Archangel Michael

Archangel Michael

Archangel Michael ( מִיכָאֵל‎ ) has an elevated place in the hierarchy of the Christian tradition of angels.  As with Archangel Gabriel,  a messenger, the name Michael meaning in Hebrew 'Who is like God', and in Jewish literature and tradition Michael also occupies a special place.  Daniel has a visionary experience of Michael and in the book of Revelation Michael appears there.  It was St Basil who elevated Michael to the position of ARCHangel, and early Orthodox tradition ascribes him "Archistrategos", or "Supreme Commander of the Heavenly Hosts".  Orthodoxy recognises that God extends His activity to the world by means of which we have no idea, and in the Liturgy we attend to this idea in the use of the term "Bodiless Powers".  Shakespeare alluded to such things when he placed into Hamlet the words "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".

King David

King David

Both Matthew and Luke were writing predominantly for a Jewish readership, and in Judaism, your credibility was determined by who your ancestors were.  Luke was keen to demonstrate to his Jewish audience that the Messiah had arrived, and with this in mind he laid down a demonstration that Jesus was a direct descendant of David.  

David was born in Bethlehem, the youngest of eight sons of Jesse and great grandson of Boaz and Ruth. He is believed to have been born around 1085 BC and died in his 70th year  in 1155 BC (though other theories put it all 30-50 years later). He was the second king of the two kingdoms (Judea and Israel) united in monarchy and whose reign over Judea took him from 1055 - 1047 BC, and over both kingdoms from 1047 - 1015 BC. He was a passionate man who sometimes got life catastrophically wrong. He was intent upon claiming the kingdom of Israel and ridding the land of the plague of Philistines making Israel an independent state for the first time. Early in his rule he captured the Jebusite city of Jerusalem and organised the arrival there from Cariathiarim the Ark of the Covenant, making Jerusalem the centre of Jewish worship and its political centre. It still is.

When he became King it is said by some sources that there were 339,600 men under his command. At the census 1,300,000 were enumerated capable of bearing arms. A standing army, consisting of twelve corps, each 24,000 men, took turns in serving for a month at a time as the Jerusalem garrison. The administration of his palace and his kingdom demanded a large retinue of servants and officials. David exercised the office of judge, though Levites were later appointed for this purpose, as well as other minor officials.

After the Ark had been brought to Jerusalem, David undertook the organization of religious worship. He wrote many of the psalms to be used during worship, and the sacred functions of the liturgy were entrusted to 24,000 Levites; 6,000 of these were scribes and judges, 4000 were porters, and 4000 singers. He arranged the various parts of the ritual, allotting to each section its tasks. The priests were divided into twenty-four families; the musicians into twenty-four choirs.  Preparatory to building a proper temple (it was held in a tent during David's reign) David began to acquire treasures and materials, and describing to his son Solomon a plan for the building and all its details. 

He is shown as a just monarch and prophet with a talent for writing, capable of being a warrior king when called upon. Strategically he was either very lucky or very clever.

Luke had to take great pains therefore, to establish that Jesus was a direct descendant of David, which is why the gospel opens with the chronology it does.  What isn't clear though, according to some commentators, is why, if the expected Messiah had to come down the Davidic line did Luke draw the line down the maternal route ending at Mary, instead of drawing it down the paternal line ending at Joseph.  During the Diaspora while Romans were killing as many Jewish men as they could, it was established that the blood line should come down maternally so the Jewish nation wasn't wiped out, but in awaiting the Messiah it was the paternal line that mattered.  According to ancient Jewish tribal law, the Messiah must come from the Tribe of David down the paternal line.  Joseph was of the Davidic line, not Mary, and as Joseph was only betrothed to Mary and not united in marriage, Jesus wasn't actually at the time of His birth (following the tradition of the story of the virgin birth) from the Davidic line because He wasn't related to Joseph.  The only way that Jesus could have come from the Line of David is if Jospeh and Mary were married, not betrothed, at the time.
Luke would also have known that to his audience, the Messiah (Maschiach Heb.) means 'Anointed', and that this was different from 'Saviour' (Moshiah Heb.) and that the Anointed One was to be a political leader descended from King David, well versed in the Law and the Prophets, devout, and be a charismatic leader.  Characteristics which are easily argued that Jesus had. 

Clearly this is a little difficulty which later editors to the gospels may have not considered, but, this is the reason why King David appears in the Orthodox tradition. He was, is, and will always be a VERY important man.

If you are interested, further information and his full biography is here.   
St Anastasia of Sirmium

St Anastasia of Sirmium

Little fact is known of this woman, except she died during Diocletian's  persecution of the church.  Stories emerged of her several centuries after her death, and their reliability cannot be relied upon to be accurate. Popular legend would state that Anastasia was the daughter of Praetextatus, a Roman vir illustris, and had Chrysogonus for a teacher.  Early in the persecution of Diocletian, the Emperor summoned Chrysogonus to Aquileia, where he was martyred. Anastasia, having gone from Aquileia to Sirmium to visit Christians there, was beheaded on the island of Palmira on Christmas day.  The dates of her birth and death are not recorded.

St Paraskeva of Iconium

St Paraskeva of Iconium

There are three Orthodox saints going by the name Paraskeva. Outside Orthodoxy Paraskeva isn't widely known, but within Orthodoxy the Paraskevas are very important saints. This ikon is of paraskeva of Iconium. According to tradition, she was the daughter of a pious wealthy family who named her "Friday" (Paraskeva is Friday in Greek) after Good Friday.  After her parents died she gave away all her wealth to the benefit of the poor, and set out on the stump to preach Christianity to anyone who would listen.  In time she became an enthusiastic evangelical and was summoned to Emperor Antonius Pius.  There follows a rather doubtful and dubious account of a lengthy and brutal interrogation where she was thrown in a vat of boiling oil and pitch, to which she responded without pain nor physical injury.  She threw some of the pitch into the eyes of the Emperor and blinded him, and then healed him.  This was enough to persuade Antonius to end the persecution of Christians.  Continuing her missionary work she was thrown by one Governor Asclepius into close proximity with a "serpent".  Paraskeva made the sign of the Cross over it and it died, whereupon Asclepius was also converted to Christianity.  She either died, as did many others, under the Diocletian persecution, or she died by beheading under Tarasios, a city ruler.

History seems uncertain whether there were more than one Paraskeva.  There are arguments that Paraskeva is an amalgamation of several people, and arguments she was one figure.  To settle the matter attempts have erred on the side there were more than one and other Paraskevas have featured in Christian history, but irrespective of the true answer to this question her personality and strength of character was such that after her death she attracted a huge following. 

She is invoked by those with diseased cattle, and those who are ill themselves.

St Anthony the Great

St Anthony the Great

Born in 251, St Anthony is deemed to be the Father of All Monks, was a prominent Egyptian Desert Father.  His biography helped spread the practice of monasticism in the West.

He was born in Coma the son of wealthy landowning parents, who died when he was 18 leaving him to look after his sister.  Soon after however, he abandoned this life and placed his sister into the care of nuns, sold and gave away all he had, and went under the tutelage of the harsh ascetic life of monks.  He headed out to the Nitrian Desert 59 miles west of Alexandria where he stayed for 13 years.  Plagued by the devil his temptations are portrayed throughout the various periods of Christian art.  After falling ill and being restored by the villagers who brought him food, he retreated further to a cell set within a more remote mountain near Crocodoplis for a further 20 years.

After failing to become a martyr under persecution, he retreated once again to his cell on the mountain, and over time he attracted hundreds of followers.  On the spot of his cell stands the Monastery of St Anthony the Great.  His remains are believed to to have been removed to Alexandria in 361 and eventually found their way to St Antoine de Dauphine

St Sophia with daughters Faith, Hope and Love

St Sophia surrounded by Saints Faith Hope and Charity

Believed to have been born in Italy in the 1st Century, Sophia named her three daughters after the virtues mentioned by Paul (1 Cor. 13:1) Pistis, Elpis, and Agape (Faith, Hope and Love or Charity).  In AD 137 when Faith was 12, Hope 10 and Love 9 they were martyred by Hadrian (AD 117 - 138).  In an attempt to persuade them to renounce Christianity, Roman soldiers removed the daughters starting from the eldest to the youngest and tortured them individually till they died from the torture.  Sophia was then allowed to bury her daughters and remained by their graves till, three days later, she herself died from grief.

It is uncertain whether this is legend or a true account of four people who lived. There are two separate accounts of this telling set in two separate places at two separate times, but it is entirely credible that there were eight people who met death in such a way, so common were their names and so common was Christian death and torture at that time.  

St Columba

St Columba

The son of a tribal chieftain, Columba was given the name Crimthann when he was baptised shortly after his birth in Gartan, County Donegal.  When he was a boy, he was so often found praying in the town church that his friends called him Colm Cille  (Dove of the Church)  and it was as Colm, or its Latin form Columba, that he was known for the rest of his life.

As a young man, Columba was strongly influenced by one of his teachers, Finian of Clonard, and asked to be ordained a priest.  When a prince cousin gave him some land at Derry, he decided to start a monastery.  Because of his love of nature, Columba refused to build the church facing east, as was the custom;  he wanted to spare the lives of as many oak trees as he could.  His foundation of another monastery at Durrow 7 years later was the beginning of an extraordinary decade during which he travelled through Northern Ireland teaching about Christianity and founded some 30 monasteries.

Columba's strong personality and forceful preaching aroused considerable antagonism.  He was accused in 563 of starting a war between two Irish tribes and was sentenced by the high king never to see Ireland again, to spend the rest of his life in exile.  With 12 companions he sailed from the shores he loved, and settled on the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland.  The monks made occasional visits to the Scottish mainland, where they preached the faith.  Soon their community had 150 members.

In 575 Columba was persuaded to visit Ireland to mediate in a dispute between the high king and the league of poets.  Insisting on remaining faithful to the terms of his exile - that he never see Ireland again - he travelled blindfolded.  Although his sympathies were with the poets, his reputation was respected by everyone.  He spoke to the assembled nobles and clergy with such force and authority that the king was persuaded to reverse his original decree, and the hostility between the two parties was calmed.

St Alban

St Alban

According to Bede, Alban began life as a pagan in a settlement called Verulamium.  Living at the time of persecution for Christians, he found himself giving shelter to an escaping priest. He was so moved by the example of the priest, that he received baptism. When soldiers arrived seeking to execute the priest, Alban put on the priest's cloak resulting in him being beheaded when he refused under torture to deny his faith. While being led to execution, various watery miracles were alleged to have taken place. We are not told how and why the original executioner chose Christianity at this point, but we are told that the man who replaced him became blind. While some of this story may well be legendary rather than historically accurate, he is recognised as the first British Martyr. The exact year of his death is unknown.

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