Archive for the ‘Lives of the Saints’ Category


Julian of Norwich

February 4, 2008


The Anchoress known as Julian of Norwich was born in late 1342, and may have lived well into the fifteenth century, dying around 1412. We know very few details about her life; in fact, we do not know even know her real name. At some point in her life she became an anchoress — a vowed solitary who lived a life devoted to prayer and meditation, confined to a cell adjoining a church. In her case, Julian’s cell adjoined the church of St. Julian in Norwich, from which we get her pseudonym. Virtually nothing is known about her aside from what she writes in her remarkable book, but even there she reveals little about herself, preferring instead to talk about her “courteous” God. In her work (the first book written by a woman in English), Julian recounts an amazing series of visions she had while suffering from a life-threatening illness; as she reflects on the meaning of her visions, she reveals a profound level of mystical wisdom and insight that, over six hundred years later, remains on the cutting edge of Christian theology.

In May 1373 when Julian was “thirty and one-half years old,” she became sick enough that a priest was summoned to come and issue her last rites. While on her supposed deathbed, he held a cross before her face and instructed her to gaze upon Christ for comfort. When she did so, she realized that she saw real, flowing blood on the corpus; this was the beginning a series of vivid, profound visions or “showings” — sixteen different revelations in which Christ, Mary, heaven, even hell and “the fiend” were shown to her. Shortly after this singular mystical experience she recovered from her illness, and subsequently wrote about her experience in a book that evolved over the following two decades. It appears she wrote a short text not long after the events of May 1373, and a longer text, completed twenty years later, filled with poetic and vividly rendered reflection on the theological meaning of her showings, centered on the lavish nature of Divine love.

The Church of St. Julian, Norwich, England

Today, Julian is best known for her optimism; she is most-often quoted for saying “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well” (which was Christ’s response to her when she wondered about why sin had to exist). A lesser known but equally lovely quote: “The fullness of joy is to behold God in all.” Julian is also celebrated for naming both God and Christ as “mother.” More than a cute theological ploy, she articulates a fully-formed spirituality of the motherhood of God, yet always within the parameters of an orthodox appreciation of the Christian faith. In this way, Julian anticipates (by six centuries!) the best and most creative expressions of feminist Christian theology as has emerged in our time.

One of the loveliest stories from Julian’s series of visions involves a time when she was asked to hold something little, no bigger than a hazelnut. When she asks God what this is, she is told “It is everything that is made.” She marvels that this thing could even continue to exist, so small and delicate it appears. She then comes to understand that this little thing exists — and continues to do so — because God loves it. “In this little thing, I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. The third is that God keeps it.” Note the Trinitarian nature of Julian’s insight; indeed, Trinitarian imagery abounds throughout her writing.

Inside Julian’s restored cell. In her day the room would have been very simple with no altar or crucifix.

God made it, God loves it, and God keeps it. This sums up Julian’s optimistic, visionary theology — a theology where the love of God is expressed not in terms of law and duty, but in terms of joy and heartfelt compassion.

Excerpts are from the M. L. Del Mastro translation of Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love.

For further reading:

Editions of Julian’s book, translated into modern English:

Julian of Norwich, Revelation of Love, tr. John Skinner

Julian of Norwich, The Revelation of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings, tr. M.L. del Mastro

Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love, tr. Julia Bolton Holloway

Julian of Norwich, A Lesson of Love: The Revelations of Julian of Norwich, tr. Fr. John-Julian OJN

Julian of Norwich, Showings, tr. Edmund Colledge OSA and James Walsh SJ

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, tr. Clifton Wolters

Editions of Julian’s book, in middle English:

Julian of Norwich, A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, ed. Edmund Colledge OSA and James Walsh SJ

Julian of Norwich, A Revelation of Love, ed. Marion Glasscoe

Julian of Norwich, Showing of Love: Extant Texts and Translation, ed. Sr. Anna Maria Reynolds CP and Julia Bolton Holloway

Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian of Norwich, ed. Denise Baker

Books about Julian (popular/devotional):

Ritamary Bradley, Julian’s Way: A Practical Commentary on Julian of Norwich

C. Hugh Hildesley, Journeying with Julian

Robert Llewelyn, All Shall Be Well: The Spirituality of Julian of Norwich for Today

Robert Llewelyn, ed., Julian: Woman of Our Day

Paul Molinari, Julian of Norwich: The Teaching of a 14th Century English Mystic

Ambrose Tinsley, OSB, A Neighbour Kind and Known: The Spirituality of Julian of Norwich

Sheila Upjohn, In Search of Julian of Norwich

Sheila Upjohn, Why Julian Now? A Voyage of Discovery

Books about Julian (academic/scholarly):

Christopher Abbott, Julian of Norwich: Autobiography and Theology

Denise Nowakowski Baker, Julian of Norwich’s Showings: From Vision to Book

Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Body Politic of Christ

Kerrie Hide, Gifted Origins to Graced Fulfillment: The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich

Grace Jantzen, Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian

Kenneth Leech, Julian Reconsidered

Kevin J. Magill, Julian of Norwich: Mystic or Visionary?

Jane Maynard, Transfiguring Loss: Julian of Norwich as a Guide for Survivors of Traumatic Grief

Sandra J. McEntire, ed., Julian of Norwich: A Book of Essays

Joan M. Nuth, Wisdom’s Daughter: The Theology of Julian of Norwich

Margaret Ann Palliser, Christ Our Mother of Mercy: Divine Mercy and Compassion in the Theology of the Shewings of Julian of Norwich

Brant Pelphrey, Julian of Norwich: Christ Our Mother (The Way of the Christian Mystics, volume 7)

Brant Pelphrey, Love was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism of Julian of Norwich


The Joy of God in Us

February 3, 2008


The Joy of God in Us
The Revelations of Divine Love of Blessed Julian of Norwich

And in the same showing [of Christ bleeding on the Cross) suddenly the Trinity almost filled my heart with joy. (And I understood it shall be like that in heaven without end for all that shall come there.) For the Trinity is God, God is the Trinity; the Trinity is our Maker, the Trinity is our Keeper, the Trinity is our everlasting Lover, the Trinity is our endless Joy and Bliss, by our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ch. 4)

[Our Lord God] made everything in fullness of goodness, and therefore the Blessed Trinity is always completely pleased with all His works. And all this He showed most blessedly, meaning this: “See, I am God. See, I am in everything. See, I do everything. See, I never lift my hands from my works, nor ever shall, without end. See, I lead everything to the end I ordained for it from without beginning by the same Power, Wisdom, and Love with which I made it. How would anything be amiss?” (Ch. 11)

Ah, Jesus wishes that we take heed to the bliss of our salvation that is in the blessed Trinity and that we desire to have as much spiritual pleasure, with His grace, as was said before. (That is to say, that the pleasure of our salvation be like to the joy that Christ has about our salvation as much as it can be while we are here.) The whole Trinity acted in the Passion of Christ (ministering an abundance of strengths and plenitude of grace to us by Him) but only the Maiden’s son suffered (about which the whole blessed Trinity endlessly rejoices). (Ch. 23)

And so our good Lord replied to all the questions and doubts that I could raise, saying most reassuringly: “I am able to make everything well, and I know how to make everything well, and I wish to make everything well, and I shall make everything well; and thou shalt see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well. Where He says, “I am able,” I understand as referring to the Father; and where He says, “I know how,” I understand as referring to the Son; and where He says, “I wish to,” I understand as referring to the Holy Spirit; and where He says, “I shall,” I understand as referring to the unity of the blessed Trinity (three persons and one truth); and where He says, “Thou shalt see for thyself,” I understand the one-ing of all mankind that shall be saved into the blissful Trinity. (Ch. 31)

The all Powerful truth of the Trinity is our Father, for He created us and keeps us within Him;  and the deep Wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother in whom we are all enclosed; the exalted Goodness of the Trinity is our Lord and in Him we are enclosed and He in us. (Ch. 54)

I beheld the action of all the blessed Trinity.  In that sight I saw and understood these three aspects:  the aspect of the Fatherhood, the aspect of the Motherhood, and the aspect of the Lordhood, in one God. (Ch. 58)

And what can make us rejoice in God more than to see in Him that He rejoices in us, the highest of all His works? For I saw in the same showing that if the blessed Trinity could have made man’s soul any better, any more beautiful, any nobler than it was made, He would not have been wholly pleased with the creation of man’s soul. But because He made man’s soul as fair, as good, as precious a creature as He could make it, therefore the Blessed Trinity is wholly pleased without end in the creation of man’s soul, and He wills that our hearts be powerfully raised above the depths of the earth and all vain sorrows, and rejoice in Him. (Ch. 67)


St. Catherine of Sienna

February 3, 2008


St. Catherine of Sienna, 1347-1380

Catherine Benicasa was born in Siena in 1347, the youngest of a very large family. Her father, Giacomo, was a prosperous wool-dyer, the comfort of whose home may be gauged even today by visiting the large house in which he brought up his family, still preserved though considerably altered, through the intervening centuries. His wife, Monna Lapa, was the capable and energetic ruler of this lively family.

Catherine spent a normal, contented infancy during which only excessive gaiety singled her out from among her brothers and sisters. But in adolescence she became attracted to prayer and solitude. Lapa vigorously disapproved and for a period considered Catherine a difficult daughter, in fact a problem teenager, who rebelled against her mother’s direction in such matters as dress and amusements, resisted any suggestion of marriage and refused just as positively to become a nun.

There was a truce to their disagreement when Catherine, at the age of sixteen, gained admittance to the Third Order of St. Dominic, then flourishing in Siena. The rules of this group allowed her to dress in the black and white habit of a Dominican nun while remaining in her own home. Thenceforward for three years she never left her room, except to go to mass and confession, and spoke to no one except her confessor. This good priest said afterwards that he always felt incompetent to guide her. During this period Catherine trained herself to live on a spoonful of herbs a day and to make a couple of hours’ sleep every night suffice. Though apparently so uneventful, those years were of major importance to her, for it was on them she built her life’s achievement.

Having been told by God to resume family life, she then began to do her share of the work of the house, to nurse the sick and to help the poor. Almost at once it became known that she had discernment of souls and people began to flock to her from all sides. A motley band of men and women of all ages and ranks gathered around her, forming the singular ‘club’ of Fontebranda, the name of the district where she lived. They included scions of the principal Sienese families, men of fashion, priests and religious, soldiers and artists, merchants, lawyers, politicians.

The plain people of Siena did not care for the novelty. Here, said her neighbours in effect, is a young woman, a kind of nun, said to be holy; yet she goes about freely with numbers of young men, who are in and out of her house at all hours of the day. Who ever heard of such a thing? They nicknamed her derisively the ‘Queen of Fontebranda,’ and they called her friends, who they said must be bewitched, the ‘caterinati.’ But the unique club, or the ‘bella brigata,’ as they called themselves, was not to be dispersed by jeers. The disapproval did not even cloud their happiness. They persevered. Ecclesiastical history has since given them the noble title ‘School of Mystics.’ They were attracted to Catherine by her gaiety as well as by her asceticism; by her practical common sense as well as by her spiritual insight; by her serenity and personal charm.

There was at this time a severe crisis in the church, owing to the papacy’s desertion of Rome for Avignon. This had particularly bad effects on the Italian Communes, who were always at strife with the French papal legates. When Florence declared war on the papal states in protest against the legates’ rule, eighty towns joined them in ten days. While Catherine was in Pisa, working in the cause of peace, she received the stigmata on the fourth Sunday of Lent, 1375, although the marks remained invisible until after her death. At a certain stage in this war, Florence asked Catherine to go to Avignon and there intercede with Pope Gregory XI on behalf of their embassy. She at once agreed and reached Avignon in the third week of May, 1376, accompanied by twenty-three members of the ‘bella brigata,’ including four priests.

The ensuing three months were among the most fateful in the whole history of the Church. Catherine had to endure every kind of rebuff in Avignon: the society ladies who had great power in the papal court openly made fun of her; inquisition-minded prelates subjected her to a merciless examination in doctrine; when the Florentine envoys arrived, they rudely refused to accept her mediation: Florence had merely used her as a pawn in order to gain time. But the pope favoured her, and now she fully understood his irresolution of character and his difficulties. She succeeded in convincing him that peace could be won only by restoring the papacy to Rome.

The might of France, the Sacred College and the pope’s own family immediately closed in around him to prevent him from taking his step. It was a terrifying struggle of wills in which the victory went to Catherine. Pope Gregory XI left Avignon forever on September 13th, 1376.

The change of climate and the difficulties with which he had to cope took a heavy toll of Gregory’s frail physique. He died within a year. The new pope, Urban VI, was a Neapolitan who began his pontificate with a zeal for reform which immediately alienated the French cardinals. They withdrew to Anagni, where they issued a statement that the occupier of the Holy See was in reality an intruder, whom they had only pretended to elect in fear of the Roman mob who had dominated the election with their clamor for an Italian pope. Shortly afterwards the French cardinals elected a rival pope, who went to live in Avignon. Thus began the great western Schism which lasted for seventy years and proved to be the most terrible ordeal which the church has ever had to suffer.

Catherine went to Rome at the request of Urban VI to organize spiritual help towards ending the schism. Before leaving Siena for the last time, she dictated a book called The Dialogue of St. Catherine; this and her four hundred Letters comprise a great treasury of spiritual writing.

Once again in Rome she pitted herself against the powers of evil that threatened to engulf the church. For a whole year she lived corporally on the Blessed Sacrament and took less than an hour’s sleep every night while she sent her zealous letters all over Europe, beseeching help for the restoration of unity and for peace, as daily she offered her life for this cause. One evening in January, 1380, while dictating a letter to Urban, she had a stroke. Partially recovering, she lived in a mystical agony, convinced that she was wrestling physically with demons. She had a second stroke while at prayer in St. Peter’s and died three weeks later on April 29th, 1380, aged thirty-three. She was buried under the high altar in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but her head was afterwards removed and taken to Siena, where it is enshrined in the Dominican church. She was canonized eighty-one years after her death. Her feast is celebrated in Siena on April 29th, but elsewhere in the church on the next day.



St. Charles of Sezze

January 18, 2008



January 18, 2008

St. Charles of Sezze


Charles thought that God was calling him to be a missionary in India, but he never got there. God had something better for this 17th-century successor to Brother Juniper.

Born in Sezze, southeast of Rome, Charles was inspired by the lives of Salvator Horta and Paschal Baylon to become a Franciscan; he did that in 1635. Charles tells us in his autobiography, “Our Lord put in my heart a determination to become a lay brother with a great desire to be poor and to beg alms for his love.”

Charles served as cook, porter, sacristan, gardener and beggar at various friaries in Italy. In some ways, he was “an accident waiting to happen.” He once started a huge fire in the kitchen when the oil in which he was frying onions burst into flames.

One story shows how thoroughly Charles adopted the spirit of St. Francis. The superior ordered Charles — then porter — to give food only to traveling friars who came to the door. Charles obeyed this direction; simultaneously the alms to the friars decreased. Charles convinced the superior the two facts were related. When the friars resumed giving goods to all who asked at the door, alms to the friars increased also.

At the direction of his confessor Charles wrote his autobiography, The Grandeurs of the Mercies of God. He also wrote several other spiritual books. He made good use of his various spiritual directors throughout the years; they helped him discern which of Charles’ ideas or ambitions were from God. Charles himself was sought out for spiritual advice. The dying Pope Clement IX called Charles to his bedside for a blessing.

 Charles had a firm sense of God’s providence. Father Severino Gori has said, “By word and example he recalled in all the need of pursuing only that which is eternal” (Leonard Perotti, St. Charles of Sezze: An Autobiography, page 215).

He died at San Francesco a Ripa in Rome and was buried there. Pope John XXIII canonized him in 1959.


The drama in the lives of the saints is mostly interior. Charles’ life was spectacular only in his cooperation with God’s grace. He was captivated by God’s majesty and great mercy to all of us.


Father Gori says that the autobiography of Charles “stands as a very strong refutation of the opinion, quite common among religious people, that saints are born saints, that they are privileged right from their first appearance on this earth. This is not so. Saints become saints in the usual way, due to the generous fidelity of their correspondence to divine grace. They had to fight just as we do, and more so, against their passions, the world and the devil” (St. Charles of Sezze: An Autobiography, page viii).

(This entry is taken from American


Saint Anthony the Great

January 18, 2008


Commemorated on January 17

Saint Anthony the Great is known as the Father of monasticism, and the long ascetical sermon in The Life of St Anthony by St Athanasius (Sections 16-34), could be called the first monastic Rule.

He was born in Egypt in the village of Coma, near the desert of the Thebaid, in the year 251. His parents were pious Christians of illustrious lineage. Anthony was a serious child and was respectful and obedient to his parents. He loved to attend church services, and he listened to the Holy Scripture so attentively, that he remembered what he heard all his life.

When St Anthony was about twenty years old, he lost his parents, but he was responsible for the care of his younger sister. Going to church about six months later, the youth reflected on how the faithful,in the Acts of the Apostles (4:35), sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the Apostles for the needy.

Then he entered the church and heard the Gospel passage where Christ speaks to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me” (Mt.19:21). Anthony felt that these words applied to him. Therefore, he sold the property that he received after the death of his parents, then distributed the money to the poor, and left his sister in the care of pious virgins in a convent.

Leaving his parental home, St Anthony began his ascetical life in a hut not far from his village. By working with his hands, he was able to earn his livelihood and also alms for the poor. Sometimes, the holy youth also visited other ascetics living in the area, and from each he sought direction and benefit. He turned to one particular ascetic for guidance in the spiritual life.

In this period of his life St Anthony endured terrible temptations from the devil. The Enemy of the race of man troubled the young ascetic with thoughts of his former life, doubts about his chosen path, concern for his sister, and he tempted Anthony with lewd thoughts and carnal feelings. But the saint extinguished that fire by meditating on Christ and by thinking of eternal punishment, thereby overcoming the devil.

Realizing that the devil would undoubtedly attack him in another manner, St Anthony prayed and intensified his efforts. Anthony prayed that the Lord would show him the path of salvation. And he was granted a vision. The ascetic beheld a man, who by turns alternately finished a prayer, and then began to work. This was an angel, which the Lord had sent to instruct His chosen one.

St Anthony tried to accustom himself to a stricter way of life. He partook of food only after sunset, he spent all night praying until dawn. Soon he slept only every third day. But the devil would not cease his tricks, and trying to scare the monk, he appeared under the guise of monstrous phantoms. The saint however protected himself with the Life-Creating Cross. Finally the Enemy appeared to him in the guise of a frightful looking black child, and hypocritically declaring himself beaten, he thought he could tempt the saint into vanity and pride. The saint, however, vanquished the Enemy with prayer.

For even greater solitude, St Anthony moved farther away from the village, into a graveyard. He asked a friend to bring him a little bread on designated days, then shut himself in a tomb. Then the devils pounced upon the saint intending to kill him, and inflicted terrible wounds upon him. By the providence of the Lord, Anthony’s friend arrived the next day to bring him his food. Seeing him lying on the ground as if dead, he took him back to the village. They thought the saint was dead and prepared for his burial. At midnight, St Anthony regained consciousness and told his friend to carry him back to the tombs.

St Anthony’s staunchness was greater than the wiles of the Enemy. Taking the form of ferocious beasts, the devils tried to force the saint to leave that place, but he defeated them by trusting in the Lord. Looking up, the saint saw the roof opening, as it were, and a ray of light coming down toward him. The demons disappeared and he cried out, “Where have You been, O Merciful Jesus? Why didn’t You appear from the very beginning to end my pain?”

The Lord replied, “I was here, Anthony, but wanted to see your struggle. Now, since you have not yielded, I shall always help you and make your name known throughout all the world.” After this vision St Anthony was healed of his wounds and felt stronger than before. He was then thirty-five years of age.

Having gained spiritual experience in his struggle with the devil, St Anthony considered going into the Thebaid desert to serve the Lord. He asked the Elder (to whom he had turned for guidance at the beginning of his monastic journey) to go into the desert with him. The Elder, while blessing him in the then as yet unheard of exploit of being a hermit, decided not to accompany him because of his age.

St Anthony went into the desert alone. The devil tried to hinder him, by placing a large silver disc in his path, then gold, but the saint ignored it and passed by. He found an abandoned fort on the other side of the river and settled there, barricading the entrance with stones. His faithful friend brought him bread twice a year, and there was water inside the fort.

St Anthony spent twenty years in complete isolation and constant struggle with the demons, and he finally achieved perfect calm. The saint’s friends removed the stones from the entrance , and they went to St Anthony and besought him to take them under his guidance. Soon St Anthony’s cell was surrounded by several monasteries, and the saint acted as a father and guide to their inhabitants, giving spiritual instruction to all who came into the desert seeking salvation. He increased the zeal of those who were already monks, and inspired others with a love for the ascetical life. He told them to strive to please the Lord, and not to become faint-hearted in their labors. He also urged them not to fear demonic assaults, but to repel the Enemy by the power of the Life-Creating Cross of the Lord.

In the year 311 there was a fierce persecution against Christians, in the reign of the emperor Maximian. Wishing to suffer with the holy martyrs, St Anthony left the desert and went to Alexandria. He openly ministered to those in prison, he was present at the trial and interrogations of the confessors, and accompanying the martyrs to the place of execution. It pleased the Lord to preserve him, however, for the benefit of Christians.

At the close of the persecution, the saint returned to the desert and continued his exploits. The Lord granted the saint the gift of wonderworking, casting out demons and healing the sick by the power of his prayer. The great crowds of people coming to him disrupted his solitude, and he went off still farther, into the inner desert where he settled atop a high elevation. But the brethren of the monasteries sought him out and asked him to visit their communities.

Another time St Anthony left the desert and arrived in Alexandria to defend the Orthodox Faith against the Manichaean and Arian heresies. Knowing that the name of St Anthony was venerated by all the Church, the Arians said that he adhered to their heretical teaching. But St Anthony publicly denounced Arianism in front of everyone and in the presence of the bishop. During his brief stay at Alexandria, he converted a great multitude of pagans to Christ.

People from all walks of life loved the saint and sought his advice. Pagan philosophers once came to Abba Anthony intending to mock him for his lack of education, but by his words he reduced them to silence. Emperor Constantine the Great (May 21) and his sons wrote to St Anthony and asked him for a reply. He praised the emperor for his belief in Christ, and advised him to remember the future judgment, and to know that Christ is the true King.

St Anthony spent eighty-five years in the solitary desert. Shortly before his death, he told the brethren that soon he would be taken from them. He instructed them to preserve the Orthodox Faith in its purity, to avoid any association with heretics, and not to be negligent in their monastic struggles. “Strive to be united first with the Lord, and then with the saints, so that after death they may receive you as familiar friends into the everlasting dwellings.”

The saint instructed two of his disciples, who had attended him in the final fifteen years of his life, to bury him in the desert and not in Alexandria. He left one of his monastic mantles to St Athanasius of Alexandria (January 18), and the other to St Serapion of Thmuis (March 21). St Anthony died peacefully in the year 356, at age 105, and he was buried in the desert by his disciples.

The Life of the famed ascetic St Anthony the Great was written by St Athanasius of Alexandria. This is the first biography of a saint who was not a martyr, and is considered to be one of the finest of St Athanasius’ writings. St John Chrysostom recommends that this Life be read by every Christian.

“These things are insignificant compared with Anthony’s virtues,” writes St Athanasius, “but judge from them what the man of God Anthony was like. From his youth until his old age, he kept his zeal for asceticism, he did not give in to the desire for costly foods because of his age, nor did he alter his clothing because of the infirmity of his body. He did not even wash his feet with water. He remained very healthy, and he could see well because his eyes were sound and undimmed. Not one of his teeth fell out, but near the gums they had become worn due to his advanced age. He remained strong in his hands and feet…. He was spoken of everywhere, and was admired by everyone, and was sought even by those who had not seen him, which is evidence of his virtue and of a soul dear to God.”

The following works of St Anthony have come down to us:

Twenty Sermons on the virtues, primarily monastic (probably spurious).

Seven Letters to various Egyptian monasteries concerning moral perfection, and the monastic life as a spiritual struggle.

A Rule for monastics (not regarded as an authentic work of St Anthony).

In the year 544 the relics of St Anthony the Great were transferred to Alexandria, and after the conquest of Egypt by the Saracens in the seventh century, they were transferred to Constantinople. The holy relics were transferred from Constantinople in the tenth-eleventh centuries to a diocese outside Vienna. In the fifteenth century they were brought to Arles (in France), to the church of St Julian.


Ephraim the Lesser

January 18, 2008


Commemorated on January 18

Today little is known about the life of venerable Ephraim the Lesser, the great 11th-century writer, translator, philosopher, and defender of the Georgian Church. His work Reminiscences and other sources, however, provide us with the means to speculate about the major periods of his life and labors.

In 1027, when King Bagrat IV (1027–1072) ascended the Georgian throne, many noblemen of the Tao region in southern Georgia relocated to Greece. Among them was the honorable Vache, son of Karichi, whom scholars believe was Ephraim’s father.

After receiving a Greek education in Constantinople, Ephraim settled in the Black Mountains near Antioch and began his labors there. His achievements in Georgian theological and philosophical writing are immeasurable. The number of his works is almost one hundred, and the subjects cover nearly every branch of theological inquiry. Ephraim even developed his own theory of translation, which later formed the foundation for written composition in the Georgian language. His theory consists of three essential points:

1. A composition must be translated from the original, that is, from the language in which it was first written. 2. The translation must carry the same literal meaning as the original, but accuracy in this regard must not violate the nature of the language into which the text is being translated. 3. A section of commentary that examines all relevant historical, grammatical, and literary issues should be included with the translated text.

Ephraim translated five of the works of St. Dionysius the Areopagite, The Ascetic Rules of St. Basil the Great, the writings of St. Ephraim the Syrian, commentaries on the Epistles and Psalms, and many other important patristic writings.

Among Ephraim the Lesser’s original works, his most significant is An Explanation of the Reasons for the Conversion of Georgia, a compilation of existing essays and his own commentaries on the nation’s conversion.

In the second half of the 11th century, the monks of Antioch and the Black Mountains began to deny the independence of the Georgian Church. Among other claims, they argued that none of the Apostles had preached the Christian Faith in Georgia. It became necessary to prove that the Georgian Church was indeed autocephalous, and members of the nation’s elite accordingly called upon Ephraim to settle this issue. Ephraim studied many patristic writings in the original Greek, gathered the ancient sources, and succeeded in fully securing the independent existence of the Georgian Church.

St. Ephraim wrote the following about the Apostles’ preaching: “Know that from the time the Apostles were preaching, according to the Prophet David: Their voice was heard through all the earth, and their words resounded in every village (c.f. Ps. 18:4). In Georgia, Andrew the First-called preached the Gospel in Avazgia (now Abkhazeti), and from there he journeyed to Ossetia (now Shida Kartli). Bartholomew also preached in Georgia, in the Kartli region.”

St. Ephraim never left the Black Mountains. In 1091 he was enthroned as the abbot of Kastana Monastery (The precise location of Kastana is unknown, but according to modern archaeologists, it was probably in the Black Mountains. For a full discussion of the subject see: Wachtang Z. Djobadze, Materials for the study of Georgian monasteries in the Western environs of Antioch on the Orontes (Louvain: Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, 1976), pp. 101–3)

Our holy father Ephraim reposed in the Lord around the year 1101. He is included in a list of the departed compiled by the Council of Ruisi-Urbnisi in 1103, and the year of his death has been approximated from the information given in this source.

Ephraim was canonized by the Orthodox Church of Georgia because of his God-pleasing life and the many commendable works he performed on behalf of the Church and his nation.

(From the Orthodox Church in America Website)


Anthony the Great

January 17, 2008


Description of Anthony the Great

Saint Anthony, the Father of monks, was born in Egypt in 251 of pious parents who departed this life while he was yet young. On hearing the words of the Gospel: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21), he immediately put it into action. Distributing to the poor all he had, and fleeing from all the turmoil of the world, he departed to the desert. The manifold temptations he endured continually for the span of twenty years are incredible. His ascetic struggles by day and by night, whereby he mortified the uprisings of the passions and attained to the height of dispassion, surpass the bounds of nature; and the report of his deeds of virtue drew such a multitude to follow him that the desert was transformed into a city, while he became, so to speak, the governor, lawgiver, and master-trainer of all the citizens of this newly-formed city.

The cities of the world also enjoyed the fruit of his virtue. When the Christians were being persecuted and put to death under Maximinus in 312, he hastened to their aid and consolation. When the Church was troubled by the Arians, he went with zeal to Alexandria in 335 and struggled against them in behalf of Orthodoxy. During this time, by the grace of his words, he also turned many unbelievers to Christ.

Saint Anthony began his ascetic life outside his village of Coma in Upper Egypt, studying the ways of the ascetics and holy men there, and perfecting himself in the virtues of each until he surpassed them all. Desiring to increase his labors, he departed into the desert, and finding an abandoned fortress in the mountain, he made his dwelling in it, training himself in extreme fasting, unceasing prayer, and fierce conflicts with the demons. Here he remained, as mentioned above, about twenty years. Saint Athanasius the Great, who knew him personally and wrote his life, says that he came forth from that fortress “initiated in the mysteries and filled with the Spirit of God.” Afterwards, because of the press of the faithful, who deprived him of his solitude, he was enlightened by God to journey with certain Bedouins, until he came to a mountain in the desert near the Red Sea, where he passed the remaining part of his life.

Saint Athanasius says of him that “his countenance had a great and wonderful grace. This gift also he had from the Saviour. For if he were present in a great company of monks, and any one who did not know him previously wished to see him, immediately coming forward he passed by the rest, and hurried to Anthony, as though attracted by his appearance. Yet neither in height nor breadth was he conspicuous above others, but in the serenity of his manner and the purity of his soul.” So Passing his life, and becoming an example of virtue and a rule for monastics, he reposed on January 17 in the year 356, having lived altogether some 105 years.