On Unlikely Bishops

Today the church honors an unlikely Bishop, perhaps only second in unlikeliness to St. Peter himself: Saint Fabian, Bishop of Rome, Martyr, and Snow White Prodigy.

St. Fabian was not clergy. He didn’t even live in Rome, proper. But one day, early in the third Century, he wandered from his farm into the city just as the gathering clergy were meeting to elect a new bishop for the young, fledgling church.

Several names were being tossed about, mostly powerful people within the Christian movement who had gained popularity and notoriety. No consensus could be found, though, until the gathering was interrupted by a descending avian.

A dove flew into the crowd and, like a scene out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, alighted upon the head of Fabian.

The gathered clergy saw this as a sign, and they immediately ordained him and elevated him to the role of Bishop by unanimous acclamation.

Fabian set about doing the work of Bishop from a farmer’s mindset. He divided the city into seven plots, or districts, and set deacons in charge of each area so they could respond to practical and charitable needs as they arose. He took to remembering the ancestors of the faith, the martyrs, venerating them in their catacombs. All of these practices would shape the church forever, even unto today.

For fourteen years Fabian led the church in Rome, eventually dying at the hands of Emperor Decius in the year 250 AD. In his death he was remembered by fellow Bishops as being “incomparable,” and on his grave to the day you can see inscribed in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, “Fabian, Bishop, Martyr.”

St. Fabian is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes the most qualified persons aren’t the richest, the most powerful, from the best schools, or who are the most well known.

Sometimes the most qualified persons are those who just appear, almost out of nowhere…kind of like, you know, Jesus. And Fabian.

-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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