DECEMBER Calendar of Deacon Saints
(based on Ormonde Plater’s Calendar of Deacon Saints)
Marcellus, deacon and martyr, with companions, beheaded at Rome in 254-259.
Marcellus and others were martyrs in Rome under Valerian (emperor 253-260). Marcellus, presbyter Eusebius, Neon, and Mary were beheaded. Adria and Hippolytus were scourged to death. Paulina died in a torture-chamber. Maximus was thrown into the Tiber.
Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding, deacon, died 4 December 1637 (Episcopal Church Dec. 1).
Born 22 February 1592, Nicholas Ferrar was the founder of a religious community that lasted from 1626 to 1646. After Nicholas had been ordained a deacon in 1626, by Archbishop William Laud, he and his extended family, including his mother and his brother and sister and their families, and a few friends retired to the deserted village of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire, England, to devote themselves to a life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. They restored the abandoned church building and held regular services there. They taught the neighborhood children and looked after the health and well-being of the people of the district. They prayed the daily offices of the Book of Common Prayer, including the recital every day of the complete Psalter. Day and night, there was always at least one member of the community kneeling in prayer before the altar, that they might keep the command, “Pray without ceasing.” They wrote books and stories dealing with various aspects of Christian faith and practice. They fasted with great rigor and in other ways embraced voluntary poverty, so that they might have as much money as possible for the relief of the poor.
The community was founded in 1626 (when Nicholas was 34). He died in 1637 (age 45), and in 1646 the community was broken up by the Puritans of Cromwell’s army. His tomb still stands in front of the church at Little Gidding. The memory of the community survived to inspire and influence later undertakings in Christian communal living. One of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets is called “Little Gidding” (1942), in which he writes:
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
William West Skiles, deacon, farmer, missionary, and monk at Valle Crucis, North Carolina, died 8 December 1862.
William West Skiles was born 12 October 1807 on a farm in eastern North Carolina. Young Skiles grew up in an Episcopal family before there was a diocese or bishop. As a young adult he became a successful farmer and overseer of a lumber mill.
In 1842 Bishop Levi Silliman Ives of North Carolina decided to begin mission work in a wild area near Boone where two valleys cross. He bought two thousand acres and called the area Valle Crucis. Over the next several years, Bishop Ives established a mission to spread the gospel, teach agriculture, and train clergy for the diocese.
In 1844 Skiles, 37 years old, known to be a simple, kind man and to have sound practical judgment, was appointed to oversee the mission farms and livestock and to teach farming skills to boys enrolled in the school. In 1847 Bishop Ives encouraged the mission to form itself into a religious community, the Order of the Holy Cross, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, with the Rev. William G. French as superior. Skiles, impressed by the religious life of the mission, took the vows and also prepared himself for holy orders. On 1 August 1847 he was ordained to the diaconate. For two years the community flourished: prayer book offices were said daily, there were eight men preparing for holy orders, missions were formed at Upper Watauga, Lower Watauga, and Valle Crucis. Mountain people were strengthened by the reverence of the liturgy and, unable to read, loved to hear the scriptures read aloud. A school was established to teach the children the catechism as well as reading and writing.
As successful as the mission was, and as sincere the devotion of the brothers was, there was dissension within the diocese between the bishop and those who believed rumors that the Valle Crucis community was a “hotbed of Romanism” (the chief objection being the use of sacramental confession). In 1849 the bishop dissolved the Valle Crucis religious community, and the diocese cut off all support. The superior and the brothers left, leaving only Brother Skiles, the faithful deacon and shepherd, who would not abandon his scattered flock. (In 1852, his health deteriorating, Ives resigned his office, sold the land, and became a Catholic.)
For thirteen years Brother Skiles was the shepherd to the mountain people. He walked or rode on horseback, often in severe weather, to read and answer letters for those unable to do either, to explain legal documents and settle disputes, to pray with his beloved flock, and to teach them catechism. He continued to live in poverty, never married, and gave his obedience to his bishop and the priests who came to administer the sacraments. The mountain people called him “Father Skiles.”
He delighted in the growth of the mission on the Lower Watauga River and wanted to help the faithful build their own chapel. With contributions of labor, lumber, and small financial gifts, he designed and supervised the construction of a simple but architecturally beautiful chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. On 22 August 1862, Bishop Thomas Atkinson consecrated the chapel, with Brother Skiles taking his part in the glorious liturgy. The desire of his heart had been granted, but failing health did not permit him to enter this lovely chapel again. He died of cancer on 8 December 1862. He was buried near the entrance to the Church of St. John the Baptist, overlooking the Watauga River. Moved in 1882 to a spot higher up the Watauga, the church still stands and is used during the summer and for special services. In 1889 Skiles’ body was moved to the new site.
In his tribute to Brother Skiles at the diocesan convention the following spring, Bishop Atkinson stated, “He was loved and honored for his humility, self-denial, diligence, affectionate temper towards his fellow men, and his unwearied zeal in the service of his Master.”
Susan Fenimore Cooper wrote an account of his life and ministry, William West Skiles: A Sketch of Missionary Life at Valle Crucis in Western North Carolina 1842-1862, published in 1890. The book is reproduced online at http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/cooper_skiles1890/ and may be purchased at the Valle Crucis Conference Center (http://www.highsouth.com/vallecrucis/pubs.htm).
Abundius, deacon and martyr, with presbyter Carpophorus, martyred at either Spoleto in Italy, or Seville in Spain, in 300.
In the persecution of Diocletian (emperor 284-305), they were first beaten with clubs and then thrown into prison, where they were denied food and drink. They were tortured for a second time on the rack and again cast into prison for a long period. Finally, they were slain by the sword.
Justus Richard Van Houten, SSF, deacon, friar, and advocate for those on the edge of society, died of pneumonia at Kompiai in Papua New Guinea, on 13 December 2006.
Brother Justus with missionaries Bonnie Weppler (left) and Jennifer Wheeler (right), in Papua New Guinea in July 2006. (from the web site Volunteers in Mission of the Anglican Church of Canada)
Justus Van Houten was born on 6 October 1948 in Staunton, Virginia. After serving in the Army in Vietnam, he came home in 1973 with a desire to become a Franciscan friar. At that time he felt that the vocation of friar was incompatible with the vocation of deacon (although Francis of Assisi had been a deacon). In the early 1980s, after ten years as a friar, he changed his mind and with the support of his brothers was ordained at the annual chapter of the Society of St. Francis (SSF) on 26 May 1986, as the society’s first deacon friar. For his first two years as deacon, Brother Justus worked for the San Francisco Night Ministry, spending Saturday nights in the streets, bars and coffee shops, and other places where people hang out. He helped and befriended robbed tourists, stranded people, patients who had lost their medication, recovering alcoholics, and potential suicides.
Later, in 1993, he was elected Minister General of the American Province of SSF, and in 1993- 1995 he also served as president of the North American Association for the Diaconate. After a long sabbatical, he joined the Franciscan brothers in Papua New Guinea. At the time of his illness and sudden death on 13 December 2006, he was serving as principal and lecturer in liturgy, sacramental theology, and church history at Newton Theological College in Popondetta, Papua New Guinea.
Alan Wali, a student, recalled his final days:
Our actual day of leaving or left Newton College for visiting my Diocese and particularly my Parish (Koinambe) was on Wednesday 6th December. He had just arrived from Port Moresby a day before we began our trip. After leaving Newton College I found out that he had hard cough and a sore throat. He actually mentioned to me that he had hard cough and a sore throat after his recent trips from New Zealand and coming to and from Port Moresby for the College Council Meeting.
However, we left Popondetta on the 6th December for Mt. Hagen. We had to fly from Girna to Port Moresby, changed the flight and we caught another flight to Mt. Hagen. We stayed two nights and a day in Hagen. The cough and sore throat in him doesn’t change. During our staying in Hagen we were given The Mepang Missionary home to overnight there two nights.
While we were in Hagen on Thursday I showed him the city in actually taking a walk, just around the central part of the city or township only for sight viewing, because this is his first time to the Province (WHP) and the Highlands. On the 8th December, we flew by MAF to Koinambe, where we met The Parish Priest (Fr. Nicholas Kaam), all the church leaders and the Christians fully dressed in customs and welcomed us from the airstrip to the Parish Hall for refreshment and rest. There were lots of greetings and joy with tears from the Christians in receiving us. We rested the whole day after arrival on Friday at the Parish. We stayed with the Parish priest for three days, which were: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday I took him around the station for sight viewing and visited the school, Parish itself and the health Centre. One thing we did while at Koinambe for this three days was visiting and praying for the patient at the Health Centre. That reminds me of how Br. Justus love to serve and care for the soul of others in the ministry he was called to serve. On Sunday 10th December we had a very spectacular service. Late Br. Justus was told to take the Gospel reading and preached. In his preaching all done in Pidgin, I can remember and recall one thing he mention in Pidgin that ‘Yumi Mas Redi Long Kambek Bilong Jesus Long Laip Bilong Yumi.’ This phrase in his preaching in Pidgin meant that we must be prepare and ready for the Lord coming in our lives today. Anyway we ended the Sunday service with speeches, ‘bungka’ and presentation of items. Then we stayed overnight the last night at the Parish St. Johns the Baptist Parish at Koinambe. On Monday 11th December we had to take our walk from Parish to Kompiai which is another out station. We started the journey at 7.30 am and reached to the village at 4.00 pm in the afternoon. Christians and the leaders both the church and the community welcomed us with refreshment and rest. After our arrival at Kompiai I found out about his cough and sore throat that it got worse. On Tuesday morning I told him that we should stop at Kompiai and not to go further to Mengik, but he insisted and mentioned that we should finish the trip. So, we went over to Mengik on the 12th December started the journey at 7.30 am but it took us a while or a day before reaching the village. At Mengik he cannot say or do anything because he was very tired and very weak after the walk, not only that was the cause but also the hard cough and sore throat. And eventually he was having a complication of breathing and the symptom of the case grew worse and in the same night he had diarrhea. I have to nurse him all night with the help from community up until Wednesday morning. In the early hours on Wednesday I told the Christians to make a stretcher so we will carry him to the near Health Centre, which is at Koinambe. So we carry him on the local made stretcher left at Mengik at 9.00 am and carry him all the way and just reaching Kompiai my own family village Late Brother Justus had passed away at 1.00 pm in front of my Christian community and me his own student and his brother.
I would like to recall the last words from Late Br. Justus Van Houten. ‘Adam my brother, this is the end of my ministry in Christ. Our visiting here at your Parish is not a waste, but we fulfill the ministry that we are called to do in Jesus, Thank you.’ Then as I have said he took the last breath and end of his life at 1.00 pm at Kompiai, my own village.
After his death or he has passed away the Christians continually carry the body all the way down to Koinambe for chopper lift to Mt. Hagen. The information about his death gone through the VHF Radio to be air broadcast to the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea. We carry the body down to Koinambe and it took us one and half hour, and we finally put the body on the chopper lift. We arrived in Mt. Hagen at 5.00 pm and took the body straight to the morgue with the help from Diocesan Staff here at Mt. Hagen.
Now to be honest in my report about the instant death of Late Brother Justus SSF is from the hard cough and the sore throat and as a result of those that final night at Mengik the problem grew bigger and also that night he had diarrhea. His death was end with very high breathing symptoms, meaning that he had pneumonia or what we call sort win in Pidgin.
[Alan Wali, “The Final Hours of Brother Justus,” http://aidanspiritatwork.blogspot.com/2006/12/final-hours-of-brother-justus-by-alan.html, 31 Dec 2006]
On 8 July 2007 his funeral was celebrated at the friary at Little Portion, Long Island, New York, and his ashes were buried in the garden.
Susanna, deacon and martyr in Palestine, archimandrite, died in the third century.
Abbacum (Habakkuk), deacon and martyr of Serbia, with abbot Paisius, impaled by Turks on 17 December 1814.
Paisius was abbot of the monastery of Trnava near Cacak in Serbia, and Habakkuk his companion and deacon. Both of them were impaled on stakes by the Turks on Kalemegdan in Belgrade. Before the execution, dragging his spike through the streets of Belgrade, Habakkuk sang in praise of God. When his mother begged him to save his life by accepting Islam, he thanked her for her motherhood but not for her advice, quoted the great figures of the Old Testament who suffered for God, and looked forward to his own martyrdom.
Timothy, deacon and martyr, burnt alive in Morocco, Africa, about 250.
After enduring a harsh imprisonment for his faith in Christ, Timothy was thrown into the fire.
Stephen the Deacon, first martyr, died in Jerusalem about the year 34.
Stephen is remembered as the first Christian martyr (the protomartyr) and as one of the first seven deacons. The latter tradition is an early one. In the year 185, Irenaeus in his treatise Against Heresies (Book III, ch. XII, 10) refers to “Stephen, who was chosen the first deacon by the apostles.” All we know of his life is found in Acts 6:1—8:3.
According to legend, Stephen was a Jew living in the Hellenic provinces, related to the apostle Paul. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully through his faith, enabling him to perform many miracles and always to defeat those who disputed with him. Some in their hatred lied about Stephen to the people. But Stephen with his illumined face reminded the people of the miracles God had worked through him and even rebuked the crowd for killing the innocent Christ.
The people were enraged by what they thought was blasphemy and “gnashed their teeth” at Stephen. It was then that he saw his Christ in the heavens and declared this to the people. Hearing this, the crowd took him outside the city and stoned him to death, with his kinsman Saul (later Paul) holding their coats while they killed him. Far off on a hill stood the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist, who witnessed this first martyrdom and prayed for Stephen while he was being stoned. This occurred about a year after the first Pentecost.
Those who stoned Stephen left his body at the foothill of the city for two days to be eaten by dogs. On the second night, Gamaliel—teacher of Paul and Barnabas—came and moved the body to his own land in Capharganda. Nicodemus, who died while weeping at this grave, was also buried there along with Gamaliel’s godson Abibus and Gamaliel himself.
After many years Stephen’s burial place was forgotten, until 415 when Gamaliel appeared three times to Lucian, priest at Capharganda. He revealed to Lucian the place of the burial and everything about it. Lucian received the blessing of the patriarch to exhume the saints from their grave where a strong, sweet fragrance filled the cave. Stephen’s relics were translated to Zion and honorably buried, and many of the sick were healed by his relics. The other three relics were placed inside a church atop the cave on a hill. Eventually, his relics were translated to Constantinople.
Domitian, deacon and martyr, with presbyter Eutychius, killed for defending the faith, at Ancyra in Galatia (modern Ankara, the capital of Turkey), date unknown.