This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16 -- Feast of Saint Athenogenes and Companions

Athenogenes was the bishop of Sebaste (Turkey) during the reign of Diocletian.  Y'all know how this is going to turn out.

What makes Athenogenes distinct from the thousands of other victims of Diocletian's persecution is that en route to his execution, he composed a hymn praising the joyful light of the Holy Father. I admire the sense of humor that a person must have to sing in praise of the Holy Light when one is about to be burned to death.

 Called "Phos Hilarion" in Greek (the language it was composed in), "Hail Gladdening Light" is the earliest extant non-Biblical hymn.  It is sung daily in Greek Orthodox Vespers services, and also used sometimes in Anglican and Lutheran services.  It is also called the "Lamp-lighting Hymn," though when Athenogenes was singing it, he was the lamp that was being lit. 

The story says that the eleven Christians were being burned to death for refusing to apostatize.  The executioner was impelling them forward into the flames, but his arm was paralyzed until Athenogenes had finished his hymn. Only then did the martyrs proceed to their deaths, but by then the hymn had been committed to the memory of witnesses. The opening lines are:

Φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης ἀθανάτου Πατρός,
οὐρανίου, ἁγίου, μάκαρος, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ,...
Phôs hilaròn haghías dóxēs, athanátou Patrós,
ouraníou, haghíou, mákaros, Iēsoû Christé,...
O Light gladsome of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,     the Heavenly, the Holy, the Blessed, O Jesus Christ,...

NB.  There may have actually been two different saints named Athenogenes who were martyred by Diocletian (odds are that he took out more than two) and are celebrated on July 13.  One account says that the Bishop of Pidachthoa and his ten companions were beheaded while another guy named Athenogenes composed the hymn before burning to death.  If so, blessed be both.

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