African Saints & Feast Days

OBSERVING THE FEAST DAYS OF THE AFRICAN SAINTS

Why observe the African Saints?  Every Christian community and nation celebrates its ancient heroes of the faith.  St. Patrick among the Irish, St. Vladimir of the Russians, even the Alaskan Native St. Peter the Aleutian; all of these peoples embrace their ancient fathers and mothers of the faith and the universal family of men and women who have led exemplary lives serving God.  We do celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.  But, observing the feast days of our ancient Christian fathers and mothers helps us to reinforce the fact that black people were Christians long before our ancestors were brought here in 1619 and the rise of Islam in the 6th century.  These holy men and women have inspiring stories of how they overcame personal temptations and external enemies as they heroically stood for the truth in Jesus Christ.  As there is nothing new under the sun, their stories have lessons that can help us in our struggles today.  Orthodox Christians from every language and race recognize these Africans for their holy living and some of their feast days (such as Athanasius and Mary of Egypt) are among the most honored by Arab Christians, Ethiopians, Greeks, Russians and others.  African-Americans who want to pursue the depth of our history can also honor these African saints.  Many African cultures give honor to their ancestors.  Keeping feast days of these ancient African Christian heroes is a way for us to do the same.

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Our traditional black churches do not teach who these saints are and much less to honor them with feast days.  I have heard that if it isn’t in the Bible, then we shouldn’t do it.  Well, where is it in any version of the Bible that there was a “church,” or “pastor’s anniversary?”  Can a “men’s” or “women’s day service” be found in either Testament?  Did Jesus and His disciples have a “Homecoming” followed by a week of “Revival?”  These observances are traditions that are no older than 150 years.   Most of the saints listed lived before and a generation after the New Testament was compiled and canonized.  Athanasius the Great put the list of New Testament books together in 367 AD as he served as Bishop of Alexandria and Africa.  The list was agreed upon by clergymen of all races and nations of the time in 380 AD in the African city of Carthage.  If black Christians can maintain 150 year old non biblical traditions, there is no reason we can’t maintain 1500+ year old traditions honoring notable black Christians, some of whom were Christian before the Bible was complete.  Eastern European and Middle Eastern Christians who don’t look like us do this.  Coptic Egyptian, Nubian, and Ethiopian Christians who look like us do this.  Even if you do not wish to convert to Orthodox Christianity, you can at least honor your Christian history.

Keeping a feast day can be done at home, or a church that has that saint as a patron (St. Cyprian of Carthage Orthodox Church in Richmond has a special worship service in honor of the African bishop).  A keeping a feast need not be elaborate.  Read the story of the saint and the daily scriptures in the Orthodox lectionary.  Pray to God thanking Him for the example of that saint.  Ask the saint to pray for you.  Cook and eat a favorite meal in the saint’s honor.

Below is a list of the 21 saints listed in the Saints of Africa by Fr. Jerome Sanderson and Dr. Carla Thomas.  This is not a complete list of all of holy black men and women.  Others will be added.

FEAST DAYS OF AFRICAN SAINTS

Anthony the Great             January17

Athanasius the Great        January 18

Macarius the Great            January 19

Perpetua & Felicity            March 7

Isadore of Scetis                 March 13

Mary of Egypt                     April 1

George of Damascus         April 23

Isidora of Tabenna            May 10

Pachomius the Great        May 15

Onuphrius the Great         June 12

Sisoes                                     July 6

Pambo                                   July 18

Paisius                                   July 19

Moses the Ethiopian          August 28

Cyprian of Carthage          August 31

Theodora of Alexandria   September 11

Maurice of Thebes             September 22

Thais                                      October 8

Menas                                   November 11

Catherine of Alexandria   November 24

Patapius                                December 8

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One thought on “African Saints & Feast Days

  1. Peace in Christ Jesus. Our family are Orthodox Christians and African American. When we learn of the African saints and talk with our children about them they always ask if they were African than why are all the icons of the white people. I love the Church. In all its ups and downs, I know this is where the Lord has placed us. As a student of history, especially African and ancient Israel I know most of the images are not historically accurate. The Lord is humbling me. To have a former black nationalist come home to ancient african Christianity and be surrounded by European images is quite a feat. I accept this because I know he brought me to this space. Thanks for sharing this post. May our Lord’s mercy be upon you and yours.

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