Thursday, April 26, 2018

April 26 - Basil of Amasea and Glaphyra, Martyr and Near-Martyr, Bishop and Refugee

Glaphyra was the servant of the empress--Constantia--who was married to the emperor named Licinius. Licinius lusted for Glaphyra in such an obvious way that it was apparent even to his wife whom he hoped to hide it from. To be honest, this was surely not the first time that Constantia was faced with her husband's infidelity since he seemed to be accustomed to getting what he wanted from women whether they liked it or not. Glaphyra, however, was a Christian and had taken a vow of celibacy so that she might focus on devoting herself to service and her calling as a woman of God. Constantia knew that soon her husband would force Glaphyra to transgress her vow and ruin yet another young woman. So, she dressed Glaphyra in the clothing of one of her male servants and undertook careful measures to disguise Glaphyra in a way that would not attract Licinius' attention. Then, she gave her a large sum of money and sent her to Amasea where she might refuge with the Church there. Once Glaphyra was away Constantia conspired with her servants to deceive Licinius and tell him that Glaphyra was insane and on her deathbed.

Glaphyra was very frugal with the gift that Constantia had given her. In fact, she still possessed nearly all of it when she arrived in Amasea and was taken in by the bishop there. His name was Basil and he was committed to taking care of the people of God and those that God willed to pass through his life. He took Glaphyra in and found a home for her within the congregation. She found comfort and spiritual solace in Amasea under Basil's leadership. Eventually, she donated all of the gift she had received to build a meeting building for the congregation that had welcomed her as a refugee and exile. It wasn't nearly enough and so she sent a letter back to Constantia by secretive means asking for more support. Constantia was very willing to support the Church in Amasea and so she sent along the money and the building was finished. But as it was being finished Licinius stumbled upon the letter and was outraged. He was not furious because he could not have Glaphyra's body but because he had been deceived and outwitted. He was embarrassed and allowed his embarrassment to fuel a rage. He ordered the governor of Amasea to send Glaphyra and Basil to him so that he might punish them for their audacity. He complied because of his allegiance to Licinius but Glaphyra died before the journey could be made and was buried among the bones of the congregation she had been grafted into. She had found a home and a calling and rested peacefully knowing her life's journey was over.

Basil, however, was sent to Licinius--brought in chains--to pay for the heinous crime of taking in a lonely, refugee woman. Basil was found guilty of the charge of subverting the empire and being an enemy of the state. For the treason of loving those the emperor raged against he was beaten and tortured. Licinius thought that a promise of money and power would win Basil over and so he offered to make brave Basil into a pagan priest of his own personal religion. Licinius must have been even more enraged when Basil laughed at the idea and insisted that it was foolishness to trade faith for life. So, he was carried to the place where he would be made a martyr and he stopped to pray with some of the Christians who had come from Amasea to be with him. They were worried he wouldn't hold up to the emperor's worst intentions but they were comforted to watch him follow through in his commitment and mount the platform where his life would be stolen from him. He knelt down and looked up to his executioner. "Do what he wants you to do," Basil said, "it's alright." Having forgiven his killers, he died a martyr and an example of what it means to follow Jesus regardless of the cost.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April 25 - John Mark, Martyr, Disciple, Missionary

John Mark, better known now simply as Mark, was there that day in Cana when a wedding became not only a happy celebration of love and devotion but also the inauguration of an entirely new ministry by God almighty incarnate in one single, mortal, human being. Mark was among the servants who were tending the celebration and keeping its embers of joy stoked and glowing. But there was a problem--they were out of wine. Maybe there had been a miscalculation or maybe the servants had overestimated how much wine they had left as they freely poured it out into the cups of the guests. Maybe the guests were so jubilant that they were simply drinking more than had been expected. Regardless, the servants knew this was a big problem and they were hastily conferring over it in the kind of whispered voices that do the exact opposite of what a whisper is supposed to do. Mary overheard their frenzy and smiled serenely because she knew what to do. She brought her son Jesus--Mark had heard quite a bit about this one already and much of it was hard to believe--and conferred to him quietly about the problem. At first he seemed distressed by her request but then he seemed to acquiesce to his dear mother's pleas. She turned to Mark and the other servants and said, "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what."

Mark watched as Jesus pointed at six stone water-jars and asked them quietly to fill the jars with water. This was some task because each jar held nearly thirty gallons of water. But Mark wanted to trust the man and so he did as he was asked. When they had secretly filled the jars they returned to Jesus to hear what next he would ask of them. Was it possible he knew something about those jars and their problemthey they didn't? Surely, Mark must have thought this was a crazy idea but he had heard some startling rumors about Jesus and he had nothing to lose so he went with it. Jesus nodded when they returned to him and said, "Now draw some and take it to your boss to taste." Some must have scoffed at this. Sure, after the good wine had been served and the guests had lost some of their ability to appreciate the quality of the wine they might be able to pass off worse wine as good but not water as wine. That's when Mark drew a cupful and saw it was red and smelled of wine. He took it to his boss and was surprised to hear it described as better than the first. He looked over his shoulder at Jesus and as he locked eyes with this man Mary's words ran through his head again: "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what." That day he became a follower and disciple.

Mark was not one of "the Twelve" but he was surely one of those who regularly traveled around listening to him preach and teach. He was sent out among the seventy to preach the Kingdom that Jesus could see coming and was anticipating eagerly. He did it not because he felt especially gifted or skilled but because Jesus had told him to do so and he was willing to trust Jesus and do whatever he instructed. Of course, this didn't always hold because--like everybody else--he abandoned Jesus on the night of his crucifixion. But, he was quick to return and further commit himself to trusting Jesus--God incarnate--who had died and been resurrected. Then, on that beautiful day when Jesus ascended again to the Father he gave a parting message to those who were assembled with him. Mark heard him command his followers to go into the world and take the Gospel that Jesus had taught and lived to anybody and everybody. Mark took this calling and commissioning very seriously and set out among the early Christians to share the faith at great cost to himself. He traveled with Paul and Barnabas for some time. He went far from his home in North Africa to the Church at Colossae at Paul's leading and teaching. He even went so far as Rome to help Paul in his missionary journeys.

When Paul was executed, Mark traveled back to near where he was born and raised. He ended up in Alexandria and he openly preached the Gospel message he had received: that God had loved us so dearly and furiously that God became human to show us the way back to God and died at our hands so that our sins might be placed upon God as a burden previously unknown and forever incalculable.But that wasn't the end because death and sin had been unable to hold God down in all of God's glory and God had broken them even as they worked their dark magic to destroy and dissolve the Creator and Lord of All Things. Having risen from the dead, God told us that this was only the first of many resurrections since God had broken and conquered death so that we might be forgiven and healed. This resurrection was an earnest promise of the future reconciliation and healing of all creation. For preaching this message, Mark was hated and despised by many Alexandrians. They wished to continue worshiping their Egyptian gods regardless of Mark's continued compassion and love for them. In the face of the forgiveness and love he offered them they could not continue to abide his presence and his message of hope and faith. So, in the year 68, they tied him to the back of some horses and dragged him through the streets until he was beaten to death by the rocks and people that awaited him on his route leading to death.In the end, he still heard the words of Mary: "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what." So, he had trusted him and done what he had taught without regard to cost.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

April 24 - Max Josef Metzger, Martyr, Priest, Pacifist

Max Josef Metzger had followed the calling that spoke to him inwardly and demanded his greatest allegiance and devotion. It had led him to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic church. When World War I began to rampage through Europe he became a chaplain for the Imperial Army of Germany. He served his country while he served his Lord and calling but the war left an increasingly bitter taste in his mouth. With each funeral he officiated and each atrocity he witnessed he became more and more convinced of the world's great and desperate need for peace. At one point he wrote that “future wars have lost their meaning, since they no longer give anybody the prospect of winning more than he loses.”Max was receiving a quick and painful education in the futility of violence and domination. With each act of violence they found themselves only further away from the peace they were hoping for. In this desperation, Max began earnestly to hope for the peace that he knew God could bring and for which the world hungered and thirsted.

After the end of World War I, Max became committed not only to personal pacifism and renunciation of violence but, also, the spread of nonviolent thought among other people. Furthermore, Max feared that there was no hope for peace in the world if there was no hope for unity in the Church. If the people who were called to be the Body of Christ could not be reconciled one with another then it seemed that there was no hope for the fallen systems of the world to be raised from the ashes of death, violence, and war. He started a pacifist organization in Germany and tried to unite his group with international groups. He became active in peace demonstrations and in works to reunite the various broken portions of the Church. He drew heavy criticism for this but was allowed to do his work for many years. But as Adolf Hitler rose to power, Max found his influence and capacity for free speech and thought curtailed. Soon, it was a regular occurrence for the Gestapo to arrest Max on some trumped up charges. He went with them but he continued to resist them in his writings and sermons.

In 1943--during the heart of World War II--Max attempted to promote the cause of peace even while war was consuming the hearts and minds of the people of Germany and other countries. He did not agree with the Nazi policies and was considered by them to be an enemy and traitor. He sent a letter to the Archbishop of Sweden that looked forward to the fall of the Nazis and planned for a future of peace and reconciliation that might rise from the death of World War II and the great seduction and confusion of the German people. His letter was intercepted and turned over to the Gestapo.They interpreted his hope for peace in the future as treason in the present and he was arrested. For daring to dream of a world that might escape the need for domination, manipulation, and death he was condemned as a criminal and enemy. He was tried for this crime and found guilty. The man who was the judge at the trial pronounced his sentence--death--by noting that people like Max should be eradicated. In a world of acceptable civilian casualties and security by destruction, Max's hope for peace and reconciliation was an oddity worthy of death. He was executed on the seventeenth day of April in the year 1944.

Monday, April 23, 2018

April 23 - George of Nicomedia, Martyr, Beloved of Diocletian, Hero

Geronzio had been a servant of Diocletian before Diocletian had risen to the status and rank of emperor in Rome. He had served Diocletian loyally and had gained his respect and admiration. He was, however, a Christian and though Diocletian knew this he did not expect Geronzio to change his allegiance as long as Geronzio did not openly betray him. Geronzio was also married to a woman named Policronia. The two of them had used their connections and influence to elevate themselves to a noble status and to shore up possessions and wealth. They used this wealth and status to provide comfort and aid to their brothers and sisters in the Faith and to prepare their newborn son--whom they named George, meaning "worker of the land"--for his life and whatever it might hold. As George grew in age and education he also grew into the faith of his parents and his many new brothers and sisters that came to his family's home for services of worship and communion.Tragically, Geronzio died when George was fourteen and within three years Policronia had taken that fateful step beyond mortality and into life more ideal and true. George was among many who were like family to him and he was the inheritor of his family's considerable wealth but he was without direction and no longer had his father as his mentor. So, George went to the man who had so loved and favored his father: Diocletian.

George became a soldier under Dicoletian's watchful care and guidance. Diocletian was heartbroken when he heard of Geronzio's death but was overjoyed at the prospect of guiding George's career and continued service to Rome. He was aware that George was a Christian but underestimated George's allegiance to his faith. Eventually, George was promoted to the rank of Tribunus and set upon a career that would likely end up with him in a powerful political position within the Roman empire. Further, he served as one of the Emperor's personal guards and soldiers--living into Geronzio's favor with Diocletian. While in this position he had many opportunities to use his wealth and influence to better the lives of those with whom he came into contact. At one point he arrived in a village of non-Christians who had taken to a bloodthirsty ritual of human sacrifice. They would cast lots and the young woman who was indicated by the lots would be sacrificed to appease the dark god they feared. When George arrived he was stricken at the ruthlessness of such a ritual and stopped them in the midst of their ceremony of slaughter. He spoke at length with not only the leaders but the assembled crowds and told a story of a God who did not demand blood and death but had, instead, given blood and died so that we might be forgiven. At his words, their hearts turned and they abandoned their ways of death and many came within the fold of the Christian faith. They gave over their allegiance to a slaughtered and risen Lord and gave up faith and hope in slaughter and domination. For this he was labeled a hero because he had slain the dark beast that dwelt within them and brought them into the way of life more abundant and free.

Tragically for both George and Diocletian, Diocletian began to be swayed by Galerius and his own fear of a loss in power. Having heard so many lies about the Christians, Diocletian issued a command throughout the army. All soldiers were to give a sacrifice to the roman gods and values to demonstrate their allegiance and deny any faith in the Christian God. Those who refused were to be executed as Christians and traitors to the Roman army. Diocletian was stuck deciding between his beloved friend George whom he knew as a Christian and the power he hoped to consolidate with this bloody edict. He begged George to renounce his faith and offered him great gifts of land, money, and slaves if he would give his greatest allegiance to Diocletian and Rome. George refused and still Diocletian begged. Diocletian still offered him his most persuasive gifts but George did the incredible by giving away all that he already owned to the poor and to the Church that he had served so eagerly and willingly. He was tortured and finally he was beheaded so that Rome might make a statement about power. Eventually, George was turned over to the executioners with many other Christians for torture and death.However, Rome and Diocletian also made an unintentional statement about the faith of the Christians of whom they made martyrs. George died in good company and died so that others might know there was more to death than a grave and more to life than comfort.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

April 22 - Corrie ten Boom and Family, Friends of Refugees, Opponents of the Nazis, Righteous Among the Nations

When Corrie ten Boom heard the knocking at the door she checked to make sure that the family was ready for her to open it. This was a habit--and a good one--because they never knew who might be standing outside their door in Haarlem, Holland, in the year 1942. The Nazis and their brutal gestapo were always keen on surprise searches and raids. So, a family like Corrie's knew that they should tie down any loose ends--or visible refugees--before they opened the door. The challenge was, of course, making sure that there wasn't much hesitation in answering the door, however, because the Nazis were always looking for an excuse to rationalize their violating searches. Casting glances around her--while her family did the same--she decided that they were ready for whoever might be on the other side of the door. As the door swung open and obscured her view she readied herself to be courageous and to stand by her faith regardless of who waited for her on the threshold. As her expectation turned to vision, she was glad to see a finely dressed woman in traveling clothes with a briefcase. She didn't need the woman to tell her what she was there for but she knew it was important to the woman to say. The woman told Corrie that she was a Jew--quietly so that any nearby informants might not have cause to run to the Nazis--and that her husband had been arrested by the Nazis. After finding a hiding place for their son she had left the watchful eye of her city's predators and arrived at the house of Corrie and her family seeking refuge and a sanctuary. Corrie led her inside without a moment's hesitation.

Corrie and her family were committed to offering a haven of protection for those that the State despised and abused. They had given refuge to Jews and members of the Dutch resistance for over two years by the point that the young woman arrived on their doorstep. They had a special place in their home--a small room accessed in Corrie's closet--where those that the Nazis pursued could hide when they inevitably came looking. Otherwise, they were the honored guests of Corrie and her family. They observed the Sabbath with their guests and kept their kitchen kosher so that they might not present any problem to those the world called refugees and they called brothers and sisters. Their Christian convictions led them to understand the Jews as their kin and family--the chosen people of God to whom they had been joined by their faith. However, as this heroic work continued they were presented with a challenge. The members of Corrie's family each had a ration card but none of the Jews were ever given ration cards. This meant that they had a limited amount of food for an increasing number of people. They shared what they had but it wasn't enough.

Corrie, who was known to say not only "Let God's promises shine on your problems" but, also,"Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God" went at night to a man who was a government employee and was connected to the ration cards. Corrie had once cared for this man's mentally handicapped daughter and had even run a special Church service for the girl and others like her. She had shown love and kindness to another of those whom the world avoids and fears and in doing had shown God to the girl and her mother and father. She knocked on his door and began to tell her story but eventually he cut her off because he knew what she must be preparing to ask him for. He asked her how many cards she needed. She had been planning on asking for five because that would have made the situation at home much easier. But, then when she went to say how many she needed she realized that she had an opportunity to expand her family's ability to protect those they loved.She asked for one hundred and received the man's help with some hesitation.

Eventually, their goodness became public knowledge and shortly thereafter a Dutch informant sold them out to the Nazis. The Nazis raided the house and took the family captive along with all their beloved guests. Corrie and her family were sent to Scheveningen prison for their efforts and her already ailing father died only ten days into his captivity. Corrie's nephew, brother, and younger sister were all released after some time in prison but Corrie and her older sister were transferred first to Vught concentration camp and finally to Ravensbruck. Corrie's older sister died at Ravensbruck but, perhaps sensing Corrie's growing desperation, she told her: "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." Inspired by her sister's faith, she continued offering comfort and solace to those she was captive with until she was released--because of a clerical error--on Christmas Day in the year 1944. They had not meant to release her but they did and so she was spared the death that was scheduled for her in a week's time.

Perhaps the most shocking moment, though, came two years later when she was in Germany and brought face to face with one of the guards from Ravensbruck. She was immediately furious with him but this would not last. Instead, she reminded herself of her call to love and forgive even her enemies and that "Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart." She forgave the man and held his hands and prayed for him. She would look back at this event for the remainder of her career as a speaker and storyteller as the one moment when she most felt the love of God surging through her. In that moment, she had slipped the bonds of broken sinfulness and attained to the great calling that Jesus had placed upon her life: to redeem a broken and sinful world by laying down herself and loving others.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

April 21 - Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian, Archbishop, Doctor of the Church

Anselm's home life was troubled when he was a little boy. His mother--Ermenberga--took the role of educator and spiritual director for Anselm and guided him on the path that led to being a disciple of her Lord Jesus. From his mother, Anselm learned the power of obedience and the high calling that God has placed upon his life. Consequently, Anselm also learned the gravity of his own sin and the frustration of his own brokenness from his dear mother. However, his father--Gundulph--owned much property and felt the weight and burden of noble birth and blood. Much had been given to Gundulph by the powers of this world and so much more was expected of him. Gundulph expected his son Anselm to help him bear these burdens of affluence and become more like himself and less like the heroes of the faith his wife taught. Anselm was less impressed by his father's view of things but he was captivated by a vision born to him from his mother: serving God as a monk. When he expressed this desire to his father, Gundulph was adamant that this could not be the place where his son would end up. He forbade his son to go and Anselm was heartbroken at his father's refusal.

Anselm's thoughts soon turned to others matters because his dream had been crushed by his father. He felt a distinct calling to go and to be what it was that God willed but he also felt obligated to honor his father even when his father didn't have his best interests in mind. Perhaps he still held out hope for a change in his father's mind or perhaps his mother advised him to continue growing spiritually where he was until God opened a door for him to go elsewhere and serve God. Regardless, he gave up his studies and became a man of leisure. This must have simultaneously comforted and frustrated Gundulph who was happy still to have his son nearby to work and be groomed for his own burdens but distressed that his son seemed given to either a monastic life or a life of nothing of consequence. Gundulph had got what he wanted but it tasted bitter once he had it. Some years later--years full of Anselm's uninterested participation in Gundulph's dreams--Ermenberga died and both father and son were cut deeply by the loss. Without Ermenberga, Anselm found it hard to continue to relate to his father and Gundulph could find no way back to reconciliation with his son. Gundulph became more unbearable at home and began lashing out at Anselm. Eventually, Anselm left home and traveled West through the Alps before arriving at a monastery in France. He became a monk over a decade after his first calling and attempt.

Eventually, he would become abbot of his community and begin to take positions of leadership within the Church. His highest position would be becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury and regularly wrestling the English authorities for control of the Church. Wherever he served and worked became a place of education and spiritual formation. Many of his writings have survived to this day and are read widely by those interested in what became known as Scholastic theology. Anselm's writings possessed a character of a hopeful seeker of truth who found that understanding and knowledge could only be found through the lens and filter of faith. In his writings he advanced many theological positions including a detailed understanding of the doctrines of substitutionary atonement in his work entitled Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Human"). Though he is best known as an author, theologian, and archbishop it should not be forgotten that he was also one of the earliest opponents of the atrocities that would be called "The Crusades." He took criticism for this stance but he maintained anyway. He died on this day 900 years ago and has been considered a "Doctor of the Church" for nearly 289 years.

Friday, April 20, 2018

April 20 - Justin Martyr, Martyr, Apologist, "Samaritan"

Justin Martyr was born in a place known as Flavia Neapolis some 70 miles away from Jerusalem. But he was thoroughly influenced by the Greeks and Romans in his birth, childhood, and upbringing. Evidently his family was of some influence and considerable wealth because he had the relative luxury of an education in a time when education was a nice thing largely available only to the wealthy and powerful. He excelled in his studies and moved on to study philosophy in an anxious pursuit of wisdom and truth. He professed to be a lover of wisdom but at times it must have been easier to believe he was a lover of the comfort and security that money and education afforded him. Justin sought truth but found it nowhere that he looked until a Christian--one of those that Rome abhorred and detested--began to speak with him about the faith that he or she professed. Justin asked his questions and wondered openly if it might not be the case that this Jesus was right when he claimed to be "The Truth." As he studied the faith of the Christians more and more he found himself falling further and further into the grips of a faith that enlivened and comforted him in ways that influence, money, and acclaim could not. Soon, he became a convert and made it well known to his colleagues, peers, and students that he was no longer on a philosophical quest to find truth because he had met "The Truth."

He identified himself in his numerous writings as a Samaritan even though he was most definitely a Roman citizen and he had been raised to serve and follow the gods of his father and his father's father. Perhaps he identified himself as a Samaritan because he knew that in his faith he was the unlikely heir of the covenant promised to Abraham and others. He knew that he had been grafted into a story that was not his own but was, in fact, a story that ended in redemption and resurrection. Thus, he was an outsider who had been loved and cared for by Jesus and and he was an outsider that was on the route that led to salvation and healing. Or, perhaps, he identified himself as a Samaritan because he longed to live into the role of the Good Samaritan that Jesus had talked about. Perhaps Justin hoped to go where others refused to go to be with those the world rejected so that he might find Christ among the stranger and refugee. Regardless, he continued living a life of a philosopher and rhetorician but his speech turned to a testimony of what God had done in Jesus and what God wanted to do in the lives of those who heard Justin's words.

Given the incredible position that Justin had within Roman society he began to deliver the Gospel to ears that might never have heard it. He argued that while Rome was killing Christians it was missing the point and pronouncing Christians evil while being seduced to do so by evil itself. He insisted that Christians were not evil and were, in fact, following after "The Truth" even while others failed to see it. Eventually he was arrested for having the audacity to say such things as: "We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all." and "Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!"

Finally, those whom he preached to brought him to trial with other soon-to-be martyrs. The prefect said to them, "Sacrifice to the gods or you will be mercilessly tortured."

Justin replied, "Nobody in their right mind would give up faith for apostasy and your merciless torture is what we desire because it leads to our salvation and gives us confidence to face a greater trial--the judgment to which all men will come before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Then he joined with the others to be martyrs and invited the Romans to do whatever it was that they desired since they professed the Christian faith and refused to become apostates and sacrifice to the idols. So, they were tortured mercilessly and finally beheaded as an example to the Roman citizens of how evil the Christians were and how good the Romans were.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

April 19 - Alphege of Canterbury, Martyr, Peacemaker, Refused to be Ransomed

Alphege had known from a very early age what he wanted to do; he wanted to take vows and become a monk. So, at the earliest possible date for Alphege to make this commitment he applied and became a monk at Deerhurst. He proved not only his commitment but devotion to his calling and soon was transferred to Bath. At Bath he continued to demonstrate his devotion and eventually became the abbot of the community at Bath. In many ways he had been a spiritual leader among them for many years--leading them to take better care of the poor and practice compassion more intently--but his elevation to the role of abbot made the leadership official. His leadership and compassion had attracted the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and after years of service at Bath he was called to become the Bishop of Winchester at the age of thirty so that he could further serve the Church he loved.

He served as Bishop of Winchester for ten years of relative peace before a fateful day in the year 994 when the Danish vikings landed on the coastline of England and began rampaging through the nearby villages. They slaughtered and pillaged the Britons they encountered and eventually an envoy of ministers was sent by the Archbishop to negotiate a peace. Alphege was one of the men sent to speak with the leader of the vikings: Anlaf. A deal was brokered thanks to Alphege's willingness to relate to Anlaf. The group had purchased peace from Anlaf's raids with a regular tribute payment. Further, Anlaf agreed to listen to Alphege's preaching and was soon converted to the Christian way. It's hard to say whether or not Anlaf's conversion was solely because of its political expediency or because of an inner conviction but regardless of Anlaf's intentions it points to Alphege's willingness to relate and commune even with his enemies. After his great success and the death of the Archbishop, Alphege was elevated to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. He went to Rome to receive this position and its symbols.

When he returned to England he was shocked to see viking raiders pillaging the Canterbury cathedral. These were not Anlaf's vikings--at least Anlaf was not there--so there was no treaty between them and the British people.These vikings were seeking a similar tribute as to what Anlaf had received and also copious amounts of ransom money. They captured Alphege and forced him to watch the burning of the cathedral and the brutal murder of many monks and priests. Finally, they let him know that he would be their prisoner until somebody paid them a ransom of 3,000 pounds of gold. He was an important figure and it was possible that his name could have fetched such a huge ransom but Alphege refused to be ransomed. He informed the vikings that he would not pay it or solicit anybody else to pay it because if it were paid by the government then it would come out of the hands of the poor. Alphege was unwilling to hurt the people he loved so that he might be given his life back. So, they beat him savagely and then busted his head open with the back of an axe. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to by martyred.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April 18 - Apollonius of Rome, Martyr, Apologist, Not Afraid to Die

Apollonius had spent years in study and was strikingly familiar with the major philosophers and schools of thought in the second century Roman empire. He had converted to Christianity because of the witness and testimonies of the early Church members but had continued to study the beliefs and convictions of those he had left behind and hoped to bring to faith with himself. He was a Roman senator and knew that his power brought a modicum of protection with it. He knew that there was a law against being a Christian but he knew two other things, as well: 1) the Roman rulers would not simply betray him without cause, and 2) he was called to share the grace and love that he had freely received. Eventually, one of his slaves betrayed him as a Christian to a praetorian prefect by the name of Perennis. It's likely that Perennis and others knew but they were turning a blind eye to Apollonius' faith because they had no desire to enforce the law upon their friend and respected colleague--they were comfortable enforcing the law upon "the little people" who didn't matter but feared what might happen if the laws were enforced fairly and equitably. So, Perennis had Apollonius arrested so that he might come to trial. He also had the slave's legs crushed as punishment for forcing the hand of the Empire.

As Perennis brought Apollonius to his trials he pleaded with him to renounce his faith--even if he "didn't mean it"--because those in power were all too willing to find him not guilty of the crime. He reminded Apollonius that the punishment for being a Christian was death and insisted that the right course of action for a senator like Apollonius was to renounce his faith and maintain his influence and power in the world. When Apollonius refused to apostatize before the court he was given over to the senate of which he was a member to be tried by his peers and--hopefully--dissuaded from his faith. This was the moment that Apollonius had been counting on and so he shared his faith with the whole senate. He knew they would give him a charitable ear because of their respect for him and that his arguments--well crafted by many years of education and the passion he now felt for life and truth because of his faith--would be heard without interruption. He ended his great testimony by praying, "O Lord Jesus Christ, give us a bit of your spirit so that we might be helped to obey your teachings to: make peace over anger, join in pity with others and for others, temper our desires, always increase in love, put away our sorrow, cast aside our foolish pride, not love vengeance, and not fear death. Help us to trust our spirit to God the Father who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and forever." Perennis couldn't understand why Apollonius wasn't taking the easy and reasonable way out of death and yelled at him, "Are you determined to die today?"

Apollonius responded, "Oh no." He continued, "I very much enjoy life but my love of life does not make me afraid to lose it. There's something better waiting for me: eternal life! There is something better given to the person who has lived well on earth." He admonished the listening crowd to cast aside their pride and self-obsession but they were unwilling to pay the price of faith. He was convicted for his crime not because the senate was willing to convict one of its own but because he was unwilling even to pretend not to trust God. For his crime his legs were crushed and he was decapitated. He died a martyr who had been given a rare chance to preach the Gospel to his executioners.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April 17 - Kateri Tekakwitha, Orphan, Persecuted by Both Sides, Lily Among the Mohawks

Kateri Tekakwitha had two parents and an older brother. All of them were part of the Mohawk people who lived in the northeastern parts of what is now known as North America. Her father was a Mohawk warrior and leader while her mother was ethnically Algonquin but she had been raised by French settlers and had been taught the Christian faith. She was captured by the Mohawk and became the wife of one of their men (the man who would be Kateri's father). Three years later she had given birth to a son and a newborn daughter. Her faith was tolerated as long as she kept it to herself but she seemed incapable of that task and shared it with both of her children as best as she knew how. When Kateri was only four years old an outbreak of small pox swept through her village. There seemed to be no escape from the contagion and, when it finally faded, little Kateri was the only one of her family who had survived it. In the aftermath she discovered that she had been left with a remembrance of this awful time: disfiguring facial scars. She was adopted by an uncle and two aunts in the village but her life was forever changed by this horrific outbreak.

As she grew older, she had no connections to the faith of her mother and knew of the European settlers only as insurgents and usurpers. When Kateri was only ten years old her village was raided and burned by the French. They came with their weapons and hatred and left a swath of destruction in their wake. Furthermore, these soldiers were accompanied by priests who seemed no more merciful or kind than the one who wielded the weapons. Kateri had every reason to distrust and despise the people who came bringing death and suffering in the name of Jesus but for some blessed reason she was able to look beyond their poor example and see the Lord they were unable faithfully to represent. When missionaries visited the new villages they were met with understandable and justifiable hostility. It turns out that you can't proclaim grace and love to a people whose neck you step on. Kateri, however, couldn't escape the feeling that God was calling to her and so she made a leap of faith that the God they claimed to follow did not guide them to do their evils. She met in secret with a priest, converted, and was baptized. For this conversion and baptism she was labeled a problem by her people and persecuted viciously. By taking up the cross of Jesus, she became an enemy both to her people and her people's enemies.

She tried to show her people the Christ that the Christians were obscuring but their evils had darkened the view for all who would find the one who offers life more abundant and free--the one who died on a cross for all peoples. Most of the Mohawk were resistant to listening to Kateri and the persecution only continued. Eventually--after many threats and a few attempts to take her life--she was forced to flee and find refuge elsewhere. She escaped at night and traveled with a few other young Christian Mohawks to Sault-Sainte-Marie where other Christian natives were living in community. She devoted herself to a life of prayer and took a personal vow of chastity so that she might further devote herself to the Lord she had found in spite of all the odds. At one time she wanted to start a convent of native Christian women but this did not happen before she died at the age of twenty-four. Her last words were a testament of love for her Savior: "Jesus, I love you!" She died an inspiration to those who knew her. She had been willing to give up anything and everything to follow after a foreign Lord who was not well-represented but who had called her anyway.

Monday, April 16, 2018

April 16 - Benedict Joseph Labre, Beggar, Unsuitable for Communal Life, Fool for Christ

Benedict Joseph Labre was the oldest child of a wealthy and successful business man in northern France but he didn't feel a calling to a life of comfort and prosperity as the caretaker of his father's business. Instead, he felt called to an oddity--an abnormal life of special penance--and struggled to explain it to those he loved and who loved him. He left his fourteen brothers and sisters at the age of sixteen to find a place in a local monastery so that he might expand upon his regular confession and penance with vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. First, he was rejected from the order of the Trappists and labeled"unsuitable for communal life" because of his incredible zeal for penance and reformation of self. He then applied to the order of the Carthusians but was rejected for the same reasons. Finally, he was rejected from the Cistercians for precisely the same rationale. It seems that each of the orders found him to be excessively solitary and doubted his ability to adhere to a vow of obedience in a communal life. So, Benedict had nowhere to go to become a monk. So, instead, he became a holy fool.

Benedict gave away all of his possessions and decided to go on a continual pilgrimage to the holy places of his Faith. Though he never traveled to Israel, he did make pilgrimage to the westerncities of spiritual and ecclesial significance.Additionally, and most peculiarly, he made his pilgrimage on foot with no possessions and no plans. He traveled first to Rome and found the journey challenging but formative.He had no food except that which was given to him and he had nowhere to sleep except the open places of the fields and an occasional corner of a room from a caring family or congregation. He was a beggar by choice and by calling. His begging helped remind the communities he encountered of their strict calling. He was no monk and yet he lived a life of devotion and service--this kind of commitment shocked those who saw him and must have made them rethink their own lives. Having no possessions, he had nothing to lose and so he reminded the Church of its early years and its essential commitments. He talked very rarely and prayed almost constantly and thereby called the Church back to attentive listening to God and away from careless talk and posturing with words.

Over the course of his life--and his unending pilgrimage--he traveled to Loreto, Bari, Einsiedeln, Paray-le-Monial, Assisi, Compostela, and Naples. That is to say he traveled through Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland in his many and constant travels. In fact, as he traveled, his life became nothing more than one extended pilgrimage which became an example to the Church of the transience of our own place and existence in this world. Those who looked upon Benedict could not help but be reminded that the Christian's first allegiance is to a Kingdom "not of this world" and to a calling that sometimes demands what the world deems irrational. He was rarely fed well enough to fill his stomach--and it's likely he would have refused this comfort anyway--but Benedict was also well known for distributing what the gifts he did receive to the poor he met and loved. He dwelt with the homeless--for he was indeed homeless--and prayed for their healing with regularity. Often, they found it through his prayers and ministry. In Holy Week of 1783, Benedict was in Rome and attending a worship service when he collapsed from hunger and malnutrition. He was carried to one of the Church's hospitals and cared for but he died shortly thereafter from the complications of a self-selected hard life. He was only thirty-five when he died and though he might have been "unsuitable for communal life" he was most definitely suitable for the calling placed upon him by his Lord.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

April 15 - Damien of Moloka'i, Priest, Missionary, Leper

The kingdom of Hawaii had one particular advantage when it came to the spread of disease since they were a chain of islands they were quarantined from the rest of the world. Of course, this boon carried a danger with it: the inhabitants were especially susceptible to infection and disease when ships began bringing more and more merchants to the Hawaiian islands. The influx of commerce and foreign visitors was accompanied by crippling outbreaks of influenza that weakened and killed many. But whereas influenza was a fast killer and survivors were able to develop a fairly sufficient immunity in a little while, there was another disease that proved to be a slow and torturous killer. This killer was "Hansen's Disease" but it is also known as leprosy and those who contracted it were known as lepers. It was hard to hide and soon the king--Kamehameha the Fifth--decided to quarantine those affected to protect the rest of his people. They were forcibly detained and sent to live on the island of Moloka'i at a place called Kalaupapa. Contrary to common assumptions, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off and isn't especially contagious but it does cause extensive nerve damage and can cause permanent damage to the skin, eyes, and lungs. The other--perhaps intentionally forgotten--damage it does is the relationships it crushes by fear of contagion and threat of quarantine.

Damien de Veuster had been ordained a priest in Belgium but due to the coaxing of his brother he became interested in becoming a missionary. He became determined to travel abroad in service of the Church when it was determined that his brother would be unable to go himself. Damien stepped into the opportunity and was sent to Hawaii shortly before the outbreak of leprosy there. The lepers had been sent to their isolated place and given little in supplies, though, and Damien began to worry for them. They had been given some help in growing their own food--having been fully divorced from their land and people--but this support also proved to be insufficient. They were disconnected from those they loved and made to feel as if the world didn't want to--couldn't afford to--associate with them. There wasn't any semblance of community and the 816 lepers outcast to Moloka'i fended for themselves. Damien couldn't stand their abandonment and petitioned the vicar to be sent to them as their priest. The vicar made sure that Damien knew he was likely signing his own death warrant but Damien insisted and was sent by boat to the people. By becoming one of them, he was effectively exiling himself as he would no longer be able to leave once he lived among them. He went without hesitation for his Lord had called him to take up his cross and follow. In this case, it meant going to Moloka'i.

Damien built a church with the help of the lepers there and organized them into a community around himself. He treated their pains and lesions with his own hands. He conducted services of worship. He heard confessions and gave spiritual direction to the willing. He built furniture and homes. He painted houses to give their place another measure of comfort. He built coffins, dug graves, and performed funerals. In short, he became a devoted member and leader in the community at Moloka'i. Because of his involvement, the people gathered around him and joined together as one people to share in their suffering and carry each other's burdens. Because of his leadership they were able to work together to sow and reap crops each year and sustain themselves in their exile. One night he went to soak his feet in hot water--as he did every night after a hard day's work--and was frightened to find that he could not feel the heat of the water. He had contracted the disease but he kept it as his secret for a little while he worked hard to prepare the citizens of his community to go on without him when he was forced to leave them by death. As he got more and more sick the Church sent three people to take over his duties and one to care for him as he died. They carried on his legacy of love and compassion while he slipped out of this life and into the arms of the Lord who had called him from before time began. Damien died on the fifteenth day of April in the year 1889 after serving the people the world wanted to forget for over sixteen years. He was buried where he belonged: Moloka'i.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

April 14 - Anthony, John, and Eustathius, Martyrs, Teachers, Prisoners

Prince Olgerd had not expected his prison to become an impromptu school for Christians but he couldn't say that he had nothing to do with it, either. He had been a Christian when his wife, the princess, had been alive but he returned to his non-Christian ways after her untimely death. As the prince he wielded much power and as his wrath turned upon the Christians it became increasingly difficult for Anthony and his two brothers--John and Eustathius--to stay out of trouble. Though they had once been friends of the prince, they were now outlaws and unwelcome in their former circles. When they refused to be quiet about their faith they were arrested and held in prison for over a year. Eventually, the prison became a place of pilgrimage for Lithuanian Christians and the hallways were full of students who listened to the brothers as they preached their faith. This infuriated Olgerd but he couldn't get away with such massive slaughter so he determined that he would make clear to the Christians and the non-Christians who were finding their way to faith the consequences of that faith. After giving Anthony one more chance to deny his faith Olgerd had Anthony hung from an oak tree that was sacred to the pagans. He hung him as an example of what happened to those who opposed Olgerd's power and will. Regrettably, he was only the first. Olgerd's efforts to intimidate the people failed even though Anthony died because those who had listened to him at the prison now gathered in a service of worship around the tree.

John's story is similar as he was arrested at the same time and ended up hanging from the same oak tree because of his faith. But the middle was a drastically different story of reconciliation. After nearly a year in prison,John became frightened by the increasing threats of torture and death. When he was given a chance to deny his faith and escape his fate he took the chance and was set free. Brothers Anthony and Eustathius were saddened by John's apostasy but they continued in their work of preaching and teaching without him. John only fully realized what he had done when he was free. He found that his freedom was more like being adrift and alone. After some time he went to his priest and asked how he might be reconciled to the Church. His priest suggested that he needed the forgiveness of his brothers and so his priest asked on his behalf what he might to be reconciled with Anthony and Eustathius. He was told that he must willingly confess his faith before Olgerd. John found Olgerd at a public bath and confessed his faith to him in private but found this to be insufficient because Olgerd was willing to allow him to be Christian as long as he never talked about it. So he did the ridiculous and faithful thing: he loudly proclaimed his faith to all of the prince's attendants and guards. He was beaten and taken to prison. He was the second to die on the tree and the second to occasion a worship service at the tree because of his martyrdom. The crowds remained unafraid of Olgerd and Olgerd's power.

Eustathius was the only one left in the prison cell but he continued his brothers' work of preaching and teaching. He had been the dear friend of Olgerd and so Olgerd had chosen to kill both of his brothers first so as to try to "save his life." He was unaware that Eustathius was ready to join his brothers in their martyrdom. Finally, Olgerd decided that he must do everything within his power to assert his dominance and convince one of the brothers to renounce their faith before the students and crowds so that he might regain the power he had lost and been unable to regain through death and sin.He had Olgerd slowly tortured in public view of the crowds. Olgerd's soldiers stripped him of his clothing and beat him severely with iron rods hoping that he would lose his faith or, at least, the crowds would lose their courage in the face of such brutality. When this proved unsuccessful and Eustathius refused even to cry out in pain the soldiers broke both of his ankles and forced him to walk some distance. They tore out his hair and through it all he continued to smile and offer his forgiveness. He even took the time to preach a little until he was no longer physically able. Finally, he was hung from the same tree as his brothers. After this third martyrdom the tree became better known as a Christian place of pilgrimage instead of a pagan place. Olgerd's efforts were ultimately fruitless as the Christian community only continued to grow in the near future.

Friday, April 13, 2018

April 13 - Thomais, Martyr, Devoted Wife, Killed by her Father-in-Law

Thomais was the daughter of Christian parents in Alexandria, Egypt in the 5th century. She had received some education though it might have been at the feet of her parents instead of a tutor. She had a natural beauty that was captivating but it paled in comparison to the beauty of her character and integrity. She filled her mind with spiritual reading and the study of scripture. At the age of fifteen, she married a Christian fisherman who came from a moderately Christian family. As a young couple with little in the way of possessions, they lived those first few years in the home of her father-in-law. Thomais was very welcome in the home not just because of her humble goodness but also because of her willingness to be family with her husband's family.She had learned her faith well from her parents and knew the value of humility and gentleness as they relate to spiritual growth and maturity. She fit in well with her new family and was a welcome addition to the home.

One day, however, her husband was out plying his trade as a fisherman when his father--Thomais' father-in-law--entered their room in the house. She greeted him warmly since she expected no ill intentions in his entry but he meant her ill. He had become inflamed with lust for Thomais and desired to have her and lead her by the hand into adultery and sin. He tried to convince her to join him but she resisted. She tried to remind him of their common faith in the Last Judgment and the need for spiritual maturity and sanctification. "Please don't do this," she begged, "it's a sin against me, against you, and against your own son." Seeing his advances spurned he became enraged. The very thought that this beautiful, young woman would resist his passion and dare to remind him of the power and danger of sin brought a sense of shame to him that was consuming. He had a choice as to how he would respond to that shame: he could be corrected by it or he could refuse it.

As he picked up his nearby sword it became clear that he was refusing the needed burden of his own shame. He threatened his daughter-in-law that if she would not concede to his lustful desires then he would cut off her head. He assumed that this would be enough to convince Thomais to indulge in a sin kept secret but he assumed incorrectly. She responded, "Even if you cut me into pieces, father, I will not stray from God's teachings and commandments." The steadfast words of faith infuriated the man and his shame was only intensified. He had given sin a place to dwell within his heart and his passions and it now consumed him and demanded more. He swung his sword at her in a rage and cut her in half. She died a martyr--having suffered and died because of a faith she wouldn't let go. The man collapsed in grief and regret for what he had done. He was blinded--whether by his own hand or by God's just hand--and was found on the floor of the room by his son that evening. Sin had consumed and commanded him but now had abandoned him--now that it had got what it wanted. So, the man asked to be taken for judgment. He confessed to the crime eagerly and so the city officials beheaded him in punishment.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

April 12 - Isaac the Syrian, Abbot of Spoleto, Intuitive, Man of Prayer

The monks must have balked at first at Isaac's strange instructions--did he really think it was wise to leave their gardening tools out in the garden at night?"Surely," they said one to another, "he must know that thieves will come and steal them." But Isaac's story had earned their obedience even if it seemed a ridiculous instruction that almost certainly meant trying to garden without their tools in the days to come. They did as they were instructed because they had grown to trust Isaac completely and had, in fact, left their previous lives behind simply to be his disciple after hearing stories about him. Many of them had first heard of Isaac shortly after his arrival in Spoleto, Italy. He had traveled from far away and when he arrived he requested from the local officials at the cathedral that he be allowed to stay in the cathedral as long as necessary to make his prayers and to give thanks to God. When they consented, he went about his prayers with a fervor that was at first charming but grew tiring for the men in charge of the upkeep of the building. When he had been there for nearly sixty hours, one of the men had had enough of what he believed to be Isaac's hypocrisy. The man reasoned that Isaac was attempting to gain favor with other worshipers by faking a devout prayer life all while keeping a roof over his head. So, the man approached Isaac to tell him to leave and not to pester anyone else.

With venom on his tongue, he harassed Isaac and told him to move on. But, Isaac continued in his prayers. So, the man struck him on the side of the face and knocked Isaac to the floor. The man was suddenly seized by an unclean spirit that took advantage of his spiritually weakened state and his sin against his brother. Under the conviction of God and having been driven to the floor by the unclean spirit, the man begged Isaac to drive the spirit out of him and grant him forgiveness. Isaac said nothing, continued his prayers, and leaned over the stricken man. In an instant the man was delivered from the spirit and from his sin and offered his heartfelt gratitude to Isaac as Isaac continued to pray. This story spread quickly and soon Isaac was deluged by people seeking not only to learn from him but to give him money, possessions, and land to build a monastery. Isaac politely refused all these offers and when asked why he responded, "A monk who acquires possessions is no longer a monk."He left Spoleto behind and moved into a nearby wilderness to build a small cell and take up the devoted prayer life of a hermit. In his wake came those who were willing to cast aside all things to gain what it was that Isaac already seemed to have--an intimate connection with the God that others just seemed to talk about.

So, the monks under his care went to sleep that night confident that their tools would be gone in the morning. Indeed, shortly after they had all fallen asleep, thieves scaled the walls of the monastery and began the task of gathering up the gardening tools. But, as each man picked up a spade he felt a heaviness upon his heart concerning their plan to pilfer the monks' livelihood. So, one by one they decided to finish the work that the monks had started before leaving with the tools. In the morning, Isaac gathered the monks and asked them to prepare a breakfast feast for some unexpected guests from the produce in their garden. When the monks went to the garden, though, they found the thieves still working and were amazed at the wonderful care that each man had taken in tending the garden. As the thieves and the monks stared at each other in surprise, Isaac entered the garden and began gathering produce while inviting the thieves to sit at the table and join in their feast. Each thief and each monk ate his fill and enjoyed the fellowship of one another. As the meal finished, Isaac spoke to the guests. He didn't shame or guilt them but he simply encouraged the men to leave their lives of theft behind. He invited them to join with the monks in prayer whenever they wanted to do so and then he gave them each permission to come and harvest as much as they liked from the garden any time they were hungry. Many of the thieves left their sin behind while some were converted and even joined the monastery. Isaac had simply followed after his Lord Jesus and offered grace and mercy to any who would have it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

April 11 - Guthlac, Penitent, Monk, Hermit

Perhaps it was just a hunch or a lucky guess. Or, perhaps it was God's subtle guidance that led Guthlac to come to the conclusion he did about the man giving him a shave. Maybe it was a combination of subtle, unconscious signals--the way the man held the razor, the movement of his shoulders, where the man's eyes focused as he talked, and the pitch and timbre of his voice--but Guthlac knew that the man was contemplating a heinous act even as the man held a razor mere inches from Guthlac's throat. Perhaps Guthlac had seen that murderous look before in the eyes of his enemies or even his allies. Regrettably, he had indubitably known what it felt like to silently plot the destruction of another. Guthlac kept his hands at his sides and looked his would be killer in the eyes before asking, "You would kill me even as I sit here?" The man's face must have shown his shock, not at being accused of some surprising evil but rather at being found out. Guthlac made no move to stop the man who paused with death in hand--after all, Guthlac had had his share of fighting and was interested in fighting no more. The would be killer nodded lamely and produced a tearful confession before begging Guthlac's forgiveness. Guthlac forgave him instantly and taught the man about the Adversary's way of tempting us to destroy life--a lesson Guthlac was exquisitely qualified to speak upon--even as the man finished Guthlac's shave.

Guthlac had left his father's home at the age of fifteen to pursue a life of what he thought to be freedom and liberty and would only later discover to be a type of self selected slavery. Raised in a noble family with prestige and influence, Guthlac was afforded with opportunities to gather around himself both friends and dark desires. He left his home with sword in hand and armor purchased with his family's wealth. Guthlac assembled around himself a band of followers and soldiers who would join with him in pursuing gratification and dominance by the work of their sword arms. They made war upon the people around them and took in spoils and profit at the expense of those who could least afford it. Everything they wanted--no matter how large or small--was theirs for the taking and in this way they sought after happiness. Yet, after nearly nine years of such a life, Guthlac was rapidly approaching the realization that his "freedom" felt peculiarly like slavery and his "liberties" felt like chains. One night Guthlac had a dramatic vision of the Lord Jesus while he slept and in that vision his perspective on life was changed and a seed of love and compassion was planted within his heart. A short time later, Guthlac could no longer deny the sin he had done in the pursuit of himself and so he laid down his sword and all its weight to pursue a path of love and compassion. Guthlac sold his things, bid his companions farewell, and became a monk at Repton in Derbyshire.

Having forsaken his life of self obsession and violence, Guthlac devoted himself with the same passion to dwelling with and abiding in the God who had called him out of sin and into true freedom. After years of study, prayer, and growth, Guthlac asked for (and was granted) permission to become a hermit and further devote himself to the Lord he had met as a child but had only returned to in a tent and bedroll purchased with blood money. Guthlac moved to a place known as the Fens and built a hermitage for himself in its bleak setting. At first, the only ones who came to see him were his persecutors who hoped to gain any of his meager possessions through violence. Guthlac was beaten repeatedly and refused to harm his persecutors, choosing rather to pray for them. Guthlac knew well what their lives were and where they were headed, there were few better to pray for them.Eventually, his hard earned wisdom and spiritual maturity caused pilgrims to seek him out and ask for his prayer and guidance. One of these pilgrims would be the man who nearly murdered Guthlac with a razor so that he could move into Guthlac's cell and perpetrate a great lie to receive the esteem of other pilgrims. The same man--now a disciple of Guthlac--was there when Guthlac became ill suddenly and passed from this world after struggling with sickness for eight days. Guthlac left this world and its trouble behind on April 11, 714.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April 10 - Gregory V of Constantinople, Martyr, Patriarch, Archbishop

Georgios Aggelopoulos was born to a poor family in Dimitsana, Greece, in the year 1746. Like so many of his contemporaries, he seemed destined for a fairly forgettable life comprised mostly of hard work, limited rewards, and devotion to the Church--this ended up being true but not quite in the way that we might expect. Georgios received a decent education but his own natural talents and aptitudes propelled him forward so that he was able to study in Athens for two years. His uncle was an influential man in Smyrna, however, and arranged for Georgios to receive a high quality education there not because of any ability to pay but rather because of his surprising intellect and in spite of his many obstacles. Georgios' family expected that he would go on to a career in academic circles and this would have been a surprising career for one of his background. Yet, it was his commitment to the Church and monastic spirituality that would hold most strongly when presented with other callings. Georgios became a monk and took the name of Gregory. As a monk he finished his education before becoming first a deacon and eventually an archdeacon in the Church in Smyrna.

At the time, the metropolitan of Smyrna was a man named Prokopios and under his guidance, Gregory was ordained a priest and designated the aid of the bishop. In 1785, Prokopios was selected to become the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This meant moving to Turkey and being an Eastern Christian leader in the heart of the Ottoman empire. The Ecumenical Patriarch was a representative not only of Christianity but also of the Greek people. However, when Prokopios was elected patriarch, Gregory was ordained as a bishop and installed as the Metropolitan of Smyrna. By all accounts, he was an able and gifted metropolitan who seemed intimately concerned with the pastoral care of the people in Smyrna. It comes as no surprise then that he was the successor of Prokopios as Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1797. In many ways, this was a drastic change. He left behind Greece for the heart of the Ottoman empire and with his departure lost many of his securities and protections. As the patriarch, he was forced to deal with Turkish leadership that resented not only him but all of the people he represented. Approximately one year later, Gregory was deposed from his position by the Muslim leaders of Turkey and banished from Turkey. He took up residence at a monastery on Mount Athos and devoted himself to study and prayer. In 1806, after a change in politics by the Turkish leadership, he was once again appointed Ecumenical Patriarch. His second appointment lasted approximately four years before he was once again deposed and deported.

It was in January of 1819 that he returned to Constantinople for the third and final time. As the Christian leadership of a resented Christian population, he continued to anger the Ottoman leadership. In March of 1821, Greek citizens began to violently resist Ottoman domination of Greece and blood was spilled by both sides. Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II demanded that Gregory suppress the Greek violence against Turks in Greece. Gregory did what he could to make for peace but it did not come. As the Ecumenical Patriarch and the ethnarch of Greeks in Ottoman Turkey, he was held responsible for the violence and the uprisings that would later be known as the beginning of the Greek revolution. Shortly after worship ended on Easter Sunday in the year 1821, Ottoman soldiers arrested Gregory from within the sanctuary of the church where he had just celebrated Easter. He was dragged to the edge of the city in his clerical vestments and hung from the gate in retribution for the acts perpetrated by the revolutionaries against the Ottoman authorities. His body hung there for three days as an example before being drug through the streets and being cast into the Bosphorous. His body was recovered by a sailor and given a Christian burial. In his memory, the main gates of the Patriarchate compound were welded shut in 1821 and have remained so since then.

Monday, April 9, 2018

April 9 - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martyr, Pastor, Enemy of the State

Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have known that he was living on borrowed time as he sat in his cell and wrote letters to his family. Yes, he seemed to be lucky in that he was being held in a military prison to await trial instead of being held in a concentration camp to await certain death. But, Dietrich knew well that martyrdom awaited him at the end of the story. He had been arrested by the Gestapo because of his involvement with the German military intelligence organization Abwehr and the bitter feud between the two agencies. Even though Dietrich knew he had been plotting together with others to assassinate Adolf Hitler, the Gestapo had failed to demonstrate that in their raids upon Abwehr offices. Instead, they had arrested him only on charges of evading conscription, resistance to Nazi decree, and speaking in public although previously forbidden to do so. But, Dietrich had to know that eventually they would find proof of his involvement in plots to assassinate Hitler and that, when they did, their retribution would be swift and brutal. So Dietrich, pastor in the Confessing Church of Germany and enemy of the State, waited in his cell and tried to encourage his brothers and sisters in the faith with the letters he was still allowed to send.

His involvement in the resistance movement to the Nazis must have been a surprise to him upon reflection. He had received an excellent education in theology and philosophy and his doctoral thesis was described by none other than eminent theologian Karl Barth as a "theological miracle."He could have had an academic career of considerable influence and relative safety had he wanted it. But, he had become gloriously entangled in the struggles and causes of the faithful Church in Germany as Hitler rose to power in the 1930s. So, instead of becoming a pastor or professor of safety and regard, he became a vocal opponent of Nazism in his homeland. Though he had to do it alone at first, Dietrich was more than willing to cry out against the injustices that Hitler and the Nazis were perpetrating against our Jewish brothers and sisters as well as the disenfranchised and undesirables.While other ministers were advocating measured ministry to the downtrodden injured by Nazi fanaticism, Dietrich was being cut off the radio and forbidden to speak in public for uttering lines such as "[We must not simply] bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself."

For a little while he escaped to the United States of America but his heart stayed in Germany. He spent time with Reinhold Niebuhr and developed a particular fondness for African American spirituals. Even though he worked tirelessly to resist Hitler's advances in Germany from afar he soon realized that he was not called to escape Germany's struggles but, instead, to be in the midst of them. Before departing, he wrote a letter to Niebuhr that included the following passage:
"I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people... Christians in Germany will have to face the
terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security."
So, Dietrich returned and joined with the Abwehr to plot the death of Hitler and, hopefully, the consequent destruction of the Nazi German war machine. Though he was an avowed pacifist, Dietrich felt that there was no other choice but to seek the death of Hitler because of the great evil he was perpetrating. It seems that, although he struggled with the decision, Dietrich had decided to act in a way he felt to be wrong because of the horrible consequences of not doing so. He wrote, "when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it...Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace." In these words, his struggle with the assassination plot is evident--this was no easy decision.

Eventually, Dietrich's sedition was discovered and he was transferred from the military prison through a series of other prisons before arriving in concentration camps first at Buchenwald and second at Flossenb├╝rg. When the diaries of the head of Abwehr were discovered, on April 4, 1954, and the plot to assassinate Hitler was revealed, Hitler ordered the immediate execution of all those involved in the plot. This included Dietrich Bonhoeffer. An impromptu court-martial was held at Flossenb├╝rg and Dietrich was condemned to die on April 8.At dawn on April 9, he was marched naked to the gallows where he stopped to pray for himself and for his enemies. His captors had decided to engineer his hanging so as not to break his neck but rather to slowly strangle him to death. Dietrich died with a prayer upon his lips and his compete trust placed in the grace and mercy of God. Three weeks later, the Soviet army liberated Berlin and Hitler committed suicide. One week after that, Germany capitulated.