A daily study of the Network’s diverse faiths
Sts Martha and Mary of Bethany (Companions of Our Lord) (First Century). Catholic Memorial, Western Churches Lesser Festival with St Lazarus, and Lutheran Church Commemoration of the noble and wealthy sisters Mary of Bethany and Martha, who with their brother Lazarus became especially devoted Disciples of Our Lord, Mary and Martha being among the Orthodox Myrrh-bearing Women. On the Orthodox Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday, Jesus and his Disciples came to the village of Bethany outside Jerusalem, where Martha opened her home to them. Jesus wept, moved by the sisters’ grief for their brother who had died at 30 four days earlier, and Our Lord resurrected the Righteous Lazarus (Lazarus of the Four Days). Whilst Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said, Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made and asked: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” On the Holy Wednesday, whist Lazarus was with them at table, Mary took out a pint of pure nard, an expensive aromatic, amber-coloured essential oil perfume derived from Himalayan flowering honeysuckle, poured it on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair, filling the house with fragrance. Mary was commended by Jesus for her attentiveness to his teaching and Martha as an example of the active spiritual life for recognising Jesus as the Messiah, whilst Mary was an example of the contemplative life. Jesus came to love Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, who all died in Cyprus, where Lazarus (Λάζαρος, אלעזר) had become the first Bishop of Kition, living for another 30 years after he had been restored to life by the Lord but never again laughing. In Greece in 1949, Mother Superior Alice-Elizabeth, the mother of the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, founded a Greek Orthodox nursing order of nuns, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. The liturgical commemoration of Saint Martha of Bethany (Μάρθα, מַרְתָּא) takes place in the calendar of the Eastern Church on 4 June, where she is worshipped alongside Mary (Μαρία, מרים, Miriam). Martha and Mary are commemorated as the Sisters of Lazarus on the Sunday of Myrrh-Bearing Women, the second Sunday following Pascha (Easter) in the Eastern Orthodox Church, along with Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and Mary, the wife of Cleopas, with a liturgical commemoration on 17 June. Patronage: butlers, cooks, dietitians, domestic servants, homemakers, hotel-keepers, housemaids, housewives. Innkeepers, laundry workers, maids, manservants, servants, servers, single laywomen, travellers. Image: pinterest.de.
St Olaf (Olav der Heilige, St Olave, Ólafr II Haraldsson, Olaf the Stout) (c995-1030). Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Commemoration of the death of the King of Norway born a pagan north of Oslo, who was a symbol of Norwegian independence and pride and whose axe is in Norway’s coat of arms. In 1008, the young Olaf sailed to southern Finland, was ambushed but survived to go on to the Estonian island of Saaremaa (Osilia), where he was attacked by the Osilians but defeated them in battle. It is said that Olaf participated in the 1011 Siege of Canterbury and led a successful 1014 seaborne attack that took down London Bridge and restored the English throne to Æthelred the Unready (Æþelræd). Olaf wished to unite Norway into one kingdom and wintered with Duke Richard II of Normandy, where Norsemen had conquered the region in 881. Richard was an ardent Christian, as were the Normans, and before leaving Olaf was baptised in Rouen by Robert the Dane, Archbishop of Normandy. Arriving in Norway in 1015, Olaf declared himself King, with the support of the five petty kings, and in 1016 he defeated Earl Sweyn, the de facto ruler of Norway. In 1029 the Norwegian nobles supported the invasion of King Cnut the Great of Denmark (Knútr inn ríki) and Olaf was driven into exile in Kievan Rus. Attempting to win back the kingdom, Olaf fell in 1030 at the Battle of Stiklestad north of Nidaros (Trondheim). His remains were enshrined in the 1070 Nidaros Cathedral, which was built over his original burial place and became an immediate pilgrimage site, but the exact position of his shrine has been unknown since 1568, due to earlier the Lutheran iconoclasm. The pilgrimage route to Nidaros Cathedral has been reinstated as the 640 km Pilgrim’s Way (Pilegrimsleden) from Oslo to Trondheim and a Pilgrim Centre in Trondheim awards certificates to those who complete the journey. The cult of Olaf unified Norway, consolidated its Christianisation and encouraged the widespread adoption of Christianity by Scandinavia’s Norsemen. Olaf was posthumously given the title Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae (Perpetual King of Norway) and was one of the last major saints before the 1054 Great Schism that created the two largest denominations in Christianity, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Miracles performed by St Olaf appeared from the year of his death and are recorded in Þórarinn loftunga’s skaldic Old Norse poem Glælognskviða (Sea-Calm Poem). St Olaf was widely popular throughout Scandinavia and numerous churches in Norway, Sweden and Iceland were dedicated to him, his presence being felt in Finland with many travelling from all over the Norse world to visit his shrine. Several churches in England were dedicated to him, often as St Olave, and a cult of St Olaf developed in the early 1050s in England. Following the Reformation, Olaf was commemorated as an historical figure among some members of the Lutheran and Anglican Communions. Many Christian institutions with Scandinavian links, as well as Norway’s Order of St Olav, are named after him. Venerated in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Olaf’s Feast Day Olsok is a day of celebration in Norway and provinces of Sweden and Finland, whilst in the Faroe Islands Ólavsøka is a nationwide holiday. In Normandy, 29 July is the occasion of local cultural festivals that highlight the local Norse heritage, with Masses in honour of the saint. Patron of Norway from 1031 and of the Faroe Islands. Image: stolafs.org.
Our Lady of Deliverance, Madrid. In the early years of Christianity, pilgrims would visit a hallowed chapel known as the Milk Grotto near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where, whilst fleeing Herod’s soldiers on the way to Egypt, Mary nursed the baby Jesus and a drop of her milk fell upon the stone, turning it white. The stone was venerated by mothers and women trying to conceive and the devotion spread to Sixteenth-Century Spain, where in 1598 an image of Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Safe Delivery) was taken from its Madrid shrine by a drunken soldier and sold cheaply to a poor peasant returning from the fields who recognised the statue as he worshipped at the shrine. He took it home to enshrine in his humble cottage as his wife was nearing childbirth and they knelt before it begging the Mother of God for a safe delivery. There were difficulties and the wife was near death but the husband’s confidence was rewarded by a happy delivery vouchsafed by the Little Mother, as he lovingly referred to the statue, which he then renamed the Mother of Safe Delivery, which became Our Lady of Deliverance. The news spread rapidly and if Mary’s devotees found themselves in similar circumstances they went to the cottage, which became too small to accommodate them all. A chapel was built for Our Lady of Deliverance and later the King endowed a church named after St Martin, the statue being moved with great pomp as nobility and peasant alike knelt in prayer for their personal and family needs. Our Lady recognised all as her children and bestowed many safe deliveries. The early Spanish settlers took a replica of the statue to Florida and enshrined it at the Mission of Nombre de Dios (Name of God) in St Augustine, the first known shrine dedicated to the Blessed Mother in the Americas. The original chapel built around 1615 was destroyed by gunfire during colonial days and later by a hurricane but the present chapel houses a replica of the original statue that was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It is known as Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto. Image: roman-catholic-saints.com.
Prayer Lovely Lady, most loving Mother of our Saviour Jesus Christ, please listen to our humble prayer. Your heart knows our every wish, our every need and we trust that you will shelter us beneath your protecting mantle, so that we may have the courage and the strength to overcome whatever difficulty surrounds us. Give us the grace to be faithful to you as our shining inspiration, now and forever. If our sins render us unworthy to be admitted among the number of your privileged children, we cast ourselves at your feet and humbly ask, Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto, that you pray for us. Amen