Saints of Africa: May

One of the saddest missed opportunities for the Orthodox Church to evangelize to African-Americans took place after the 1893 World’s Fair. Reverend Daniel Payne, a Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and former president of Wilberforce University, attended the World Parliament of Religions at the Fair where he met heirarchs of the Orthodox Church. These clergymen told him about the African saints of Orthodoxy and how such holy men and women have always been a part of Christianity. The bishop was excited about this revelation and wanted to learn more about them from the Orthodox clergy in the various cities he visited. Unfortunately, when he asked about these saints, no one would even admit that they existed.

Our Lady of Częstochowa

We do not know exactly what every African saint looked like. However, beloved icons such as Poland’s Our Lady of Częstochowa, portrays the Theotokos and Christ Child having a very dark complexion. Depicting the likes of Katherine, Pachomious, or Moses the Ethiopian (Greek, burnt face) with some shade of brown should not be a stretch of the imagination as they were born in, lived and died on the continent. Nor should we expect that just because we have a couple of black icons in our parishes that all of the sudden African-Americans should join us immediately. The Deacon Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to run beside an Ethiopian’s chariot and listen to the man to find out what he knew. Only when invited was the apostle able to share the fullness of the Gospel (Acts 8:26-38). Let us do likewise.

Saints of Africa Icon by Fr. Jerome Sanderson

May 1st:  Prophet Jeremiah – One of the great prophets of the Old Testament Judah.  He was forced to go with a group of Jews to Egypt where he lived for four years before being stoned to death by his own people.  Jeremiah prophecied the fall of the Pharonic idols as Christ would come to the land as an infant.  Local Egyptians held him in high regard.  Alexander the Great had is body translated and burried in Alexandria,

May 2nd:  Athanasius the Great (see January 18th) – The commemoration of the translation of his relics and the miracles performed through them.

May 8th:  Arsenius the Great (448) – One of the most revered of the Desert Fathers.  Arsenius was a Roman born into an aristocratic family and rose to the rank of Senator.  He became a deacon and briefly served in a large church in that city.  He renounced the world all together and secretly fled to Egypt.  Arsenius started his monasticism under  Abba John the Dwarf, then became a hermit known to take in very few visitors and maintaining great humility and silence.  Forty-four of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers are attributed to him.

Hierax of Egypt (5th century) – Perhaps this is the same Hierax with one lesson in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers is attributed to him.

May 9th:  Martyr Epimachus of Pelusium, at Alexandria (250) – Some sources has his feast day on October 14th.  As Epimachus was being tortured, some of his blood splashed on the eyes of a blind young maiden and she began to see.  She and her family converted to Christianity and were quickly martyred as well.

May 10th:  Apostle Simon the Zealot (1st century) – One of the original Twelve Disciples of Jesus Christ.  Simon was born in Cana of Galilee where the Lord did his first miracle at the wedding feast (John 2:1-11).  Known for his fiery zeal for Christ and the Gospel, Simon preached and converted many to the faith in Mauritania in north west Africa.  He was tortured and crucified.

Isidora, Fool for Christ, of Tabennisi (365) – In a convent, she was the most lowly of the nuns wearing ragged clothes and eating only the leftover scraps from the others.  She was considered insane and endured some mistreatment.  Abba Pitirim came to visit the convent and fell down before Isidora.  When the other nuns protested, he replied, “All of you are insane.  This one is greater before the Lord than any of us.  May God grant me what He has in store for her on Judgement Day.”  Rather than remain and receive apologies and honor from her sisters, Isidora fled to a lonely place where she died.

Thais (Taisia) of Egypt (5th century) – She was a wealthy Christian maiden who gave much of her wealth to monks in the desert.  When Thais couldn’t support herself, she became a prostitute in Alexandria.  Abba John the Dwarf went to the city to see her and she immediately repented in tears and left with him back to the wilderness.  On the way back, Thais was sleeping as John was praying.  He turned and saw a great light and angels taking the soul of the repentant young woman.

May 12:  Polybius of Cyprus (5th century)  Bishop of Rinokyr in Egypt.

May 14:  Serapion the Sindonite (5th century) This Egyptian monk wore nothing but a linen cloth, or a “sindon.”  He had even given this away and his copy of the Gospels to help others in need.  Serapion lived in Athens for a time as well.  This may not be the same Serapion in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

May 15:  Pachomius the Great (346)  Born a pagan in Egypt and was a soldier with Emperor Constantine.  Pachomius became a Christian and retreated to the Thebaid region of Upper Egypt.  As an alternative to the solitary hermit style of monasticism, an angel appeared to him in Tabennisi and game him the the rule of cenobitic monasticism where groups of monks would live together under a common rule.  Some seven to 10,000 monks lived in the monasteries he established on this rule.

May 16:  Theodore the Sanctified (368)  A disciple of Pachomius the Great ran away from his parents to become a monk.  His mother and sister became nuns and brother a monk.  He was entrusted by the Bishop of Panopolis (Akhmim) and Pachomius to build a monastery in that area.  He succeeded his master as the head of the first monastic communities.

 May 19th:  Acoluthus (284-305) Martyred in Hermopolis, Egypt

May 20th:  Asclas (287) Martyred in Antinoe, Egypt with Leonides.  Their tormentor, Arrian repented later and proclaimed Jesus before his fellow pagans and was executed.

Thalassius the Myrrh-gusher of Libya (ca. 668)

May 21:  Hieromartyr Secundus and those with him (356) Martyred in Alexandria

May 22:  Bishop Donatus, the Priest Macarius, and the Deacon Theodore (ca. 316) Hieromartyrs of Thmuis, Egypt

May 27th:  Theodora and Didymus the Soldier (304) Theodora was a virgin in a noble family.  She was found to be a Christian and sent to a brothel to be violated by soldiers.  An answer to her fervent prayers to God, Didymus was the first soldier to enter the house.  He too was a Christian and dressed her in a uniform while he wore a woman’s garment.  He was arrested and admitted his faith.  As he was about to be killed, Theodora came up to try to take his place.  They were both beheaded and their bodies burned.

May 29th:  Commemoration of the First Ecumenical Council (325) The Council was held in Nicaea to settle the debate of Christ being of the same nature as God the Father.  Arius, a priest in Alexandria, started the heretical teaching that Jesus was a created being.  The council led by the young Deacon Athanasius confirmed Bishop Alexander’s condemnation of the Arianism.  Among the clergy present was Cecilianus of Carthage.

Archbishop Alexander of Alexandria (326) condemned the Priest Arius for teaching that Jesus was a created being.  Arius appealed and his case was the main item of the First Ecumenical Council in 325.  His close assistant, Athanasius, succeeded Alexander.

May 31st:  Martyr Philosophus (252) The young man was born near Alexandria and suffered many horrible tortures rather than renounce the Christian faith.  His tormenters, learning he was a virgin, tied him to a bed and brought in a prostitute to have sex with him.  When she got close and touched him, Philosophus bit his tongue off and spat the blood in her face.  The harlot screamed and fled from him.  He was soon beheaded.

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