Hilary of Poitiers
Several weeks ago, we celebrated the feast of St. Martin of Tours. It was Martin, as we saw then, who introduced, even before Benedict, the monastic movement into the Western Church. From Martin, sprang monasteries all over Europe, which ultimately flowered under St. Benedict over a century later. If Martin can be described as the Father of Western Monasticism, then Hilary, in a sense can be considered its grandfather, as it was Hilary who took the young Martin under his wing, and supported and encouraged him in his endeavours to establish the monastic movement into Europe.
Hilary was born about the year 315 and was baptized when he was about 30 years old. In 350 he was made a bishop. The church in the mid fourth century was not unlike ours. It was a time of controversy, division, and fragmentation. Then it was over the nature of God and the person of Jesus. The Arians believed that Jesus was subordinate, and not co-equal or co-eternal to the Father. The Catholics, of whom Hilary was a prime proponent, believed that the Son was both co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. For the Catholics, and for Hilary, the Arian view was problematic in that it denied the full divinity of Christ. But so what? What’s the big deal? Why is it important that the Son is both fully God and fully human, co-equal and co-eternal?
The big deal is what it says about us. For Hilary, salvation was about much more than liberation from sin. It was about sharing in the life of God. As 1 Peter puts it, through Christ we are participants in the divine nature of God. As Athanasius, who lived about a generation before Hilary said, God became human, so that humans might become God. We Brothers pick this same theme up in our Rule of Life when, in the chapter on The Mystery of Prayer we say a ceaseless interchange of mutual love unites the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our prayer is not merely communication with God, it is coming to know God by participation in this divine life. In prayer we experience what it is to be made “participants in the divine nature” … If in the incarnation the Son is not both fully God, and fully human, then it is not possible for us as humans to share in the life of God. This doctrine, known as theosis or divinization, is central to Catholic theology, and remains so today, because in it lies the Christian understanding of the dignity of all humanity. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help we promise in the Baptismal Covenant. Humans possess dignity, not simply because we are creatures made in the image and likeness of God, but because through the mystery of the Incarnation it is possible for us to be participants in the divine nature of God.
That we can be participants in the divine nature of God is crucial to our self-understanding as humans. It is this understanding that is rooted in the teaching of Hilary, and others like him. He may have lived nearly 2000 years ago, but his teaching on the nature of God and the person of Jesus, is as significant for our understanding of what it means to be human today, as it was then. And for that, we give thanks.
 Martin of Tours, feast day 11 November
 Benedict of Nursia, feast day 11 July
 2 Peter 1:4
 Athanasius of Alexandria, feast day 2 May
 SSJE, Rule of Life, The Mystery of Prayer, Chapter 21, page 42
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 305
Hegesippus, a church historian from the second century, writes this about the early Church and about St James of Jerusalem, whom we remember today:
Control of the Church passed to the apostles, together with the Lord’s brother James, whom everyone from the Lord’s time till our own has called the Righteous, for there were many Jameses, but this one was holy from his birth: he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head; he did not smear himself with oil, and took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place, for his garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s from his continually bending them in worship of God and beseeching forgiveness for the people.[i]
So this James, a brother of the Lord, was a holy man, an ascetic who was known for his deep life of prayer and for his continuous intercessions on behalf of God’s people. Oddly, the Gospels have nothing to say of him and he does not seem to have traveled with Jesus during his earthly ministry. The first thing we are told of him is that he was a witness to the Resurrection, one to whom Jesus appeared individually. And we know that he was a leader in the early Church, chosen to be the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
Luke 12: 4-12
Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr, 304
This is an unusual week. Three days in a row, in the calendar, we commemorate some of the earliest martyr saints of the Church: Fabian, Agnes, Cecilia, and now Vincent, all martyred in some of the earliest waves of persecution against the Church.
It’s easy, from a distance of about 1800 years to look back at these figures and dismiss them as irrelevant to faithful Christian living in the early decades of this century. Our challenges living as Christians in an age of pandemic, are very different than theirs. Yet, by their feasts, especially since they happen three days in a row, they invite us to consider, not simply their deaths, but their lives, and the invitation they make to us today.
Vincent was a deacon of Spain, and the assistant of the saintly bishop, Valerius. Both of them were caught up in the persecution of early Christians ordered by the Emperor. Already, Valerius was an old man, but more significantly, tradition tells is that he had a serious speech impediment, and Vincent would often preach for him. The story goes that when they were called before the governor, Vincent said to the bishop, Father, if you order me, I will speak. To which Valerius responded, Son, I committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend. With those words, Vincent holding nothing back, proceeded to offer a defence of the Christian faith boldly and with exuberance.
Acts 6:8-7:2a, 12-15
The first-generation church at Jerusalem was in trouble. Its membership was drawn from two groups of Jews: those who were native Palestinians, and those who were outsiders, members of what was called “the Dispersion.” The “Dispersion Christians” were also Jews; however they had been born and raised outside of Palestine. Their native tongue was not Jewish, but Greek, and so they were also called “the Hellenists.” Rivalry between the native-born Palestinians and the Hellenists had been a drama in Jewish life for a long time. Converts to Christ brought their respective culture and history with them when they entered the Church. Greek-speaking members felt they were treated as second class, and they complained the poor people among them were not getting a fair share of the community’s food and financial support. To resolve the problem, the Apostles appointed seven of the Hellenists to administer the Church’s resources and care for those in need. Stephen, described in The Acts of the Apostles as “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” was one of these seven.[i] He was authorized for this ministry by prayer and the laying-on of hands, and he became the first to do what the Church considers the work of a deacon.[ii]
Stephen was a very able administrator and preacher, and he was recognized to have a kind of supernatural power. That’s the only way to describe how or why things happened when he prayed. Amazing things. Miraculous. Too miraculous. His fellow Hellenists became jealous. They corralled false witnesses who accused Stephen of blasphemy and dragged him before the Jewish Council. Stephen denounced his accusers, which made them and their followers very defensive and very angry. Stephen was silenced by being stoned to death. Stephen is remembered as the first martyr of the Church.
In the calendar of the church we remember today an Egyptian monk named Pachomius, who lived years 290-346. Pachomius was born in a small village in northern Egypt to a family who worshipped the gods of the Pharaohs. As a young man Pachomius was conscripted into military service. His fifth-century biography, the Vita Prima, recalls that where he was billeted, he for the first time met Christians who did “all manner of good… treating [everyone] with love for the sake of the God of heaven.” Pachomius was smitten by the kind and generous camaraderie, the koinonia, of Christian believers, the very thing described in the Acts of the Apostles: “They were of one heart and one soul,” and who essentially practiced three things: these Christians lived together in community, they prayed and worshipped, and they served others. This experience for Pachomius was life-changing. He prayed to this Christian God, promising that he would live his life in the same way. When he was discharged from military service, he was baptized, and for several years was formed in the Christian life by one of the desert hermits.
Pachomius had a series of visions, something he had never experienced before. The visions were about his becoming a monk, but not alone. Christian hermits had already been living in solitude in the Egyptian desert for about 50 years, since the late 3rdcentury. But Pachomius’ visions were about his living as a monk in community. He had as a model the words which we just heard from the Acts of the Apostles: “All who believed were together and had all things in common. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”[i]And “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Romans 12:1-2, 9-21
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
3rd John (1-4) 5-8
Today’s First Reading gives us a brief glimpse at life in the second generation of the Early Church. If we look back to the beginning of this Letter, (3rd John) we can see that it is unique among the Epistles of the New Testament. It is a letter written by an Elder (perhaps John) in charge of a congregation of Christians, presumably in Asia Minor, probably early in the second generation of the spread of the Church.
Feast of St. John Chrysostom
In 1940, Fr. Gregory Petrov, a Russian Orthodox priest, died in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia. Among his possessions was found a copy of a hymn entitled “Glory to God for All Things.” It is uncertain whether Petrov composed the hymn, but it is clear that it was written during the period of intense, coordinated persecution of the Church in Russia begun under Lenin. The systematic attempt to annihilate religious identity in Russia continued in waves of varying intensity until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The hymn so cherished by Petrov was copied and distributed secretly, sung and recited in clandestine gatherings of the faithful during those years, as Christians in the millions were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, sent to mental hospitals, barred from worshipping, praying, training new clergy or building churches. The hymn is now easy to find in English translation. I discovered it a few years ago, and my gratitude to God is always kindled anew when I return to its litanies of undaunted thanksgiving: