Friday, November 11, 2016

On Veterans Day and the Feast of St. Martin of Tours

A Prayer for Veterans Day:

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad.  Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The eleventh of November has, for Anglican Christians in the United States and elsewhere, a double meaning. It is a secular day of great solemnity (known formerly as Armistice Day and since the Eisenhower presidency as Veterans Day). It originally marked the day when the First World War ended. That war, perhaps more than any other single thing, gave birth the world we still live in. Veteran's Day is also a recognition of the many forms of cost borne by those who serve in the armed forces, as well as their families and loved-ones.

But November eleventh has another meaning for us: it is the commemoration of St. Martin of Tours (AD 316-397): Roman soldier, Christian convert, monk, and finally bishop. His life was a fascinating story of living on the borderland between the pagan and Christian worlds, as well as taking seriously the implications of the Gospel in day-to-day living—most famously in the legend of the still-unbaptized Martin cutting his cloak in two in order to share with a nearly-naked beggar, who turned out to be Christ in disguise.

Part of Martin’s story was the difficulty of being a soldier and a faithful disciple of Christ. It has never been easy to hold these two things together. For early Christians this was particularly an issue, as the normal practice was to renounce the shedding of blood once one became a follower of Jesus. Tried for cowardice, he volunteered to go to the front unarmed, to die there. The war ended before this could be brought to pass, and Martin left the army to become a monk and eventually a bishop. Interestingly, in the battle with the great heresies of the time, the staunchly-orthodox Martin was a victim (being flogged by the pro-Arian authorities in one city), but refused as bishop to enact any policy of violence against heretics himself. He was truly a man of faith and integrity, seeing the folly of hypocrisy wherever it occurred and holding a consistent faith and practice for himself (something we are all called to do, of course; he shows that this is entirely possible for us).

Veterans Day is, for Christians, a day to recognize the tremendous cost of war, the ministry of Christ as the Prince of Peace, and to pray for all those in the military—whose lives are often in danger or hardship, and frequently involved with temptations to commit acts of brutality and carnality. So many bear the scars (physical and emotional) from war and its apparatus; yet, we do want truly good people to be involved in the waging of war, rather than only the most bestial and carnal in the population. On top of this, of course, we pray for peace.

St. Martin’s Day (also known as Martinmas) is a day to recall a saint of great faithfulness and compassion who labored under circumstances similar to our own: conflicting claims for loyalty, demands for conformity to earthly power, and the temptation to use violence in the Name of God. His witness for a consistent ethic of orthodox faith and personal practice of the Gospel is the essential mark of a true Christian. There can be no authentic Christianity without both—something that our branch of the Christian tree seems to struggle with a great deal now.

May we who share with Holy Martin the name of Christian, take courage from his witness, and share with him life eternal in his Lord and ours!

The Collect for the Feast of St. Martin of Tours:
 Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

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