by Linda McMillan
A few weeks ago when I was at the gym I noticed one of the trainers working out with a punching bag. He threw punches with both hands, from the front and the side, and he even hit the bag with some kicks. I was suddenly bored with my own cardio program on the elliptical bike. I wanted to fight! Later, I asked him about scheduling some sessions so that I could learn to fight too. Alas, he was booked until October. Lots of people want to fight, it seems.
There were some saints who fought. Saint Peter cut a man’s ear off once. Jesus was not happy about that. Saint Louis, King of France, even died in battle. In fact, most of the fighting saints were warriors in some kind of army. And, of course, there’s St. Michael the Archangel. He’s a fighter, as is Saint George, slayer of dragons. But my favorite fighter is Saint Barbara who is said to have hurled down lightning on her father just before he killed her for wanting to remain a virgin. Throwing lightning is not a bad trick for fighters or for saints.
Today we remember Saint Euphemia who could have used some lightning, but didn’t get it. She was not a fighter, but she does offer an example of faithfulness. She was arrested for refusing to sacrifice to Ares and was tortured, but every time she was tortured she was also miraculously healed. After this example had converted a bunch of pagans she was thrown to wild beasts and died. Her saint day is next Saturday, the 16th. Two of the pagans who were converted by her were Victor and Sothsenes. Victor had been told to torture Euphemia, but he was converted by her prayers. Sosthenes was an executioner who had also been told to torture Euphemia, but he too was converted by her prayers. Later on, they were both martyred in the persecution of Diocletian. We remember them today. We remember other saints today too:
- Saint Peter Martinez was the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela and may even have been one of the composers of the Salve Regina.
- Saint Clement of Sardis was one of the original 72 missionaries sent out by Jesus.
- It was Saint Plucheria who sponsored the Council of Chalcedon. Can you imagine being the event planner for that!
- Saint Firthistan was known for his care for the poor and for having a ministry of prayer for those who had died.
- Saint Autbert had a vision of Michael the archangel.
- Saint Candida was a lay woman. Not much else is known about her except that after she died people thought she was a saint and started calling her that.
Stories about the lives of saints are called hagiography. That’s an English word that we get from two Greek words: Holy and Writing. While hagiography does tell the story of a life, it shouldn’t be confused with biography which is another kind of writing. Biography deals with the historicity of a person, hagiography tells a spiritual story using someone life as a setting. The person can even be fictional, as in the case of Saint Barbara. I like reading hagiography because, even though they are not historically accurate, I need solidarity with these people. They were fighters, heroes, mothers, missionaries, hurlers of lightning, prayers, healers, warriors, pacifists, educators, organizers, preachers, and heysechists, stylites, and urbabites, and even the occasional exile… read about poor Saint Candida The Younger. Exiled by her own brother. We remember her today and she is one of ours too.
One of the things that is interesting about saints is that they are not named during their lives. The process of becoming a saint is well legislated and documented these days, but even before the saintly accreditation standards were written, people didn’t become saints until they died. We can’t know in advance whose life will have been the kind of life that speaks of holiness, and so we can’t look out on this morning’s congregation and know who is a saint and who is a sinner. Some of the saints were once pretty robust sinners, which should give us all hope; and many who have put on a saintly veneer have turned out to be… well, sinners like the rest of us.
So my question for you this morning is how will you live into your sainthood this week? I do hope you’ll not encounter martyrdom, though some will no-doubt claim it. But, whatever you face, I hope you’ll be a brave saint, patient and true. Rely on God’s love, it is what made the saints strong… even the song says so:
I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green:
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and God’s love made them strong;
and they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
why I shouldn’t be one too.
They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still;
the world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.
Saint Linda lives in Yangzhong, China.
Some Notes of Possible Interest:
You can see a list of all the saints we honor today here.
You can read about Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon here.
You can read more about Saint Sothsenes of Chalcedon here.
You can read more about Saint Victor of Chalcedon here.
You can read more about Saint Barbara here. I can’t find the story that Barbara herself threw the lightning, but that part of her story is as true as the rest of it. That is, it’s not true at all. She is also known as The Great Martyr Barbara.
Lots of saints were also warriors: Saints Ursus and Victor, for example had their heads cut off for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods, but they were also soldiers in the Theban Legion, an Egyptian contingent of the Roman army. There were over 6,000 Christians in this particular contingent and later they were all killed by their own general for refusing to sacrifice. Emperor Henry of the Holy Roman Empire (972-1024) is one of the few who did not die in actual battle, though he led many battles. Saint Jules was also a veteran, but he died in the persecution of the Diocletian to whom veteran status meant nothing.
There is at least one navy man who became a saint: Saint Theophilus the Younger. His fleet was sent to defend Cyprus, but the other ships abandoned the cause, leaving Theophilus’s ship to fight on alone.
You can read more about Saint Peter Martinez here.
You can read more about Saint Pulcheria here.
“I Sing A Song of The Saints of God,” by Lesbian Scott, 1929. The music is the tune of Grand Isle, and it’s in 22 different hymnals including The Hymnal 1982, page 293.
You can read more about how the Roman Catholic Church makes saints here. here.
Other churches have other standards.