Sunday, August 20, 2017

Saint Oswin, King and Martyr of Deira, Northumbria

When his father, King Osric of Deira (roughly the county of Yorkshire), was killed by the pagan Welsh King Cadwallon in 633, he was taken to Wessex for safety, baptized, and educated there by Saint Aidan (f.d. August 31). When his cousin Saint Oswald (f.d. August 9) was killed in battle against King Penda of Mercia in 642, Oswin became king of Deira, which Oswald had united to Bernicia, and his cousin Oswy (Oswiu) became king of Bernicia.
Saint Bede (f.d. May 25) tells us that Oswin was "handsome in appearance and of great stature, pleasant in speech and courteous in manner. He was generous to high and low alike and soon won the affection of all by his kingly qualities of mind and body so that even men of very high birth came from nearly every province to his service. . . . and among his other qualities of virtue and moderation the greatest was humility."

Oswin had reigned successfully for about nine years, when Oswy declared war on him. Rather than precipitate a bloody battle when he realised that his army was vastly outnumbered, Oswin went into hiding with one trusted soldier at the estate of his best friend, Earl Hunwald, at Gilling near Richmond, York. Hunwald betrayed him and he was murdered at Gilling, Yorkshire, by Ethelwin on orders from Oswy.
Oswin, buried at Tynemouth, has been venerated as a martyr since his death, because he died, "if not for the faith of Christ, at least for the justice of Christ," as a 12th-century preacher explained.
In expiation for his crime, Oswy built a monastery at Gilling, but Oswin's relics remained at Tynemouth. Later the church was subject to the Viking raids and Oswin's tomb was forgotten until it was found in 1065. At that time the relics were translated. St Oswin’s feast day is on August 20th. The feast of his translation on March 11 is kept at Durham, Saint Albans, and Tynemouth.

Troparion of St Oswin tone 1

Courtesy and humility shone from thee,/ O radiant Martyr Oswin./ Trained
by Saint Aidan as a Christian ruler,/ thou didst illumine northern
Britain./ Glory to Him Who has strengthened thee; glory to Him Who has
crowned thee;/ glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all.[1]

Friday, August 11, 2017

Saint Attracta, Abbess of Ireland

5th century. Saint Attracta seems to have been a contemporary of Saint Patrick (f.d. March 17), although she may have lived a century later. Tradition tells us that she was born into a noble Irish family. When she was refused permission to enter the convent, she fled to Saint Patrick and received the veil from him at Coolavin. She was definitely a hermit at Killaraght on Lough Gara in Sligo, and later at Drum near Boyle. 

Convents developed at both locations under her direction. The hospice she founded for travellers at Killaraght endured for a thousand years and was well reputed for its hospitality and charity to the poor. Saint Attracta is venerated throughout Ireland, but especially in the west, both for the lasting foundations she made and for the spectacular miracles attributed to her intercession, especially those of healing. She is the patroness of the Diocese of Achonry and her name is popular among Irish girls.[1]

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Saint Oswald, King and Martyr of Northumbria

Oswald was born at the beginning of the 7th century. He was the youngest son of the pagan Ethelfrid, first king of a united Northumbria. After his father's death in battle, the young Oswald fled to Iona for safety and there he was baptised and became a Christian. In 633 Oswald returned to Northumbria to regain his father's kingdom.
It was said that he set up a wooden cross as his standard and dedicated himself and his people to God's protection before engaging in battle with the occupying Welsh king, Cadwallon, not far from Hexham.
Heavenfield is in the Northumbrian countryside just north of Hexham and on the Roman Wall. Today at the spot where the two forces met there is a wooden cross commemorating the ancient battle.
A church dedicated to St Oswald has been built on the site where King Oswald erected his cross.
Before the battle Oswald ordered his men to make up a wooden cross. He held the cross upright in a hole while his soldiers heaped soil around it. Then they all knelt down and prayed for God to help them defeat Cadwalllon. It is said that St Columba appeared to Oswald and told him to be strong and to be of good courage.

Oswald defeated and killed Cadwallon and at once invited monks from Iona to begin the work of evangelisation of his kingdom which extended from the Forth to the Humber.
There is a tradition that Oswald was crowned king on what is now known as the Lawe Top at South Shields and in the olden days it was known as Oswald's Hill.
The battle re-established a Christian as King of Northumbria and one of Oswald's first tasks was to invite the monks of Iona to set up a monastery in the region. This they did at Holy Island under the guidance of St Aidan and from here Christianity spread to be the main religion of the nation.
Oswald found Aidan to be both a valued adviser and a good friend.
Oswald often accompanied Aidan on his missionary journeys, acting as interpreter for at first Aidan could not speak the local dialect. Aidan was noted for his prayerfulness and his charity to the poor.
Sadly the reign of Oswald lasted only eight years. On August 5th 642 he was killed in battle by Penda, king of the Mercians at Maserfield, now Oswestry, in Shropshire.
St Oswald's feast is celebrated on 3rd August. St. Oswald is commemorated on August 3 and October 8.[1]

Friday, May 19, 2017

AECA Annual Meeting and Dinner

Book Review: The Genocide of the Pontian Greeks

The Genocide of the Pontian Greeks is not a well-known fact in the non-Hellenic world. In many respects it is considered as part of the Armenian Genocide. However, it is a different genocide, one which was done by the Ottoman towards the Greek minority within the Empire (1908-1922). Only a small bibliography of this theme exists in English, limiting the accessibility of this fact to the wider audience. Nevertheless, Konstantinos Emm. Fotiadis had his book translated into English, entitled: ‘The Genocide of the Pontian Greeks.’
It is a large book with details of the Genocide, which have not been published before, using sources from a number of countries, embassies, archives newspapers etc. The author begins this book by giving a brief history of the Black Sea Greeks. The historical narration then leads to the Genocide of the Pontian Greeks, explaining the cultural, linguistic, historical, political and religious reasons for the genocides of both the Armenians and the Greeks within Turkey.

One interesting fact which is evident in this book and through the sources used, is that the Ottomans were not alone in the genocidal acts towards the minorities of the Empire. A great ally towards the aggressors were the Germans, who gave ideas to the Turks and worked with them in order to achieve their objectives. In many ways the Genocides of the Armenians and Greeks by the Ottomans can be understood as the first holocaust of the 20th century, before the larger holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis. In both cases we have work and death camps, movement of people, mass killings, properties being seized, women being raped and general eradication of whole populations. However, Germany was not the only foreign power that supported and assisted the Ottomans during this time. As expressed in this book, ‘the Soviet Union must bear a share of guilt for the genocide of the Pontian Greeks. This is clearly indicated by hundreds of Soviet and Kemalist documents, some of which describe the desperate situation in Asia Minor.’ (p.512).
Ataturk is understood in this book as a mass killer, altering the mainstream Turkish idea of him being a hero. The author explains: ‘this murderer of entire peoples, who attempted through ethnic cleansing to transform a multi-ethnic empire into a mono-ethnic, autocratic state, has been glorified.’ (p. 362). According to French historial, E. Driault, ‘the Asia Minor tragedy was more significant and fateful than the fall of Constantinople in 1453 for any dream for the reestablishment of the Byzantine Empire was buried forever in the ruins of the civilization created by the honest, hard-working and progressive Greeks of Asia Minor.’ (p.542).
If I am permitted to be critical towards this book’s English edition, I would say that the publishers and translators will have to revisit some grammatical and linguistic mistakes, which are minimal, but yet again exist and show the fact that this is a translation.  

This is a moving account of atrocious events, whose effects are evident even today, especially for those who survived the Genocide and who had to leave their homes and move to Greece, Russia, Georgia, the Black Sea in general and the West. We can only hope that books like this will persuade governments to recognise the Pontian Greek Genocide and push Turkey to alter its belief of denouncing past atrocities it did, not only towards the Greeks, but also on other minorities, like the Armenians. Furthermore, we need to learn of these past dark pages of human history to try and prevent them from happening again. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Saint Erkenwald, Bishop of London, Abbot of Chertsey, England

Born in East Anglia; died at Barking, April 30, c. 686-693 AD; second feast day on May 13. Erconwald is reputed to have been of royal blood, son of Annas or Offa. In 675 AD, Saint Theodore of Canterbury appointed Erconwald bishop of the East Saxons with his see in London and extending over Essex and Middlesex. His episcopate was the most important in that diocese between that of Saint Mellitus and Saint Dunstan.
His ministry for the next eleven years was to be one of reconciliation. His diocese still contained some Britons who had remained, when the land was overrun by the Saxons, but the invaders were the predominant population. They had received the Christian Faith first of all through the Roman clergy sent by St. Gregory, but it had been established by the monks from Lindisfarne under St. Cedd, who were of the Celtic Church, so the see had a mixed tradition. Moreover, there was a certain amount of resistance to the reforms being introduced by St. Theodore, and Erconwald had a share in healing the divisions in the English Church as a whole, for the quarrel between Wilfrid and Theodore was finally settled in Erconwald's house just before the Archbishop's death.

St. Erconwald's sanctity and peacemaking earned him an enduring place in the hearts of Londoners, and there are also many stories of miracles. A curious tale has been preserved of how, during the rebuilding of St Paul's, a coffin was discovered containing the body of a man wearing a crown and with a sceptre in his hand. There was no indication to whom this well preserved body belonged and, on the following day, St. Erconwald said mass for him and then asked who he was. The corpse immediately replied that he had been a judge of the New Troy, the legendary name for London, and because he was so renowned for his exemplary judgements he had earned the name of King of the Judges. The bishop asked him where he was now, and the judge answered that, because he had died without baptism, he was denied entrance into the Eternal City. St. Erconwald was so distressed by this that he began to weep saying how much he wished that he could have baptised him in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Some of the tears fell upon the face of the righteous judge, and with a great cry of joy, he thanked the saint for releasing him from his earthly state by the washing with tears in the Name of the Trinity, and straight away his body disintegrated into dust.
His shrine in Saint Paul's Cathedral was a much visited pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages, where miracles were reported until the 16th century, but little is known of his life except that he founded a monastery at Chertsey in Surrey, which he governed, and a convent at Barking in Essex to which he appointed as abbess his sister, Ethelburga. In Saint Bede's time, miracles were recorded as a result of touching the couch used by Erconwald in his later years. At his death, Erconwald's relics were claimed by Barking, Chertsey, and London; he was finally buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, which he had enlarged. The relics escaped the fire of 1087 and were placed in the crypt. November 14, 1148, they were translated to a new shrine behind the high altar, from where they were again moved on February 1, 1326.
Erconwald is portrayed in art as a bishop in a small 'chariot' (the Saxon equivalent of a bath chair) in which he travelled because of his gout. Sometimes there is a woman touching it or he may be shown with Saint Ethelburga of Barking (Roeder). Erconwald is invoked against gout (Roeder).[1]

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Saint Felix of Dunwich, Apostle of East Anglia

SAINT FELIX (meaning happy or joyful) came to East Anglia from Burgundian territory (probably from one of the monastic houses founded by the Irish missionary, St. Columnbanus) in the company of Sigbert (Sigeberht) the Learned, whom he had converted to Christianity (while Felix was still in seminary). Sigbert would later become an East Anglian King. (In the eighth century a number of the English, most famously Boniface and Willibrord, would return to the continent to convert the heathen on the mainland.) Felix is renowned as a great missionary and became the first Bishop of the East Angles. He is said to have founded a monastery at Soham about A.D. 630. Felix, having been consecrated about 631 A.D. by St. Honorius, held the first bishopric of the East Angles at Dommoc (Dunwich) for seventeen years.
St. Honorius (c.630-653), was the fourth archbishop of Canterbury in line from St Augustine who had brought Christianity from Rome to King Aethelberht of Kent in 597 AD. Honorius sent Felix on to East Anglia, which had switched between Christianity and paganism several times since the East Anglian king Raedwald became a Christian at the Kentish court in the first decade or so of the seventh century. (Bede tells the story that when Raedwald got home, his wife convinced him not to abandon his old gods so easily, so Raedwald had shrines to his heathen gods and the Christian god in the same temple.) Raedwald's son Eorpwald succeeded sometime after 616 AD, initially as a pagan but he was converted by the Northumbrian king Edwin sometime around 630 AD. Shortly after Eorpwald became Christian, he was killed, and the country turned pagan again.

It was after Eorpwald's reign that Eorpwald's brother Sigeberht came to the throne. Sigeberht had grown up in exile in Gaul, and became a Christian there, and returned determined to turn East Anglia into a thoroughly Christian kingdom. According to legend, Felix landed at what is now Felixstowe before going on to establish a Cathedral and school at Dommoc, or Dummoc-ceastre, generally accepted as Dunwich, a seaport on the coast of Suffolk. Dummoc had been a Roman station and, besides the advantage of its port, its walls may still have been strong enough to afford some protection for the new Bishop. It was, moreover, connected with the interior by ancient roads, which led in one direction toward Bury St. Edmunds and in another toward Norwich.
At Dummoc, King Sigebert built a palace for himself and a church for Felix. Elsewhere, says Bede, "desiring to imitate those things which he had seen well arranged in Gaul, he founded a school in which boys might be taught letters, with the aid of Felix, the bishop....who furnished them with pedagogues and masters, after the Kentish fashion." Bede gives no locality for this school; yet the passage, without the slightest reason, has been looked upon as recording the foundation of the University of Cambridge, a place which, at that period, was not even within the borders of East Anglia.
Four years after the establishment of the see, the King resigned his crown in favour of his cousin, Egric, and retired to a monastery which he had founded with the Irish monk, Fursey, at Burgh Castle. Felix founded a third monastery at Soham and it was here that he died, on 8th March AD 647, and was buried. His relics were later translated to Ramsey Abbey (Hunts).
From Dommoc (Dunwich) Felix set about missionary throughout East Anglia, establishing churches and founding the monastery at Bury St Edmunds. In 630 AD he founded another monastery, this time at Soham.
Bede records the success of Felix's work in East Anglia, known for his great piety and hard work, as both a missionary and educator, Felix, in Bede's words "delivered" East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness. As a pious cultivator of the spirited field, he found abundant faith in a believing people. In no part of England was Christianity more favourably introduced".
According to the chronicler of the times the episcopate of Felix was full of happiness for the cause of Christianity and the admirable historian, Bede, described his work with an allusion to the good omen of his name. Bede wrote that St. Felix "delivered all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness. As a pious cultivator of the spirited field, he found abundant faith in a believing people. In no part of England was Christianity more favourably introduced".
Bede continues: "He (St. Felix) did not fail in his purpose and like a good farmer reaped a rich harvest of believers. He delivered the entire province from its age-old wickedness and infelicity and brought it to the Christian faith and works of righteousness, and in full accord with the significance of his own name, guided it towards eternal felicity".
By his presence at Soham all those decades ago the town can take pride in its former importance as a renowned Christian centre. The great evangelist and educator died on March 8th, 647 A.D. and he was buried in his own city of Dunwich. He is commemorated in the seaside town of Felix-stowe and also in a Yorkshire village, Felis-kirk (the church of Felix).
The mortal remains of St. Felix were later exhumed from Dunwich and brought to Soham monastery which he had founded. This was a precautionary measure for fear that heathen flames would take possession of them. In King Canute's time, about 1031 A.D. the relic was removed a second time for the same reason by a monk named Etheric to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, and there solemnly enshrined by Abbot Ethelstan.[1]