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St Marcellus the Righteous
Abbot of the Akimetes, Confessor (entered heaven around 485)
I hope you have been enjoying the seemingly endless round of holiday parties and get-togethers that you were so looking forward to. I was expecting to have heard from you by now – vacation started three weeks ago. Your silence, I imagine, means one of two things: either you are enjoying yourself too much, or you’re not having as much fun as you were hoping to have. In either case, I recommend that you reflect a bit on today’s saint, to put your vacation activities in perspective.
He was a lot like you. He came from a good family (though from Syria, not Sacramento), had a good education, and reached adulthood with nothing but opportunities beckoning him from every side. Then his parents died, and their fortune (which was considerable) devolved upon him. He had to make a decision about what to do with it. Most people wouldn’t think twice, they would simply enjoy it. But Marcellus was a man of reflection, and he detected something unsatisfying about an existence dedicated unthinkingly to the affairs and enjoyments of the world. He retired to Antioch in order to take time to think and pray, and study the faith. The more he did so, the more he became convinced of the passing nature of what most people ardently desire in life. He considered the following analogy: little kids make a big deal out of their toys, but adults recognize the paltriness of toys. They, instead, make a big deal out of money and success and pleasure. But, reasoned Marcellus, what do such things look like from God’s perspective if not foolish toys?
And so, in pursuit of lasting values, he moved to Ephesus (in modern day Turkey) and put himself under the direction of some well known Christians. He grew in holiness and wisdom, and eventually felt called to the monastic life, which he entered upon in one of the Akimetes monasteries near Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). (The Akimetes, i.e. “sleepless” monks were so-called because they were divided into different choirs in order to be able to sing praise to God 24 hours a day.) Eventually, Marcellus was named abbot of the gigantic community, which flourished exceedingly under his prudent and holy leadership, a leadership which he also exercised to the benefit of Church Councils, bishops, and patriarchs.
Don’t get me wrong, I am neither advocating that you join a monastery (though God may be calling you to something like that – why not?), nor admonishing you to spend 24 hours a day in prayer. I am just pointing out that you should reflect a little bit on what you’re looking for in life. Vacation, after all, is not vacation from truth, or from meaning, or from wisdom. Shine the light of eternity on your activities, and see what they look like. I hope you won’t be displeased.
Your loving uncle,