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Virgin and martyr (entered heaven in 249)
Great to hear that your training is paying off. You can bet I’ll be rooting for you during the Olympic trials (they’re coming up pretty soon, aren’t they?), even though I will unfortunately not be able to watch you in person this time. It’s funny that I got your note today – I had been thinking of you in relation to today’s saint.
Apollonia was an aged deaconess (in the ancient church deaconesses were engaged in assisting at the baptism of adult women, because baptism was mostly done by full immersion, and it would have been inappropriate for the priest to help the soaked female neophytes change into their baptismal robe after dunking) who fell victim to a thoroughly diabolical outbreak of persecution in the Egyptian city of Alexandria under the Emperor Philip. It was an unorganized riot. Christians were seized and beaten, hurled from rooftops, flayed and otherwise dishonored if they refused to blaspheme the one, true God. In the midst of the chaos, many Christians abandoned their homes and goods and tried to flee from the city. St Apollonia was one of these. But she was caught. First, they beat her in the face, knocking out all her teeth, and then they dragged her to an enormous, blazing bonfire that they had kindled just outside the city. They threatened to throw her in unless she denied her faith. She hesitated and asked for a moment’s delay (she was pretending to waver). In that moment, in order to show how firmly she believed in Christ, she dived into the flames herself, blessing God as she burned. (Of course, this is no ordinary case. St Augustine explains that to initiate one’s own death even in such circumstances would be morally acceptable only under a particular inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which St Apollonia, he points out, clearly had.)
You may be wondering why this history made me think of you. Well, it has to do with the demands of your training regimen. It occurred to me that you take upon yourself a huge amount of sacrifice in order to be able to compete in the very best condition. But then it further occurred to me that you have a coach (more than one, if I’m not mistaken), keeping tabs on you and pointing out exactly what you need to do. In a sense, I guess, the Holy Spirit was like Apollonia’s coach, and she was like a perfectly docile athlete. How many of us are that docile to the inspirations of our Holy Coach? How many of us are willing to make those little spiritual sacrifices – sitting next to the unpopular nerd in the dining hall, foregoing a little bit of recreation to make enough time for daily prayer, avoiding that tantalizing situation that always leads me into sin, etc. – that God wants to use to turn us into Olympic Christians? …
Anyway, those were my thoughts. By the way, if you’re still suffering from that toothache, you may want to say a prayer to St Apollonia – the loss of her teeth in the riot made her the obvious choice for patroness of dental diseases.
Your loving uncle, Eddy