Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Saint Adalbert of Prague


Saint Adalbert, (c. 956 – April 23, 997), Czech Roman Catholic saint, a Bishop of Prague and a missionary, was martyred in his efforts to convert the Baltic Prussians. He evangelized Poles and Hungarians. St. Vojtěch was later made the patron saint of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary and Prussia.

Adalbert (Vojtěch) was born into a noble Czech family of Prince Slavník and his wife Střezislava in Libice nad Cidlinou, Bohemia. The Chambers Biographical Dictionary mistakenly gives his year of birth as 939. His father was a rich and independent ruler of the Zličan princedom that rivaled Prague (see Slavník's dynasty). Adalbert had five full brothers: Soběslav (Slavnik's heir), Spytimír, Pobraslav, Pořej, Čáslav and a half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) from his father's liaison with another woman. Radim chose a clerical career as did Adalbert, and took the name Gaudentius. Adalbert was a well-educated man, having studied for about ten years (970-80) in Magdeburg under Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg. Upon the death of his mentor, he took the name Adalbert. Gifted and industrious, Adalbert soon became well-known all over Europe.

In 980 Adalbert finished his studies at Magdeburg school and returned to Prague, where he became a priest. In 981 his father, Prince Slavnik, and both his mentors died.

In 982, still not yet thirty years old, Adalbert became the Bishop of Prague. Although Adalbert descended from a rich family and could afford comfort and luxury, he lived poorly of his own free will. He was noted for charity, austerity, and zealous service to the Church. His duty was difficult even in baptized Bohemia, as the pagan creed was deeply embedded in the peoples' minds. Adalbert complained of polygamy and idolatry, which still were not unusual among the Czechs. He also strongly resented the participation of baptized Christians in the slave trade.
In 989 he resigned from his bishop's cloth and left Prague. He went to Rome and lived as a hermit in St. Alexis Benedictine monastery.
Four years later, in 993, Pope John XV sent him back to Bohemia. Adalbert became the Bishop again. That time he founded a monastery in Břevnov, near Prague, the first one in the Czech lands. Nonetheless, the nobility there continued to oppose his ministry. Also, according to Cosmas' chronicle, high clerical office was a burden to Adalbert, and in 994 he offered it to Strachkvas who was Přemyslid and Duke Boleslav's brother. Strachkvas, nevertheless, refused.

In 995 Slavniks' former rivalry with the Přemyslids (allied with Vršovci) resulted in the storming of Libice led by Boleslaus II the Pious. During the struggle four (or five) of Adalbert's brothers were murdered. Thus the Zličan princedom became part of the Přemyslids' estate.
After the tragedy he could not stay in Bohemia and escaped from Prague, despite the Pope's call for him to return to his episcopal see. Strachkvas was eventually appointed to be his successor. However, when he was going to assume the Bishop office in Prague, he suddenly died during the ceremony itself. Circumstances of his death are still unclear.
As for Adalbert, he went to Hungary and baptized Géza of Hungary and his son Stephen in the city of Esztergom. Then he went to Poland where he was cordially welcomed by Bolesław I the Brave. After the short visit Adalbert went to Prussia with a Christian mission.

Adalbert of Prague had already in 977 entertained the idea of becoming a missionary in Prussia. After he had converted Hungary, he was sent by the Pope to convert the heathen Prussians. Boleslaus the Brave, duke of Poland (later king), sent soldiers with Adalbert. The bishop and his followers - including his half-brother Radim (Gaudentius) - entered Prussian territory and went along the Baltic Sea coast to Gdańsk.
It was a standard procedure of Christian missionaries to try to chop down sacred oak trees, which they had done in many other places, including Saxony. Because the trees were worshipped and the spirits who were believed to inhabit the trees were feared for their powers, this was done to demonstrate to the non-Christians that no supernatural powers protected the trees from the Christians.
When they did not heed warnings to stay away from the sacred oak groves, Adalbert was martyred in April 997 on the Baltic Sea coast east of Truso (currently Elbląg, Elbing), or near Tenkitten and Fischhausen  It is recorded that his body was bought back for its weight in gold by Boleslaus the Brave.

A few years later Adalbert was canonized as Saint Adalbert of Prague. His life has been written about in Vita Sancti Adalberti Pragensis by various writers, the earliest being traced to imperial Aachen and Liège/Lüttich's bishop Notger von Lüttich, although it was assumed for many years that the Roman monk John Canaparius wrote the first Vita in 999. Another famous biographer of Adalbert was Saint Bruno of Querfurt who wrote his hagiography in 1001–1004.
Notably, Bohemian rulers (i.e., Přemyslids) initially refused to ransom Saint Adalbert's body from the Prussians who murdered him, so it was purchased by Poles. This fact may be explained by Saint Adalbert's belonging to the Slavniks family; it highlights the strength of the two clans' conflict. Thus Saint Adalbert's bones were stored in Gniezno and helped Boleslaus the Brave to improve Poland's position in Europe.
According to Bohemian accounts, in 1039 the Bohemian duke Břetislav I looted the bones of Saint Adalbert from Gniezno in a raid and moved them to Prague. According to Polish accounts he took the wrong relics, those of St Gaudensius, while Saint Adalbert's relics were hidden by the Poles and remain in Gniezo. In 1127 the decapitated head, which was not in the original purchase (according to Roczniki Polskie) was found and moved to Gniezno. In 1928, one of the arms of Saint Adalbert, which Bolesław I had given to Otto III in the year 1000, was added to the bones preserved in Gniezno. Today Saint Adalbert has two elaborate shrines claiming to contain his remains, in the cathedrals of Prague and Gniezno, and which bones are authentic is not clear. For example, the saint has two skulls - one in Prague, a second in Gniezno (stolen in 1923).
The massive bronze Gniezno Doors of Gniezno Cathedral, of about 1175, are decorated with 18 reliefs of scenes from the saint's life, the only Romanesque church doors in Europe to contain a cycle illustrating the life of a saint.
April 1997 was the thousandth anniversary of Saint Adalbert's martyrdom. It was commemorated in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Russia and other countries. Representatives of Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Evangelical churches pilgrimaged to Gniezno, to the saint's tomb. John Paul II visited Gniezno and held a ceremonial divine service in which heads of seven European states and about a million believers took part.
In Kaliningrad Oblast, near Beregovoe village (former Tenkitten), where Adalbert's death hypothetically took place, a ten-meter cross was established.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Saint Acacius


Saint Acacius was Bishop of Amida, Mesopotamia (modern-day Turkey) in 400–425, during the reign of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II.

At that time, there were seven thousand Persian prisoners who were captured by the Romans and held in Amida. Filled with the utmost compassion at the sight of these men perishing from hunger and misery, St. Acacius resolved to help them. He assembled his clergy and addressed them in this manner: "Our God, my brethren, needs neither dishes nor cups; for He neither eats nor drinks, nor is in want of anything. Since then, by the liberality of its faithful members the Church possesses many vessels both of gold and silver, it behooves us to sell them, that by the money thus raised, we may be able to redeem the prisoners and also supply them with food."

Bishop Acacius sold all the precious golden and silver sacred vessels of his church and ransomed, clothed and fed the seven thousand. He even supported them for a while and furnished them with all that they needed to return to Persia.

When the ransomed captives returned home to Persia, they told their ruler of the great deeds performed by Bishop Acacius. His actions so impressed the Sassanid Emperor Bahram V that he is reported to have ordered an end to the persecution of the Christians.

Emperor Bahram V also desired to see St. Acacius face-to-face. Permission to do just that was given to Acacius by Emperor Theodosius II. St. Acacius' kindness and charity led to the termination of hostilities between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid Empire, and Christianity was able to flourish for a while in the areas then controlled by the Sassanid Persians.

Saint Acacius' feast day is celebrated on April 9 (Roman Martyrology).