A Saint for Our Time

Verily, we celebrate the memory of thy Prophet Nahum. Through him we implore thee, O Lord, save our souls.

By the mid 14th century the Byzantine Empire had accumulated quite a few enemies both external and internal. They had forgotten to let their theology inform their economy and government as in earlier days and it had cost them the empire. They had lost most of their territory to the Ottoman empire and most of their people to Islam. Then there was the civil war with Serbia, where they lost most of the remaining territory to Stefan IV. 100 years later Constantinople finally fell. When it did, the nobles and church leaders could not even raise an army among their own people, because they had neglected them for so long. Why should they come to the aid of the elites? It wasn’t their war.

It was during this time that there was a significant devotion to Prophet Nahum in the rural areas of Europe, in areas that felt oppressed and neglected by the powers that were vying for dominance. St. Nahum wrote a beautiful prophetic song about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. It came to pass very specifically then. We are told that the Old Testament is given to us for our admonition and instruction. There are lessons and warnings for us so we do not repeat the mistakes of those nations. The Byzantine Empire fell and it is not coming back, just as it was prophesied to Nineveh: “trouble will not come a second time.”

There was a cult of the Prophet Nahum as the Byzantine Empire was waning and that is interesting. The parallel is not as compelling as it is to the USA today, however. The Byzantines were basically enjoying their privileged position and trying to hold on to the vestiges of a bygone era without understanding and applying the elements of the faith that had given them that greatness. The US, through its corporations, its banking, and its massive military presence and 10 to 15 active military engagements at any given time, controls, colonizes and oppresses an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and consumes the lion’s share of the world’s natural resources. The US likes to think of itself as bringing freedom, but it does not. In Yugoslavia, we brought death and elimination of most of the Christian population. In Iraq, the Catholics and Orthodox and Jews who had been living and worshipping there safely and undisturbed for generations have been killed or driven out and their temples burned. In Afghanistan, the heroin producers are the only ones who have benefited by the US occupation. In Syria, we are supplying arms to massacre Christians. Our plants in India and Africa pollute and kill the ground. We export death in our GMO seeds and Round-Up. We are the only nation that openly discusses and approves of torture methods. Internally, we incarcerate more of our own people than any nation in history, with a strong racial bias against blacks and Latinos. Income disparity is well beyond the tipping point at which other empires (including the Byzantine) have fallen. Upward mobility has vanished. Elections have become a sham due to gerrymandering and dirty tricks and corporate ownership of lawmakers. So-called Christians have been more concerned with being blue or red than being Christian, so have lost effective witness.

We have become a pariah state.

Judgment is coming.

Nahum 3

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies,
full of plunder, never without victims!
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels,
galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead,
bodies without number,
people stumbling over the corpses—
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute,
alluring, the mistress of sorceries,
who enslaved nations by her prostitution
and peoples by her witchcraft.
“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.
“I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say,
‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’
Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
Are you better than Thebes,
situated on the Nile, with water around her?
The river was her defense,  the waters her wall.
Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength;
Put and Libya were among her allies.
10 Yet she was taken captive  and went into exile.
Her infants were dashed to pieces at every street corner.
Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains.
11 You too will become drunk;  you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy.
12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken,
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
13 Look at your troops—
they are all weaklings.
The gates of your land  are wide open to your enemies;
fire has consumed the bars of your gates.
14 Draw water for the siege,
strengthen your defenses!
Work the clay,
tread the mortar,
repair the brickwork!
15 There the fire will consume you;
the sword will cut you down—
they will devour you like a swarm of locusts.
Multiply like grasshoppers,
multiply like locusts!
16 You have increased the number of your merchants
till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky,
but like locusts they strip the land
and then fly away.
17 Your guards are like locusts,
your officials like swarms of locusts
that settle in the walls on a cold day—
but when the sun appears they fly away,
and no one knows where.
18 King of Assyria, your shepherdsslumber;
your nobles lie down to rest.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
with no one to gather them.

19 Nothing can heal you;
your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
your endless cruelty?

A Woman Saint on a Deacon’s Door?

St. Marina Altar Door

We customarily think of icons of Archangels or Archdeacons for the deacon’s doors on our iconostases, but during the Middle Ages in the Balkans, there were several churches who opted for St. Marina for one of their deacon’s doors. They chose her because of her power over demonic forces and those possessed, so she could be there always to protect the altar from intruders.

St. Marina was born in a pagan household in Pisidian Antioch. When she heard of Jesus Christ when she was twelve, she immediately converted and determined to live her life totally committed to Christ as a virgin. Her father disowned her for this. The governor, Lopharius Ebrotus, wanted to take her for his wife. When she refused, he tried to persuade her to sacrifice to idols. She refused to honor any but the living God. So the governor tortured her by having her body scraped and combed with iron combs and rubbed with salt, vinegar and lime, then threw her bleeding into prison. She was miraculously healed and encouraged by a resplendent vision of the Cross with a dove on it. At night, a demon came to tempt her and she exposed him and bound him with the sign of the Cross and cast him away. The next day the governor was amazed that she appeared totally unharmed. Instead of being convinced, he had her thrown into a cauldron of boiling lead. She asked that it be made like her baptismal waters and blessed it in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and was unharmed. Her tormentors were so enraged that they finally beheaded her. At the moment of her beheading the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to receive her, as witnessed by many who were there. She suffered in the year 270, during the reign of Diocletian. One of her hands is preserved in Vatopedi Monastery on Athos. There is a St. Marina Monastery in Albania, where more of her relics continue to work wonders and healings.

This Icon is tempera on wood and woodcut. It is an altar door from 17th century Bulgaria. Margaret is an English translation of the name Marina.

O glorious Marina betrothed to God the Word, thou didst abandon all things earthly and contest victoriously as a virgin. For thou didst trample on the invisible foe when he appeared, O holy trophy-bearer, and thou dost now bestow gifts of healing on the world.