Saints and Seasons was compiled in 2011 from notes written by the Revd Sue to introduce some of the heroes and occasions that mark the church year. Saints days are fixed and occur on the same date each year; festivals that relate to Easter, however, move with Easter: the months may or may not therefore correspond to the current year...
2nd February: Candlemas *
Candlemas is a traditional Christian festival that commemorates the ritual purification of Mary forty days after the birth of her son Jesus. This goes back to a Jewish tradition that women were considered unclean after the birth of a child. They were not permitted to enter the Temple to worship nor could they touch any holy thing until they had been 'cleansed'. So, we celebrate the ritual Purification of the Virgin Mary on 2nd February, the specified forty days after she gave birth to Jesus.*
Candlemas also marks the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple. On seeing the holy family in the Temple, Simeon praised God and acclaimed the infant as 'the light to enlighten the nations' and the prophet Anna gave thanks and proclaimed him her redeemer. Read all about it in Luke 2:22-40.
This feast is called Candlemas because that was the day on which the year's supply of candles for the church were blessed. Christians were observing Candlemas in Jerusalem as early as the year 384, and by the middle of the 5th century candles were lit on this day to symbolise that Jesus Christ was the light, the truth and the way.
This is a 'bitter-sweet' feast day. The revelation of the child Jesus in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will pierce, lead on to the events of Easter. It is as if we say, on February 2nd, 'One last look back at Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!'
* Although officially dated 2nd February, Candlemas may be celebrated on the nearest Sunday instead.
3rd February: Anskar, Apostle of the North
Anskar was a native of Picardy and a monk of Corbie near Amiens. When the King of Denmark became a Christian in the ninth century, he asked Anskar to work for him, evangelising his people. Anskar moved to Schleswig where he tried to begin a Christian school. He was expelled by the locals but moved to Sweden where he is said to have built the first Christian church. In 832 he was consecrated Bishop of Hamburg and sixteen years later he became Archbishop of Bremen. He returned to Denmark to convert the King of Jutland. Anskar preached widely throughout Scandinavia and he was much-loved for his work with the poor and his fight against the Viking slave trade. He is the patron saint of Denmark.
14th February: Cyril & Methodius
Cyril and his older brother Methodius were born in Thessalonica. They were very gifted, both being able to speak several languages, including Slavonic, a language which had never been written down. Cyril created the Slavonic alphabet (later known as the Cyrillic alphabet) and began translating the Scriptures and other liturgical texts into it. They established the church in Moravia. Cyril died on this day in the year 869 whilst the brothers were in Rome seeking approval from the Pope for their evangelistic work. Methodius returned to Moravia as archbishop. He completed the translation of the Bible and continued the missionary work. He died in the year 885. Today they are revered in both the Christian East and West. They are seen as the patron saints of ecumenism between these two great branches of the church.
17th February: Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda
Janani Luwum was born to a poor Ugandan family in 1922. His childhood and youth were spent as a goat herd but he quickly showed an ability to learn and absorb knowledge when given the opportunity. His parents were Christians and he trained as a teacher at a missionary college. Soon afterwards he became a Christian and he was eventually ordained in 1956. He became Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969 and Archbishop of Uganda in 1974. Idi Amin came to power in Uganda in 1971 as the result of a military coup. Janani was totally committed to human rights and he spoke out about the cruelties carried out by the new regime. Janani and two of Amin’s own government ministers were said to have been found dead following a car accident. It quickly became apparent that they died on the explicit instructions of the president. Janani’s enthusiasm for Jesus and his willingness to sacrifice his own life for what he believed in, led to his martyrdom on this day in 1977.
23rd February: Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna
Polycarp is honoured as one of the very first Christian martyrs. He had been Bishop of Smyrna on the Adriatic coast of Asia Minor for over forty years when the persecution of Christians began. He was arrested and given the option to renounce his faith and so save his life. His response was, “I have been Christ’s servant for eighty-six years and he has done me no harm. Can I now blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” He was immediately burnt at the stake. His remains were gathered together and buried outside the city. There began the practice of celebrating the eucharist over his burial place on the anniversary of his death. This practice also grew up over the martyrs’ tombs in the Roman catacombs and led to the placing of relics under the altar in churches. Polycarp died in the year 155.
February's notes are based on material found in Exciting Holiness: Collects and Readings, Brother Tristram SSF; Following in their Steps, Eleanor and Rachel Sayers; and All the Company of Heaven, Kenneth Stevenson.