St. Gregory the Illuminator

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Today, the Church remembers St. Gregory of Armenia, called the Illuminator for bringing the light of the Gospel of Jesus to a land mired in endless conflict over territory (mirrored still today) and laboring in the darkness of paganism.

Saint Gregory the Illuminator is the patron saint and first official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He was a religious leader who is credited with converting Armenia from paganism to Christianity.

His early life was dominated by his father’s complicity in the assassination of his cousin, the king of Armenia, which forced Gregory into exile as a child. He was fostered by Christian relatives in western Armenia (now part of modern Turkey) in the region of Cappadocia.

As an adult, he returned to atone for his father’s act of fratricide, but was imprisoned in a pit for nearly 14 years. He was released only after a new ruler was in power. The new king has become insane with grief after the Roman Emperor Diocletian (notorious for his deadly persecution and murder of many Christians) absorbed much of western Armenia into the Roman Empire. Armenia had already lost much of its eastern lands to India. Gregory was released out of prison because he was known to be a holy and gentle man, who had turned his imprisonment in a pit into a life monastic tranquility, prayer, fasting, and teaching his guards about the Christian Faith. By his prayers, the king was restored to sanity, and he asked Gregory to baptize him and his family, and gave Gregory permission to begin preaching, teaching, and baptizing all who would accept the Christian Faith.

After many years of his labor for the souls of his fellow Armenians, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion, and Gregory was name the first Catholicos (Patriarch) of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Weary with age and many years of serving as the spiritual leader of the nation, and after securing a successor, Gregory retired back to Cappadocia where here formed a small monastery, and there died in peace in A.d. 332.

The great cathedral of Etchmiadzin was built over the pit where Gregory suffered for so many years. Even the darkest of places can become holy and filled with the light of God.

Blessed Gregory, ora pro nobis.

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Gregory the Illuminator to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Armenia: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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St. Cuthbert

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Today, the Church remembers St. Cuthbert.

Cuthbert (c. A.D. 634 – A.D. 20 March 687) is a saint of the early Northumbrian British Church when it was on the verge of the merging of the British Church with the Roman Church that had recently been established by missionaries sent from Rome under the leadership of St. Augustine of Canterbury in the southern Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

He was a monk, bishop and hermit, associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne in what might loosely be termed the Kingdom of Northumbria in the North East of England and the South East of Scotland. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of Northern England, with a place of pilgrimage centred on his tomb at Durham Cathedral. Cuthbert is regarded as the patron saint of Northern England.

Cuthbert was perhaps of a noble family, and born in Dunbar in the mid-630s A.D., some ten years after the conversion of King Edwin to Christianity in A.D. 627, which was slowly followed by that of the rest of his people. The politics of the kingdom were violent, and there were later episodes of pagan rule, while spreading understanding of Christianity through the kingdom was a task that lasted throughout Cuthbert’s lifetime. Edwin had been baptised by Paulinus of York, an Italian who had come with the Gregorian mission from Rome, but his successor Oswald also invited Irish monks from Iona to found the monastery at Lindisfarne where Cuthbert was to spend much of his life. This was around 635, about the time Cuthbert was born.

The tension between the Roman and British traditions, often exacerbated by Cuthbert’s near-contemporary Wilfrid, an intransigent and quarrelsome supporter of Roman ways, was to be a major feature of Cuthbert’s lifetime. Cuthbert himself, though educated in the British tradition, followed his mentor Eata in accepting the Roman forms without apparent difficulty after the Synod of Whitby in 664. A.D.

He was evidently indefatigable as a travelling priest, spreading the Christian message to remote villages, and also well able to impress royalty and nobility. Unlike Wilfrid, his style of life was austere, and when he was able to do, he lived the life of a hermit, though still receiving many visitors.

Almighty God, you called Cuthbert from following the flock to be a shepherd of your people: Mercifully grant that, as he sought in dangerous and remote places those who had erred and strayed from your ways, so we may seek the indifferent and the lost, and lead them back to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Blessed Cuthbert, ora pro nobis.

St. Patrick

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Saint Patrick was a fifth-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. He was born around 390 (likely in 387). His name is from the Latin Patricius, meaning high-born. His parents were part of the Christian minority of Britain; his father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, “the son of Potitus, a priest, of the village Bannavem Taburniæ.”

At the age of 16, he was captured during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During that time, he prayed frequently and came for the first time to have a true faith in God. At age 22, he had a vision in which God told him to be prepared to leave Ireland. Soon, he escaped, walking 200 miles to a ship and returning to England. In a dream, he saw the people of Ireland calling him, “We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.”

St Patrick sought clerical training. He was ordained by St. Germanus, bishop of Auxerre. Around 430 he was ordained a bishop, after which he returned to Ireland. There, he preached the Gospel, reaching tribal chieftains, gaining their permission to teach their subjects also. During his episcopate, he was attacked for a sin he confessed to a close friend, a sin he committed “in a single hour” when only 15, but he did not suffer as a result. He established an episcopal administration and led a monastic lifestyle, establishing Christianity in Ireland. St. Patrick died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on March 17, 461.

Blessed Patrick, you were captured and made a slave. We live in a time where there are more humans held in slavery, trafficked for sex, and forced into indentured servitude than at any know eta of human history. Pray for all who are regarded as property, and give them the same courage you knew to escape your bondage.

Pray for us, who often unknowingly support the slave trade so that we might live in luxury, that we might have the grace of the Holy Spirit to imitate Jesus, as you did, to bring liberty to the oppressed and free those held in bondage.

And pray for us yet more, that we, being so filled with the love of God in Jesus, that those who walk in darkness, superstition, and fear may see the light of his love and be drawn to God for salvation.

Ora pro nobis.

Amen

Gregory the Great

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Today, the Church remember Gregory the Great.

Pope Saint Gregory I (c. A.A. 540 – 12 March 604), commonly known as Saint Gregory the Great, was Pope of the Catholic Church from A.D. 3 September 590. He is famous for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, the Gregorian Mission, to convert a pagan people to Christianity. Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

A Roman senator’s son and himself the Prefect of Rome at the age of 30 years, Gregory tried the monastery but soon returned to active public life, ending his life and the century as pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator, who successfully established papal supremacy. During his papacy, he greatly surpassed with his administration the emperors in improving the welfare of the people of Rome. He also was an able theologian, and successfully challenged the theological views of Patriarch Eutychius of Constantinople before the emperor Tiberius II. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France and sent missionaries to England. The realignment of barbarian allegiance to Rome from their Arian Christian alliances shaped medieval Europe. Gregory saw Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths align with Rome in religion.

Gregory was born into a period of upheaval in Italy. From A.D. 542 the so-called Plague of Justinian swept through the provinces of the empire, including Italy. The plague caused famine, panic, and sometimes rioting. In some parts of the country, over 1/3 of the population was wiped out or destroyed, with heavy spiritual and emotional effects on the people of the Empire. Politically, although the Western Roman Empire had long since vanished in favour of the Gothic kings of Italy, during the A.D. 540s Italy was gradually retaken from the Goths by Justinian I, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire ruling from Constantinople. As the fighting was mainly in the north, the young Gregory probably saw little of it. Totila sacked and vacated Rome in A.D. 546, destroying most of its population, but in A.D. 549 he invited those who were still alive to return to the empty and ruined streets. It has been hypothesized that young Gregory and his parents retired during that intermission to their Sicilian estates, to return in A.D. 549. The war was over in Rome by A.D. 552, and a subsequent invasion of the Franks was defeated in A.D. 554. After that, there was peace in Italy, and the appearance of restoration, except that the central government now resided in Constantinople.

On his father’s death, Gregory converted his family villa into a monastery dedicated to the apostle Saint Andrew (after his death it was rededicated as San Gregorio Magno al Celio). In his life of contemplation, Gregory concluded that “in that silence of the heart, while we keep watch within through contemplation, we are as if asleep to all things that are without.”

Gregory is known for his administrative system of charitable relief of the poor at Rome. They were predominantly refugees from the incursions of the Lombards. The philosophy under which he devised this system is that the wealth belonged to the poor and the church was only its steward. He received lavish donations from the wealthy families of Rome, who, following his own example, were eager, by doing so, to expiate their sins. He gave alms equally as lavishly both individually and en masse.

The state in which Gregory became pope in A.D. 590 was a ruined one. The Lombards held the better part of Italy. Their predations had brought the economy to a standstill. They camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city was packed with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantinople, which appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. The pope had sent emissaries, including Gregory, asking for assistance, to no avail. In A.D. 590, Gregory could wait for Constantinople no longer. He organized the resources of the church into an administration for general relief. Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve needy persons and reprimanded them if they did not. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment properties of the Church, including his own vast holdings of land, and paid the expenses in cash.

Money, however, was no substitute for food in a city that was on the brink of famine. Even the wealthy were going hungry in their villas. The church now owned between 1,300 and 1,800 square miles (3,400 and 4,700 km2) of revenue-generating farmland divided into large sections called patrimonia. It produced goods of all kinds, which were sold, but Gregory intervened and had the goods shipped to Rome for distribution.

Distributions to qualified persons were monthly. However, a certain proportion of the population lived in the streets or were too ill or infirm to pick up their monthly food supply. To them Gregory sent out a small army of charitable persons, mainly monks, every morning with prepared food. It is said that he would not dine until the indigent were fed. When he did dine he shared the family table, which he had saved (and which still exists), with 12 indigent guests. To the needy living in wealthy homes he sent meals he had cooked with his own hands as gifts to spare them the indignity of receiving charity. These and other good deeds and charitable frame of mind completely won the hearts and minds of the Roman people. They now looked to the papacy for government, ignoring the rump state at Constantinople, calling him a fool for his pacifist dealings with the Lombards.

Pope Gregory had strong convictions on missions: “Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also.”

He is credited with re-energizing the Church’s missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, prior of Saint Andrew’s, where he had perhaps succeeded Gregory, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. It seems that the pope had never forgotten the English slaves whom he had once seen in the Roman Forum. The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany. The preaching of non-heretical Christian faith and the elimination of all deviations from it was a key element in Gregory’s worldview, and it constituted one of the major continuing policies of his pontificate.

Throughout the Middle Ages he was also known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman liturgical worship of his day.

Blessed Gregory, we live in an age of poverty, famine, and war; and in the Church we face heterodoxy, even apostasy, and often the debasement of worship, even as did you in your earthly life. You who worked so tirelessly for the plight of the hungry, the poor, and refugees; for making peace with enemies; for sending out missionaries to share the orthodox and catholic Faith with those who had never head the Good News in Jesus; and labored for the enrichment and ennoblement of Christian worship… Ora pro nobis.

Amen.

St. David of Wales

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Saint David (Welsh: Dewi Sant, c. 500 – c. 589) was a Welsh bishop of Mynyw (now St Davids) during the 6th century; he was later regarded as a saint. He is the patron saint of Wales.

David was a native of Wales, and a relatively large amount of information is known about his life. He is traditionally believed to be the son of Saint Non and the grandson of Ceredig ap Cunedda, king of Ceredigion.

He became renowned as a teacher and preacher, founding monastic settlements and churches in Wales, Dumnonia, Armorica, and Brittany. St David’s Cathedral stands on the site of the monastery he founded in the Glyn Rhosyn valley of Pembrokeshire. Around 550, he attended the Synod of Brefi, where his eloquence in opposing Pelagianism caused his fellow monks to elect him archbishop of the region. As such he presided over the synod of Caerleon (the “Synod of Victory“) around 569.

The Monastic Rule of David prescribed that monks had to pull the plough themselves without draught animals, must drink only water and eat only bread with salt and herbs, and spend the evenings in prayer, reading and writing. No personal possessions were allowed: even to say “my book” was considered an offence. He lived a simple life and practised asceticism, teaching his followers to refrain from eating meat and drinking beer.

Though the exact date of his death is not certain, tradition holds that it was on March 1, which is the date now marked as Saint David’s Day.

His last words to his followers were in a sermon on the previous Sunday. The Welsh Life of St David gives these as, “Arglwydi, vrodyr, a chwioryd, Bydwch lawen a chedwch ych ffyd a’ch cret, a gwnewch y petheu bychein a glywyssawch ac a welsawch gennyf i. A mynheu a gerdaf y fford yd aeth an tadeu idi”, which translates as, “Lords, brothers and sisters, Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. And as for me, I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

Blessed Dewi, ora pro nobis