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.
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
6 thoughts on “African Saints & Feast Days”
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.
Where are you getting your information from? Many of the Saints you show in this “icon” are not black?
This icon was written by Fr. Jerome Sanderson, a Priest in a Bulgarian Orthodox parish in Indiana. He has been an iconographer for quite some time. I know him as a friend and wise guide. Do you have photos or first hand accounts proving that these African saints didn’t look African?
Can you or Fr. Jerome prove the particular Saints I point out in this icon were black? I can not read some of the Saints names shown in the icon, but yes I could provide photos of the Saints who’s names I can make out but they are so prevalent that it is not needed to ask me to provide them for you. Just because certain saints were born in Africa or lived in Africa is not synonymous with being black. In the 4th and 5th century many Greeks occupied Egypt. Never do you find icons of the Saints I pointed out in this icon, Augustin of Hippo, Saint Anthony the Great, Saint Mary of Egypt, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Cyprian of Carthage as black. Saint Cyprian for example, was Roman. Saint Monica, Augustines mother was of course white because her son was.At the time they lived, they lived in Northern Africa which was Latin and Roman territory with few negros. All icons of these Saints are always painted white because this is their historical and ethnic background. The only time any of these Saints are painted black is out of great ignorance of the iconographer or the assumption that if a saint lived in Africa he or she must be black or because they are caught up in political correctness. One other point, if an Orthodox Christian is so out of touch with the Orthodox faith that he or she paints Christ as black how can it be expected to care about the traditional conception of the Saints in Orthodox iconography. His research is not adequate.
Since you are an iconographer, I have sent your “opinion’ to Fr. Jerome. I am obedient to my priest and bishop. They are both aware of this icon and neither one of them have warned me not to use it. So, I will continue to do so. If you have a problem with it, send a complaint to the Assembly of Canonical Bishops and let them decide.
You may call what I say an “opinion” but it would be an error. I do not have an opinion on the history or doctrine of the Orthodox church, including iconography. Neither our history nor doctrine is subjective nor is subjectivity allowed. Obedience to your hierarchy is demanded; as long as your priest and bishop are obeying the Church, you obey them. Do you follow your hierarchy into heresy out of “obedience”? If they teach anything wrongly concerning the Orthodox faith whether big or small, do you “obey “?
“Neither one of them forbade you to use it”? (the icon). Why would they? They agree with it! Your priest painted it. Your obedience is to the Orthodox Church first as are theirs! This obligation lies no less with them as it does with you. We as laymen do not follow our clergy out of blind obedience. Each individual Orthodox Christian is responsible for his own salvation. Why do you not take responsibility for yourself? It is yours. Do the research yourself? You think too, that painting a black Jesus is correct because your priest painted it and both he and your bishop approved of it? Do you have a mind of your own Jay? So if they say a black Jesus (as shown in this “icon”) does not matter, then is that is perfectly acceptable to you? Would you follow them into any sin or heresy if they justified it? Or would you learn and obey the church Fathers., The Fathers are the mouth pieces of the Holy Spirit? You must educate yourself to know you are following a priest and bishop who “rightly divide the word of truth”. If they do not, you must flee them! As Saint Ignatius of Antioch says! No man is perfect regardless of position even in the Orthodox Church but the Holy Fathers are infallible when it comes to morals and doctrine. Yes, we all must obey our priest and bishops but not if they teach contrary to the Orthodox faith! So their approval concerning this false “icon”, does not decide if it is an authentic icon or not, nor does my say decide whether it is a false one. Study the church, it’s teachings and it’s history to know the truth. Go to Google, (as much as you can learn from it) open up some books on iconography and see for yourself.