OCTOBER Calendar of Deacon Saints
(based on Ormonde Plater’s Calendar of Deacon Saints)
Romanos Melodos, deacon, hymn writer in Syria and then Constantinople, died about 556.
Romanos, also known as Romanos the Melodist, was a hymn writer in Greek. He has been called “the Pindar of rhythmic poetry.” From the scanty records of his life we know that he was born to a Jewish family about 490 in Emesa (Hems) or Damascus in Syria and lived in Constantinople during the reign of Anastasius I (491-518). He converted from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity and was ordained deacon. Having officiated as a deacon in the church of the Resurrection at Beirut, he moved to Constantinople, where he was attached to the churches of Blachernae and Cyrus.
According to legend, when he was asleep in the church of Cyrus, the Virgin appeared to him and commanded him to eat a scroll. On awaking (it was Christmas Day), he immediately mounted the pulpit and sang his famous hymn on the Nativity. Romanos is said to have composed more than 8,000 similar hymns or kontakia (from Greek κοντάκιον or scroll) celebrating the festivals of the ecclesiastical year, the lives of the saints, and other sacred subjects. These subjects include the death of a monk, the last judgment, the treachery of Judas, and the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In the Russian Orthodox Church, Romanos is the patron saint of church singers.
Here is the prelude to his long (24-stanza) kontakion on the Nativity of Christ:
Today the Virgin gives birth to One who transcends all being, and to One we cannot approach the earth offers a cave. Angels and shepherds sing his glory, for to us is born a child, God in all eternity.
Francis of Assisi, deacon and founder of Order of Friars Minor, died 3 October 1226
Francis was born in 1182 in Assisi, Italy. His father was the rich cloth merchant Pietro Bernardone, and his mother was Giovanna Pica. The boy was named Giovanni at baptism, but when his father returned from France, where he had been when the boy was born, he demanded that the name be changed to Francesco (little Frenchman or Frenchie), since his mother was from Provence and he had been in France at the time of the birth. He had an easy life as a child and youth, spending money without care. He wanted to become a knight and a troubadour. At the age of 20, he took part in the 1202 war between Assisi and Perugia, and was captured after the battle of Collestrada. He spent a year as a prisoner in Perugia, before his father was able to ransom him. His health suffered from the imprisonment, and he contracted a serious illness that would stay with him until his death. After spending most of the year 1204 in bed, he joined the campaign of Walter de Brienne, who was fighting in Puglia, in 1205. Planning to join the Fourth Crusade, he bought expensive equipment and rode off.
While on his way, he met a poor man, and being struck by pity he exchanged his expensive clothes for the man’s rags. At Spoleto, he fell ill again. While he was sick, he heard a voice ask, “Where are you going, Francis?” He explained where he was going, and the voice asked, “Tell me, who can take you the farthest, the Lord or the servant?” He answered “The Lord,” and was told to return to Assisi, where he would be told what to do. Back in Assisi, he lived more or less as before, but was not as joyful. Rather than spend time with his carefree friends, he started going to a grotto outside Assisi, where he spent hours in prayer.
He went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where he met a leper with horrifying disfigurements. At first he felt fear and revulsion, but he overcame it quickly, and when the leper stretched out his hand to beg for money, Francis not only gave him money but kissed his hand. Going to St. Peter’s tomb, he exchanged clothes with a beggar, and spent the rest of that day begging. He was still unsure about what he was supposed to do, but visited the hospital and started caring for the lepers.
In the autumn of 1205, he was back in Assisi and prayed in the church of San Damiano. It was a poor church, where the priest could not even afford oil for the lamp by the icon of Christ. While praying, he heard Christ speak to him three times, from the crucifix which is now in Santa Chiara in Assisi, telling him to set his house in order. He took this literally, and took several rolls of cloth from his father’s store and sold them. He tried to give the money to the priest at San Damiano, who refused to take them. He did however, accept that Francis could live there as an oblate.
His father was furious, and came for Francis, who had hidden. After praying and fasting for days, he showed himself, and people said he looked as if he had gone insane. His father came, beat him senseless, and dragged him home in chains. He was locked in the house, but his mother set him free when the father had left. His father again came for him at San Damiano and demanded that he either return home or renounce his heritage and pay back the money. Francis gladly renounced his heritage, but claimed that the money belonged to God and the poor. Being an oblate, he was under the authority of the bishop of Assisi.
His father brought the case to the bishop, Guido, and Francis was told to return the money and trust in God. Again showing that he had a tendency to take things literally, he said that the clothes he wore also belonged to his father, and in front of the bishop and a large crowd he took them off and gave them to his father. The bishop gave him a cloak that belonged to one of his workers, and Francis accepted it with gratitude, drawing a cross on it. He left the town to “marry Madam Poverty.” He wandered around, working at a monastery and in the leper colony at Gubbio.
In 1206 he returned to Assisi, where everyone thought he was mad. He begged for alms to repair San Damiano, and did some of the work on the church himself. After doing the same thing for the church San Pietro, he went to the small chapel Portiuncula, formally called Santa Maria degli Angeli, which belonged to the Benedictine monastery of Monte Subacio. He repaired it himself, and settled down there.
On the feast of St. Matthew in 1208, he heard the gospel for that day, Matthew 10:7-19, in which the disciples are told to go into the world bringing only one tunic, no shoes or staff, no money in their belt, and no purse. It’s no surprise that he took the gospel literally; he gave away his shoes, belt, and staff, put on an undyed woolen cloak held together with a rope, and went into the world as a beggar. This was the origin of the Franciscan habit.
Francis had by now started to attract attention, and some chose to follow him. Bernardo da
Quintavalle and Pietro Cattani were the first, and Francis gave them the habit on 16 April 1208. The third to join was Egidius, who was given the habit on 23 April 1208. In 1209 he had 11 companions, and he decided to write a brief rule. He was ordained as deacon around this time. He was never ordained to the priesthood; his humility prevented him from seeking that for himself. In 1210, he went to Rome to seek the Holy Father’s approval for the rule. Pope Innocent III at first thought it was too strict. But the night before the audience, he had a dream in which the Lateran Basilica was collapsing, and a single man came in and held it up. Recognizing Francis in his dream, he approved the rule.
This first rule, known was Regula Prima, is sadly lost to us. Francis and his followers were given the tonsure and formal permission to work as preachers. Francis gave his order the name Ordo Fratrum Minorum, or “Order of the Smallest Brothers.” The brothers lived in strict poverty, working and begging for alms. Any surplus was given to the poor. By 1212 there were more than 100 Franciscans. In 1212 he founded a female branch, named the Poor Clares after his friend Clare (Chiara) of Assisi. In 1221 the Third Order of Franciscans was founded to allow lay people, married and unmarried, to join the Order.
In 1212 Francis went east to preach to the Saracens in Syria. After shipwrecking, he landed at the coast of Dalmatia, and had to return as a stowaway to Ancona. He preached in Italy for some time, and in 1213 he again tried to reach the Saracens. This time he tried to reach Morocco through Spain. He fell ill in Spain, and had to return. Others made the trip to Morocco, and the order had its first five martyrs there on 16 January 1220.
In 1217 what had begun more as a movement than an order held its first general chapter. The order was divided into provinces, and brethren were sent to other countries to preach. The lack of organization was taking its toll, and in 1219 Francis convened the second general chapter, at which 5,000 brethren were present.
In 1219 Francis joined the Fifth Crusade to preach to the Saracens. He sailed to Damietta in Egypt, which was under siege by the crusaders. His illusions were soon stripped away; the crusaders were not as holy as he had thought. He managed to get through the lines, and was presented to the sultan, Malek al-Kamel. Francis did not manage to convert the sultan, but secured better treatment of Christian prisoners and was given the privilege of his order being custodians of the Holy Sepulchre.
After a few months in the Holy Land, Francis returned to Italy. While had had been away, the order had started changing. While the Franciscans had so far lived in simple huts, they had now built a monastery of stone. Francis refused to enter and sought shelter with the Dominicans. He felt that he had been betrayed and went to Rome. The Holy Father, Pope Honorius III, appointed Cardinal Ugolino as Protector of the Order in 1220. The cardinal was a close friend of Francis and wanted the whole church to take advantage of Francis’ ideas. He also wanted some of the brethren to become bishops, to lead the work for reform in the church. Francis stepped down as General of the Order, and named Pietro Cattani as his Vicar.
In 1221 Francis made a revised rule, with the support of Cardinal Ugolino. It was more detailed than the first but similar in its insistence on poverty and humility. At the third general chapter in May 1221, he presented it to the brethren. Many of them supported the new trends, including the new Vicar, Elias of Cortona, who had governed the order since the recent death of Cattani. The chapter still accepted the rule, being reluctant to defy the founder. The new rule was, however, not approved by the Pope and is therefore known as Regula non bullata. Francis revised the rule again in 1223. Many of the brethren protested against the ban on communal property, which they felt that it was impossible to live with. Some changes were made to accommodate everyone, and Pope Honorius III approved this rule—it became the Regula bullata. Francis was not completely happy with it, but could not have his will without breaking up the order.
Our knowledge that Francis was a deacon comes from his earliest biographer, Thomas of Celano, in an account of Christmas mass at Greccio in the Rieti Valley in 1223. There Francis made the first known Christmas crib, using real persons to play the parts. This was a way for him to emphasize the poverty of Christ. Farmers who came to midnight mass were impressed by him. As deacon he served in the mass and sang the gospel with such inspiration that many cried openly. In 1224 he returned to solitude, this time in the Appennines in Tuscany. He preached to the animals, and the birds are said to have listened quietly to him.
By this time Francis was weakened by illness and the harsh life he had led. Only one brother, Leo, was allowed to visit him. Francis concentrated all his remaining strength on becoming ever more like Christ, and he especially meditated over Christ’s wounds. On or near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on 14 September 1224, he fell into ecstasy and received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, from an angel. This is the first recorded case of stigmata. Because of his humble nature, he always tried to cover the wounds.
In the winter of 1224-1225 he managed to preach in Umbria and Marche. He gradually weakened more, in large part because of the stigmata. He was also going blind at this time. In the spring of 1225 Cardinal Ugolino made him see the Pope’s physicians in Rieti. On his way there, he visited Clare for the last time. While there, almost crazed by pain, he wrote the famous Canticum fratris solis, “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” which he set music to and taught to the brethren. (Incidentally, the well-known prayer “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” was not written by Francis; it appeared around the time of the First World War.)
An operation for his eyes was a failure, and he weakened even more. In the spring of 1226 he was sent to Siena for treatment. But he no longer had any will to live and longed more and more for death’s release. One night, suffering terrible pain and being certain that he was dying, he dictated the document known as the Siena Testament. He was moved to a hermit’s hut, and there he dictated his last testament to Brother Elias. In the summer of 1226 he was at Bagnara, and it was decided to carry him back to Assisi on a stretcher.
He was given a large escort—people already thought of him as a saint, and there was a real danger that he would be held back to secure relics. In Assisi he was taken to the bishop’s residence. Bishop Guido was away at the time. He asked the doctors to tell him the truth, and was given no more than two weeks to live. Hearing this, he exclaimed: “Welcome, Sister Death!” He asked to be taken to his old home in the chapel at Portiuncula. At a hill outside Assisi, he gave his blessing to the town and to his brethren, and then he was carried to Portiuncula.
Francis asked the brethren to fetch Giacoma di Settesoli, a close friend, who was to bring candles and a cloak for his funeral, and a cake that he loved. She came by herself before the messenger could go. He then dictated a few lines for Clare and the sisters and asked the brethren to sing the verse of the Canticle of Brother Sun that praises death. He then asked for a loaf of bread, which he broke and passed out as a sign of love and peace. According to his own wish, he was placed in the floor of the small hut and covered by a cloak lent to him by the guardian. He gave his admonitions to the brethren and gave instructions for the treatment of his mortal remains. The passion of our Lord from the gospel of John was read aloud, and Psalm 141 was sung. At sunrise on 3 October 1226, at the age of 45, he closed his eyes for the last time.
Francis had asked to be buried with the criminals at Colle d’Inferno, but on Sunday, 4 October, his body was carried to San Giorgio in Assisi and he was buried there. The funeral cortege stopped outside San Damiano, so that St. Clare and the sisters could say their farewells. Twenty- one months later, he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX, the former Cardinal Ugolino. His relics were hidden from grave robbers, and they were not rediscovered before 1818, in a subterranean crypt in the church San Francesco in Assisi. A richly decorated monument was erected over his tomb, but in 1932, in recognition of what he would have wanted, it was removed and a simple monument was placed there. The chapel Portiuncula has also been preserved; the church Santa Maria degli Angeli has been built around it.
Firmatus, deacon and martyr, with his sister the virgin Flaviana, died together for their faith at Antissiodorum in Gaul (now Auxerre in the Bourgogne region of central France), date unknown.
They are listed in Martyrologium Hieronymianum (Martyrology of Jerome), compiled in the late sixth century.
Iwig (also called Iwi, Iwigius, or Ywi of Lindisfarne), deacon and monk of Northumbria, died 690.
Iwig was a spiritual student of Cuthbert at Lindisfarne, who ordained him deacon. Following the Irish ideal of an exile for Christ, he took ship without bothering to ask its destination, planning to evangelize where it landed. The destination turned out to be Brittany, where he lived as a hermit and followed a ministry of miraculous healing. About 250 years later a group of Breton monks carrying the relics of Iwig arrived at Wilton Abbey in southwest England (three miles from modern Salisbury in Wiltshire). According to legend, when they were ready to leave they found they could not move the relics. The relics had found a home at the abbey altar, and the monks were forced to leave them behind. (This story may have been invented to justify the abbey’s theft of the relics. The abbey buildings, including relics, no longer exist.)
Demetrius (Dimitri), deacon and martyr, killed at Sirmium in Dalmatia (modern Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia), early fourth century.
The Greeks called Demetrius a military martyr and the “Megalomartyr” (Great Martyr). Early legends about Demetrius credit him with a military career. He was popular in the Middle Ages, and with St. George he was the patron of the crusades.
Rusticus and Eleutherius, deacons (or one of them was, see below) and martyrs, beheaded at Paris with bishop Denis, about 258.
The first mention we have of these three martyrs comes in the sixth century in the writings of Gregory of Tours. Denis (or Dionysius as he is also called) is the most famous of the three. Born and raised in Italy, he was sent as a missionary to Gaul about 250 by Clement of Rome, along with five other bishops. Denis made his base of missionary activity an island in the Seine near the city of Lutetia Parisorium—what would become Paris. For this reason he is known as the first bishop of Paris and the Apostle of France. There he was captured by the Parisians along with Rusticus and Eleutherius. Later writers referred to these as Denis’ presbyter and deacon, or his deacon and subdeacon, but we have no further information on them.
After a long imprisonment and several aborted executions, the three martyrs were beheaded with a sword and their bodies were thrown into the river. Denis’ body was retrieved from the Seine by his converts and buried. The chapel built over his tomb grew into the Abbaye de Saint-Denis, in what is now a northern suburb of Paris, where the kings of France were buried from the tenth century until the Revolution. (According to legend, when Denis was beheaded he picked up his head and walked to what is now Saint-Denis. He is often represented thus in sacred art.)
Poplia of Antioch (or Publia), deacon and confessor, abbess, and music minister at Antioch, died about 363.
Poplia was married and gave birth to a son, John, who became leader of the presbyters of Antioch. After her husband died, she was ordained into the diaconate. After she had been ordained a short time, persecution broke out under Julian the Apostate (emperor 360-363), and she was able to counsel many women and strengthen them in their faith. She was a gifted leader of women and the local church. During persecution she was tortured for refusing to relinquish her Christian beliefs.
Philip the Deacon, one of the seven ordained by the apostles, died first century.
All we know of Philip is what we are told in Acts 6:5, 8:4-40, and 21:7-9. He was one of the seven chosen to assist the apostles. He was the first to preach in Samaria, where he converted Simon Magus. Later, on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he instructed and baptized a eunuch who was chief treasurer of the Queen of Ethiopia. Philip preached in the coastal cities on the way to his home at Caesarea, and twenty-four years later Paul stayed at his home in Caesarea, where he still lived with his four unmarried daughters. A Greek tradition has him become bishop of Tralles in Lydia. He was so successful in his preaching that he was surnamed “the Evangelist,” which has sometimes caused him to be confused with Philip the Apostle. [observed 11 October in Orthodox and Episcopal churches, 6 June in Catholic Church]
Deaconess Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Walpole (born 13th July 1929, died 12th October 2023)
Betty was born in Wangaratta (Victoria, Australia) and trained as a Presbyterian Deaconess for seven years. On the completion of her studies at University of Melbourne (Bachelor of Arts) and Rolland House (Deaconess Studies), she was commissioned to the Order of Deaconess on Thursday 24th March 1955. Beth was a candidate for the Foreign Service of the Presbyterian Church Ancillary and travelled to Sholinghur (Tamil Nadu, South India) where she spent 35 years working with the Church of South India, mainly auditing accounts as the missionaries were trusted with finances.
Author of Ventures of Faith: A Brief Historical Background of the Church of South. (Madras: Christian Literature Society CLS, 1993)
Papylas, deacon and martyr, with bishop Carpus, killed at Pergamum in Asia Minor (now Bergama in Turkey) in 251.
Baldwin (also called Balduinus, Baldunus, or Baudoin), archdeacon and martyr at Laon in Gaul (now in Picardy in northern France), killed about 670-680.
Baldwin was son of Salaberga and brother of abbess Anstrude of Laon. He was murdered by personal enemies who were angered by the severity of his life—which they took as a rebuke to them.
Maximus of Aveia, also known as Maximus of Aquila, deacon and martyr, killed in 250.
Maximus was born in Aveia (now known as Fossa, a town in the province of L’Aquila, meaning “The Eagle,” in the mountainous Abruzzo region of central Italy). During the persecutions of Decius (emperor 249-251), Maximus submitted himself to the Roman authorities. Refusing to deny the faith, he was racked and tortured, then beaten with rods. The authorities then threw him from a cliff near Aveia. In 1256 the episcopal seat of Aveia was moved to the city of L’Aquila, together with the relics of Maximus. He is the patron saint of the city, where the cathedral is dedicated to San Massimo.
Severus, deacon and martyr, with bishop Philip of Heraclea and presbyter Hermes, burned at the stake at Adrianopolis (now Edirne in northwestern Turkey) in 304.
The aged bishop Philip, Severus, and Hermes were arrested under Diocletian (emperor 284-305). Philip was ordered by the governor, Bassus, to hand over the church’s sacred vessels and books. Philip agreed to the vessels, but not to the scriptures. The bishop and his deacon were then scourged and the wanted goods seized. Afterwards, they refused to make an act of worship to the emperors or to the goddess Fortune or to Heraclea’s name-deity, Hercules. Later there was a fruitless interrogation by Bassus’ successor, Justin, after which Philip was dragged back to jail by his feet. Together with Severus and Hermes, he was confined for seven months before all three were taken to Adrianopolis. Justin interviewed them twice again and had Philip beaten; he then sentenced them to death by fire at Adrianopolis. Philip had been so badly beaten that he had to be carried to the stake. Hermes, who was not much better, joked cheerfully and sent a last message to his son: “Tell them to pay back whatever I owe, and to work hard for his living as I have done, and to behave well to everybody.” When the fire was lit the martyrs praised and gave thanks to God until the smoke suffocated them. Severus followed them the next day.
Charles Sapibuana (known as Sapi), deacon and evangelist in the Solomon Islands, Melanesia, died of influenza on 24 October 1885.
Sapibuana was born about 1854 in the village of Lango in Gaeta, on the south shore of Gela or Nggela (called Florida by Spanish explorers). A Christian teacher and evangelist among his own people, he was ordained deacon in 1882. While preparing for ordination to the priesthood, he took sick and died on Norfolk Island. His story is told by Frances Awdry, In the Isles of the Sea: The Story of Fifty Years in Melanesia (London, 1902), 73-85 (http://anglicanhistory.org/oceania/awdry1902/14.html).
Clara Louise Schodts, deaconess in Manhattan, New York, died 27 October 1941.
Clara Louise Schodts entered St. Faith’s House in 1910. Originally from Peekskill, she trained as a nurse, graduating from Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. She was head nurse in the surgical department at Good Shepherd Dispensary on the Lower East Side for eleven years and was an active member of the St. Bartholomew’s Girls’ Club. Schodts was set apart as deaconess on 9 May 1902 at the age of 40 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and accepted an assignment to St. Thomas’ Mission in Manhattan. She lived at St. Thomas’ House at 229 East 59th Street during her tenure at St. Thomas’ Parish. In 1913 Schodts organized the “Mothers’ Meeting” group at St. Thomas. The Sunday School at St. Thomas’ was also under her care. Deaconess Schodts served the people of St. Thomas until 1925, and in 1926 she accompanied Deaconess Susan Knapp on a trip to Europe. On her return to the United States, Schodts moved to Astoria, Queens, N.Y. She later served at St. George’s Church in Manhattan and at St. James on Madison Avenue. She was active in the Alumnae Association of St. Faith’s, serving at various times as editor of the bulletin, board member, treasurer, and president. While president of the Alumnae Association, Schodts raised funds to establish the first scholarship to the school. Schodts retired in 1935. She died on 27 October 1941, a few weeks before the passing of her mentor and friend, Deaconess Susan Trevor Knapp. [research of Deacon Geri Swanson]
Tabra and Tabratha, deacons and martyrs, with bishop Teonesto at Treviso (north of Venice), killed in 380.
According to accounts in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the three were stranded at sea on a defective ship. Finally disembarking in the Gulf of Venice, they were killed by Arians. The names of the two deacons appear to be feminine. If so, there were women deacons in northeast Italy near Aquileia at the end of the fourth century.