16 December 2021

Praying in Advent 2021:
19, Saint Eleftherios

Saint Eleftherios, who is celebrated on 15 December, is the patron saint of expectant mothers and of childbirth … an icon by Julia Bridget Hayes

Patrick Comerford

This is a busy day, with project meetings in Rathkeale, and a select vestry meeting this evening. But, before this busy day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

Each morning in my Advent calendar this year, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Advent;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My choice of saint yesterday (15 December) as Sant Nino, who is remembered in the calendars of many Orthodox Churches as the patron saint of Georgia. But I missed the opportunity of telling the story of Saint Eleftherios, who is commemorated in the Greek Orthodox Church on 15 December, and who is celebrated as the patron saint of expectant mothers and of childbirth.

Saint Eleftherios, the son of noble parents, was born in Rome, where his father was an official in the imperial service who died during the saint’s childhood. His widowed mother, Anthia, is said to have been baptised by Saint Paul himself. As a widow, she entrusted her son’s education to Anacletus, the Bishop of Rome. The bishop saw how promising the young boy was and so ordained him deacon when 15, priest at 18 and bishop at 20.

As Bishop in Illyricum on the Adriatic coast, Saint Eleftherios helped to spread Christianity in a time of merciless persecutions and the gravest of dangers. There he was welcomed by Christians as the brightest luminary of Christian Rome since the apostles. Even those who did not convert to Christianity held him in high esteem. Finally, he came to the attention of the Emperor Hadrian, who ordered his arrest.

Hadrian sent Felix, his most trusted cen¬turion, to bring Bishop Eleftherios before the prefect of Rome for trial and punishment. The centurion decided that rather than run the risk of seizing Eleftherios publicly, he would search for his place of worship and arrest him there.

Felix found the well-hidden church and crept in just as the bishop was commencing a sermon. The oratory of Saint Eleftherios was captivating, and when the sermon ended Felix came forward and asked to be converted to Christianity.

Felix then revealed the original purpose of his visit, and apologised for having come to the house of God with treachery in his heart. He was easily forgiven by Eleftherios, who told the centurion to take him to the perfect so that judgment would not fall on both of them. Reluctantly, Felix took the bishop to what appeared to be certain death, although all along the way he offered to help Saint Eleftherios to escape.

In the absence of the emperor, Saint Eleftherios went on trial before the perfect. He was cast into prison, tortured, and put to death on 15 December.

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, Saint Eleftherios and his mother Saint Anthia are revered as the patron saints of expectant mothers and of childbirth. Today is also the name day of Eleftherios, Eleftheria and Anthia.

Luke 7: 24-30 (NRSVA):

24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ 29 (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 December 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for St Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi, giving thanks for the care they have provided to Covid-19 patients over the last year.

Yesterday: Saint Nino of Georgia

Tomorrow: O Sapientia!

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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