Sunday, November 8, 2009

Treasures from our tradition

By Rev. James Field

Veterans Day began with the signing of a symbolic treaty between the Allies and Germany ending World War I (then called the “Great War”) on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The auspicious date was actually a wellestablished religious holiday, the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, a beloved soldier saint of the army of Rome. After World War II, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Britain, but of course the feast of Saint Martin endures.

Martin was named after Mars, the god of war, and against the advice of his parents he went on his own to church. He became a catechumen at the age of 10. By 15 he was enlisted in the cavalry in France. Coming across a poor man, Martin had an impulse to divide his bright red soldier’s cape and clothe him. He later had the insight that he had served Christ, and the other half of his cape became a lifelong sign to him of his duty to serve the poor. Housed in a tiny church capella or “chapel,” the cape became a great object of pilgrimage on the way to Compostella, and a favored place for the prayers of soldiers. Martin was not so eager to serve as bishop as he had been as a soldier, and legend says that he hid in a barn filled with geese to avoid Episcopal election. To this day, the customary meal for Nov. 11 is goose! Traditionally, this is the last feast day before winter closes in, and begins a period of fasting once known as “Saint Martin’s Lent” or “Martinmas,” that later developed into the season of Advent.

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