30 September: Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas, transferred from 9/29)

Icon of St Michael written by Zachary Rosemann, for St. Michael’s Church, Brattleboro, Vermont.

Today, Episcopalians observe the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, commonly known as Michaelmas. This feast is observed annually on 29 September by Anglicans, and others, around the world. (It’s transferred, by custom, and according to the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, to the next available weekday.)

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

The biblical word “angel” (Greek: angelos) means, literally, a messenger. Messengers from God can be visible or invisible, and may assume human or non-human forms. Christians have always felt themselves to be attended by helpful spirits—swift, powerful, and enlightening. Those beneficent spirits are often depicted in Christian art in human form, with wings to signify their swiftness and spacelessness, with swords to signify their power, and with dazzling raiment to signify their ability to enlighten. Unfortunately, this type of pictorial representation has led many to dismiss the angels as “just another mythical beast, like the unicorn, the griffin, or the sphinx.”

Of the many angels spoken of in the Bible, only four are called by name: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. The Archangel Michael is the powerful agent of God who wards off evil from God’s people, and delivers peace to them at the end of this life’s mortal struggle. “Michaelmas,” as his feast is called in England, has long been one of the popular celebrations of the Christian Year in many parts of the world.

Michael is the patron saint of countless churches, including Mont Saint-Michel, the monastery fortress off the coast of Normandy that figured so prominently in medieval English history; and Coventry Cathedral, England’s most famous modern church building, rising from the ashes of the Second World War.

Everlasting God, who has ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lord is glorious in his angels and in his saints: O come, let us adore him.

(from Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018, Church Publishing.)

23 September: Thecla, apostle and proto-martyr among women, c.70

Today, we honor the memory of an apostle, Saint Thecla — a contemporary of Saint Paul who became an evangelizer after hearing his teachings.

God of liberating power, you raised up your apostle Thecla, who allowed no obstacle or peril to inhibit her from bearing witness to new life in Jesus Christ: Empower courageous evangelists among us, that men and women everywhere may experience the freedom you offer; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thecla was born to a rich family in Iconium, a town in Asia Minor. She was expected to marry, and marry well. In fact, her mother had a young man picked out for her. He had an excellent position and could offer Thecla a secure life. This was important in Thecla’s day because an unmarried woman could find herself with no support and no money. Marriage assured a stable place in society, with children to carry on the family name.

But something happened to Thecla that made her turn away forever from her mother’s dream. The apostle Paul, who had been in Antioch, traveled to Iconium and began teaching at a house near Thecla’s. She sat in her open window for three days and nights, listening as Paul spoke about the blessings of giving everything to God. Thecla decided not to marry and to devote her life to Jesus Christ.

Her fiancé Thamyris was furious and complained to the local governor that Paul was a bad influence. Because Thamyris was so prominent, Paul was arrested and imprisoned.

Late at night Thecla secretly went to the prison, bribed the guards, and stayed to hear Paul’s teaching. When her family found her, they turned her and Paul over to the authorities. Paul was driven from the city and Thecla was sentenced to death. Her mother was so angry at her daughter’s disobedient “madness” that she wouldn’t intervene.

Thecla was tortured, but God delivered her from death. She found her way to Antioch and soon met Paul there. She helped him preach, and together they did good work for the Lord.

But once again a powerful person, this time the city governor, tried to turn Thecla toward marriage. When she hurt his pride by refusing he denounced her to the authorities. She was arrested and sentenced to die in the arena. But the wild beasts wouldn’t harm her, and when their attempt to drown her also failed, the officials were so frightened that they let her go. She retreated to a rocky desert cave in the mountains near the town of Ma’aloula, Syria. Through her prayer she converted many and gathered other women monastics around her. She counseled people and healed the sick, never asking for money.

Even there, though, she was pursued. Jealous pagan doctors sent young men to harm the saint, now an old woman. But God heard her prayers and opened up a fissure in the rock of the cave. Thecla rushed into the space, which immediately closed up again.

Today you can visit Thecla’s cave, and see in it the still-running spring that provided water for her. The nuns who live in the Mar Thecla monastery there will tell you her story, and show you the fissure in the rock where this saint, “Equal to the Apostles”, left the world and joined her Lord in the Kingdom.

(Hagiography by the Department of Christian Education of the Orthodox Church in America.)

September 13: Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 407

John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, is one of the great saints of the Eastern Church. The Episcopal Church joins the Roman Church in remembering him today, September 13.

He was born about 354 in Antioch, Syria. As a young man, he responded to the call of desert monasticism until his health was impaired. He returned to Antioch after six years, and was ordained a priest. In 397, he became Patriarch of Constantinople.

His episcopate was short and tumultuous. Many criticized his ascetical life in the episcopal residence, and he incurred the wrath of the Empress Eudoxia, who believed that he had called her a “Jezebel.”

John, called “Chrysostom,” which means the golden-mouthed,” was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church. People flocked to hear him. His eloquence was accompanied by an acute sensitivity to the needs of people. He saw preaching as an integral part of pastoral care, and as a medium of teaching. He warned that if a priest had no talent for preaching the Word, the souls of those in his charge “will fare no better than ships tossed in the storm.”

His sermons provide insights into the liturgy of the Church, and especially into eucharistic practices. He describes the liturgy as a glorious experience, in which all of heaven and earth join. His sermons emphasize the importance of lay participation in the Eucharist. He wrote,

“Why do you marvel that the people anywhere utter anything with the priest at the altar, when in fact they join with the Cherubim themselves, and the heavenly powers, in offering up sacred hymns?”

His treatise, Six Books on the Priesthood, is a classic manual on the priestly office and its awesome demands. The priest, he wrote, must be “dignified, but not haughty; awe-inspiring, but kind; affable in his authority; impartial, but courteous; humble, but not servile, strong but gentle … ”

A well-loved prayer attributed to him, “A Prayer of St. Chrysostom,” is offered as an option in Daily Office liturgies in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved son, that when two or three are gathered together in his name, you will be in the midst of them. Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come, life everlasting. Amen.

During his lifetime, he was twice exiled; and he died during the second period of banishment, on September 14, 407. Thirty-one years later, his remains were brought back to Constantinople, and buried on January 27 (when the Orthodox Churches honor his memory.) His relics may be visited to this day, along with those of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzus, in the Church of Saint George on the grounds of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Istanbul.

O God, you gave your servant John Chrysostom grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching, and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

(Hagiography adapted from A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Church Publishing.)

September 12: John Henry Hobart, bishop, 1830

John Henry Hobart was one of the leaders who revived the Episcopal Church, following the first two decades of its independent life after the American Revolution, a time that has been described as one of “suspended animation.” The Episcopal Church commemorates him today, September 12.

Born in Philadelphia on September 14th, 1775, Hobart was educated at the Universities of Pennsylvania and Princeton, graduating from the latter in 1793. Bishop William White, his longtime friend and adviser, ordained him as a deacon in 1798 and as a priest in 1801.

After serving parishes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Long Island, Hobart became assistant minister of Trinity Church, Wall Street (New York City), in 1800. He was ordained Assistant Bishop of New York on May 29th, 1811. Five years later he succeeded Bishop Benjamin Moore, both as diocesan bishop and as rector of Trinity Church.

Within his first four years as bishop, Hobart doubled the number of his clergy and quadrupled the number of missionaries. Before his death, he had planted a church in almost every major town of New York State and had begun missionary work among the Oneida tribe of Native Americans. He was one of the founders of the General Theological Seminary, and the reviver of Geneva, now Hobart, College.

A strong and unbending upholder of church standards, Hobart established the Bible and Common Prayer Book Society of New York, and was one of the first American scholars to produce theological and devotional manuals for the laity. These “tracts,”as they were called, and the personal impression he made on the occasion of a visit to Oxford, were an influence on the development of the Tractarian Movement in England. Both friends and foes respected Hobart for his staunch faith, his consuming energy, his personal integrity, and his missionary zeal.

He died at Auburn, New York, September 12th, 1830, and was buried beneath the chancel of Trinity Church in New York City.

Revive your Church, Lord God of hosts, whenever it falls into complacency and sloth, by raising up devoted leaders like your servant John Henry Hobart; and grant that their faith and vigor of mind may awaken your people to your message and their mission; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Hagiography from Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018, Church Publishing.)

September 11: Harry Thacker Burleigh, composer, 1949

Henry (Harry) Thacker Burleigh was an American singer, composer, and arranger who did more than anyone else up to his time to make available the riches of the American Negro spiritual to vast audiences. The Episcopal Church commemorates him today, September 11.

Burleigh was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1866. His grandfather, Hamilton Waters, had been a slave who had been blinded by a savage beating but passed along old songs by singing them to his grandson, Harry. Burleigh had a natural voice for singing and sang when and where he could.

In 1892, with some difficulty, he won admission to the National Conservatory of Music, where he studied voice and music theory. Although never directly a pupil of Antonín Dvořák, the director of the Conservatory at the time, he worked for Dvořák copying orchestral parts. It was Burleigh who suggested to Dvořák some of the themes that would become Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9: From the New World.

To support himself while at Conservatory, Burleigh became the baritone soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York City. The presence of a black man in the choir initially caused dissension, but it died down when J. Pierpont Morgan, a member of the parish, took a clear stand on the matter. Even after gaining other employment and becoming a successful composer, Burleigh continued to sing in the choir at St. George’s for many years and became a beloved part of the congregation.

Burleigh composed original music, mostly for voice, and was a well-respected arranger and music editor in New York. His art songs were musical settings of the poetry of such great African American poets as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson, among others.

His greatest achievement, and that for which he will always be celebrated, was recovering and arranging many Negro spirituals for solo voice and piano so that they could be widely heard on the concert stage. Various choral versions of the spirituals had been well known in the black churches, but it was Burleigh’s arrangements that made this distinctively American music available to the masses.

Burleigh died on September 12, 1949.

God, our strong deliverer: We bless your Name for the grace given to Harry Thacker Burleigh, who lifted up in song the struggles of your people. Let that Spirit of love which spurred him draw us and your whole Church to raise our distinct voices into one great harmony of praise; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Hagiography from A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Church Publishing.)

September 10: Alexander Crummell, priest, 1898

Today, the Episcopal Church honors Alexander Crummell, priest.

Born March 3, 1819, in New York City, Alexander Crummell struggled against racism all his life. As a young man of color, he was driven out of an academy in New Hampshire, dismissed as a candidate for Holy Orders in New York, and rejected for admittance to General Seminary. Ordained in 1844 as a priest in the Diocese of Massachusetts, he left for England after being excluded from participating in diocesan convention.

After receiving a degree from Cambridge University, he went as a missionary to Liberia, where a model Christian republic seemed possible. The vision embraced by Crummell included European education and technology, traditional African communal culture, and a national Episcopal Church headed by a black bishop. He traveled extensively in the United States, urging blacks to emigrate to Liberia and to support the work of the Episcopal Church there.

Upon returning to Liberia, he worked to establish a national Episcopal Church. Political opposition and a loss of funding finally forced him to return to the United States, where he concentrated his efforts on establishing a strong urban presence of independent black congregations that would be centers of worship, education, and social service. When Southern bishops proposed that a separate missionary district be created for black congregations, Crummell created a national convocation to defeat the proposal. The Union of Black Episcopalians is an outgrowth of that organization.

Crummell’s ministry spanned more than half a century and three continents. Everywhere, at all times, he labored to prepare black people and to build institutions that would serve them and provide scope for the exercises of their gifts in leadership and creativity. His faith in God, his perseverance in spite of repeated discouragement, his perception that the Church transcended the racism and limited vision of its leaders, and his unfailing belief in the goodness and greatness of black people are the legacy of this African American pioneer.

He died in Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1898.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Alexander Crummell, whom you called to preach the gospel to those who were far off and to those who were near. Raise up, in this and every land, evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Hagiography from Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2018, Church Publishing.)

September 9: The Martyrs of Memphis: Constance and her companions, 1878

Today, September 9, the Episcopal Church honors the Martyrs of Memphis: Constance, Thecla, Ruth, Frances, Charles Parsons, and Louis Schuyler.

In August 1878, yellow fever invaded the city of Memphis, Tennessee for the third time in ten years. By the month’s end, the disease had become epidemic and a quarantine was ordered. While more than 25,000 citizens had fled in terror, nearly 20,000 more remained to face the pestilence. As cases multiplied, death toll averaged 200 people per day. When the worst was over, ninety percent of the people who remained had contracted the fever and more than 5,000 people had died.

In that time of panic and flight, many brave men and women, both lay and ordained, remained at their posts of duty or came as volunteers to assist in spite of the terrible risk. Notable among these heroes were four Episcopal sisters (nuns) from the Community of Saint Mary, and two of their clergy colleagues, all of whom died while tending to the sick. They have ever since been known as “The Martyrs of Memphis,” as have those of other communions who ministered in Christ’s name during this time of desolation.

The Sisters had come to Memphis in 1873, at Bishop Quintard’s request, to found a school for girls adjacent to St. Mary’s Cathedral. When the 1878 epidemic began, George C. Harris, the cathedral dean, and Sister Constance immediately organized relief work among the stricken. Helping were six of Constance’s fellow Sisters of St. Mary; Sister Clare from St. Margaret’s House, Boston, Massachusetts; the Reverend Charles C. Parsons, Rector of Grace and St. Lazarus Church, Memphis; and the Reverend Louis S. Schuyler, assistant at Holy Innocents, Hoboken, New Jersey. The cathedral group also included three physicians, two of whom were ordained Episcopal priests, the Sisters’ two matrons, and several volunteer nurses from New York.

The cathedral buildings were located in the most infected region of Memphis. Here, amid sweltering heat and scenes of indescribable horror, these men and women of God gave relief to the sick, comfort to the dying, and homes to the many orphaned children. Only two of the workers escaped the fever. Among those who died were Constance, Thecla, Ruth, and Frances, the Reverend Charles Parsons, and the Reverend Louis Schuyler. All six are buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

The monument marking the joint grave of Fathers Parsons and Schuyler bears the inscription: “Greater Love Hath No Man.” The high altar in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Memphis, is a memorial to the four Sisters.

We give you thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death; Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

September 7: Elie Naud, Huguenot witness to the faith, 1722

Elie Naud (also known as Elias Neau) was a French Huguenot (French Reformed) born in 1661. It was an era when French Roman Catholicism was increasingly dominant and the persecution of Protestants was becoming more violent. Naud fled France and landed in England, where he sojourned briefly before settling permanently in New York City.

During his early years in New York, he traveled frequently to Europe to raise money for Huguenot causes, having to take passage in steerage because he was not a Roman Catholic. His unwillingness to renounce his French Reformed faith resulted in his imprisonment for nearly two years in the infamous Chateau d’If.

In New York City, Naud became a member of L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit, a French-speaking parish which eventually joined The Episcopal Church, and later of Trinity Church, Wall Street, where he served for fifteen years as a catechist among slaves and Native Americans, preparing them for baptism.

Naud founded a school for the children of the poor and for the children of slaves. Upon the recommendation of the Rector of Trinity Church, the Bishop of London, acting for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), licensed Naud as a missioner “to slaves and ragged people in the New World.”

Naud also worked to influence Parliament for the passage of British laws that would demand Christian instruction for the children of slaves and Native Americans and schools for their education. Only through these means, he believed, could an equal and free society be created. During the New York City slave riot of 1712, Naud remained faithful to his vision despite threats of death from those who believed education of slaves fueled such uprisings.

Naud continued to write hymns and poetry in his native French throughout his life. He died on September 7, 1722, and was buried in the churchyard at Trinity Church, Wall Street.

Blessed God, whose Son Jesus knelt to serve his disciples: We honor you for the witness of your servant Elie Naud; and pray that we, with him, may proclaim Christ in service to those deemed by the world to be littlest and least, following Jesus, who came not to be ministered to but to minister; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, to whom be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

September 6: Hannah More, religious writer and philanthropist, 1833

Hannah More brought a wide array of gifts and talents to her work in the church. She was a religious writer, poet and playwright, philanthropist, social reformer, and abolitionist. The Episcopal Church commemorates Hannah More today, September 6.

Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son led captivity captive: Multiply among us faithful witnesses like your servant Hannah More, who will fight for all who are oppressed or held in bondage; and bring us all, we pray, into the glorious liberty that you have promised to all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

More was born in Bristol in 1745 and was raised in the Church of England. She and her four sisters were instructed at home by their father, who was a local school teacher. When the oldest two sisters had reached adulthood, their father established a school for girls and placed them in charge of it. Hannah completed her education there and then taught at the school herself.

Hannah devoted considerable energy to writing even as a child. Her first works were poems plays that were intended to be performed in girls’ schools, such as the one where she taught, with the characters being primarily women. In the 1780s, Hannah became friends with James Oglethorpe, an early abolitionist who was working to abolish the slave trade. Around this time, her writing began to address issues of religious concerns and social reform, particularly the evils of slavery.

She also wrote on a number of other religious topics, with important works such as Practical Piety (1811), Christian Morals (1813), and The Character of St. Paul (1815). Her works were extremely popular in some circles, but reviled in others. In his 1906 work Hannah More Once More, the lawyer and politician Augustine Birrell admits to burying all 19 volumes of her work in his garden in
disgust.

More was heavily active in philanthropic work, establishing twelve schools for the education of poor children. She also donated money to Bishop Philander Chase for the establishment of Kenyon College, and established a number of Sunday Schools which offered instruction in both literacy and Christianity.

Many of More’s poems drew forceful attention to the evils of slavery and forced the issue into the public gaze. While their literary quality is often not to modern tastes, in their own day they were very influential, and raised awareness of the issue among literary circles who were not otherwise inclined to discussions of public policy and social reform.

This is an excerpt from her poem Slavery:

I see, by more than Fancy’s mirrow shewn,
The burning village, and the blazing town:
See the dire victim torn from social life,
The shrieking babe, the agonizing wife!
She, wretch forlorn! is dragg’d by hostile hands,
To distant tyrants sold, in distant lands!
Transmitted miseries, and successive chains,
The sole sad heritage her child obtains!
Ev’n this last wretched boon their foes deny,
To weep together, or together die.
By felon hands, by one relentless stroke,
See the fond links of feeling nature broke!
The fibres twisting round a parent’s heart,
Torn from their grasp, and bleeding as they part.
Hold, murderers, hold! not aggravate distress;
Respect the passions you yourselves possess.

Hannah More died in Clifton, near Bristol, on September 7, 1833.

(Hagiography from Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018, Church Publishing.)

September 5: Katharina Zell, church reformer and writer, 1562

Today, the Episcopal Church commemorates Katharina Zell, reformer and writer.

Almighty God, we thank you for those women and men in our midst who, like Katharina Zell, work to build up your kingdom not only with words but with deeds—not only the work of the mind but also the work of the heart—not only with pens but with their presence. Fill us, like her, with the wisdom to speak out in defense of your truth. Fill us, like her, with love for you and for our neighbor, that we may serve you and welcome all your people with a mother’s heart. Amen.

Katharina Schutz Zell was born in 1497 in Strasbourg. Reform and protest against abuses in the church reached her part of the world early on, and the twelve-person Schutz family—artisans, not nobility—were convinced. Katharina was especially interested in the new thinking and teaching about the church. She was intent on seeking a holy life; for a long time, this meant a dedicated celibacy, but as a Protestant, she was convinced of the holiness of marriage as a vocation, and late in 1523 she married Matthew Zell, the most popular priest and preacher in Strasbourg.

For clergy to marry was truly a startling thing for Christians in this time; even some of the new Protestant Christians found it difficult, distasteful, or immoral. In response to the city’s reaction, Zell wrote a letter to the bishop building a Biblical defense of the marriage of priests, and describing the traits of a good pastor. Though she wanted to publish it, she accepted the city council’s demand to keep quiet. In September of 1524, however, she published a pamphlet addressed to her fellow (lay) Christians explaining the Biblical basis for clerical marriage and for her ability (as a woman) to speak on such things. She argues that when a Christian speaks out in this way, it is significant as an act of love to her neighbor.

That same year, 150 men and their families were driven out of Kentzingen because of their beliefs; Katharina and her husband purportedly welcomed 80 of these people in their home. She wrote a “Letter to the suffering women of the Community of Kentzingen, who believe in Christ, sisters with me in Jesus Christ,” in which she interpreted these women’s painful experiences in light of Scripture and the promises of Christ, in order to encourage them on their path.

Throughout her life she continued to welcome refugees and to visit those sick with plague, syphilis, and other feared diseases. Some of her guests were more well-known than others; she welcomed Martin Bucer (who had performed her marriage) when he fled Weissenburg, and John Calvin when he fled France.

She also continued to write throughout her life—a funeral oration for her husband, pamphlets, letters (including a correspondence with Luther), and Scriptural commentary. Her last published work was a commentary on Psalm 50, Psalm 130, and the Lord’s Prayer.

When, later in life, she was accused by her husband’s successor of disturbing the peace of the city, she wrote,

“Do you call this disturbing the peace that instead of spending my time in frivolous amusements I have visited the plague infested and carried out the dead? I have visited those in prison and under sentence of death. Often for three days and nights I have neither eaten or slept. I have never mounted the pulpit, but I have done more than any minister in visiting those in ministry. Is this disturbing the peace of the church?”

Katharina Zell died in Strasbourg on September 5, 1562.

(Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018, Church Publishing.)