Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Soldier Turned Bishop

One of my favorite artists'
rendition of Martin giving his
cloak - El Greco c. 1598
During the 4th century there lived a man, son of a soldier, who became a soldier at age 15 in Constantine's wars. He was considering being a Christian but wavered some.

One day a beggar, freezing in the cold, caught the eye of this young soldier. The soldier had compassion on the man and cut his cloak in half so that they each had relief from the cold. That night, as the soldier slept, Christ appeared to the soldier in a dream wearing the half cloak he had given to the beggar. The soldier immediately gave himself to a life of faith in pursuit of the Way of Jesus.

The soldier demanded that he be released from the military saying, "I have faithfully served Caesar. Let me now serve Christ" and "I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight." He was persecuted, thrown in prison, and somewhat threatened with death. When momentary peace came he was released.

This man became a Bishop of the Church after starting the first monastery in Gaul (France). We know him as Bishop Martin of Tours. But what does he have to do with today?

Martin is the patron saint of soldiers. His feast day, the day on which we believe he was buried, is November 11. On Nov. 11 we celebrate Armistice Day, the day World War I was ended by peace treaties signed in France in 1918. Many people saw the end of WWI on Martin's feast in Martin's land as divine providence. Armistice eventually turned into Veterans day.

Here is the prayer most commonly associated with Martin's feast:
"Lord God of hosts, who clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the [universal] faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."

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