Of Saints West and East

10 12 2008

Today we celebrate the feast day of Thomas Merton, and the Eastern Church commemorates the departure of  St. Peter El-Rahawy, Bishop of Gaza.

Thanks to James Keefer and the folks over at Mission St Clare for providing this information.  They have more information on Merton, including some quotations and a list of works.  Emphasis mine.

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in France, of American parents. His early education was in France (Lycee de Montauban 1927-8) and England (Oakham School, 1929-32; Clare College, Cambridge, 1933-4). He came to America and attended Columbia University, graduated in English in 1938, worked there one year as a teaching assistant, and got his MA in 1939. In 1939 he joined the Roman Catholic Church, and taught at St Bonaventure for the next two years. In 1941 he entered the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani near Louisville, Kentucky. The Trappists, called more formally Cistercians of the Strict Observance, are (or were before Vatican II) an extremely strict Roman Catholic monastic order, devoted to communal prayer (they spend at least four hours a day in chapel, chanting the praises of God), to private prayer and contemplation, to study, and to manual labor. Except for those whose special duties require otherwise, they are vowed not to speak except in praise of God. Thus, when not singing in chapel, they are silent. [RB note:  fun!]

Toward the end of his life, Merton developed an interest in Buddhist and other Far Eastern approaches to mysticism and contemplation, and their relation to Christian approaches. He was attending an international conference on Christian and Buddhist monasticism in Bangkok, Thailand, when he was accidentally electrocuted on 10 December 1968.

O God, who by your Holy Spirit give to some the word of wisdom, to others the word of knowledge, and to others the word of faith: We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Thomas Merton, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And here is the story of St Peter El-Rahawy.  Again, emphasis mine.  Stories from the Eastern Church always seem to have the stuff of mystery and legend about them!

On this day, we commemorate the departure of St. Peter El-Rahawy, Bishop of Gaza. He was born to a noble family in the beginning of the third century in the City of Raha. When he was twenty years old, his parents took him to Emperor Theodosius II to be in his company. Yet, because Peter had forsaken the world and its glory, he practiced an austere life while living in the King’s palace. He also used to carry the bodies of the holy martyrs of Persia and bury them.

He left the Royal Court and became a monk in one of the monasteries. After a short while, they ordained him – against his wish – the Bishop of Gaza and its surroundings. It was said that when he celebrated his first Liturgy as a bishop, lots of blood flowed from the Holy Body and filled the paten.

It happened that Marcianus, the Chalcedonian Emperor, started to persecute the Orthodox Bishops. At that time, the body of St. James the Mangled [RB note:  Fa Real?] was moved to one of the monasteries in the City of Raha. St. Peter came to Egypt, took the body of St. James the Mangled with him and dwelt in one of the monasteries in the City of El-Bahnasa. There he met St. Isaiah the Egyptian.

When the reign of Emperor Marcianus ended, St. Peter returned to the land of Palestine and continued to confirm the believers in the faith. One day while he was celebrating the Divine Liturgy, some noble people present in the church were busy talking to each other in worldly affairs and the saint did not reprove them. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and reproached him because he did not admonish those who were talking in the church.

Emperor Zeno heard of him and longed to see him, but St. Peter did not fulfil the Emperor’s wish because he did not like the glory of this world. He left the City of Raha to an area called Gawer in Palestine between Jerusalem and Damascus.

On the feast day of Abba Peter the Pope of Alexandria, while St. Peter was celebrating the Divine Liturgy, Abba Peter appeared to him and told him, “The Lord Jesus has called you to be with Him.” St. Peter called his people and commanded them to be firm in their Orthodox faith. He then stretched out his hands and delivered up his soul.



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