Special Days in September
3rd September: St Gregory the Great
Pope Gregory never called himself ‘the Great’, but instead ‘the Servant of the Servants of God’. Nevertheless, Gregory was one of the most important popes and influential writers of the Middle Ages. The son of a very rich Roman senator, he left the service of the State upon his conversion as a young man. Gregory then sold off his tremendous estates to found six monasteries in Sicily and a seventh in Rome, and gave generously to the poor. He became a monk and adopted an austere lifestyle. But he was destined to be a frustrated monk, because successive popes kept appointing him to jobs with major public responsibilities.
Christians in England owe him a great deal. When Gregory came across some English slaves for sale in Rome, he asked who they were, and was told, “They are Angles.” Moved with compassion for these humiliated and despised men, he replied, “They are not Angles, but angels!” He wanted to lead a band of missionaries to England to evangelise the Angles, but then plague broke out in Italy, and during this time he was elected Pope.
Reluctantly he accepted, and then sent to work to deal with the crises facing Christendom: plague, floods, famine, and a Lombard invasion. But busy though Gregory was, he did not forget the Angles. He sent Augustine to England, and so indirectly became the apostle of the English.
8th September: The Nativity of the Virgin Mary
In both eastern and western Churches, Mary has always been held as pre-eminent among all the saints. The unique, extraordinary privilege of being the mother of the One who was both God and Man, makes her worthy of special honour. Thomas Aquinas believed she was due hyperdulia, or a veneration that exceeds that of other saints, but is at the same time infinitely below the adoration, or latria, due to God alone.
The gospels of Matthew and Luke give Mary most mention. Luke even tells the story of Jesus’ infancy from Mary’s point of view. Her Song, or Magnificat appears in Luke 1:46-55.
The virginal conception of Christ is clearly stated in the gospels. But after Jesus’ birth, Mary fades quietly into the background. During Jesus’ public life, she is mentioned only occasionally, as at the wedding at Cana. She reappears at the foot of the Cross (John’s Gospel), and is given into John’s care. In the early chapters of Acts, Mary is with the Apostles, and received the Holy Spirit along with them on Whitsunday. But her role was not the active one of teaching and preaching.
Mary’s significance grew with the centuries. By the fifth century she was called Theotokos, The Mother of God, and from the seventh century onwards, she was given four festivals: the Presentation in the Temple (2nd February), the Annunciation (25th March), the Assumption (15th August) and her Nativity (8th September).
Marian devotion has played an enormous role in the church down the years. Mary has been the object of countless prayers, accredited with performing many miracles, and the subject of thousands of artistic endeavours. She has had hundreds of chapels or parish churches named after her. During the Reformation many images of Mary were destroyed. The Second Vatican Council 1962 made an extended statement on her, stressing her complete dependence on her Son, and regarding her as a model of the Church.
Principal Marian shrines of today include Lourdes (France), Fatima (Portugal), Walsingham (England), Loreto (Italy), Czesochowa (Poland) and Guadalupe (Mexico).
13th September: St John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom (347 – 407) is the saint for anyone who applies their Christianity to public life, and also for anyone who hates travelling in bad weather. Chrysostom did both, and had trouble both times.
Born into a wealthy home in Antioch, John Chrysostom studied both oratory and law. In 373 he became a monk, where his talents were soon spotted by the bishop, who put him in charge of the care of the many poor Christians in the city.
Chrysostom’s oratorical skills made him a popular preacher, even when he spoke out against the riots against the emperor’s taxes. The emperor, in fact, liked him so much that he had him made Archbishop of Constantinople in 397. Then the trouble began: because Chrysostom had firm moral views, and wanted to reform the corrupt morals of the court.
Nobody at court liked that at all – especially the Empress, whose make-up, clothes and behaviour were all criticised by Chrysostom. (It’s as if Justin Welby began calling the Queen’s dress sense or Kate’s lipstick immoral.) When his enemies claimed that he had gone on to call her a ‘Jezebel’, the emperor had to exile him – until an earthquake scared everyone into recalling this strict Archbishop – just in case God was trying to tell them something. Even the Empress was shaken – for a while.
A few years later, Chrysostom was exiled again over another false charge – and forced to travel for many miles in appalling weather. If you’ve been stranded in any heat-waves or thunderstorms this summer, imagine walking up the M6 in that – for weeks on end. In the end, Chrysostom died in September, on the road to Pontus.
His body was later brought back to Constantinople, and over the ensuing centuries, the Church came to see him as having been a great church leader, in fact, one of the Four Greek Doctors (with Athanasius, Basil and Gregory of Nazianzus).
14th September: Holy Cross Day
On Holy Cross Day the Church celebrates the Cross as a symbol of triumph, as the sign of Christ’s victory over death. Holy Cross Day goes right back to 14 September 335, and we have the mother of a Roman Emperor to thank for it.
Helena was a devout Christian, and after her son, Constantine, was converted, they agreed that she should travel from Rome to Israel, to seek out the places of special significance to Christians.
Of course, much of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans around 135 AD. But even so, Helena finally located what she believed to be the sites of the Crucifixion and of the Burial (and modern archaeologists think she may well be correct). The sites were so close together that she built one large church over them - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
That church, built in honour of the Cross, was dedicated on 14 September 335.
The sign of the Cross has been used by Christians since early times. Tertullian, writing his De Corona (3:2) around AD 211, noted that Christians seldom did anything significant without making the sign of the Cross.
What is its significance? Well, people often put their initials or some sort of personal mark on something to show that it belongs to them. The Cross is the personal mark of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we mark it on ourselves as a sign that we belong to him. Even in the book of Revelation, we read that the servants of God are ‘sealed’ or ‘marked’ on their foreheads as a sign that they are His.
A preacher once put it this way: if you were explaining to someone how to make a cross, you would say: "Draw an I.” That is you, standing before the Lord, saying, ‘here I am’. Then cancel that vertical stroke with a horizontal stroke – as if to say: “Lord, I abandon my self-will and make You the centre of my life instead. I abandon myself to Your love and service.”
On Holy Cross Day, we recall Jesus’ wonderful promise: “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)
21st September: St Matthew
The Jews wanted a king. So, reluctantly, God gave them Saul. He didn’t do too well, and later David was anointed King. Despite some faults (adultery and murder!) David was the best king they ever had. After this, Solomon began his reign well and then it turned sour. Over the next three centuries there were three dozen kings of Israel, and Judah. Some were good, but most were bad.
The Jewish nation needed a king who would never let them down. Someone, they could trust. A king who would rule with justice and mercy. Someone who could give them health and prosperity and most of all, peace and security. The prophets said their messiah would come. God sent them Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew is all about this new king. He wrote for the Jewish nation and began his book with a genealogy. His readers would learn that Jesus descended from Abraham, through David and was of royal descent. Mathew frequently quoted from the Old Testament to show that Jesus fulfilled all prophecies. He was their long-awaited Messiah. Jesus had a miraculous birth to show his humanity and divinity. He came to give people a new relationship with God.
On the church calendar, St Matthew is remembered on 21st September as the writer of the 40th book of the Bible. His Gospel describes a king and His kingdom. We see Jesus as a king who liked to be associated with people – the poor and rich, the weak and strong. He delivers a sermon on a mountain. He taught using parables and frequently described the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is seen as a king with power. He can perform miracles: heal the sick and feed the hungry. He shows love and compassion. Yet, he is humble. He rides on a donkey to enter Jerusalem a week before His death. Matthew records the arrest, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus and concludes his book with a king victorious over death.
Matthew didn’t write about a vague figure in history. He was a disciple of Jesus and was witness to all that Jesus did. His Gospel contain 28 chapters. Indeed, a big book with a big story!
26th Sept Wilson Carlile, founder of the Church Army
Wilson Carlile was born in Brixton in 1847, and did not set out to become an evangelist. Instead, he was brilliant at both languages and music, and excelled as a businessman. That is, until an economic recession and serious illness brought him crashing down and finished his career, aged only 31.
Not surprisingly, a serious breakdown followed, when Carlile questioned everything that he had been attempting in life. This search for a new meaning brought him to faith in Jesus Christ, and so turned his world upside down. He later wrote:
I have seen the crucified and risen Lord as truly as if He had made Himself visible to me bodily sight. That is for me the conclusive evidence of His existence. He touched my heart and old desires and hope left it. In their place came the new thought that I might serve Him and His poor and suffering brethren.
Wilson approached two Christians whose passion for ministry was already well known: the Americans evangelists Moody and Sanky, who were at that time in England. Wilson attended their meetings and supplied music via his harmonium. In return, he learned a lot about effective outdoors evangelism.
Carlile then prepared himself for a life of ministry. He was confirmed into the Church of England, studied at the London College of Divinity, ordained in 1880 and served his curacy at St Mary Abbots in Kensington. But Carlile wanted more than comfortable parish life, and soon began outdoor preaching again. He wanted to reach the poor, unchurched, of the community.
Carlile left Kensington to work in a slum mission, and by 1882 he was busy uniting the local Anglican parish missions into one organisation. Here his business skills in planning and organising proved invaluable, and soon he had founded the ‘Church Army.’ He then founded two training colleges, to train both men and women evangelists. After slight hesitation, the Church of England agreed to incorporate the Church Army into its structure, and even created the office of Evangelist for the Church Army captains and sisters.
In the years that followed, Church Army has done great work in evangelism, as well as in social and moral welfare. It helped support the troops during World War 1. Carlile remained honorary chief secretary until retirement in 1926. He died in 1942.
29th September: Enter all the angels, led by Michael
By Canon David Winter
What is an angel? Easy, people think: a shining figure with glorious wings, who appears from time to time to do some mighty work for God or bring a very special message from him.
Well, that’s right in one sense (apart from the wings, which owe more to stained glass windows than the Bible). But the fact that not all ‘angels’ in the Bible are ‘glorious’ or ‘shining’ should make us hesitate to categorise them in this spectacular way. After all, the three apparently ordinary men who visited Abraham and Sarah to tell them that she would have a son even though she was long past child-bearing age had none of those outward embellishments. Nevertheless, Abraham recognised them as divine messengers.
The Bible is full of angels, from the early chapters of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, and often they had a key role in crucial events. It seems, from just two instances, that Michael was their leader, an ’archangel’. In many stained glass windows he’s seen with a sword, because in a vision in Revelation he led the angelic host who fought and defeated Satan and his army.
In the Gospels, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah in the Temple, to tell him that his elderly wife was to have a son, the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist. An angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God. An angel appeared ‘in a dream’ to Joseph, the village carpenter in Nazareth, to tell him to go ahead and marry his fiance, Mary, and later - also in a dream - warned him not to go back to Bethlehem. A ‘young man’, whom we take to have been an angel, was sitting in the empty tomb on Easter morning, waiting to tell the startled women that Jesus wasn’t there - He had risen (Mark 16:5).