Welcome back to another FULL WEEK of saintly thrills and spills! Lent Madness XIV continues as Simeon Bachos takes on Blandina. The one known in Scripture as the Ethiopian eunuch vs. a second century martyr.
In Friday's matchup, Bach triumphed over Harriet Monsell 58% to 42% to advance to the Saintly Sixteen against Richard Hooker.
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Simeon Bachos is the name that second-century Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon gave to the person Luke calls “the Ethiopian eunuch.” Simeon was someone who today we might call nonbinary or queer—someone considered neither male nor female. Persons born male who, whether by accident or by choice, could no longer beget children were highly regarded as “safe” to serve as officials and servants for royal families in much of the ancient world.
So, Simeon Bachos was an elite: working closely with royalty, wielding political power, and having enough disposable income to travel on personal pilgrimage. However, they were also an outsider: “a dry tree” with a broken body and no family, whose presence in the temple was banned in Deuteronomy 23 (although welcomed in Isaiah 56). They were a foreigner: a Gentile with black skin from a country at the edge of the civilized world.
Simeon is so drawn to the God of the Jewish faith that they’ve traveled all the way to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. And they’re geeky enough that, on the trip home, they’re reading scripture in a moving vehicle! The Holy Spirit takes notice and commands the apostle Philip to chase down this chariot, and Philip hears Simeon reading the scripture aloud.
Phillip asks Simeon: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Simeon replies modestly: “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Then, Simeon asks a tender question: “About whom does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” And so, Philip proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ to Simeon, right there in their chariot. This seems to be the good news Simeon has been waiting their whole life to hear—perhaps what they had traveled to the temple looking to find—so much so that, when they see water by the side of the road, they want to be baptized immediately.
After the baptism, Philip is whisked away by the Spirit while Simeon is rejoicing. As Willie James Jennings says in his recent commentary: “The eunuch is not left alone. They are left free in their joy” (Acts, 86, pronouns and italics added), to pursue the Christian life. Irenaeus tells us that Simeon returned to Ethiopia and preached the gospel there.
The Episcopal Church celebrated the feast day of Simeon Bachos for the first time on August 27, 2022, after General Convention voted to authorize the commemoration.
Collect for Simeon Bachos
Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant Simeon, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Falsely accused of horrible deeds, tortured in the town square, burned, beaten, and flung around by a wild animal, Blandina and the story of her demise is not for the faint of heart. Despite her tragic death, she never despaired or denied her faith.
Born in 162 ce, Blandina was an enslaved woman in Roman Gaul who met her death only 15 years later. Not much is known about her early years other than that she embraced Christianity as a child. Her martyrdom, along with her companions, has earned them the title, the Martyrs of Lyon.
Blandina was murdered in the Roman Empire city of Lugdunum, now known as Lyon, France. This was during the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and Christian persecutions were enveloping the entire empire. The torments started slowly with community bans. Christians were prohibited from going into Roman homes, the marketplace, or public baths, and they were publicly attacked with stones and sticks. Many were imprisoned. Lies circulated about Christians, ranging from cannibalism to incest and other unspeakable perversions.
Blandina’s torture, along with that of Deacon Sanctus, Attalus, and Maturus, was part of the entertainment for the August 1 holiday celebrating Rome and the emperor. Their agony was a main event in the city amphitheater. The great Roman historian Eusebius recorded Blandina’s words to her torturers: “I am a Christian, and nothing vile is done among us.”
After repeated beatings and burnings as well as watching her friends suffer and die, Blandina’s final degradation was being wrapped in a net to serve as a toy for a wild bull. She finally died by stabbing. After the bodies were exposed for six days, they were burned with the ashes thrown into the Rhone River.Blandina was the last of 48 Christians martyred in Lugdunum.
While it was well-documented that Emperor Marcus Aurelius did not like Christians, it is unknown whether he knew about these and other tortures. While history may remember him as a philosopher, these public cruelties happened under his rule.
Blandina is the patron saint of servant girls, torture victims, young girls, and those falsely accused of cannibalism. Her shrine is at the Church of Saint-Leu, Amiens, France, and her feast day is June 2.
Collect for Blandina
Almighty God, who gave such courage and endurance to Blandina and her companions that by their deaths many hearts were turned to you; Grant that we, in accordance with their example, may also gladly endure all that is required of us as we witness to you in our own day; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Simeon Bachos: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Blandina: Lucien Bégule, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons