On the occasion of the feast of Saint Martin, bishop of Tours (November 23, Tubah 14 according to the Coptic Synaxarion)


Saint Martin was born in Pannonia (Hungary), around 316 ad. His father was a senior officer in the Roman army, who was later stationed in Italy, where Martin grew up. At the age of ten, he went to the church against the wishes of his parents (who were pagan) and became a catechumen or candidate for baptism. When Martin was fifteen, as the son of a veteran officer, he was required to join the Roman army, and thus, around 334 was stationed in Gaul (France). 

While Martin was still a soldier he met a poor man almost naked in the dead of winter, and trembling with cold.  Taking up his sword, he divided his cloak into two parts and gave one to the beggar. The following night he saw Jesus Christ in a dream, clothed with this half-cloak and saying to His Angels: “It is Martin, still a chatechumen, who covered Me.” Soon afterwards he received Baptism at the age of 18.

He obtained his discharge from the army at the age of twenty. Martin succeeded in converting his mother, then made his way to the city of Tours, where he became a disciple of Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a staunch opponent of Arianism. After having given striking proofs of his attachment to the faith of Nicea, he founded near Poitiers the celebrated monastery of Ligugé, the first in Gaul, which became a centre of evngelization of Western Gaul.  The brilliance of his sanctity and his miracles raised him in 372 to the episcopal throne of Tours, despite his resistance. His life thereafter was but a continual succession of miracles and apostolic labours. His flock, though Christian in name, was still pagan at heart. Unarmed and attended only by his monks, Martin destroyed the heathen temples and groves, and completed by his preaching and miracles the conversion of the people. His power over demons was extraordinary. Idolatry never recovered from the blows given it by Saint Martin.

After having visited and renewed his diocese, the servant of God felt pressed to extend his labours beyond its confines. Clothed in a poor tunic and a rude cloak, and seated on an ass, accompanied only by a few religious, he left like a poor missionary to evangelize the countryside. He passed through virtually all the provinces of Gaul, and neither mountains, nor rivers, nor dangers of any description stopped him. Everywhere his undertakings were victorious, and he more than earned his title of the Light and the Apostle of Gaul. He reposed in the Lord in 397 ad.

From the late 4th century to the late Middle Ages, much of Western Europe, including Great Britain, engaged in a period of fasting beginning on the day after St. Martin's Day. This fast period lasted 40 days. At St. Martin's eve and on the feast day, people ate and drank very heartily for a last time before they started to fast. This fasting time was later called "Advent" by the Church.

Condensed from: Sulpitius Severus: On The Life of Saint Martin, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series II, vol. XI read online

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