what makes you feel like you can break my faith?"

Volusian had her young body raked with metal claws and then she was thrown in prison for the night. They pierced her eardrums with hot spikes and further beat and abused her.When Aquilina still refused to deny her faith, she was beheaded in the morning on the morning of the thirteenth of June in the year 293.

Monday, June 12, 2017

June 12 - David of Gareji, Missionary, Monastic, Worker of Wonders

David was Syrian by birth but he found himself far away from home in a cave atop a mountain near Tbilisi in Georgia. It hadn't been his idea to go to Georgia but, rather, it was the idea of his teacher and spiritual father John of ZedazeniDavid trusted John completely and when John received a vision in which he was told the story of Nino and called to become a missionary to the people who dwelt in that foreign land of Georgia, David was willing to follow. After many years, he found himself living with his only disciple in a cave above Tbilisi. There were some of the worshipers of Ahura Mazda (what we might call Zoroastrians) in Tbilisi and David had been treated roughly and contemptuously by them each week when he had gone into the city to preach as was his practice. But the other six days of the week he spent in his cave praying for the inhabitants of the city--that they might be converted to the Love and Lordship of God as demonstrated in Jesus. He prayed for those who persecuted him and fasted every Wednesday and Friday so that he might teach his body to submit to God's will. Every night, he would rise weeping from his prayers to go to the precipice near his cave that overlooked Tbilisi and raise his hands in blessing over the city that hated his presence but desperately needed to be loved. For many years, his prayers seemed to go unanswered as the crowds he preached to seemed utterly uninterested in what he had to say with only a very few exceptions.

One day when he went into Tbilisi to preach there was a crowd of people waiting for him. Among them were some of the Zoroastrian leaders and priests who were evidently shielding some person from his eyes. When he began to preach, they interrupted him and the crowd turned to see what they had resolved to do. From among them came a prostitute who was clearly pregnant. David knew her because he had preached to her before about the love and forgiveness of God and the high calling of the same. She insisted that the baby was David's because she had been paid by the priests to lie and slander David. David was hurt and surprised but he had faith that God would not allow him to beslandered in such a way if it didn't serve God's purpose in some mysterious way--not after all the seemingly unanswered prayers uttered upon that cold mountain he called home at God's calling. David reached out his staff and touched the abdomen of the woman and commanded her unborn child to speak the name of its father. He didn't know if it would work but he trusted that God would work a wonder if this was God's will. The crowd was awestruck when they heard a small voice name the name of another man and their awe turned to rage as they realized the sham they had just witnessed. The crowd picked up stones and stoned the woman as David screamed his horror at the thought and begged them desperately to stop. After the crowd had dispersed, David and his disciple left Tbilisi never to return and moved into the Gareji forest.

They took up their monastic lives in the forest and God provided for their every need. They were fed by the herbs and produce of the land and by the milk and meat of deer that God sent to provide for them. In their huts, they prayed for Georgia and for the people with whom they came into regular contact. Though they had moved away from Tbilisi, people began to come to David seeking a miracle or a wonder. The blind regained their sight and the sick were made whole when they came to David and soon his reputation as a worker of wonders and preacher of truth spread throughout the countryside. In what seemed like no time at all, David was the teacher of many disciples whom he cared for and taught the way of life more abundant and free. He taught them the power of prayer in sure confidence that his prayers upon the mountain near Tbilisi had been answered on God's time instead of his own. He built a monastery in the forest and called those who had been converted to take up monastic lives of service and prayer. God had done great things through David because David had been willing to trust when everything seemed questionable.David had wondered and questioned but he had persevered in his trust even in the darkest times. Even after David had passed on, the work God had started through David continued.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11 - Barnabas, Martyr, Friend of the Gentiles, Evangelist

Barnabas wasn't always called Barnabas. In fact, his parents had named him Joseph. He was a Jew by birth and, further, was a member of the tribe of Levi. This made him a member of the priestly line.Because of his great pedigree, he had been a student of the rabbi Gamaliel alongside a man then known as Saul of Tarsus. But, then, Barnabas had met Jesus and after listening to some of the things he had to say, he began to follow him and learn his ways. He was not one of "the twelve" but he was a disciple and student of Jesus as he performed wonders and spoke of a Kingdom not of this world. He heard the parables, he saw the thankful masses of people, he tasted the loaves and fishes broken for him and he partook of the life of discipleship that so many others had taken upon themselves with Jesus' loving insistence. Along with the early Church (before they were known as "Christians"), he was a good and observant Jew who insisted upon the rightness of intentions over the rightness of particulars. He learned and taught a path of obedience to God that demanded submission of the heart, soul, mind, and strength to God but he went one step further and claimed Jesus as the incarnation of God who loved the world so much that God intervened for the greatest of all healing--the healing of a sin sick and broken people.

When his old friend Saul of Tarsus took that fateful trip to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus (those like Barnabas)there, he found conversion and his named was changed later to Paul. There had been a change of his person and so it was only fitting that his name be changed, as well--he wasn't Saul anymore. Joseph became Barnabas when he took the land and things he owned and sold them. He gave the money he gained by the sale to the fledgling Church and it was used to care for the poor and sick. Having given up everything, he gave up his name, as well, and was given the name Barnabas. When Paul came to visit the surviving disciples of Jesus it was Barnabas who vouched for him and introduced him to the others. The two became connected and renewed the friendship they had formed under Gamaliel. The odd calling placed upon these two men was to advocate for the expansive power of God's Kingdom. Paul and Barnabas--both Jewish themselves--insisted that one need not be a Jew to be a follower of Jesus. This was a topic of considerable debate for many, many years in the Church but Paul and Barnabas believed that God was bigger than one group of people. So, under their guidance and teaching, congregations were started in many other places and the Church became a more complicated and beautiful Body.

Like so many of the early Christians, though, his calling and the faithful living of his life got him into trouble. Once, while he was having a spirited discussion on the nature of God and the divinity of Jesus among some of his Jewish contemporaries, his opponents decided they could stand it no longer.They dragged him from the synagogue while he preached to them on the grandness of God's mercy and the power of God to transform the lives of any through Jesus. They tortured him as punishment for speaking of grace and beat him as compensation for his forgiveness. Finally, they secured him to the ground and stoned him to death. The man who had striven to break open God's mercy upon more and more people with every passing day met his end at the hands of those who wanted nothing more than never to hear him speak again. They got their wish but the words didn't stop.Instead, they were picked up by the countless people--Jew and Gentile--who had been led into the Kingdom of God by the hand of Barnabas. His body was taken up by his friend John Mark and buried after all of his murderers had left the site of that dark hour.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

June 10 - Alexander and Antonina of Krodamos, Martyrs

Antonina was yet another Christian who was arrested because of her faith in God. By pledging her allegiance to the Kingdom of God, as expressed in her Lord Jesus, she was labeled a traitor to Rome and a trouble maker. She was a virgin and had given her body and her life over to God's service alone. This was yet another abhorrent act in the eyes of Rome, and most of the inhabitants of Krodamos, and so she was dragged before the governor Festus and commanded to renounce her faith. Many Christians were awed by the pomp of Rome and found it hard not to obey when standing before likely the most powerful mortal they had ever met. Antonina, on the other hand, had no such trouble. So, Festus tried something a little more subtle and offered her power if she would only reject the God of the Christians. For many people forced to kneel before the imperial governors, this offer would have been impossible to refuse--not only did it mean escape from wrath but, also, ascension into a power similar to the one under which they were languishing.Festus offered to make Antonina a priestess of the goddess Diana (better known in that area as Artemis). Antonina refused and begged Festus not for her life but for his--she encouraged him to abandon false Gods and false values and turn to the saving and merciful embrace of her Lord Jesus. This time it was Festus who refused. He had her beaten and thrown in prison while he deliberated as to how he might effect her conversion.

Festus came up with a plan. If he couldn't rob her of her faith by persuasion, then he hoped to rob her of her devotion. He turned to the soldiers who stood nearby and commanded them to go to the cell of Antonina and to rape and humiliate her.Festus assumed that the loss of this offering to God might be enough to shake Antonina's faith. He suspected that perhaps rape could induce enough shame and trauma to crush her will for a while. If it didn't work, then he'd kill her and she would be an example to any others who opposed him. As the soldiers were leaving, though, one of them (Alexander) stopped the group and turned to Festus. "Give me a little while alone with her. I think I can convince her to listen to you." Feeling that he had nothing to lose, Festus allowed Alexander the time alone with Antonina. When he entered her cell they were alone and unwatched by any guards. Meanwhile, just before Alexander had arrived, Antonina had been praying and God had directed her to eat, drink, and prepare to do God's will--she had interpreted it as comfort in her impending death but she was only seeing part of the plan. When Alexander entered, he began taking off his clothes and armor. Antonina must have feared that he had been sent to further abuse and defile her but he started handing the clothing and armor to her. "Put it on," he insisted, "and get out of here."

Antonina didn't want to, at first, but did so when she felt God directing her. Nobody stopped Antonina as she masqueraded as Alexander. She kept her eyes down, her hair up, and her mouth shut as she slowly left the prison. It must have been hard to act calm while her heart beat so rapidly in the face of her impending freedom. Festus eventually sent other soldiers to act on his original plan and they found nearly-naked Alexander sitting in the cell. They dragged him before Festus who accused him of conspiring to release a prisoner. Alexander took it one step further and declared himself to be a Christian. As Festus fumed and mentally planned a horrible death for the traitor, Antonina--in the clothing and armor of Alexander--reentered the chamber. She had gotten away and then became convicted that she could not flee her own martyrdom. The soldiers savagely beat them both at Festus' command.Then, the servants of Rome cut off their hands. As the bled to death they prayed, and as they were smeared with pitch they forgave their executioners. Finally, they were pushed into a roaring fire and burned alive. Alexander and Antonina had accepted their martyrdom--had sought it out--and in doing so challenged an empire that refused to be challenged.