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.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21 -- Feast of Saint Malchus of Syria

 Sold into Slavery, Kept His Vows and Eventually Made It Back

A feast for Malchus
According to Holly H. Roberts' book Vegetarian Christian Saints, Saint Malchus lived on a diet of dates, milk, and cheese.  This may not be true of his whole life, but it is apparently true for a part of it.  Whether it was by choice or not is also unclear.  Nonetheless, it is unarguable that desert monks and hermits lived on fewer calories per month than Michael Phelps used to have for breakfast, so I think Ms. Roberts' assertion was probably a safe one. 

The only son of a poor farmer living near Nisibis (Nusaybin) in Syria, Malchus joined a monastery and lived obediently for a while.  When word reached him that his father died, he asked permission to go home and check on his mom.  Fearing that he would never return, the igumen (abbot) denied Malchus' request.  Whether or not Malchus the fifth commandment (the one about honoring parents) in mind or not, he bolted the monastery and set out for home.

A breakfast for Phelps
As he told it later in life, the lesson is, the igumen knows best.  A caravan of slavers happened by and tossed Malchus in with the rest of the stock.  Being an old farm boy, he sold pretty quickly and was set to watching the goats and sheep.  The work was familiar to him, the life was no less comfortable than it had been in a monastery, and he passed the time singing hymns to the herd.  If cheese, milk, and dates were not exactly the components of a royal diet, at least he got enough to sustain himself.

His master decided that all his herds needed increasing and thus insisted that Malchus marry a certain widow he owned.  Neither Malchus nor the widow were interested in a conjugal life, but they made a good show of it to avoid punishment.  At least that's what Malchus told the brothers when he eventually got back to the monastery -- what passed between the slave-saint and his widow-wife is known only to them and the Lord.

Almonds make the fare a treat, cranberries an exotic luxury
After a while, Malchus decided to escape and he took his wife, whom later writers named Malcha, with him.  They bolted and hid in a cave up in the hills.  The cave was already occupied by a lioness, but she didn't mind sharing with them.  She did not, however, appreciate the trackers who showed up to bring Malchus and Malcha back to the farm.  When the lioness had killed the trackers, the Malchi departed the cave and set out for refuge.  Malcha joined a monastery along the way, but Malchus lived as a desert hermit for a while.

Bacon-wrapped dates?  Better give them to Phelps
Eremitic life suited him well for some time, but one day he set to studying a colony of ants.  One can learn a lot about life from watching ants.  In Chapter 12 of Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote about a battle between warring ant colonies, likening it to the Trojan War.  Yet Thoreau, more libertarian than communitarian, also likened our modern culture to ant colonies, commenting:

“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?” 

Saint Malchus, having professed himself a monk, was reminded by the ants that he had pledged obedience and communal service.  He returned to the monastery from which he had fled.  He lived long there, never leaving again, and frequently told his tale as a warning to spirited young brothers in hopes that they would learn from his mistake.  

Quick side note:  On October 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI presided over the canonization of seven new saints, including Kateri Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope.  The story is linked here.   

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