FEBRUARY Calendar of Deacon Saints

Compiled from Ormonde Plater’s Calendar of Deacon Saints.

February 3

Celerinus of Carthage, deacon and confessor, died of natural causes about 250.
Celerinus is revered for his sufferings while imprisoned in Rome by Decius (emperor 249-251). He was freed and returned to Carthage, where Cyprian ordained him a deacon.

February 6

Luke, deacon and martyr, with bishop Silvanus of Emesa in Phoenicia (now Homs in western Syria) and reader Mocius, martyred in 312. After torture, imprisonment, and exhaustion by hunger, they were thrown to wild beasts. They died praying, untouched by the animals. At night Christians took up their bodies and buried them.

February 8

Stephen of Grandmont, deacon, hermit, and founder of the (Benedictine) Order of Grandmont at Muret, near Toulouse in what is now southwestern France, died in 1124.
Stephen was born in 1046 in Thiers, in the Auvergne region of France. Despite historical inaccuracies in his medieval biography about his early life, his becoming a hermit is told in moving and convincing detail. Having built a small hermitage on the mountain of Muret, Stephen vowed to God: “I, Stephen, renounce the devil and all his pomps, and offer myself to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one true God in three Persons.” He prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, I commend my body, soul, and senses to your Son and to you.” Stephen spent the next forty-eight years in the wilderness, devoting himself to prayer and penitential self-denial. When two papal legates visited him, they asked whether he was a monk, a hermit, or a canon. He replied, “I am a sinner.” Other men came to join him, intending to imitate Stephen, so that the hermitage of Muret grew into a monastic community and a new religious congregation later known as the Order of Grandmont. He refused ordination as a priest to remain a deacon.

February 9

Apollonia, deacon and virgin, martyred by fire at Alexandria on 9 February 249.
This 14th century wood carving depicts Apollonia with her insignia, a tooth held by a forceps.
Apollonia, an old woman, was a leader among the Christians in Alexandria in Egypt. The account of her martyrdom comes from Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria (247-265), in a letter preserved by Eusebius. Under the persecution of Decius (emperor 249-251), during an anti- Christian uprising caused by a pagan prophecy, the mob seized Apollonia. They battered her jaw until all her teeth were knocked out. Pushed to renounce her faith, Apollonia chose instead to die on a pyre. She is the patron saint of dentists and toothache victims.

Primus and Donatus, deacons and martyrs, put to death by Donatist heretics for resisting the takeover of a catholic church at Lavallum in northwest Africa in 362.

February 12

Modestus, deacon and martyr, a native of Sardinia, killed in 304.
Modestus was tortured on the rack and then burned alive by order of Diocletian (emperor 284- 305). His relics were brought to Benevento in southern Italy around 785 and buried in a church named after him.

February 14

Constantine (later Cyril), deacon, scholar, philologist, linguist, and (with his brother Methodius) missionary to the southern Slavs, died 14 February 869.

Cyril and Methodius were born in Thessaloniki to a Greek drungarios (a military officer) named Leon and to Maria. Born in 827-828, Cyril was reputedly the youngest of seven brothers, according to the Vita Cyrilli (The Life of Cyril). He is said to have given himself to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom at the age of seven, but at fourteen was made an orphan by the death of his parents.
An influential official, possibly the eunuch Theoktistos (Θεόκτιστος), brought him to Constantinople where he studied theology and philosophy. Theoktistos was a logothetes tou dromou, a powerful Byzantine official, responsible for the postal services and the diplomatic relations of the empire. He was also responsible, along with the regent Bardas, for initiating a far-reaching educational program within the empire, which culminated in the establishment of the University of Magnaura, where Constantine/Cyril was to teach. Photius is said to have been among his teachers; Anastasius Bibliothecarius mentions their later friendship, as well as a conflict between them on a point of doctrine. Cyril learned an eclectic variety of knowledge including astronomy, geometry, rhetoric, and music. It was in the field of linguistics, however, that Cyril particularly excelled. Besides his native old Macedonian (Slavonic), he was fluent in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek; according to the Vita, the Byzantine Emperor Michael III claimed that “all Thessalonians speak perfect Slavonic” (ch. 86).
After the completion of his education Cyril was ordained deacon and became a monk. He seems to have held the important position of chartophylax, or secretary to the patriarch and keeper of the archives, with some judicial functions also. This influential position required that he be in holy orders. After six months’ quiet retirement in a monastery he began to teach philosophy and theology. Cyril also took an active role in relations with the other great monotheistic religions, Islam and Judaism. He penned fiercely anti-Jewish polemics, perhaps connected with his mission to the Khazars, a tribe who lived near the Sea of Azov under a Jewish king who allowed Jews, Muslims, and Christians to live peaceably side by side. He also undertook a mission to the Arabs with whom, according to the Vita, he held discussions. He is said to have learned the Hebrew, Samaritan, and Arabic languages during this period. The account of his life presented in the Latin Legenda claims that he also learned the Khazar language while in Chersonesos, in Taurica (today Crimea). (It has been claimed that Methodius also accompanied him on the mission to the Khazars, but this is probably a later invention.)
In 862 Prince Rastislav of Great Moravia requested that the emperor Michael III and the patriarch Photius send missionaries to evangelize his Slavic subjects. His motives in doing so were probably more political than religious. Rastislav had become king with the support of the Frankish ruler Louis the German, but subsequently sought to assert his independence from the Franks. He is said to have expelled missionaries of the Roman Church and instead turned to Constantinople for ecclesiastical assistance and, presumably, a degree of political support. The request provided a convenient opportunity to expand Byzantine influence, and the task was entrusted to Cyril and Methodius. Their first work seems to have been the training of assistants.
In 863 they began the task of translating the Bible into the language now known as Old Church Slavonic and traveled to Great Moravia to promote it. They enjoyed considerable success in this endeavor. However, they came into conflict with German ecclesiastics who opposed their efforts to create a specifically Slavic liturgy. It is impossible to determine with certainty what portions of the Bible the brothers translated. The New Testament and the psalms seem to have been the first, followed by other lessons from the Old Testament. The Translatio speaks only of a version of the gospels by Cyril, and the Vita Methodii only of the evangelium Slovenicum, though other liturgical selections may also have been translated.
No one knows for sure which liturgy, that of Rome or that of Constantinople, they took as a source. They may well have used the Roman, as suggested by liturgical fragments which adhere closely to the Latin type. The Glagolitic alphabet, which was based on the Greek uncial writing of the 9th century, has been traditionally attributed to Cyril’s work. That fact has been confirmed explicitly by the papal letter Industriae tuae (880) approving the use of Old Church Slavonic, which says that the alphabet was “invented by Constantine the Philosopher.” It is unclear, however, whether Cyril himself was the originator of the eponymous Cyrillic alphabet. More probably, it was invented by later followers of Cyril and Methodius. In 867 Pope Nicholas I invited the brothers to Rome.
Their evangelizing mission in Moravia had by this time become the focus of a dispute with Theotmar, the archbishop of Salzburg and bishop of Passau, who claimed ecclesiastical control of the same territory and wished to see it use the Latin liturgy exclusively. Traveling with the relics of St. Clement and a retinue of disciples, they were warmly received in Rome on their arrival in 868. The brothers were praised for their learning and cultivated for their influence in Constantinople. Their project in Moravia found support from Pope Adrian II, who formally authorized the use of the new Slavic liturgy.
Cyril fell ill late in 868, retired to a monastery, and after fifty days of illness died on 14 February 869. The Translatio asserts that he was made a bishop before his death, but there is little credible evidence for this. Over time, Cyrillic eventually spread through much of the Slavic world to become the standard alphabet in the Orthodox Slavic countries. Their evangelizing efforts also paved the way for the spread of Christianity throughout eastern Europe.
Cyril was canonized as a saint by the eastern church, and the Catholic Church canonized him in 1880 along with Methodius. The two brothers are known as the “Apostles of the Slavs” and are highly regarded by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Cyril’s feast day is celebrated on 14 February (Catholic and Anglican) or 11 May (Orthodox). The two brothers were declared “Patrons of Europe” in 1980.

February 15

Joseph of Antioch (sometimes called Josippus), deacon and martyr, with seven companions, slain at Antioch in Syria, date unknown.

February 21

Milnor Jones, deacon and missionary in western North Carolina, died in Baltimore, Maryland, on 21 February 1916.
In 1895 Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire of North Carolina decided to revive the Valle Crucis mission (see William West Skiles of 8 Dec.) around a fascinating character. Milnor Jones was born in 1848 of a prominent Maryland family, fought as a Confederate soldier, and then became a lawyer in Texas before suffering injury in a riding accident. Left with a limp, he devoted the rest of his life to God. After graduating from seminary at Sewanee and being ordained deacon in 1876, he decided to remain a deacon and, in the words of his bishop, to make himself “all things to the lowly whom he had chosen for his own.”
Most of his work was among the poor people of western North Carolina, in 1879-92 around Tryon and in 1894-96 at Valle Crucis. We know about Jones from his biographer, Bishop Cheshire. Milnor Jones, Deacon and Missionary (actually a long obituary, dated 1916) was published in the diocesan newspaper and later as a pamphlet (1920).
Jones was outspoken, crusty, and cantankerous, qualities that delighted the bishop. He was especially fond of denouncing the local Baptists and Methodists, and sometimes came close to inciting a riot. One mob of unruly men even threatened the bishop. Nevertheless, Bishop Cheshire took delight in a deacon “who did not scruple on occasion to tell his bishop that the sermon he [the bishop] had just preached, ‘did no more good than pouring water on a duck’s back.’”
An undisciplined oddball who cared nothing for settled work, and who preferred to minister in backwoods places, Jones traveled the mountain trails in the saddle, made friends of all he met, handed out prayer books, baptized everyone he could (often by immersion in a nearby creek), preached wild sermons from house to house, and only on rare occasion encountered his bishop, a priest, or any other member of the Episcopal establishment.

February 23

Gorgonia, deacon, sister of Gregory Nazianzus (the Theologian), died 23 February about 375.
Gorgonia was the daughter of Gregory the Elder and Nonna and the sister of Gregory Nazianzus (the Theologian) and Caesarius. Gorgonia married a man of some influence in Pisidia (in what is now southwestern Turkey), sometimes called Vitolian and other times Meletius. By at least one account, she is called the “pattern of a married saint.” She had several sons and three daughters, the most notable of whom was Alypania. Later in her life, she converted her husband and was baptized along with him and her sons and grandsons.
Two times in her life she was miraculously cured of serious maladies. In the first, she was trampled by a team of mules, causing broken bones and crushed internal organs. Yet Gorgonia would have no doctor, as she thought medical treatment indecent. According to legend, her modesty cured her. In the second, she cured herself of a desperate illness by anointing herself with “the sacred elements of the eucharist” mixed with her own tears, which she had shed with her head on the altar. As with the first malady, symptoms of headache, fever, paralysis, and sporadic coma disappeared through the strength of her prayer.
Gorgonia died of natural causes. Her father and mother were alive, though extremely old. At her funeral, her brother Gregory Nazianzus preached a eulogy which declared her a model Christian spouse and mother, “the paragon of women” and “the diamond of her sex.” Gorgonia is venerated as the patron saint of people afflicted by bodily ills or sickness.
The legacy of her charity has earned her the titles “Mother of Orphans,” “Eyes of the Blind,” and “Keeper of a Refuge of the Poor” in the Greek Orthodox Church. Her feast day on the calendar of saints is 9 December in the West and 23 February in the East, which is purported to be the date of her death.

February 24

Flavian, deacon and martyr, with Montanus, Julian, Lucius, presbyter Victoricus, and five companions, tortured and beheaded at Carthage in 259.
They were disciples of Cyprian of Carthage, who had been martyred the previous year. According to the Acta, Flavian had received a reprieve at the people’s request. When the executioner was ready to give the stroke, Montanus prayed aloud to God that Flavian might follow them on the third day. To express his assurance that his prayer was heard, he ripped in half the handkerchief with which his eyes were to be covered, asked that one part of it to be reserved for Flavian, and desired that a place might be kept for him where he was to be buried, so that they might not be separated even in the grave. Flavian, seeing his crown of martyrdom delayed, made it the object of his ardent desires and prayers. He continued to insist that he was a deacon, and so he was beheaded three days later.

February 25

Elizabeth Fedde, pioneer Lutheran deaconess in America, died 25 February 1921.
Elizabeth Fedde was born on 25 December 1850 near Flekkefjord, Norway. She was trained as a deaconess at the Lovisenberg Deaconess House under the supervision of Mother Katinka Guldberg, who had herself been trained at the Fliedner Motherhouse in Kaiserswerth, Germany. Elizabeth spent much of her early career in Troms, where she lived and worked under harsh and primitive conditions.
On her thirty-second birthday, Sister Elizabeth received a letter from her brother-in-law Gabriel Fedde challenging her to set up a ministry in New York City for Norwegian seamen there. She departed for the United States three months later and finally arrived on 9 April 1883. Sister Elizabeth firmly established her work beginning on 19 April the same year with the founding of the Norwegian Relief Society. The service establishing the society was led by Pastor Mortensen; Gabriel had served as his secretary.
In the beginning, the Relief Society was a boarding house with three small rooms rented for $9 a month and located at 109 Williams Street, near the Seaman’s Church. Sister Elizabeth also made significant efforts at visiting the sick and distressed, often writing in a journal about her experiences. In 1885 Fedde opened a deaconess house for the training of other women to help in her ministry. Originally, the house consisted of a nine-bed hospital that ultimately became Lutheran Medical Center in New York.
After remaining in New York for five years, she left at the request of Lutherans in Minnesota to come and minister to them. She arrived in Minneapolis in 1888 and established the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital of the Lutheran Free Church the next year and helped plan for a third hospital in Chicago. Eventually, the work in America proved to be exhausting, and Sister Elizabeth returned to Norway in November 1895, to Ola Sletteb, a suitor whom she had left to conduct her missionary work. The two were married shortly after her return.

February 28

Deacons of Alexandria, with presbyters and many others, died ministering to the sick during the plague, in 262.