Last year, I challenged myself to look up and post articles listing Orthodox Christian saints from the African continent. I did this each week in my “Dispatch from the Desert” post. Some were native Africans and had varied amounts of melanin in their skin. Some were from the Middle East and Eastern Europe who spent years that were critical in their spiritual growth. My main source of information was the Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai Velimirovich.
Christianity is a universal faith. Holy men and women of brown complexions were a part of that universe. This fact has been ignored in our modern times of denominations, mega-churches, and being “spiritual but not religious.” There is an African proverb; “If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.” It is helpful, therefore, that we African-American Christians know who these ancestors of the faith are and learn what they taught and practiced.
January is a major month to learn about our past heroes as three of the most renown saints (Athanasius, Anthony, and Macarius) have feast days that are alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend. The Ethiopian Eunuch is also honored during the 12 days of Christmas. Speaking of our Lord, Joseph and Mary carried him to Egypt to hide from Herod. Coptic and Eastern Orthodox have stories about the holy infant in their land.
- Basil the Great (Jan. 1) 330-379 AD, Although not an African, this Cappedocian is listed among the Sayings of the Desert Fathers as he spent time in Egypt. He patterned his life after the monastics and was known for his generosity as well as his theological contributions in the Second Ecumenical Council. His books, On the Holy Spirit and On Social Justice are well worth reading. His version of the Divine Liturgy is used in certain periods of the Orthodox Church.
- Fulgentius (Jan. 1) 533 AD, Bishop of Ruspe in Tunisia.
- Venerable Ammon (Jan. 2) 5th Century, Abbot of the Tabennisiot Monastery in Upper Egypt. Three thousand monks lived under his direction.
- Martyr Djan Darada (Jan. 4) 1st Century, the Ethiopian Eunuch baptized in Acts 8:26-40. This first Apostle to Ethiopia was killed for preaching faith in Jesus Christ.
- Elias the Wonder-worker of Egypt (Jan. 8) 5th Century,
- Agatho (Jan. 8, Greek calendar) 5th Century, Egyptian monk
- Venerable Ammon (Jan. 10) 5th Century, A monk in Nitra, Egypt. He was known for overcoming his anger and knowledge of Holy Scripture.
- Venerable Mother Theodora of Alexandria (Jan. 12) 4th Century, One of the most highly regarded nuns and teacher of nuns. One of only a few women featured in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Much of her wisdom can be found in the Matericon as translated by the Russian monk, Theophan the Recluse.
- Eupraxia (Jan. 12) 4th Century, a nun in Tabenna, Egypt.
- Theodulus (Jan. 14) 5th Century, Son of Nilus of Sinai
- Paul of Thebes (Jan. 15) 3rd & 4th Century, Lived in the deserts of Upper Egypt surrendering his part of an earthly inheritance for the sake of Christ. His asceticism made a heavy impression on Anthony the Great. Paul reposed in 342 after living 113 years.
- Anthony the Great (Jan. 17) 250-356 AD, The father of Christian monasticism. Upon hearing the Gospel reading, Go sell all you have and follow me, Anthony gave away his inheritance and lived as a hermit in prayer and fasting. Athanasius’s book, The Life of St. Anthony the Great, influenced many men and women to either come to the deserts of Egypt, or live as monks and nuns where they were.
- Achillies the Confessor (Jan. 17) 5th Century, hermit of Egypt
- Athanasius the Great (296-373) & Cyrill Archbishops of Alexandria (Jan. 18) As a deacon, Athanasius helped to defeat the Arian heritics at the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 and wrote the original Creed of the Church. He succeeded Alexander as the Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa and was persecuted for not giving into false doctrine. He was a friend to Anthony and other Desert Fathers. In 367, Bishop Athanasius gave a list of 27 books for all of his clergy to preach and teach from. These books were canonized as the New Testament by a Council in Carthage in 398. Cyril is also celebrated on June 9th.
- Macarius the Great (Jan. 19) Died 390, Withdrew to the wilderness of Egypt after the death of his wife. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Macarius was known to have a level of humility that confounded demons. Because of his virtuous life, a cherubim showed him the Kingdom of Heaven. He was visited by Anthony and Pachomius nine days before his death.
- Macarius of Alexandria (Jan. 19) Died 393, A former fruit vendor was baptized at the age of 40. Along with Macarius the Great, the Alexandrian was one of the first disciples of Anthony. Macarius became the Abbot of “The Cells” Monastery between Nitra and Sketis.
- Paul, Pausirius, and Theodotian (Jan. 24) 3rd Century, martyrs in Egypt
- Zosimas of Cilicia(Jan. 24) 6th Century, Bishop of Babylon in Egypt
- Ammon of Egypt (Jan. 26) a disciple of Anthony the Great (Jan. 17)
- Peter of Egypt (Jan. 27) 5th Century
- Synaxis of the Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom (Jan. 30) Basil the Great (Jan. 1)spent time in Egypt and is listed in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Gregory and John would have known of these and other monastic writings from Africa.
- Cyrus and John, Unmercenaries and Miracle-workers and the Holy Martyrs Athanasia and her daughters Theodota, Theoctista and Eudoxia (Jan. 31) Cyrus was a doctor who healed many people with the power of Christ and his learning. As an unmercenary, he often healed people without charge. Cyrus began this practice in Alexandria before becoming a monk in Arabia. John, his spiritual brother, encouraged Athanasia and her daughters to endure their tortures for the faith as they would also suffer in Canopus, Egypt. All five were beheaded in 311.