Subdeacon Stephen Kerr
Reader Jude (Marty) Hobbs
Tikhon (Eric) Hamrick, Acolyte
|7:00pm||- Deacon's Mass/Silent Prayer|
The Orthodox path for converting others to Christianity is one of example and teaching rather than coercion. During the first centuries, as the power of government was being exercised to coerce people away from the faith, the example of faithful Christians brought about the rapid spread of the church throughout the world.
Even after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, missionaries whose zeal led them to pagan lands were careful to win people to the faith by showing the love of Christ in their lives. This method was followed by numerous saints whom we venerate – from St. Patrick in the 8th century, Ss. Cyril and Methodius in the 9th, to Ss. Herman, Innocent, and others who came to North America in the 19th century, and St. Nicholas (whose mission in the 20th century was to the Japanese). All these laborers in God’s vineyard did so through holy example and persuasive teaching. In the 8th century, a group of English nuns, led by the Abbess Lioba, was called to engage in this kind of mission among the pagan Saxons.
Lioba was born in Wessex around the year 700. She was sent to the convent of Minster-in-Thanet to be educated and later entered Winborne Abbey under Abbess Tetta (the king’s sister). There the bright young girl excelled in classical studies and especially in knowledge of the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, and the decrees of the councils. Along with the other nuns, Lioba developed skill in manuscript copying, which the nuns sometimes executed in the style of imperial documents, writing in gold letters on purple velum.
Lioba’s relative (probably a cousin on her mother’s side of the family) was the priest Boniface, who in 722 was consecrated to be a missionary bishop to Saxony, Thuringia and Hesse. Lioba was greatly interested in this effort and she began a correspondence with her cousin, offering her prayers for the success of his mission.
Establishing his “headquarters’ in Mainz, Bishop Boniface began the arduous task of preaching Christianity to the local people. Some years later, recognizing the need for the “anchoring” presence of monastics and remembering Lioba’s interest, he wrote to the Abbey at Winborne requesting the assistance of mission-minded nuns. Thirty nuns, under Lioba’s direction, willingly left home, family, and all that was familiar to share in this missionary endeavor.
A monastery was established for the nuns at Bischofsheim on the River Tauber and there, following the daily pattern of manual work (in the kitchen, bakery, brewery, and garden), study – and above all, prayer – established by St. Benedict, the nuns began to convert others through their example and teaching. Just as the custom had been in England, girls were sent to them to receive a basic education and the nuns looked after families in need. Their example of daily prayer had a positive effect on the local people and many – community leaders and clerics – came to Abbess Lioba for counsel and encouragement. “Daughter” monasteries were founded as the convent filled with local girls taking monastic vows.
Abbess Lioba, as well as the other nuns (such as St. Walburga, who became the Abbess of Heidenheim) maintained a correspondence with their founding bishop. About 150 letters to and from St. Boniface have been preserved and attest to the piety and love of St. Lioba and her companions as they persevered in their mission despite the emotional distress of being so far from their homeland.
In 754, as St. Boniface departed for further missionary work in Friesland, he wrote to Lioba, commending to her the care of his monks at Fulda in the event of his death. He expressed a desire that, at her death, she be buried with him in the tomb at Fulda prepared for him. St. Boniface did indeed receive the crown of martyrdom shortly thereafter and Lioba often visited his shrine in the monastery at Fulda.
After a long and faithful life of 80 years, St. Lioba passed from this life to the next and was buried near the high altar in the monastery at Fulda, honoring her cousin’s request. Within fifty years of her death, she was included in the lists of saints in German liturgical books. When Rudolf of Fulda wrote her “life” in 837, he declared of this saintly woman that “she taught by example in patience and love toward others.” May we, through the intercession of St. Lioba, be Christ’s missionaries in this same way.
The history of our salvation is a story of preparing the way, of laying groundwork, of taking advantage of right conditions and making the best of others: God gave Moses the law to prepare a particular people for giving his Son; the prophets gave those people the expectation of a Messiah, the faith and obedience of one of those people – Mary of Nazareth – prepared her to become the Theotokos, the Mother of God.
This same process continued as Christianity spread through the centuries and throughout the world. The Apostles, and particularly St. Paul, took advantage of the Jewish knowledge of one God and made use of Greek philosophical ideas in persuading people of the truth of Christianity. Later missionaries took advantage of “ripe” conditions and laid further groundwork for the conversion of pagan peoples.
This task was especially difficult as Christianity was brought to the outer reaches of the Roman Empire, to people whose assumptions and expectations were completely different. Much tolerance and charity had to be exercised, and patience and wisdom were especially required. St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 7th century, was one who possessed these virtues and who used them to promote the faith among the Anglo-Saxon people.
Born in Tarsus (the city of St. Paul’s birth), Theodore was raised in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world. He was well-educated, with wide interests. He had become a monk and knew the traditions of the desert fathers. He was living in Italy, perhaps in a monastery under Adrian (or Hadrian), the African abbot of a Neapolitan monastery, who introduced Theodore to Pope Vitalian.
When the English priest Wighard, who had been chosen to be Archbishop of Canterbury and had come to Rome to be consecrated, died suddenly while in Rome, Pope Vitalian turned to Adrian as his next choice. The abbot begged off from this assignment, but agreed to accompany Theodore when the Pope chose him. At the age of 65, Theodore was ordained sub-deacon through all the orders to Bishop and began his journey to England. In addition to Abbot Adrian, he was also accompanied by the much-traveled English abbot, Benedict Biscop, the founder of the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, who was in Rome to acquire books, icons and relics. They spent time with the Bishop of Paris before arriving in England in the year 669.
What this educated Greek monk found when he took up his duties at Canterbury was a people still largely pagan, and those who were Christian were divided by different traditions. Many people had not yet converted to Christianity and for many who had, the religion of their Scandinavian ancestors still had a strong hold on their beliefs and actions. These aggressive, war-like people valued the traits of bravery and strength in battle. They lived by the rule of the “blood feud”, demanding a life for a life. Their marriage customs required that a man marry the widow of his closest kin (even a step-mother). Their myths and legends glorified fierceness and revenge. [Even Anglo-Saxon Christian priests and monks maintained such an attachment to their myths that the Synod of Cloveshoe in 747 had to enact a canon forbidding the reading of Scripture in church in the same manner as the poets recited the sagas.]
The traditions of those brought to Christianity by the Irish differed enough from those with Gallican or Roman background that much ill-will and mistrust existed among them. The Synod of Whitby, in 663-4, had rejected the Celtic manner of determining the date of Easter, but other divisions had not been resolved: the Irish custom of “wandering” bishops without diocesan boundaries conflicted with the Gallican and Roman desire for an orderly division of responsibility and Episcopal oversight. The Gallican monastic practice of large groups of monks living in community with a rigid community life excluded the tendency among the Irish monks to live the hermit life. Hereditary property customs were carried over into the passing on of the positions of abbot and bishop. The relationship of monasteries to bishops varied from group to group.
With the wisdom of Solomon, and following the example set by St. Gregory the Great with his missionaries to this land, St. Theodore achieved conformity to Christian principles and unity among the people. He encouraged chieftains to accept monetary payments (“wergeld’) instead of a life for a life, making some progress toward the Christian ideal of forgiveness. The archbishop established and reorganized dioceses and their boundaries, diplomatically following the boundaries of kingdoms. He allowed different monastic traditions to be followed in different monasteries, and it is probable that both he and Abbot Adrian had some influence on the decoration of churches and knowledge of the lives of saints from other parts of the world.
In the midst of this difficult administrative and evangelistic work, St. Theodore founded a school at Canterbury for the education of monks and clergy. Here were taught not only Scripture and theology, but also Roman law, meter, music (theory as well as chant), poetry, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and the computation of time. Greek was taught as well as Latin (rare in the West at this time).
St. Theodore was of the Antiochian school of Biblical interpretation and passed on this literal (rather than allegorical) approach to Holy Scripture to numerous students. Here, his Mediterranean birth was of great value. [An 11th century manuscript, believed to contain Theodore’s scriptural commentaries, gives descriptions of Middle Eastern plants and animals mentioned in Scripture. How helpful that must have been to monks living in this northern European island!]
St. Theodore faithfully carried out these diverse duties for 21 years before falling asleep in the Lord on September 19, 690. There were no miracles reported of him; none of his original writings still exist; but his memory lives on as one who reconciled differences among his people and who, through his contribution to that society prepared the way for others to continue the work of converting Anglo-Saxon England. May almighty God give us grace to learn from him to further our work.
Sources: The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England, Henry Mayr-Harting; A History of the English Church and People, St. Bede the Venerable; The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Hugh David Farmer.
The process of bringing Christianity to a pagan world was a slow, arduous one. Our liturgical calendar is full of celebrations for those who accomplished this task – from the holy Apostles and their disciples, to the numerous martyrs during the persecutions in the early days of the church, and to the missionaries who traveled far from home to bring the light of Christ to pagan peoples. In his Edict of Milan in 313, the Emperor, St. Constantine, made Christianity a legal religion, but centuries later, pagan practices still thrived in many nations, so the work was still being done.
The Merovingian Franks were among those who stubbornly held on to violent and perverse ways of living even after they had been baptized and claimed to be Christians. St. Lambert of Maastricht received the crown of martyrdom as a consequence of this.
Lambert (or Landebertus) was born around 636 into a devout Christian family and instructed in the faith by his uncle Theodard, who was Bishop of Maastricht. The Merovingian rulers at this time were constantly embroiled in family feuds and political intrigue; in the midst of this, Bishop Theodard was murdered and his nephew called to replace him. Soon, however, Lambert was ousted in favor of another candidate. The bishop spent his seven year exile at the Abbey of Stavelot, where he led the life of a humble monk. An illustration of this is the story of a night when the Bishop, arising for his prayers, accidently dropped his sandal, disrupting the monastic silence. He spent the rest of the night praying outside in the snow, performing the expected penance, unbeknownst to the other monks. When a change in political power occurred in 681, Bishop Lambert was allowed to return to his see in Maastricht.
Bishop Lambert joined with St. Willibrord, a missionary who had come from England in 691, and the two labored together for the conversion of the people of the surrounding area, not only to the faith but also to a Christian way of life. The Bishop preached against adultery, even though one of those most guilty was Pepin of Herstal, the Mayor of the Palace who had allowed his return from exile. Bishop Lambert condemned his putting away of his lawful wife in favor of a mistress, so the woman’s family sought revenge against him. On a visit to a small village outside Lieges, St. Lambert was attacked and murdered on the 17th of September in the year 709. His body was taken back to Maastricht for burial. Soon, miracles were reported around his relics, and the people asked for a church to be built over the place of his martyrdom. St. Lambert’s successor, Bishop Hubert, had the church built and translated the saint’s relics there.
We often hear the age in which we live described as “post-Christian” and the evidence for reversion to pagan beliefs and practices is certainly convincing. Living a Christian life of love, patience, kindness, and sacrifice is much more difficult than putting ourselves first. Following the disciplines of the Church (attendance at Liturgy, daily prayer, confession, fasting) is extremely inconvenient when it would be easier to just do what would feel good. This was true for those kingdoms where conversion was slow and difficult and it is true once again for us in our day. May we pray for the strength and conviction of the saints of God and may we ask for the intercession of St. Lambert.