August 15: THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
The death of St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not recorded in Scripture (though many take Revelation 12 as concerning her Assumption). Early tradition says that Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. Early texts touching on the end of Mary’s life include “The Book of Mary’s Repose” – a work of the 200’s or 300’s AD and in the ‘Six Books’ Dormition Narrative writing during the 300’s AD. In 451 AD, Emperor Marcian asked Patriarch Juvenal of Jerusalem for relics of the Blessed Virgin, and was told by Juvenal that Mary’s tomb, like that of her Son, was found to be empty three days after her burial, and that only the burial shroud remained (which was venerated at the Church of Gethsemane). It is a fact that, unlike other saints, relics of the Blessed Virgin have been conspicuously absent from Christian churches from the beginning. By the 600’s, the Assumption of Mary was celebrated in the church calendars of the Eastern, Western, Coptic, and Oriental churches on August 15. The doctrine is a proleptic affirmation of the Scriptural teaching that “we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3.2) and that in Christ “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15.52). The Church teaches that while Mary was a special recipient of the grace of Jesus Christ, the same grace will belong to all those who put their trust in him.
August 16: St. Stephen of Hungary
Stephen, Grand Prince of the Magyars was born around the middle of the 900’s AD. At birth he was given the pagan name Vajk, but was baptized as a child, and given the name Stephen, after the first Christian martyr and deacon. Consolidating his rule, Stephen received a blessing and a crown from the pope, becoming the first King of Hungary. Stephen did much to spread the Gospel among his people, establishing monasteries, churches, and ten bishoprics in his domain. Stephen grieved deeply at the death of his only son, Emric, in a hunting accident, and desiring to preserve the Christian faith in his dominion, named his sister’s son as his heir. This angered his nearest relative, Stephen’s pagan cousin Vazul, who led an assassination attempt against St. Stephen. The king survived and had Vazul put to death. Stephen died on the feast of the Assumption, in 1038. His crown (along with the royal sword, robe, and orb) survive. During WWII they were given to American forces to prevent their destruction at the hands of the Soviets. For many years they were kept at Fort Knox, and were returned to the people of Hungary by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. They are now kept in the Hungarian Parliament. St. Stephen is the patron of Hungary.
August 18: St. Helena
Helena was born about 250 AD, and died about 330. Apparently low-born (Eusebius says she was a stable maid), she married Constantius, who would become Emperor, but who had to divorce her (by order of Diocletian) in order to become emperor. Helena never remarried, opting rather to live in humility. She was always close to her only son, Constantine, and when the later became emperor upon the death of Constantius, Helena returned to the imperial court. She was named “Augusta” in 325. During her life, she exhibited true piety and devotion to Jesus. She gave liberally to the poor, released prisoners and mingled with the ordinary worshippers in modest attire. In 325, at about 75 years old, Helena led an expedition to the Holy Land, where with the help of the Bishop of Jerusalem, Macaraius, she helped to re-establish the Christian community after years of persecution, building churches over holy sites, and recovering relics. Notably, St. Helena recovered the relics of the passion, including the True Cross (a piece of which has come down to us at Church of the Holy Cross). Many of these passion relics were deposited in Helena’s own palace chapel in Rome, which became the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, where the passion relics recovered by Helena may still be venerated.
August 20: St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard was the son of Burgundian aristocracy around 1090 AD. As a youth, Bernard had a great love for our Lord and for our Lady. At the age of 20, upon the death of his mother, Bernard entered holy religion (the monastic life) at Citeaux, near Dijon, recently founded by St. Robert of Molesme in an effort to restore the Benedictine monastic life to the austerity and discipline intended by St. Benedict (this reform became the orders of Cistercians and Trappists). Bernard was soon sent with 12 of his brother monks to found a new house in the diocese of Langres. Bernard was named abbot, and the monastery he named Claire Vallee, or Clairvaux. Renowned for his wisdom, learning, and piety, Bernard was called out of his monastic seclusion by the hierarchy of the Church many times during his lifetime to consult and to serve as an arbitrator (he had a gift for peace-making and reconciliation). His zeal for the Gospel resulted in his foundation of over 300 monastic houses during his lifetime. He wrote many theological and devotional works which survive, and on account of which he was named a Doctor of the Church. He had a deep devotion to our Lady, and wrote a number of theological works about her. He died on this day in 1153 AD, at the age of 63.
August 21: Abraham of Smolensk
Born in Smolensk, Abraham was a monk, a biblical scholar, and a preacher. He was renowned in his own time as a miracle-worker, as well as for his deep piety, humility, and his concern for the poor and the sick. He is said always to have kept the last judgment before his mind. He became the abbot of the Holy Mother of God Monastery in Smolensk, where he was much sought out as a confessor and spiritual director. He died in the year 1221.