About Timothy Brown

A pastor. A writer. A dreamer. Occasionally a beer brewer.

One Church, One Book

Today the church honors the person considered to be the founder of the Lutheran Church in America, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Missionary to United States.

Born in the early 18th Century, Henry was the seventh of nine children raised in Hannover, Germany. He started his professional life as a school master after graduating from studying at Gottingen and Halle, but soon felt a different stirring.

The Lutheran presence in America was scattered and disorganized. Three disparate congregations in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, New Hanover, and New Providence) sent a joint delegation to London and Halle in search of a pastor who would unite the Lutherans together in the colonies.

Muhlenberg was chosen and sent in 1742. On his way he spent some time in London to learn about America, and while there adopted a new clerical garment that would be used by Lutherans in the colonies.

Henry arrived in Fall of 1742 and gained the trust of both the German-speaking and Swedish-speaking clergy…no small feat! Muhlenberg struggled mightily to unite the many churches that were so ethnic-specific. He traveled incessantly, wrote constantly, preached in German, Dutch, in English, and became known for his powerful voice.

He established the first Lutheran synod in America, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, in August of 1748. The delegates met together and ratified a modern liturgy that remained the only authorized American Lutheran liturgy for forty years, and is still sometimes revived for use to this day and can be found in all the Lutheran hymnals up through the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). Muhlenberg had a dream of “one church, one book,” and he didn’t mean the Bible…that was already done…he meant a liturgy book.

Lutherans in this frontier land struggled with authority issues as it moved from a state-supported church in Europe to congregational-led communities in the colonies. Muhlenberg worked mightily with churches on both stewardship and education, two practices that could use a little reviving today. He even wrote a model congregational constitution, never needed in Europe, that helped to organize the disorganized faithful.

Muhlenberg was in favor of a distinct church in America, noting that local practices must hold hands with local customs. Despite this belief, he was quite pietistic, and had a low tolerance for chicanery or shenanigans from clergy or laity.

Muhlenberg and his children were leaders in American public life as well. His son John Peter dramatically left the parish to serve in the Revolution, becoming a brigadier general under George Washington. Another son, Frederick (also a pastor), became a member of the Continental Congress and the first Speaker of the House of Representatives…much to his father’s disappointment. Muhlenberg believed he would have made a much better pastor and should have remained in the parish.

Another son, Henry Ernst was both a pastor and the president of Franklin College where he excelled as an administrator and a botanist 9where did he find the time?

And Muhlenberg’s great grandson? He became an Episcopal priest who is honored on April 8th. Maybe that’s why Lutherans and Episcopalians in America love one another so much…

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg died in Pennsylvania on October 7th, 1787. You’ll find his remains under a monument where, inscribed in Latin, is this simple phrase, “Who and what he was future ages will know without a stone.”

Muhlenberg is a reminder for me, and for the church, that sometimes you can get a different calling in life (he and all of his children and a couple of vocations under the belts), and that listening carefully to that still, small voice can enable one to do much for the world.

-historical pieces from Pfatteicher’s _New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

Today the church remembers a 20th Century saint, Saint Fannie Lou Hamer: Civil Rights Activist, Reformer, and Firebrand.

Fannie Lou was born the daughter of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi in 1917.

The Mississippi Delta was not a kind place for a poor, black woman to be born and raised, but the wetlands of the South didn’t know who they were contending with in Fannie Lou Hamer. She left school at the age of 12 to work the fields, and in 1944 had married and was a plantation timekeeper on the estate of a Mr. B.D. Marlowe. She was appointed the timekeeper of the plantation because she was the only worker who could read and write.

In 1961 St. Fannie Lou was forced to have a hysterectomy while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor..

Yes, you read that correctly, she was forced to have the hysterectomy. The tumor could safely be removed without the removal of the uterus, but it was a common practice in the day to forcibly sterilize black women as a way that the powers of the world kept the black population in check. This was such a wide-spread practice that it became known as the “Mississippi appendectomy.”

This was in 1961. Some of you reading this will have memories of that year. And some wonder why we have to say Black Lives Matter…

Unable to have biological children, the Hamers adopted two daughters, and St. Fannie quickly got involved in the Civil Rights movement around voting rights. She became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and led 17 volunteers in registering at the Indianola Mississippi Courthouse.

There they were given a literacy test and, because some could “not pass it” they were denied the right to vote. On their way home the bus they rode on was stopped by law enforcement, and each individual was fined $100 because, and I quote, “the bus was too yellow.”

After successfully registering to vote in 1963, St. Fannie and some other black women were jailed for sitting in a “whites only” restaurant at a bus station in Charleston, South Carolina. They were severely beaten, and Fannie Lou would sustain injuries there that stayed with her the rest of her life.

Yet, she persisted.

In 1964 she founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that fought the local Democratic party of the South who was trying to suppress black votes. She went to the Democratic National Convention that year, demanding they be recognized as a legitimate party. She gave a roaring speech while there, and to prevent it from being aired live, President Johnson gave his own speech at the same time. But St. Fannie Lou would have the last laugh, as her speech was aired later to wide acclaim and party shame. She spoke eloquently about continued racial discrimination in the South, and called for action.

By 1968 she was a member of Mississippi’s first integrated party delegation. Her voice was heard, by God.

She went on to found the Freedom Summer and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She became one of the first black women to speak before Congress, protesting the rigged 1964 Congressional election in Mississippi. She lobbied for aid for poor black farmers in the south and launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative to allow poor black farmers to buy land together.

After years of travel and activism, St. Fannie died in 1977 of breast cancer.

She is a reminder for me, and should be for the church, that it was not so long ago where all of the above madness was taking place, and it is not too far gone to slip back into prejudicial habits.

Indeed, many have never left, but just been under the radar.

It is also a very real reminder for me that not all heroes wear capes.

-historical pieces gleaned from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/fannie-lou-hamer

-Icon by Kelly Latimore Icons. You can purchase her stunning work at: https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/img_5297/

Holy Wisdom, Holy Words

Today the church also honors something that defies explanation, other than to say “it is”: Sophia, or Holy Wisdom.

In the Hebrew scriptures Wisdom is spoken of using feminine pronouns, sometimes colloquially called “Lady Wisdom.” In the texts she attends the throne of the Divine, whispering in the Divine ear. Or, in other places, is the Divine breath breathed forth over creation.

Wind. Flame. Spirit. Inspiration. Holy Spirit. Muse. Divine Wisdom has been called many names by humanity over the centuries. In Celtic Christianity she’s identified with the Wild Goose, flying where it makes gut-sense to go in the rhythm of the seasons, loud and untamable.

I quite like that description.

October 5th is a day to honor scholars, sages, and wise persons. Most everyone has the potential to grow old, but not everyone who grows old grows wise. And certainly some who never reach old age are wise already! Wisdom is pursued and painstakingly won in life through observation, meditation, and experience that is analyzed. Every stumble and blessing can be, must be, a teacher.

Sophia, Lady Wisdom, Divine Insight…however you want to say it…is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that though we age, becoming wise takes effort.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.-notes about Sophia by me, though attention to the saint day was brought by Judika Illes in her work _Daily Magic_

-icon written by Maria-Tina Karamanlakis

In Service to All

Today the church honors not only important saints, but an important tradition and order of service within the church: the Deaconess tradition.

Frederike, Theodor, and Karolina Fliedner are honored today, October 5th, as Renewers of Society for re-imagining the Deaconess order, a movement of the church that continues today in Deacons and Deaconesses throughout the world.

In the early church, the ancient order of Deaconesses were utilized to care for the sick, for needy women, to instruct women for the catechumenate, and to assist in the baptism of women. We find this all documented in the 3rd and 4th Century texts, the “Didascalia” and the “Apostolic Constitutions.”

When adult baptisms became rare, the role of Deaconesses declined in popularity and importance, and by the 7th Century the female diaconate nearly died out.

Until the Moravians got a hold of it.

In the early 1800’s Theodor Fliedner, a newly ordained pastor in the Lutheran church, made a tour of Holland and England to raise money for the church. There he encountered Moravian Deaconesses engaged in Christian service. The Moravian movement had revived the role in the mid 1700’s.

Inspired by their work, Fliedner went back to Kaiserswerth (where he had his little parish), and started conducting services at the prison in neighboring Dusseldorf, the first Lutheran ministry of its kind. His prison ministry grew and spread throughout the Rhineland and Westphalia, and even into the Netherlands, England, and Scotland. He eventually opened the Magdalen home for released women prisoners, and then a nursery school in Dusseldorf.

Pastor Fliedner, inspired by all this movement, decided to reinvigorate the role of Deaconess within the church, and opened a hospital and Deaconess-training institute in Kaiserwerth, a largely Catholic city. In 1836 it was officially opened, and Ms. Gertrude Reichardt, the daughter of a physician, became the first Deaconess trained there. Frederike Fliedner. Pastor Fliedner’s spouse, became the first Mother Superior of the house, and almost immediately Deaconesses were deployed to serve in the city hospital at Eberfeld.

Frederike Fliedner was wise and wonderful. She practiced simplicity, frugality, and charity toward all, and instilled these virtues in her Deaconess charges. Unfortunately, Frederike would die in 1842, leaving a large absence in the institution.

Pastor Fliedner married Karolina Bertheau about a year after Frederike’s death. Karolina had been the director of a hospital in Hamburg, and quickly proved herself to be a talented Mother Superior, following in Frederike’s footsteps.

Karolina came to be known as Mother Fliedner, and led the Deaconesses in their work for forty years, about half of which were after Pastor Fliedner’s death.

In 1849, at the invitation of William Passavant, Pastor Fliedner brought four deaconesses to Pittsburgh to staff the Infirmary that Passavant had established there. Motherhouses soon began to be founded all over the world, from the Middle East (Jerusalem, Smyrna, and Constantinople), to Paris, Strasbourg, Dresden, and Berlin.

At the time of Fliedner’s death there were 30 Motherhouses around the world and over 1600 Deaconesses, from Pittsburgh to Jerusalem.

By the late 20th Century there were over 35,000 Deaconesses on every continent and in every province where Lutheranism has a presence.

Eventually a Motherhouse was begun in Philadelphia in 1884, with the support of John Lankenau (fun fact: Lankenau is still the name of a dormitory at Valparaiso University). This was the first Motherhouse in the United States.

Today Deaconesses and Deacons from this tradition serve as pastors, teachers, doctors, youth directors, non-profit managers, and in professions of all kinds. Deaconesses and Deacons serve where and how they are called. It has always been so, and remains so.

Check out the Diaconal community at Valparaiso University at http://www.thelda.org, and the ELCA’s Diaconal roster at https://www.elca.org/Resources/Word-and-Service-Roster.

The Fliedner’s are a reminder for me, and hopefully for the whole church, that we must raise up leaders to serve in all ways, not just in the pastorate.

-historical pieces painstakingly sifted from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-love and devotion for Deaconesses and Deacons everywhere by me

A Friend of the World

Today the church honors a saint who could arguably be the most well-known saint outside of those directly associated with Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Friar and Renewer of the Church.

In the late 12th Century, Giovanni Bernadone was born into wealth. He was called Fracesco as a child because his father regularly traveled to France and admired the French. The name stuck. Fracesco, or “Francis,” was not a popular name back then, but has since become popular due primarily to this saint.

St. Francis wanted to be a knight, and even enlisted early and participated in some skirmishes. He was captured, came down with a serious fever, and was returned home. In his illness he had time to think and reflect, and as he recovered he came in regular contact with the poor and the destitute. These experiences of self-examination and proximity to the “least of these” encouraged in him a change of heart. This slow conversion process culminated in a vision in the church of St. Damian where he heard God say to him, “Francis, go and repair my house which is falling into ruin.”

Francis took this literally, and sold a good sum of his father’s goods to repair St. Damian…which caused his father to disinherit him. Pro-tip: an easy way to lose your future fortune is to give it away before it’s yours.

Having no family now, he decided to “wed Lady poverty,” took off his clothes on St. Matthias’ Day (February 24th…perhaps the only good thing Matthias is known for is encouraging Francis from his grave, over 1,000 years later, to take on the vow of poverty), wrapped a peasant’s smock and a rope belt around himself, and began his mission.

This became the Franciscan uniform.

Soon he had many followers who also took up poverty as a calling, and they tried their best to live out the Sermon on the Mount. They took on a simple joyfulness, a comradery with one another, an appreciation for creation, and a wry sense of humor.

No, seriously, humor is part of the order…Franciscans are funny. I think you’d have to be to take on such extreme vows!

St. Francis never became a priest, though he loved the Church and the clergy. Some of his followers got oral permission from Pope Innocent III to formally establish the order, dedicating themselves to poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Franciscans went far and wide with their embodied obedience to the simple life and preaching. Francis himself tried to convert the Sultan of Egypt at one time, but was unsuccessful. A little-known fact about St. Francis is that he literally had a “martyrdom complex,” and as he walked through the armies of the Fifth Crusade he prayed he might be struck down and killed, fulfilling the dream of dying for the faith.

Not one for clerical work, St. Francis easily gave up the administration of the order, finding it too far removed from the simple life he wanted to live. He quickly left the administration to others as the order grew, and stayed on the streets of the world, claiming that his monastery was the whole world itself.

Fun fact: St. Francis was the first to set up a manger scene at Christmastide. He reconstructed the nativity story from Luke in a little cave in Greccio, Italy, and since then we’ve been doing it in our homes and in churches. The manger scene you have packed in your attic was made popular by St. Francis.

As his health and strength waned, St. Francis became more and more a mystic. He is even reported to have experienced the stigmata in his last years. He died on October 4th in 1226 singing Psalm 142 with his last breath.

The Franciscan order remains strong and resolute in the world.

Oh, and that love for animals he’s so well-known for? That comes from a genuine respect for creation that St. Francis had, and for the fact that sometimes he’d be found preaching to the birds. In his mystical visions he recounts a oneness with all creation, which is why we take this day to bless our animal companions, acknowledging our kinship with them and our shared joy in a shared life with them.

St. Francis is a reminder to me, and to the whole church, that sometimes less is more.

Less domination, more companionship with creation.

Less stuff, and more travel.

Less dogma, and more devotion to simple things.

Less administration, and more walking the way.

Less wealth, and more joy.

Less is more.

-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-icon “St. Francis Dancing Monk Icon” © artist Marcy Hall at Rabbit Room Arts
-extraneous commentary by me

Writers and Storytellers

As we part ways with September the church honors a saint you know about, but you don’t know you know about: St. Jerome, Priest and Monk of Bethlehem.

Italian Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius…but you can call him Jerome…was born in 345 in northeast Italy. His family was Christian, and he was tutored at home until the age of 12 largely because his family made just enough money to afford a teacher.

At the age of 12 he was sent to Rome to study under Donatus, the famous grammarian, where he excelled as a student and acquired a reputation…both for his studiousness and for his out-of-class shenanigans.

St. Jerome was no, well, saint…at least behaviorally, but he remained close to his faith heritage and was baptized at the age of 19. The interesting thing about Jerome is that he notes that he experienced a conversion after his baptism, not before, as he traveled East toward Antioch where he would spend a good deal of his life.

It was there in Antioch that he had a vision where God encouraged him to take time away from studying the classics and focus more on the scriptures. In response to this vision, Jerome withdrew to the desert to lead the life of a hermit…lugging his books along with him. These books became the springboard for his own writings, detailing the joys and temptations of the hermit life.

When Jerome returned to Antioch he was ordained a priest, though he never desired the ordination, and he never fully took up the duties of a priest, feeling it wasn’t truly his calling. St. Jerome knew his calling was to be a secretary, a historian, a student of the words of the day, recording a legacy of thoughts and reports for the world to read.

He revised the Latin version of the Gospels. He revised the Latin Psalter. He wrote scathing pieces on the unethical and luxurious living of wealthy Christians and some clergy…which ensured he’d never be elected Bishop, by the way. He encouraged a growing ascetic movement amongst the elite, making a notable friend with a woman known as Lady Paula and her daughters. Lady Paula would come to join Jerome when he established a monastery in Bethlehem, and she would become the abbess of a community nearby.

St. Jerome visited all of the major cities of the empire before retiring to Bethlehem: Rome, Antioch, Constantinople, and Alexandria. This gave him a wide lens and a foundation of experience that would serve his writing and reflections well.

After settling in Bethlehem, Jerome carved out for himself a home…literally. In a rock. He lived there as a hermit, and opened a school for boys, translating historical, philosophical, and theological works into Latin. He also wrote an early “history of notable Christians,” expounding upon early Christian lore. He wrote letter after letter, involving himself in theological arguments.

Now, you’ve read all this, and you’re wondering, “Yeah, OK…but how do I know him?”

You know him, Beloved, because he wrote the Latin translation of the Bible that remained the standard Latin version for 16 Centuries.

You know him because you’ve read his work.

Or, more precisely, translations of his work. And translations of translations of his work.

Toward the end of his life, Jerome was besieged by trouble. Bethlehem was rocked by an influx of refugees as political problems plagued the empire. His reputation was soiled by theological opponents. His friend Paula died, and his monastery was burned.

In 420 on September 30th Jerome died and was buried next to his companion Paula in the Church of the Nativity.

St. Jerome is still considered one of the most brilliant Biblical scholars. He was a bit brash, and was not always theologically on the mark (I personally have strong issues with his remarks on Origen), but he is probably the most influential Christian of his day, and remains one of the most to this day.

St. Jerome is a reminder for me, and for the whole church, that they who wield the pen do indeed shape history. And yes, we need all sorts of STEM education in schools…I’m all for that. But if we don’t have some good writers in the world, all the advancements we make and the stories that surround them could, indeed, be lost in the endless stream of time.

We need writers, in the church and in the world.

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

Messages on Fire

Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

At their best, angels are symbols of the vast creativity of the Divine.

At their worst, they’ve been turned into demi-gods and good luck charms.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all speak of heavenly creatures that convey messages from God. They play a significant part in the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospels, and the Epistles, even if their presence and activity is a bit ethereal and hard to pin down…probably by design, right?

Michael the Archangel is mentioned in the books of Daniel, Jude, and Revelation specifically, and in the apocryphal literature he plays a significant role in the struggle of goodness over wickedness.

In the Roman calendar of saints, three Archangels are commemorated on this day: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Lutherans go for brevity and just lump them all together, probably so as not to pay them undue attention. Angelic beings have a tendency to gain cultic followings among the faithful hoping for Divine favors…something that really doesn’t make much sense for Lutherans.

God favors all people…though Mary is greeted as “Blessed.”

Honestly, you probably don’t want a visit from an angelic being…they sound terrifying. This is why they always begin their address with “Fear not!” because, well, there’s probably much to be feared when they’re in the room.

I’m honestly unsure what to make of this sort of thing, this idea of angels, other than to say that there is much in this world that we don’t really understand very well. And sometimes humans need miracles with legs on…and wings, I guess, and so angels tickle the imagination and tend the fires of hope when not much else will.

Maybe thinking of them as “messages on fire” is helpful…

This feast day is a reminder for me that there are things in this world that I just can’t grasp, really don’t understand, and even struggle to wrap my head and heart around…even good things.

And that’s OK, I think.

It always makes me search for more, for better, for understanding, and hopefully, for a humble stance in the face of the unknown.

-some historical pieces from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon written by Natalia Goncharova

-opinions and doubts all my own

Trailblazing

Today the church honors a revolutionary figure in the life of Lutheranism, Saint Jehu Jones, Pastor, Reformer, and Trailblazer.

St. Jehu was born in 1786 in South Carolina. His father was the proprietor of a hotel, and had purchased the freedom of a number of slaves. They attended St. John’s Church in Charleston, where Jones owned a pew.

Jehu felt a call to ministry and desired to be a missionary in Liberia, but knew that the Lutheran church in the South would not ordain him. In this way he mirrored many contemporary call stories of people on the margins of society who feel a call to serve, but know that the church writ-large won’t accept that call as legitimate…

St. Jones traveled north to New York City bearing a letter from the pastor of St. John’s testifying to his character and acumen. He was ordained the first official African American Lutheran pastor into the Ministerium of New York on October 24th, 1832, and headed back to South Carolina to prepare for ministry across the seas…until he was jailed under the Negro Seaman’s Act. This barbarous act prohibited free black persons from re-entering South Carolina and directed that they be put on the auction block.

He was freed on the condition that he’d never set foot in South Carolina again. It is unknown if the church took any formal steps to protect him…but it is unlikely.

He left his whole family behind and returned to New York City, and then landed in Philadelphia with his wife and nine children where he organized St. Paul’s Church.

When the Ministerium of Pennsylvania came on hard times, they took the title of the building away from St. Jehu, and refused to offer him payment. St. Jehu turned to the Ministerium of New York, his ordaining body, for financial help…and they refused him, too.

Despite his success as a pastor and evangelist, St. Jehu was met with roadblock after roadblock in his struggle to minister in the church. He died on this day in 1852.

Though there are incidents of advocacy and solidarity, and individuals throughout Lutheran history who have stood on the side of the oppressed, especially in the abolitionist movement (Henry Melchior Muhlenberg comes to mind), the church as a whole has historically had a difficult time speaking with one voice against systemic oppression, especially when reputation and finances were on the line.

This must change.

St. Jehu Jones, Jr. is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that it was not so long ago that American Lutheranism formally rejected the gifts of our black sisters and brothers, and indeed continues to wrestle with full-throated endorsements even today.

It is no secret that black and brown seminarians wait considerably longer for calls in the church, especially female people of color.

It is no secret that systems of oppression still operate in the cathedral halls of America, across all denominations.

It is no secret that, though strides have been made and continue to be made, equity lags in the church across race, gender, and orientation lines.

St. Jehu Jones, Jr. calls to us from the past and encourages us to continue the struggle.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

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

-icon written by Mary Button

Friend of the Outcast

Today, at the tail end of September, the church turns its attention to a saint who spent his entire life attending to society’s poor, Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest and Friend of the Outcast.

In the late 16th Century, Saint de Paul was born a peasant in southwest France. He was an attentive student, and was ordained at the young age of 20, having come under the tutelage of Fr. Peter de Berulle, who would eventually become a Cardinal.

Having grown up in poverty, Saint Vincent dedicated his life to his people: the poor and the outcast.

He made his home in the galleys of slaves imprisoned in Paris, and even is said to have taken the place of one of them for some time. That, Beloved, is walking in the shoes of the other.

He founded communities of both men and women who took up the causes of the impoverished, and took his message into the rural areas of France, reforming how priests were trained and therefore related to the destitute in the fields around Paris.

He founded the Congregation of Mission, later called Lazarists. He founded the Daughters of Charity, the first congregation of women not enclosed in a convent, who took no perpetual vows but rather entirely devoted themselves to the care of the sick and the poor.

This was their solemn vow.

He said to these servants, “Your convent is the sick room, your chapel the local parish, and your cloister is the streets of the city.”

Wow. Read that again. Let it be written on your head, on your hands, and on your hearts, Beloved.

He spurred others to generous living, even as he himself had little to give other than himself. And though a male, he is reputed to have related to females with no condescension or contentiousness. They were co-workers in the field of the world.

St. Vincent died on September 27th in 1660, and is a reminder for me and the whole church that, well, when we’re at our best…

Our convent is the sick room.

Our Cathedral is the local gathering of folks dedicating themselves to public good.

Our cloister, our sisters and brothers in service, are the streets of our cities, our dirt roads, and our back alleys.

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

-Icon by one of my favorite icon writers, Nowitzki Tramonto

Lasting Humility

Today the church honors the most popular Russian saint, 14th Century St. Segius of Radonezh, Abbot and Teacher.

St. Serigus was given the name Bartholomew upon his birth. Shortly after he came into the world, the family was forced to flee the perils of the civil war, eventually making a home in the farming community of Radonezh outside of Moscow. Bartholomew was a poor student who bored easily with his studies, until…

Until he was taken under the wing of a local monk. Reading scripture, books on liturgy, and the writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (as well as church historians of all kinds), while also visiting local monasteries, Bartholomew longed for a life in the church that provided sacred solitude.

After the death of his parents, Bartholomew went deep into the woods surrounding Radonezh and built a chapel to the Holy Trinity. He continued to practice simple piety there, and eventually a neighboring priest-monk gave him a tonsure (the humble hairstyle of a monk) and renamed him Sergius. He was ordained a priest at the age of 30, and grew his little chapel into a full-fledged functioning monastery.

Eventually the Patriarch of Constantinople (or is it Istanbul?) deemed the monastery in the woods a monastic retreat center, elevating it to some prominence.

Personally, St. Sergius was not one for prominence. He, like his spiritual cousin St. Francis of Assisi, was known to love animals and shun worldly goods. He never sought recognition, and lived a quite austere life…which, ironically, helped him generate recognition. His retreat center became the locus for Russian spirituality in his day. He was known to have visions, and it was even reported that he could perform miracles.

He accompanied Russian princes on missions of peace, hoping to unify the region for mutual care and cooperation.

In 1378 he refused to be appointed as Patriarch of Moscow, wanting a quieter life for himself.

As a saint who left no writings, his teachings surprisingly reached far and wide throughout the area, and he was named as the inspiration for a number of monastic communities. He died in 1392, and was buried in the church his monastery constructed. It remains a place of worship and a theological academy to this day.

St. Sergius is a reminder to me, and to the church, that even humble persons can leave a lasting mark. In a world that urges people to publish, to be over-educated, to “make a name,” to relentlessly pursue the next opportunity to be known, St. Sergius calls to us from the past with a different message.

The quiet life.
The simple life.
The life seeking to make peace.

The life that intentionally passes up positions of esteem and power so as not to get trapped in a cycle of political games…that’s a life worth living, Beloved.

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