Parish Of Opawa St Martins Blog

September 30, 2015

Jesus sighed

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 12:49 pm

A sermon given by Marla Hughes

I) Introduction
A) Stage directions
1) [9:38: John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” ]
2) After verse 38: “Jesus sighed”
3) They don’t get it. Once again, the disciples just don’t get it.
4) Link into previous readings in Mark
a) The preceding verse reminds us that Jesus had been telling them, “welcome others” and here what are they doing? Excluding
b) Not their only error
(i) Not following “us” — not YOU, or God, but “us” they want to be the leaders; disciples still don’t understand their role is to follow
(ii) The person they tried to stop – the upstart — was casting out demons – something the disciples had just been shown themselves unable to do
c) No surprise if Jesus sighed – or even groaned
II) Inclusion and exclusion
A) Jesus’ message of inclusion
1) Teaching by word and example that the kingdom of God is now coming to all
2) preaches to gentiles, heals and feeds them
3) message of Inclusion of the poor, outcast and marginalised
4) Whenever you draw a line between who is in and who is out – Jesus is on the other side of it
5) And to be his disciple is to follow Jesus
6) But Jesus’s sigh is not just for his disciples, it is for all of us – all those who say we believe in and follow him — as the Irish Benedictine priest and scholar, Wilfrid Harrington, reminds us – we need to be honest and to see ourselves in these flawed disciples
B) Why?
1) Circumstances
a) Mark’s church in a time of persecution and intensifying conflict – late 60s, just before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. We see an element of that in some of what Mark says in his Gospel
b) But this is not what is emphasised here – instead it is that obstacles arise from within ourselves
2) Our “inner demons”
a) When you read Mark it is easy to note his focus on getting rid of demons
b) At the time demons were real – no longer the case
c) But we still speak of having our inner demons — Demons harm and impair us, they sicken us, they block our ability to live fully and serve God
3) What things do this and how?
a) Diverse things
b) Fears? Of those different from us?
c) Desires – for riches and possessions? For prestige?
d) Immersion in our secular culture and all it offers – its enticements, its distractions
e) for power? Our society now is very big on telling us what counts as important
f) we have A desire to conform – to avoid standing out
4) disempowerment of others
a) most nefarious and subtle methods
b) for elusive security – through scapegoats and blaming the victim
c) It is easy to side with the powers that be – if we have a lot, they will give us more; if we have little, they dangle us a fishing line of hope.
d) All we need to do is accept and internalise the values of those in control –stay on the right side of the powerful, wealth is the measure of a person and do what you need to do to get ahead – not very different from what it was 2000 years ago
e) If you challenge the prevailing ethos, you are an outsider, likely to get in trouble with the [Roman or today] authorities, or even sometimes with the church
f) Your religious beliefs can even serve as part of your security net, part of the problem, keeping yourself safe while excluding others
(i) If the most you can do is to try to uphold your individual moral code — keep yourself pure but let others suffer
(ii) You never question the prevailing ethos – do not, under any circumstances pick grain or help lift your neighbor’s cow out of a ditch on the Sabbath –
(iii) or stand up for those who after 5 years still have no repairs on their houses or who are poor and are told, well, too bad, put your infants in care and go out and find yourself a minimum wage job that won’t even pay for the childcare
5) All of these things are giant stumbling blocks to our love for God
6) And Jesus condemns all of them!
7) They prevent us from being his disciples, from serving others

C) Harming others by exclusion
1) Our Gospel reveals that Jesus warned the disciples in no uncertain terms not to drive others away
2) Shock!
a) [“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off”]
b) The word used in Mark 9:42 (and 43) is skandalizo – and we still have a word in English that is parallel “to scandalise”; but the meaning then was broader, and various Bible translations here (and elsewhere where it is used) translate it as to make stumble, to offend
c) Or even to Shock! So Jesus to make his point, perhaps, here by shocking us with his images, with a few verses we might prefer to skip over – cut off your hand, tear out your eye
d) Maybe it is to say: This is serious business – if what you do is harming others and driving them away, you are failing as disciples
e) your eye sees yourself as elevated about others, your eye cannot see that that person is God’s beloved child; your hand hits, your foot kicks a person; your eye looks in the mirror and sees yourself, not others
3) when we treat others with this lack of regard
a) we deny them a voice;
b) we take away their dignity, their mana
c) we label them, based on our preconceptions and prejudices
4) [See this in our OT reading, where those selected to help Moses deny that others may also have a role to play, something to say – Moses must call to their notice – Would that all God’s people were prophets! notice the content of the message is not at issue, it is the fact that others even dare to speak, without “permission”]
5) In doing this we remove others’ hope for something better
6) Any in it we deny the fundamental command of love…love your neighbour as yourself;
1) We even here have a message of hope
2) If we “cut off” those things in us that impede us – change is possible
3) we can rejoin the path of discipleship
4) and freed of our blockages we will be able to serve
III) Tie in to the Gospel’s larger message
A) Discipleship
1) Mark’s gospel is told as a journey: with Jesus, then and now
2) The way of discipleship –a journey, to something new beginning to emerge
3) Not about just something internal, not about “me and Jesus” — but about a new world, a new way of living and interacting with others
4) discipleship is evidenced in interaction with others
5) the reign of God is proclaimed in Jesus and is coming into being — grounded in love for others, demonstrated in service
6) Not easy; the road led to the cross
B) Living into discipleship: the proof of the pudding ..,
1) James
a) Compatible with James: As we read through Mark, We also have come to the end of James’ lovely little epistle
b) I have seen people nodding in past weeks as James words were read –
c) His advice is a pastoral message for the ages –
d) don’t make distinctions based on wealth or status, like Mark
e) Don’t spread rumors, curb your tongue;
f) but instead listen to each other, be gentle and care for with each other
g) Pray
(i) And today James tells us to pray for each other…
(ii) In prayer, James tells us, we voice our belief in transformation and renewal –
C) Secrets
1) Many note that in Mark Jesus talks about the gospel message as a “secret”
2) But this is not the basis for a line between the ins and outs, the included and excluded
3) the disciples are included, but often do not see or accept Jesus’ message while the excluded are the ones who call out to Jesus
4) So I ask you to think about two things —
a) One, I’ve already considered – reflect on what prevents each of us from grasping the gospel’s secret
b) Two, part of the secrecy is the process; remember our journey is lifelong — some things are evident now, and others will only become so
5) Living in hope
a) Yet we live in hope — what we cannot fully see or understand we are called to embrace
b) How can we do this ? It is given to us by someone we love and… are learning to trust
c) For The “secret” is also a promise for the future; like a surprise party we sort of know is being planned for us
6) God’s kingdom’s seeds were sown with Jesus, and have ever since been coming into flower … if we look with eyes that will see
7) In the beauty of life — spring trees and flowers
8) In our relationships of love and friendship; in acts of kindness
9) In those sent to guide and assist us:
a) Fr Lawrence
b) Pope Francis
c) Each other
10) We are not aimlessly alone, climbing a mountain without a guide, for the Father has drawn us to the mountaintop; Jesus is with us, and we are aided in our journey by the Holy Spirit, ever present in the world, in us, and – as Jesus ever reminds us – in each other as member of the church
11) Open your eyes and your hearts — God Knows what you will see!

September 13, 2015

Who is Jesus?

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 2:07 pm

One of the central themes of Mark’s gospel is the question of identity. The question Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” is one of the main reasons Mark’s gospel was written and the main question Mark is setting out to answer. The disciples are in the position of putting together a big jigsaw (in fact it’s more like one of those wasjigs in which you have to work out the picture as you go along). Jesus is giving them more pieces of the puzzle to work with and they have the job of figuring it all out. Every now and then they get some pretty big clues. The Transfiguration is one of them as will be the crucifixion on Good Friday. The passage before us today is another.

In fact there are a complex series of themes that are beginning to come together as Mark tell sus his story of Jesus. This passage is when Jesus begins the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The journey begins and ends with two bookends, as it were. These bookends are both accounts of Jesus healing a blind man and giving the gift of sight. What Mark’s is doing is showing us that the Christian life is a journey of faith, a spiritual journey, in which God helps us see more clearly who Jesus is as we go along. Mark’s gospel is sophisticated story-telling and first class theology.

Let’s take a look at this new piece of the jigsaw. The journey to Jerusalem begins with this now famous moment when Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah, which is prompted by Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” As any leader will know, identity is always a sensitive issue and if you tamper with it strong emotions are triggered. At the moment our government is leading a debate about whether we should change our national flag. That tells us that symbols we hold in common are one of the ways we build identity; in the case of Christchurch the Cathedral in the Square is another one of them which is partly why there are strong feelings about the future of that building. Our family stories are another way that we use to form our identity. On one of the TV channels there is a programme called “Who do you think you are?” that traces the ancestry of celebrities so that they, and we, find out where they have come from and therefore help us understand more about who they are now. We might also define ourselves by our relationships: I am the son or daughter of…, the husband or wife of…, the father or mother of…

When it came to Jesus the people had started projecting various identities on to him. They were saying that he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets. These are unsurprising connections for people to make. Jesus was baptised by John and shared much of John’s expectations about the coming of the Kingdom of God. Elijah was a prophet of ancient times who had mysteriously disappeared by going up to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:1-12). Another ancient prophet, Malachi, said Elijah would put in an appearance at the end of the world. It is testament to how effective Jesus was in telling people about God. Clearly people saw that God was speaking through Jesus in a powerful way.

But Mark wants us to see that there is much more to Jesus than any of these popular ideas. For the first time in this gospel, Peter calls Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ of God. The word, Christ, or Messiah means “the anointed one.” All through the bible priests, prophets and kings were anointed with oil. King David is a famous example, but there are plenty more if you comb through the Old Testament. To be called, “the anointed one” signals that Jesus is chosen by God. He will be the fulfilment of the hopes and dreams of Israel; a leader who would restore justice and hope. In Jesus’ day, this was also a subversive title. Even speaking it would dangerous, because it would be a threat to the Roman rulers and their Jewish collaborators.

We know then, that God speaks through Jesus, that he is ushering in the kingdom, bringing about a “regime change” to use Rowan Williams’ phrase, and that Jesus is taking his disciples on a journey will require faith and courage. It always seems to be the way that if you are a follower of Jesus, you will be on the edge of your seat a lot of the time. It’s an adventure and you never know what will be around the corner. But Mark needs us to see that there is even more to Jesus.

Because from now on as Jesus journey’s with his disciples, he is going to show them the true nature of his mission. He is to be a suffering Messiah. That is why we have the passage from Isaiah that is read in Holy Week paired with the gospel reading today. Jesus was the first person in the history of Israel to identify the Messiah with the suffering servant that Isaiah spoke about in ages past. This will mean that the way of Jesus will be the way of the cross. Instead of being a heroic leader who will liberate the people from the occupying Roman army, he will lay down his life to liberate us from sin and death. That is the journey that Jesus came to fulfil. It will take the disciples years to get their heads around it. This will be a piece of the jigsaw that they will ponder for a long time, and it will be after the resurrection before they make sense of it.

Jesus promises us eternal life if we follow him, but the journey will look all wrong in the eyes of the world. The road to eternal life means losing the life we have. Jesus faced rejection, he had to stand up for what he believed in. He had to speak truth when no one wanted to hear it. He found himself swimming against the prevailing tide of trends and values of his time.

If we are pondering the identity of Jesus, the flow-on question becomes the identity of his disciples, you and me. If we are followers of Jesus, who are we called to become? Well, Christ is our identity. Our task is to grow to be like him, to be shaped by his identity. And that means embarking with the disciples of old on a journey to discover who Jesus is. It is a journey that will call us to give up being at the centre, or being in control, or being the boss, or being the one who is always right, or whatever our compulsion is. The gospel calls us to be present to others, to make ourselves available, to focus our love beyond ourselves, to live for others. That is what Jesus means when he says that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

If we do that there will be no identity crisis. We will not be groping in the dark wondering whether our life has meaning or purpose. We will not need to identify ourselves in terms of our postcode or profession or even familial relationships. We will be followers of Jesus. We will be on a journey, and that journey will have us on the edge of our seats, even if we don’t want it to. It will be exciting because we will be seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus and from the perspective of God.

So if anyone asks you who you are, you can reply, ‘I am a child of the most high God, the brother or sister of Jesus Christ, and I am an heir to eternal life’.
And if you have any identity confusion left at all, that reply should clear it up completely.

May 9, 2015

Funeral for baby William

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 11:59 am

You might notice a rainbow theme coming through the funeral service today. As we were preparing for this service we thought of the fact that William was a baby, and that means we need kids songs (one of which mentions of which mentions all the colours), balloons with all the colours of the rainbow, the story of Noah and the rainbow to be a sign of God’s promise of hope when the circumstances of life are overwhelming.

Little William died before he was born. At the moment we don’t know why he died. Sometimes when babies are growing inside mothers tummies, things don’t work out the way they are supposed to, and that was the case with little William. You can see that happening in nature sometimes as well. Think of a garden, even those tended by the most skilled gardeners. Sometimes there is a plant that looks like all the others, but it either just doesn’t produce anything to eat that year, or the flower doesn’t unfold. That can happen in God’s family as well. A child is conceived, beautiful and precious, but it never reaches the point where it can be born alive. So little William has gone back to God, the source of life from which he came. But he is still precious, a child of God, a bearer of a unique image of God. He is utterly loved.

William’s death raises lots of questions. Where has William gone? Why did this have to happen? Will Jesus be looking after him?

These are normal questions that come to us in times of tragedy like this and no harm can come from talking about these questions with God. We are not here necessarily to answer the all the questions today. We are here to mourn. We mourn the death of a child who was only a few weeks away from being full term. We weep, just Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died. Even if we have answers to our questions in our heads that rise so naturally at times like this, there is still no adequate explanation for this loss. It is painful.

I believe it is painful to God as well. God created the world intending it to be a good place. At times like this, some people say well meaning things, but wrong things, usually in an attempt to be comforting. They might say that William’s death was God’s will, or that God wanted little William in heaven earlier than usual. So let’s be really clear that the death of William is not God’s will. If anyone says that this death is God’s will, don’t believe them. I am sure that while God loves William he did not want to be welcoming him into heaven now. God does not will the death of babies or the pain that inflicts on parents (and older sisters) and grandparents and friends. No other child will ever replace William. Today, God weeps with us.

What are we to say, though?

It is important to say that God is still for you, Anna and Peter, Charlotte and Hannah. God is with you in the midst of this and will be alongside you as you go through it. So are all the saints. In some Christian traditions there is a prayer called the Litany of Saints which is sung both at Easter and at times of death. It calls on Mary, St Mark, St Joseph and St Anne by name, and just about every saint in the whole company of heaven, to pray for us. And we know they will pray with understanding, because they too have faced the death of loved ones. Mary especially knows what is like to witness the death of her child. St Anne knows from the point of view of a grandmother. Today we ask for the prayers of all the saints. We know that God understands as well, because even God has faced the death of his/her child, and God will be with you.

The experience of the biblical writers over and over again, as well as the saints, is that God is love. My faith in that remains unshaken. Little William was loved utterly by Anna and Peter while he was in the womb. Now he is being gathered in the arms of Jesus where he will continue to be utterly loved. In his life he will know nothing other than love. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me! Do not stop them…” and he gathered the children in his arms and blessed them. That is what Jesus is doing for William now. He will be fully known to Jesus and fully loved; he will be in heaven with Jesus and Jesus will look after him. This is the season of Easter when we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. Jesus’ rising from the dead is what gives us confidence that William has new life also with God that can never be snatched away.

Today, the rainbow is God’s symbol of hope given to us. Let us hold on to that hope, cling to it even. Hold on to the hope that God is with us as a healing presence, and allow your tears to wash away the pain in the days and months to come.

May 30, 2012

Term 4 at CAMS

Filed under: Stephen Coulthard — Administrator @ 10:12 pm

May 2012

Dear friends

It is now term 4, and at CAMS we are moving toward exams, report writing, and the end of the school year on June 29th. It is getting a little milder in temperature, though still hot in the afternoon, and much more now, cloudless blue skies. The rain would now seem to be done with, until about December. It has been a reasonable rainy season for most people’s crops, but patchy though, and in some parts of the region apparently, not so good.

I mentioned in the last report, the Easter Production that we were preparing for. That happened on the Wednesday morning of the week before Easter, and went pretty well. The kids did very well, having learnt their lines, and they acted their parts convincingly. I’ve generally found that as long as they have got it right in practice at some point, children will get it right on the day. The audience and the occasion seem to help. It was a lot of extra work, though, and at the end of it I was very tired.

Easter itself here was well observed by our English language congregation. After church on Easter Day, we had a shared lunch in a little enclosed courtyard at the back of our compound. We had as guests both the Dean of the cathedral, and Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo and his wife Irene. During the Easter 2 week school holiday, a lot of the teachers were out of town, so things were fairly quiet. I didn’t go anywhere, but was glad of a quiet time to rest and recover.

Over much of Term 1 there was a weekly confirmation class of about a dozen older kids from the English congregation – all also pupils at the school. Rev Jane Window (a long-term teacher with CMS Australia, ordained deacon a few months ago.) We had their confirmation service on the 13th May, and it was a great occasion. The first apparently for our congregation since 2000. The kids sang ‘Make me a channel of your peace…’ as a song of commitment. One of the invited guests had been a cabinet minister in the original government established at Independence in 1961 – quite an honour to meet such a person. It was a lovely occasion, as ten very sincere kids committed themselves to following Christ. You could pray for them, that they will continue in that commitment, and understand how to act on it, in the little aspects of their day to day lives.

The rest of the school year is likely to be fairly busy. After that finishes up on Friday 29th June, I will be quickly doing a bit of preparation for getting the new year going. Then I will be heading down to Dar es Salaam probably on a bus the following Tuesday, and flying out of Dar on Wednesday, arriving in Christchurch on Friday July 6th. This is my original return ticket, booked when I was thinking I’d only be here for a year. I come back on Emirates Airways, with a 10 hour stop in Dubai. I wouldn’t quite say that I am counting down the days, but I am looking forward to being back for a little time – It will be very good to catch up with family and friends. I will be speaking at an assembly at my old school, RNLS, and also hope to be doing a little bit of relieving teaching, if there is any to be had. At this point, I expect to be heading back to Tanzania on Tuesday 31st July.

The school is going along well. The Form 4 students are currently sitting the International GSCE exams, a British qualification. With the primary school, on the same site, it is a job to keep things quiet as they do those papers. They have to be all done at the same time, regardless of where in the world you are. As we are currently 2 hours ahead of UK time, this means morning papers start at 10:30 am. Good news for the school is that it will be fully staffed in August at the commencement of the new school year. Getting enough ex-pat staff has been a constant challenge here.

One interesting recent development has been that we have had a number of Russian children join the school. The new University of Dodoma has a number of its academic positions filled by Russians.

The bike riding has been continuing, generally one afternoon during the week and on Saturday mornings. We have 3 rides we normally alternate between, all of about an hour: Easy, to the north of the town, going around a large rocky outcrop called Lion Rock; Medium, out to the west, and taking
us right out of town – on this one I’ve seen baboons, and also some rather interesting footprints; and the hardest ride, to the southeast, that begins with a very solid climb over some fairly rough tracks. I am enjoying being able to do this.

Parliament is sitting at the moment by the look of things – Dodoma is Tanzania’s legislative capital. When they are in town, we generally have the two main roads illuminated with streetlights, which is quite an amazing sight. The functions of capital city are being gradually moved from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, and there are building sites for a couple of Ministries going up nearby. In some places, Dodoma is unrecognisable compared to how it was in 2001 when I first arrived here; however, much is also just the same.

I hope you are all well and that winter isn’t too cold where you are. I’ll get enough of it in NZ to make me appreciate the warmth in Tanzania!

Thanks again for your interest, your prayers, and support in many ways.

God bless you all.
Stephen Coulthard.

December 2, 2011

Advent Poems

Filed under: General — Administrator @ 12:41 pm

A parishioner has recommended these Advent poems which may be found here.

July 17, 2011

FAQ: About the first reading in the Eucharist

Filed under: General — Administrator @ 6:12 pm

The Anglican Church uses the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) which is an international cycle of readings approved for use in a number of traditions including Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and others.

The RCL offers two options for the First Testament (or Old Testament) readings at this time of the year (between Trinity Sunday and Christ the King Sunday): either the Continuous Readings or the Related Readings.
This parish is using the related readings option which means that as we go through a gospel systematically Sunday by Sunday, the First Testament reading is one that is related to it. This is the way the New Testament writers approached the formation of the gospels. As they told each episode of the story of Jesus they saw a passage of the First Testament lying behind it, usually because they saw Jesus fulfilling a particular aspect of prophecy and so on. What is, in fact, taking place is that all human experience is being focused in Christ.

The related readings stand in this tradition and in this way of using the scripture and invite us to see our lives being directed toward Christ and shaped by him. By using these readings we are saying that the life, death and resurrection of Christ stand at the centre of our common life, and that every celebration of the Eucharist is inviting us to enter into the mystery of Christ more deeply.

April 3, 2011

The meaning of Lent

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 9:32 pm

A reflection on Lent from the Taize Community.

March 5, 2009

Saint Mark

Filed under: General — Administrator @ 10:30 pm

Coptic icon of Saint Mark

Coptic icon of Saint Mark

Saint Mark the Evangelis, also known as John Mark, is traditionally believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark and a companion of Saint Peter. He accompanied Paul of Tarsus and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary journey. After a sharp dispute, Barnabas separated from Paul, taking Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:36-40). Later Paul called upon the services of Mark, the kinsman of Barnabas, and Mark was named as Paul’s fellow worker.

His feast day is celebrated on 25 April, the anniversary of his martyrdom. St Mark is also believed by various traditions to be the first bishop of Alexandria and the first Pope of Alexandria. He is considered the founder of the church in Alexandria, according to the Coptic church understanding, and thus the founder of Christianity in Africa. His evangelistic symbol is the lion.

Biblical and traditional information
According to the Coptic church, Saint Mark was born in the Pentapolis of North Africa. This tradition adds that he returned to Pentapolis later in life after being sent by Saint Paul to Colosse (Col 4:10) and serving with him in Rome (Phil 24; 2 Tim 4:11) ; from Pentapolis he made his way to Alexandria.

Mark of the Pauline Epistles is specified as a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10); this would explain Barnabas’ special attachment to the Mark of Acts over whom he disputed with Paul (Acts 15:37-40). Mark’s mother was a prominent member of the earliest group of Christians in Jerusalem. It was to her house that Peter turned on his release from prison; the house was a meeting-place for the brethren, “many” of whom were praying there on the night Peter arrived from prison (Acts 12:12-17). Evidence for Mark’s authorship of the Gospel that bears his name originates with Papias.

The martyrdom of Saint Mark. Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Musée Condé, Chantilly).

The martyrdom of Saint Mark. Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (Musée Condé, Chantilly).

A number of traditions have built up around Mark, though none can be verified from the New Testament. It is suggested that Mark was one of the servants at the Marriage at Cana who poured out the water that Jesus turned to wine (John 2:1-11).Mark is also said to have been one of the Seventy Apostles sent out by Christ (Luke 10:1), the man who carried water to the house where the Last Supper took place (Mark 14:13),the young man who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51-52),the one who hosted the disciples in his house after the death of Jesus and into whose house the resurrected Jesus Christ came (John 20). When Mark returned to Alexandria, the people there are said to have resented his efforts to turn them away from the worship of their traditional Egyptian gods. In AD 68 they tied him to several horses and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.


St Martin

Filed under: General — Administrator @ 10:18 pm
St Martin as a bishop

St Martin as a bishop

Saint Martin of Tours (Latin: Sanctus Martinus Turonensis), (Savaria, Pannonia {now Szombathely, Hungary}, 316 – November 8, 397 in Candes-Saint-Martin, Gaul {central France}; buried November 11, 397, Candes, Gaul) was a Bishop of Tours whose shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela. Around his name much legendary material accrued and he has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Roman Catholic saints. He is considered a spiritual bridge across Europe, given his association with both France and Hungary.

Some of the accounts of his travels may have been interpolated into his vita to give credence to early sites of his cult. His life was recorded by a contemporary, the hagiographer Sulpicius Severus. He is a patron saint of France and of soldiers.

Early life
Martin was named after Mars, god of war, which Sulpicius Severus interpreted as “the brave, the courageous”. His father was a senior officer (tribune) in the Imperial Horse Guard, a unit of the Roman army, and was later stationed at Ticinum, Cisalpine Gaul (now Pavia, Italy), where Martin grew up.

At the age of ten, he went to the church against the wishes of his parents and became a catechumen or candidate for baptism. At this time, Christianity had been made a legal religion (in 316), but it was by no means the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. It had many more adherents in the Eastern Empire, whence it had sprung, and was concentrated in cities, brought along the trade routes by converted Jews and Greeks (the term ‘pagan’ literally means ‘country-dweller’). Christianity was still far from accepted amongst the higher echelons of society, and in the army the cult of Mithras would have been stronger. Although the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, and the subsequent programme of church-building, gave a greater impetus to the spread of the religion, it was still a minority faith. When Martin was fifteen, as the son of a veteran officer, he was required to join a cavalry ala himself and thus, around 334, was stationed at Ambianensium civitas or Samarobriva in Gaul (now Amiens, France). It is therefore likely that he joined the equites catafractarii Ambianenses, a unit of cataphracti listed in the Notitia Dignitatum.

The Legend of the Cloak

The Charity of St. Martin, by Jean FouquetWhile Martin was still a soldier at Amiens he experienced the vision that became the most-repeated story about his life. He was at the gates of the city of Amiens with his soldiers when he met a scantily dressed beggar. He impulsively cut his own military cloak in half and shared it with the beggar. That night he dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clad me.” (Sulpicius, ch 2). In another story, when Martin woke his cloak was restored, and the miraculous cloak was preserved among the relic collection of the Merovingian kings of the Franks.

St Martin and the Beggar, by El Greco, ca. 1597-99 (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

St Martin and the Beggar, by El Greco, ca. 1597-99 (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

The dream confirmed Martin in his piety and he was baptized at the age of 18. He served in the military for another two years until, just before a battle with the Gauls at Worms in 336, Martin determined that his faith prohibited him from fighting, saying, “I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.” He was charged with cowardice and jailed, but in response to the charge, he volunteered to go unarmed to the front of the troops. His superiors planned to take him up on the offer, but before they could, the invaders sued for peace, the battle never occurred, and Martin was released from military service.

Martin declared his vocation and made his way to the city of Tours, where he became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, a chief proponent of Trinitarian Christianity, opposing the Arianism of the Visigothic nobility. When Hilary was forced into exile from Poitiers, Martin returned to Italy, converting an Alpine brigand on the way, according to his biographer Sulpicius Severus, and confronting the Devil himself. Returning from Illyria, he was confronted by the Arian archbishop of Milan Auxentius, who expelled him from the city. According to the early sources, he decided to seek shelter on the island then called Gallinaria, now Isola d’Albenga, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, where he lived the solitary life of a hermit.

During the Medieval Ages, Frankish Kings would carry St. Martin’s cloak, which is called cappa in Latin into battle as a holy relic. The priest who cared for the cloak was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, which is where the English word, chaplain derives from. One of the many services a chaplain can provide is spiritual and pastoral support for military service personnel by performing religious services at sea or in the battlefield.


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