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Wondering who to select in the month before Christmas’s saint I looked at the Anglican Calendar and came across St Martin which reminded me that his name was mentioned in the lives of two saints I have previously featured, namely Saint’s Patrick and Ninian. Looking him up on the internet and found an interesting story mixing folk belief with true fact showing his real importance in the early church.
We are not sure of the year of his birth which may have been 316 or 336 but we do know that he died in 397. He was born at Savaria in Pannonia (modern day Hungary) which was the home of his family. His father was the Tribune in the Imperial Horse Guards. When he was ten and the family were in Northern Italy he became a catechumen in the Christian Church which by that time had been legalised under the Roman Law. This was against the wishes of his parents who still adhered to the old Roman faith of Mithras worship. At the age of 18, being the son of a Tribune he had to join his father’s regiment and served in it as the cavalry escort of the Emperor Caesar Julian and at various postings in Gaul and Germany.
It is during this period that one of the first and most famous legends about him arose. It is said that while out riding in his cavalry uniform of an officer he met a poor half naked beggar. He took off his long flowing cape and cut it in two with a slash of his sword and gave half to the beggar. It is said that he had a dream that night in which he saw Jesus clothed in the half cloak saying to the angels “Martin gave me this cloak”.
Arising from his Christian belief Martin found it difficult to reconcile the killing of the enemy with his Christian faith. This came to a head before a battle expected to be fought against a Gallic tribe near what is now Worms in Germany. He informed his Commanding Officer that as a Christian he could no longer fight. He was in fact due to leave the army at the completion of his service. He was charged with cowardice but said he was not a coward and would go into battle but with no armour or weapons. His offer was going to be accepted which would have resulted in almost certain death, but the barbarians withdrew. Martin refused to take the money due to him on leaving the army and he was released from military service.
Martin made his way to Caesarodunum (now Tours in France) and there became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers. At this time there was a big controversy in the Church between those who supported the theory of the Holy Trinity and the supporters of the Arian heresy which denied the concept of the Trinity. Hilary and Martin were dedicated Trinitarians while the Emperor and the court were supporters of Arius. As a result Hilary was exiled from Pictavium (Poitiers) and Martin returned to Italy. Back in the realm of legends on the journey over the Alps he is supposed to have converted a fierce brigand to Christianity and met the Devil and bested him in argument.
From Italy he travelled back to the family home in Pannonia where he converted his mother to Christianity, but failed to get his father to leave the old Roman gods. He then went to Illyria (Croatia) where he preached against the Arian theory with so much zeal that he was publicly scourged and forced to leave. Returning back to Italy he was called before the Arian Archbishop of Milan and expelled from the City. He took refuge on an island, Isola d’Albenga in the Gulf of Genoa where he lived the life of a hermit.
In 361 Hillary was allowed to return to his see at Tours and Martin rejoined him establishing a hermitage nearby. He soon became known throughout the area as a saintly and holy man and he also travelled extensively throughout western Gaul preaching the gospel. There are many local legends from this period of miraculous cures and minor miracles performed for the good of the people.
In 371 he became Bishop of Tours. At that time Bishops were elected by public acclaim and not appointed by the Pope. Martin got wind of the wish of the Christian Community at Tours wanting to acclaim him as their bishop but in his humility he wanted to just living the life of a hermit. He therefore hid from the crowd wanting to get him to the church to acclaim and install him. In hiding he disturbed some geese whose cackling gave away his hiding place and he was taken to the church on the false pretext that he was needed to minister to a sick person. Once there he was acclaimed as the Bishop by the people of Tours.
Once appointed as Bishop Martin set about his work with vigour converting the pagan Gauls and destroying their temples. After destroying one pagan temple Martin wanted to fell a tree worshipped by the pagans. The pagans did not raise any objection to the destruction of the temple but objected violently to his felling of a pine tree they considered sacred, They would only agree to it being felled if he diced with death by standing where the tree was expected fall. The tree diid not fall as expected to and Martin was unharmed. St Martin eventually died on 8th November, 397.
Martin virtually cleared Western France of Paganism and also opposed the followers of Arius and established that the Christianity of Western Europe favoured the Trinitarian belief. During his hermit years he had established a monastery at Marmoutier on the opposite side of the River Loire from Tours, and Martin resided there. Under him it became a power house for Christianity in western Europe and from it priests and missionaries spread Christianity through out France and also into Celtic Ireland and Britain. Both St Patrick and St Ninian studied under Martin and were ordained by him. Indeed one legend suggests that Patrick was his nephew – very unlikely. St Ninian was founding his first church in Scotland when he heard of St. Martin’s death and named it after him in his honour.
It was inevitable that a cult following grew about him and legends of miraculous cures, casting out of devils, etc. abounded and he was treated as the national saint of the early Franks. During the middle ages a relic appeared which was supposed to be the half cloak belonging to the Saint appeared and was preserved at Marmoutier. It was used as a battle banner by the early Frankish kings. As an aside the latin for a cloak is Capa and the priest in charge of the reliquary was called a Cappellanu from which the word Chaplain is derived and the word chapel from the building housing the relic.
Martin was particularly venerated in France as a national saint and indeed throughout Western Europe. At one time it was the custom of the western church to begin a forty day fast on St Martin’s Day (St. Martin’s Fast) in preparation for Christmas – a predecessor to the penitential season of Advent.
The veneration of St Martin by the French State came to an end with the anticlerical movement following the French Revolution but there was a brief revival during the Franco Prussian War in 1870 when the seat of government of France moved to Tours during the siege of Paris and the government encouraged veneration of the Saint to sustain French morale.
Along with preaching the Gospel Saint Martin appears to have the well being of his fellows at heart and is credited with spreading not only Christianity but also wine making throughout the Touraine area and introducing the Chenin Blanc variety of grapes to that area.
He is included in the calendar of saints of all the major Christian Churches and is the patron saint of beggars, tailors, geese, horses, vintners, the Swiss Guards amongst others. There are numerous churches dedicated to him throughout the world. One of the most well known is of course St Martins-in- the-fields near Trafalgar Square where the values of St Martin are continued by the offering of food and shelter to the homeless poor.
Earlier this year you may recall that we held a retiring collection to help the appeal for the restoration work at Christ Church, Londonderry. This was the former church of Margaret West where her late husband had been the organist for many years.
Ed. The following notes are an edited extract of a post on the Christ Church Music facebook page.
Christ Church was desecrated in September 2017 by two young men, a Nineteenth Century window smashed and the Wells-Kennedy Organ, a superb modern instrument much admired by the public and Organists alike, was extensively damaged. Further damage was done to the Nave and Chancel including damage to the Church Bible and the oak panelling of the Sanctuary.
Your donations helped enable the restoration work to be completed and on Monday 12th. November in Christ Church the Choir of Christ Church and Altnagelvin Hospital Choir joined with members of the acclaimed Musical Ensemble, Sestina, for a Thanksgiving Choral Evensong.
The public reaction was amazing. The Church was visited by an enormous number of well-wishers, concerts were given by numerous groups to raise funds and private and public donations of substantial sums of money were given without any reference to publicity or acknowledgement. It was truly breathtaking and a confirmation that from evil, good will prevail. Some £27,000 in excess of the required repair costs was raised and the Christ Church Select Vestry has agreed to match-fund this to establish a permanent musical foundation from which the interest will be used for the support of Choral Music in the area. This fund, approaching £60,000, will attract donations and legacies in the future to support the cultural well-being of the Derry Community, a truly wonderful outcome from this sorry event.
To find out more about the work our family in Christ do please follow the following link:http://cccmsp.derry.anglican.org
We were lucky to have our new Bishop Ian Paton visit our church only two weeks into the job. One of his first jobs was to institute Kenny as our rector, here is his sermon from that day.
Who is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus says that he has come among us as one who serves. When they heard this, it must have shocked the disciples, just as Jesus washing their feet so shocked Peter that he tries to stop Jesus from serving him in this way. We are so used to this idea of Jesus being a servant that maybe we do not feel this degree of shock. But, everyday as disciples, we have to remember that this is what Jesus is asking of us – he asks us to let him serve us. Because it is when we let Jesus be our servant – that we can fain strength to be the servant of others in our turn.
But perhaps we think that if Jesus is our servant he will do just what we want of him, like the butler in ‘Downton Abbey.’ Sometimes we try to use God for our own purposes. All through human history, human beings have tried to use God to prove themselves right – to bless their causes; to bless their persecutions ; to prop up their pride.
But this is not the way in which God in Jesus serves us. God does not do what we want, God gives us what we need, and perhaps this is why we are shocked by the idea of God being our servant. Perhaps we don’t want to recognise what it is that we need – we would much prefer God to do what we want. But God says ‘No, I will do what you need.’
This means that when we try to serve in the name of Jesus we have to be able to see what the real questions and the real needs are. Very often we have seen the Church answering questions people are not asking, needs people are not expressing, and obsessing over things others don’t think that important.
Like the Kings that Jesus mentions in the Gospel, the church has been used to lording it over the world, expecting it to listen to our moral message. But now it is time for the Church to listen to people, not to talk at them, a time to hear what others are saying to us. This will be risky and will make us vulnerable and open to criticism. But service in the name of Jesus is always to take risks. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is never to be safe – it is to be loved, and called to love – which is much more important than being safe.
Part of the Church’s service to others has always been speaking truth to power, standing for justice, reminding the wealthy and the powerful of the needs of those who have nothing. But the Church itself also has power, and it cannot speak truth to power until it has heard truth spoken to its own power, and abuse of that power, in history but also today.
Terrible stories of abuse and betrayal of trust are now being told by people who need great courage to disclose them. They are very hard to hear, but they call for real attention because they have led some to see the Church not only as an irrelevance in the modern world but as an obstacle to good.
So now we must listen, and be ready for the change that will help us to meet the needs we are encountering with the good news of Jesus. And we can do this more and more in cooperation with others beyond the Church, working to meet those needs. Again and again, we have seen how small churches working with others can see a need and respond to it: the needs of local communities, of struggling people, of the environment and the future of the earth. The hard times we are living through mean these needs will grow and grow, and so must our willingness to listen and join with others in service.
Vestries often look for a new rector who is energetic for change. This makes some people anxious, because change is difficult. Kenny is a priest with energy, ideas and commitment, and he will bring change to Holy Trinity and S. Margaret’s, just as Holy Trinity and S. Margaret’s will change Kenny and Ruth. But the kind of change that matters is not about service times and fundraising, meetings and earnest, anxious mission planning. No, the kind of change that matters is the change brought about by Love.
One week ago today, eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were murdered by one person who hates Jews. These anti- semitic murders shocked the world, because killing, hating, dismissing, speaking ill of, people whose religion or culture or race or sex or way of life is different from our own, is evil and leads only to evil. However, this week we also saw the response of members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community towards the murderer, Robert Bowers. It was Dr Jeff Cohen, a member of that synagogue and the doctor on duty in the emergency hospital that day, who saved Bowers’ life, assisted by a team of doctors and nurses, many of them also Jews. He said that they were simply acting according to their beliefs – they were not there to judge him, but to save a confused scared human being who had done a terrible thing. That’s Love in action, the Love of God made real.
The priest’s task again and again is to bring us face to face with that Love – absolving, healing, nourishing, blessing, Love. The priest confronts us with that Love, shows us again and again that we are Loved and can love others in their needs. Because the greatest need of every human being is Love – to be loved and to love.
Kenny, your service to your people is to help them to know that Love. And, people of Holy Trinity and S. Margaret’s, your service is to act on it.