On being a myrrh-bearer…

*** Meditation Mondays *** Meditation Mondays ***

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Today the Astonishing Community remembers Mary Salome, the Myrrh Bearer.

Salome was one of the women disciples of Jesus. According to Orthodox tradition, she was the daughter of St. Joseph the Betrothed and his first wife (who was also named Salome), making the Mary, mother of Jesus her step-mother. She married Zebedee and became the mother of the Apostles James and John.  As one of the myrrh-bearing women who brought spices to Christ’s tomb and found it empty, she is celebrated as one who first brought tidings of the Resurrection to the world.

As I was looking at her bottle of Myrrh, I began to ponder what it means to be a Myrrh-bearer. I know that this is the title given to the three women who faithfully returned to Jesus’ tomb at first light following the Sabbath to embalm his body. But they were not the only bearers of Myrrh to Jesus. Within the Canonical Gospels, Jesus is first brought Myrrh by a king or wise man, we have come to know as Melchior. He brought Myrrh, which we are told from such a young age was to signify his death, to the infant Jesus. I wonder whether the gift was really that stark for Mary and Joseph to receive… So I looked into Myrrh.

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Myrrh, like frankincense, was traditionally used as an ingredient in incense as it instills a deep sense of calm and tranquility. It was used as a perfume ingredient in Egypt and to prevent wrinkles, as well as for embalming. The most varied and numerous uses of myrrh, however, are by healers:

  • When inhaled Myrrh makes a good expectorant and gargled as a tincture was believed to cure pharyngitis, even returning a lost voice.
  • In women, Myrrh was used to treat uterine disorders and to bring on labour.
  • In minute doses, Myrrh was used as an antispasmodic and to cure stomach problems.
  • Most popularly Myrrh was applied to wounds and ulcers in order to prevent Gangrene.
  • It also has anti-inflammatory pain-killing properties.

Myrrh might just as easily be a symbol of the healer that Jesus would become as the death he must die. This symbolism is even richer when we understand how Myrrh is produced in the first place.

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Myrrh exudes as a resinous gum from the Myrrh Tree whenever the bush is wounded or naturally fissures. It is the way the tree is able to protect itself from infection and to prevent the loss of precious water travelling through its system. As humans found this gum to be so useful and so precious, we began to increase production by deliberately making incisions into the bark of the tree in order to increase production.

 

In my role as a priest, I wonder whether I am a myrrh-bearer? Is it my job to hold the myrrh that might be needed for healing, for the dying or in worship? And where does this myrrh come from?

Perhaps the church is like a Myrrh tree and each member one of its fissures. We emerge wounded, desperately trying to heal ourselves. Our excess overflows, is collected and offered where most needed at present. It’s a way of being we learnt from God, who made a great fissure in God-self to allow Jesus to walk amongst us; who allowed us to pierce him that the greatest healing might take place.

Amen.

Saint Pandwyna

The hagiographer Leland (in “Itinerary” v. 218) records that Pandwyna was a daughter of a king of the Scots, who fled from those who would deflower her to a kinswoman who was prioress of Eltisley. She became a nun there until her death in 904AD. She was buried near a well named after her in Eltisley and was translated into the church there in 1344.

Although much about Pandwyna’s life is uncertain, the original vita having been lost, we know that she was invoked as patron against headaches, accidents and loneliness.

INTERCEDING

On this day let us pray for:

  • All whose lives are quiet and may not be remembered in years to come.
  • All who seek a simple, holy existence.
  • All who suffer with headaches.
  • All who are lonely.
  • Those beset by accidents however big or small.

Little Saint Hugh

Hugh of Lincoln, sometimes known as Little Saint Hugh (sometimes “Little Sir Hugh”) to distinguish him from Saint Hugh of Lincolnwas an English boy whose death was falsely attributed to Jews. Hugh is sometimes known as Little Saint Hugh (sometimes “Little Sir Hugh”) to distinguish him from Saint Hugh of Lincoln, an adult saint. Hugh became one of the best known of the blood libel saints (generally children whose deaths were interpreted as Jewish sacrifices). 

It is likely that the Bishop and Dean of Lincoln steered events in order to establish a profitable flow of pilgrims to the shrine of a martyr and saint. The event is particularly significant because it was the first time that the Crown gave credence to ritual child murder allegations, through the direct intervention of King Henry III.

The nine-year-old Hugh disappeared on 31 July, and his body was discovered in a well on 29 August. It was claimed that Jews had imprisoned Hugh, during which time they tortured and eventually crucified him. It was said that the body had been thrown into the well after attempts to bury it failed, when the earth had expelled it.

The chronicler Matthew Paris described the supposed murder, implicating all the Jews in England:

Shortly after news was spread of his death, miracles were attributed to Hugh; and he was rushed toward sainthood. Hugh became one of the youngest individual candidates for sainthood, with 27 July unofficially made his feast day. However, over time, the issue of the rush to sainthood was raised, and Hugh was never canonized. He never appeared in Butler’s Lives of the Saints(1756–1759). The Vatican never included the child Hugh in Catholic martyrology. His traditional English feast day is not celebrated.

The shrine dated to the period immediately after the expulsion of the Jews. The shrine itself was destroyed in the Reformation, or possibly the Civil War.

The story was remembered into the twentieth century. A well in the former Jewish neighborhood of Jews’ Court was advertised as the well in which Hugh’s body was found, however this was found to be have been constructed some time prior to 1928 to increase the attraction of the property

The myth of the ritual child murder became well-known and long-standing in English culture. The Hugh story is refenced by Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales in The Prioress’s Tale. Marlowe also refers to the events, again probably knowing the story through Paris’ account. The story is retold as fact in Thomas Fuller‘s 1662 Worthies of England.[21][d]

Ballads referring to the incidentcirculated in England, Scotland and France.[22] The earliest English and French versions appear to have been composed near the time. The Hugh myth continued to find resonance into the nineteenth century, when European antisemitic polemicists attempted to “prove” the veracity of the story. Langmuir describes the “fantasy” concocted by Lexington as contributing to some of the darkest strands of anti-Jewish prejudice. Lexington:

In 1955, the Anglican Church placed a plaque at the site of Little Hugh’s former shrine at Lincoln Cathedral, bearing these words:

Trumped up stories of “ritual murders” of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.

Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:

Lord, forgive what we have been, amend what we are, and direct what we shall be.

 

INTERCEDING

On this day, let us pray for:

  • All whose lives end in mystery and tragedy.
  • All who stand falsely accused.
  • People who are feared through ignorance, intolerance and for political ends.
  • People who are brave enough to confess their wrongdoings and to amend their lives.
  • All with the grace to forgive.

Saint Meriadoc -7th June

On 7th June we remember St Meriadoc, Bishop, patron of Camborne in Cornwall. St Meriadoc (also known as Meriasek) was probably a Welshman who founded at least one church in Cornwall and several churches and monasteries in Brittany in the 4th century. He eventually became a bishop there (despite his desire to be a hermit) and his feast is celebrated in several Breton dioceses to this day.

The rare Cornish miracle play: Beunans Meriasek, tells his life story. St Meriadoc was once very rich but he gave away all his possessions – much to the consternation of his relatives – and devoted his life to prayer and caring for the sick and needy.

His bell is still in the church at Stival in Brittany. Placed on the heads of migraine sufferers or the deaf, it is said to heal them.

I came across BBC1’s video of Longfellow’s cafe. It is also doing healing work in the community, allowing teenagers with autism to be a blessing to those around them and to live dignified, purposeful lives. It seems appropriate to share that video today as a way of remembering that God is still working, saints are still serving and communities are still being made whole.

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • The peoples of Cornwall and Brittany.
  • Those who work with others, despite a preference for quiet and solitude.
  • All who suffer migraines.
  • Those who enjoy their lives as part of the deaf community and those struggling with hearing loss.
  • Longfellow’s cafe and other kingdom places, where the world is already turning and glory is shining all around!

Isidora, fool of Tabenna

Once, a desert monk, Saint Pitirim, had a vision. An angel of God appeared to him and said, “Go to the Tabenna monastery. There you will see a sister wearing a rag on her head. She serves them all with love, and endures their contempt without complaint. Her heart and her thoughts rest always with God. You, on the other hand, sit in solitude, but your thoughts flit about all over the world.”

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The Elder set out for the Tabenna monastery, but he did not see the one indicated to him in the vision among the sisters.

Then they led Isidora to him, considering her a demoniac, because she worked in the kitchen and fulfilled the dirtiest, covered her head with a plain rag, never became angry, never insulted anyone with a word, never grumbled against God or the sisters, and was given to silence.

Isidora fell down at the knees of the Elder, asking his blessing. Saint Pitirim bowed down to the ground to her and said, “Bless me first, venerable Mother!”

To the astonished questions of the sisters the Elder replied, “Before God, Isidora is higher than all of us!” Then the sisters began to repent, confessing their mistreatment of Isidora, and they asked her forgiveness. The saint, however, distressed over her fame, secretly hid herself away from the monastery, and her ultimate fate remained unknown.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who unassumingly take on tasks others consider menial.
  • all who have no desire to stand out.
  • all who tend toward silence.
  • all who make a habit of overlooking others.
  • all whose minds flit about uncontrollably.

Catherine of Sienna – 29th April

4E0C1EB8-F870-443E-9E96-2815DA0B8D22Catherine of Sienna is a celebrated mystic. She entered the Dominican order at 16 and died aged 33. She wrote extensively, including some words about the gift of tears.

Tears express an exquisite, profound sensitivity, a capacity for being moved and for tenderness.

Many Saints have had the gift of tears, renewing the emotion of Jesus himself who did not hold back or hide his tears at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and at the grief of Mary and Martha or at the sight of Jerusalem during his last days on this earth.

According to Catherine, the tears of saints are mingled with the blood of Christ, of which she spoke in vibrant tones and with symbolic images that were very effective.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • Young people who have vibrant faith in Jesus.
  • All whose prayers are expressed through tears.
  • All whose visions and writing draw us Godward.

Xenia of Petersburg, fool-for-Christ.

xeniaIt is easy to forget that our ways are not God’s ways, that there is usually a stark difference between what is popular and what is holy. God has given us some pretty unusual people to make that point clear through the example of their own lives.  They are known in the Orthodox Church as “Fools for Christ” who acted and spoke in ways that made them appear crazy in the eyes of many and went against the grain of their societies.  Through their unique witness, they called their neighbours to the life of a Kingdom not of this world.

If that seems strange, remember how St. Paul said that the cross of Christ is foolishness according to conventional human ways of thinking. (1 Cor. 1:18)  Recall how absurd it seemed to the Jews and the Gentiles to claim that the Son of God was born of a Virgin Mother, died on a cross, rose from the tomb, and ascended into heaven.  We often forget that even the most basic teachings of our faith seemed at first like nonsense to most people.

Today we commemorate Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg, Fool for Christ, who in the early 18th century in Russia became a widow when her husband, a military officer, died suddenly.  A young widow with no children, she gave away all her possessions to the poor and vanished from society for several years, devoting herself to spiritual struggle in monastic settings. When she returned to St. Petersburg, she took up the life of a homeless wanderer, wearing her late husband’s military uniform and answering only to his name Andrew.  She prayed alone at night in open fields, endured the extreme cold with inadequate clothing, lived among beggars, and suffered abuse from many for appearing insane. She secretly carried heavy stones at night to help with the building of a church and gave the alms she received to the poor.  But she embraced her struggles with patience, abandoning pride in all its forms and praying for the soul of her departed husband. In Xenia’s humility, God gave her great gifts of prayer and prophecy, and she foretold future events such as the death of a Russian empress.

During her lifetime, some recognized her holiness and sought out her blessing and guidance. After Xenia’s own death at age 71, her grave became a source of miracles with many people taking dirt, and even pieces of a stone slab, from it as a blessing.  (If it seems odd that a grave could be a source of blessing, recall how the bones of prophet Elisha brought a dead man back to life in 2 Kings 13:21.) St. Xenia is a well-known and much-loved saint whose prayers are sought especially for employment, housing, or finding a spouse.

Across the centuries, the Lord has raised up such unusual saints in order to shock us out of our complacency, in order to remind us that there is far more to becoming a partaker of the divine nature (2. Peter 1:14) than leading a conventionally respectable life.

Christ surely does not call us all to the rare ministry of a Fool for Christ like St. Xenia, but we may all learn from her example that the humility of embracing our constant need for mercy is at the heart of faithfulness to a Lord Whose Kingdom is not of this world.   There must be something of the holy fool in us all, if our eyes are to be opened to a truth that the world does not yet see.  So let us not be afraid to live accordingly and to be out of step with the conventional wisdom, for that is how we will follow Jesus through the folly of the cross to the glory of the empty tomb. For Christ’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of the world, and He is its salvation.

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • The people of St Petersburg.
  • Widows.
  • All who wander.
  • All who seek to lose the identity they were born with.
  • All who help others despite their own struggles.
  • All who give generously, seeking no praise.
  • All who make us uncomfortable.
  • All who make us think.

Geneviève of Paris – 3rd January

Geneviève  was a peasant girl born in Nanterre. On the deaths of her parents, she went to live with her godmother Lutetia in Paris. There the young woman became admired for her piety and devotion to works of charity, and practiced corporal austerities which included abstaining from meat and breaking her fast only twice in the week. “These mortifications she continued for over thirty years, till her ecclesiastical superiors thought it their duty to make her diminish her austerities.”

Geneviève had frequent visions of heavenly saints and angels. She reported her visions and prophecies, until her enemies conspired to drown her in a lake. Through the intervention of Germanus, their animosity was finally overcome. The Bishop of Paris appointed her to look after the welfare of the virgins dedicated to God, and by her instruction and example she led them to a high degree of sanctity.

Shortly before the attack of the Huns under Attila in 451 on Paris, Genevieve and Germanus’ archdeacon, persuaded the panic-stricken people of Paris not to flee but to pray. It is claimed that the intercession of Genevieve’s prayers caused Attila’s army to go to Orléans instead. During Childeric’s siege and blockade of Paris in 464, Geneviève passed through the siege lines in a boat to Troyes, bringing grain to the city. She also pleaded to Childeric for the welfare of prisoners-of-war, and met with a favorable response. Through her influence, Childeric and Clovis displayed unwonted clemency towards the citizens.

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • all who trust in the power of prayer.
  • all with courage despite apparent powerlessness.
  • all who are faithful to their work in the face of criticism
  • all whose homes are under attack or siege.

St Seraphim of Sarov – 2nd January

 

After experiencing visions and miraculous healing as both a child and a young monk, Seraphim  began to withdraw into his “farther hermitage”—the forest wilderness about five km from Sarov Monastery. Wild animals—bears, rabbits, wolves, foxes and others—came to the hut of the ascetic. The elder of the Diveevo monastery, Matrona Plescheeva, witnessed how St. Seraphim fed a bear that had come to him out of his hand: “Seraphim’s face was particularly miraculous. It was joyous and bright, as that of an angel,” she described. While living in this little hermitage of his, Seraphim once suffered greatly at the hands of robbers. Although he was physically very strong and was holding an axe at the time, St. Seraphim did not resist them. In answer to their threats and their demands for money, he lay his axe down on the ground, crossed his arms on his chest and obediently gave himself up to them. They began to beat him on the head with the handle of his own axe. Blood began to pour out of his mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious. After that they began to hit him with a log, trampled him under foot, and dragged him along the ground. They stopped beating him only when they had decided that he had died. The only treasure which the robbers found in his cell was the icon of the Mother of God of Deep Emotion (Ymileniye), before which he always prayed. When, after some time, the robbers were caught and brought to justice, the holy monk interceded on their behalf before the judge. After the beating, Seraphim remained hunched over for the rest of his life.

Soon after this began the “pillar” period of the life of Seraphim, when he spent his days on a rock near his little hermitage, and nights in the thick of the forest. He prayed with his arms raised to heaven, almost without respite. This feat of his continued for a thousand days.

Because of a special vision of the Mother of God he was given toward the end of his life, St. Seraphim took upon himself the feat of becoming an elder. He began to admit everyone who came to him for advice and direction. Many thousands of people from all walks of life and conditions began to visit the elder now, who enriched them from his spiritual treasures, which he had acquired by many years of efforts. Everyone saw Seraphim as meek, joyful, pensively sincere. He greeted all with the words: “My joy! Christ is risen” To many he advised:

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

No matter who came to him, Seraphim  bowed to the ground before all, and, in blessing, kissed their hands. He did not need the visitors to tell him about themselves, as he could see what each had on their soul.

One winters day, an follower of Seraphim, called Motovilov, was sitting on a stump in the woods.  Seraphim was squatting across from him and telling his pupil the meaning of a Christian life, explaining for what we Christians live on earth.

“It is necessary that the Holy Spirit enter our heart. Everything good that we do, that we do for Christ, is given to us by the Holy Spirit, but prayer most of all, which is always available to us,” he said.

“Father,” answered Motovilov, “how can I see the grace of the Holy Spirit? How can I know if He is with me or not?”

St. Seraphim began to give him examples from the lives of the saints and apostles, but Motovilov still did not understand. The elder then firmly took him by the shoulder and said to him, “We are both now, my dear fellow, in the Holy Spirit.” It was as if Motovilov’s eyes had been opened, for he saw that the face of the elder was brighter than the sun. In his heart Motovilov felt joy and peace, in his body a warmth as if it were summer, and a fragrance began to spread around them. Motovilov was terrified by the unusual change, but especially by the fact that Seraphim’s face shone like the sun. But St. Seraphim said to him, “Do not fear, dear fellow. You would not even be able to see me if you yourself were not in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Thank the Lord for His mercy toward us.”

INTERCEDING

On this day, lift before God:

  • all who seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • All who seek to live peaceably.
  • All who pray for healing.
  • All who have compassion.
  • All who lead others into the Christian life.