cuthbertToday marks a lesser feast day for St. Cuthbert.  His primary day is honored on March 20 each year, but his life is also celebrated on Sept. 4.  Cuthbert is regarded as the patron saint of Northern England, and is referred to as “The Wonder-Worker of England” due to the many miracles performed by him during his life, and through intercessory prayers after his death.  Cuthbert was a soldier, monk, and a unifier of the Celtic and Roman branches of the Church.

Born in Scotland, Cuthbert lived a good portion of his life in seclusion, in a cave on what is now known as Farne Island.   If you read the lives of the Saints, you’ll find that many chose to live separate from the world; however, you’ll also find that the world was greatly touched by their faith and wisdom.  Cuthbert was no exception.  He performed so many miracles in the Name of Christ, The Venerable Bede was compelled to devote a book entirely to him, entitled The Miracles and Life of St. Cuthbert.  It’s interesting to note that Cuthbert also provided us with the first written environmental law, prohibiting the ducks on the shore of Farne Island from being disturbed.

Cuthbert passed from this world in 687 AD.  It is said that his last words were encouragement and hope that the Church would be unified, and that those who followed Christ should also remember the traditions of the Church Fathers, which had been handed down to him and others in his generation.  From all I’ve read of Cuthbert, I gather that he was a man near to God, and filled with great humility and love for Christ and his fellow man.  His remains are interred at the Chapel of the Nine Altars in Durham, England.

Here’s some excerpts from Bede to describe this great saint…

“‘He was affable and pleasant in his character; and when he was relating to the fathers the acts of their predecessors, as an incentive to piety, he would introduce also, in the meekest way, the spiritual benefits which the love of God had conferred upon himself. And this he took care to do in a covert manner, as if it had happened to another person. His hearers, however, perceived that he was speaking of himself, after the pattern of that master who at one time unfolds his own merits without disguise, and at another time says, under the guise of another, “I knew a man in Christ fourteen years ago, who was carried up into the third heaven.”‘

“SO devout and zealous was he in his desire after heavenly things, that, whilst officiating in the solemnity of the mass, he never could come to the conclusion thereof without a plentiful shedding of tears. But whilst he duly discharged the mysteries of our Lord’s passion, he would, in himself, illustrate that in which he was officiating; in contrition of heart he would sacrifice himself to the Lord; and whilst he exhorted the standers-by to lift up their hearts and to give thanks unto the Lord, his own heart was lifted up rather than his voice, and it was the spirit which groaned within him rather than the note of singing.

In his zeal for righteousness he was fervid to correct sinners, he was gentle in the spirit of mildness to forgive the penitent, so that he would often shed tears over those who confessed their sins, pitying their weaknesses, and would himself point out by his own righteous example what course the sinner should pursue. He used vestments of the ordinary description, neither noticeable for their too great neatness, nor yet too slovenly.”

“THE venerable man of God, Cuthbert, adorned the office of bishop, which he had undertaken, by the exercise of many virtues, according to the precepts and examples of the Apostles. For he protected the people committed to his care with frequent prayers, and invited them to heavenly things by most wholesome admonitions, and followed that system which most facilitates teaching, by first doing himself what he taught to others. He saved the needy man from the hand of the stronger, and the poor and destitute from those who would oppress them. He comforted the weak and sorrowful; but he took care to recall those who were sinfully rejoicing to that sorrow which is according to godliness. Desiring still to exercise his usual frugality, he did not cease to observe the severity of a monastic life, amid the turmoil by which he was surrounded. He gave food to the hungry, raiment to the shivering, and his course was marked by all the other particulars which adorn the life of a pontiff. The miracles with which he shone forth to the world bore witness to the virtues of his own mind, some of which we have taken care briefly to hand down to memory.”

From St Bede’s “The Life and Miracles of St Cuthbert”

To read “The Life and Miracles of St. Cuthbert” in full, please visit Fordham University’s Medieval Sourcebook here...

For a more complete biographical sketch of St. Cuthbert, and many other saints, please take some time to explore the Orthodox Church in America’s web page here…

Finally, take time to visit the Durham Cathedral page here.  Durham Cathedral is definitely on my list of must-sees for this life!  I’m hoping to pop in and have tea with NT Wright while I’m there…

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August 29 marks the Feast of the Decollation of John the Baptist, decollation being a polite word for beheading.  It might seem strange for the Church to celebrate such an event, but it really is altogether fitting.  John is famous for preaching of the coming Kingdom, and calling for men to repent and be baptized, but considered his reknown to amount to very little in comparison to Christ.  John 3:30 stated, “He must increase, I must decrease”, a perfect description of John’s attitude and posture, when considering Jesus.  It’s also a call for us, to consider our own lives as little. 

As an individual who enjoys discussion of church culture, I can’t help but consider John’s idea of “downward mobility” when I think about the Church.  Today, the goal of the church is most often “church growth”…getting bigger and better (?) than the church down the road.  Wouldn’t the world look at churches differently if we were more humble, more serving, and thought less of ourselves?  To have that type of  approach would certainly be counter-cultural, in a society that measures individuals and institutions by their perceived “success”.

I  hope that you’ll enjoy the following  excerpt from a homily by St. Bede, also known as The Venerable Bede.  Bede stresses that John bore witness to Christ despite what the greater culture thought of him; that he stood for truth; that he baptized Jesus, and because of this, was eventually baptized in his own blood.  John knew that there was something better than what the world had to offer, and diminished his own agenda for the sake of telling others about Jesus.

Let us follow in John’s footsteps, and care little for our own promotion, in favor of promoting Christ, and by standing for truth in a world where the lines between truth and opinion are often blurred.

“As forerunner of our Lord’s birth, preaching and death, the blessed John showed in his struggle a goodness worthy of the sight of heaven. In the words of Scripture: Though in the sight of men he suffered torments, his hope is full of immortality. We justly commemorate the day of his birth with a joyful celebration, a day which he himself made festive for us through his suffering and which he adorned with the crimson splendour of his own blood. We do rightly revere his memory with joyful hearts, for he stamped with the seal of martyrdom the testimony which he delivered on behalf of our Lord.

 
There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.
Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

 
Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ. John was baptized in his own blood, though he had been privileged to baptize the Redeemer of the world, to hear the voice of the Father above him, and to see the grace of the Holy Spirit descending upon him. But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.

 
Since death was ever near at hand through the inescapable necessity of nature, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ’s name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. He tells us why it is Christ’s gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.

 

 

The Collect for the Feast of the Decollation of John the Baptist

O God, you called John the Baptist to be in birth and death the forerunner of your Son:  Grant that as John gave his life in witness to truth and righteousness, so we may fearlessly contend for the right, even unto the end; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The Venerable Bede was the author of one of my favorite works, “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People”.  If you’re a fan of Church history, or European history, it’s a must read.  The book can be read in its entirety by clicking on the link above, on the website Christian Classics Ethereal Library.