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St Nerses I the Great
Katholikos (bishop) of the Armenians (between Iran and Russia) and martyr (entered heaven in 373)
I detected a bit of self-pity in your last note. It sounds as if you are yielding to the temptation of apostolic despondency. Nothing would pain me more. If only you knew how much good you do for the Church when you forge ahead in your efforts to evangelize even though it seems as if the whole campus is against you! Of course they are against you! That is the nature of the beast, my dear fledgling apostle. If it weren’t so, we certainly wouldn’t need apostles. The trick is, as we have often discussed, not to measure your success solely by your popularity. At times our Lord will let you see some of the fruits of your apostolic labors, at other times, he won’t; in both situations, however, you need to “keep your hand to the plow” as Jesus himself put it. (Cf. Luke 9:62) Today’s saint can teach you how.
Nerses was a brilliant politician and rose rapidly to the highest echelons of the fourth century Armenian royal court. King Arshak fawned on him as a favorite adviser. After his wife passed away, Nerses was ordained a priest, and soon the King made him bishop of Armenia – much against the widowed prelate’s wishes. Always a man of integrity, Nerses took up his new duties with energetic responsibility, calling a national synod to address abuses and laxity that had infiltrated the clergy and people alike. He encouraged monasticism, erected hospitals and other works of Christian charity, and enacted legislation that was modeled on some of the older churches further east. As these reforms began to take root, King Arshak (not a model Christian by any means) became perturbed. His Kingdom was being Christianized, which meant that many of his own practices and “hobbies” would soon come under derogatory scrutiny. Tensions arose between the King and the Bishop. They peaked when Arshak murdered his own wife, and Bishop Nerses condemned his action, refusing to appear in the royal court until the King repented. Arshak exiled Nerses and appointed another bishop. When the King died a few years later, Nerses was reinstated, but the new King, Pap, was even worse (contemporary chroniclers claim that he was possessed by the devil). His sins were so heinous and flagrant that Nerses refused him entrance to the church until he would change his ways. Pap was furious. He feigned repentance and invited Nerses to dinner in the palace, where he had the bishop poisoned – a martyr for Christian morals.
So don’t fret if you have to face your own Arshaks and Paps; you’ll be in good company if you just keep on building the Kingdom.
Your loving uncle,