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May Commemorations in the Lutheran Church Calendar

5/1: St. Philip and St. James, Apostles

Philip, like Peter and Andrew, was born at Bethsaida and was one of the first disciples of Jesus. After he became an apostle, he brought Nathaniel to Jesus. Philip may have been of Greek ancestry (his name is Greek), for when "certain Greeks" wanted to see Jesus, they came to Philip. According to tradition, Philip was martyred in Phrygia. James, the son of Alphaeus, is traditionally called "the less" to distinguish him from James the brother of John, and from James the brother of the Lord. Philip and James are commemorated together because the supposed remains of the two saints were placed in the Church of the Apostles in Rome on this day in 561.


5/2: Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, 373

Athanasius was born in Alexandria, c. 295. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 while still a deacon, he defended the divinity of Christ, and from that time on championed Christian orthodoxy against Arianism. Consecrated Bishop of Alexandria in 328, his 45-year episco-pate was one of turmoil caused by civil authorities, heretical churchmen and his own rigid temperament. By his tireless defense of the faith, he earned the title, Father of Orthodoxy. The Athanasian Creed is named for him.


5/4: Monica, Mother of Augustine, 387

Monica (the oldest spelling is Monnica), the mother of Augustine, apparently was a native of Tugaste, North Africa. At the age of 40 she was left a widow with three children. She prayed earnestly for the conversion of the eldest, Augustine, following him to Rome and then to Milan. There she witnessed her son's conversion. She died returning to Africa. In Book IX of his Confession, Augustine writes ten-derly of her and of her dying wish to be remembered at the altar of the Lord. Her commemoration developed late in the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic calendar has moved her commemor-ation to August 27.


5/8: Julian of Norwich, renewer of the church, c. 1416

Julian (or Juliana) was most likely a Benedictine nun living in an isolated cell attached to the Carrow Priory in Norwich (Nor-itch), England. Definite facts about her life are sparse. However, when she was about thirty years old, she reported visions that she later compiled into a book, Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, a classic of medieval mysticism. (This is the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman.) The visions declared that love was the meaning of religious experience, provided by Christ who is love, for the purpose of love. A prayer hymn attributed to Julian is Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth.


5/9:Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, renewer of the church, hymnwriter, 1760

Count Zinzendorf was born into an aristocratic family and after the death of his father was raised by his Pietistic grandmother. This influence was a lasting one, and he moved away from what he felt was an overly intellectual Lutheranism. When he was twenty-two, a group of Moravians asked permission to live on his lands. He agreed, and they established a settlement they called Herrnhut, or "the Lord's watch." Eventually worldwide Moravian missions emanated from this community. Zinzendorf participated in these missions and is also remembered for writing hymns characteristic of his Pietistic faith, including Jesus, Still Lead On.  

Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

5/18: Erik, King of Sweden, martyr, 1160

Erik IX ruled Sweden from c. 1150 until his death in 1160. On an expedition to Finland (c. 1155) he was accompanied by Henry of Uppsala who founded the church in Finland. Erik, a man of great personal goodness, was killed by a Danish pagan prince assisted by rebels. Erik has come to be recognized as the principal patron saint of Sweden. His body was interred in the cathedral at Uppsala, and his relics were not disturbed during the turmoil of the Reformation.

5/19: Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, 988

Dunston, born c. 909, was attached for a time to the court. He became a monk at Glastonbury and was made abbot, c. 943. A strict ascetic, he completely reformed the monastery and made it famous for its learning. He was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 959, and with King Edgar I carried out a thorough reform of church and state. He sup-ported the cause of learning and almost single-handedly revived monasticism in England, virtually extinct by the middle of the 10th century. He was also known as a musician, an illuminator, and metalworker.

St. Dunstan, Monastic Chapel 1920, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York. Photo: Randy OHC, Permission via Creative Commons

5/23: Ludwig Nommensen, Missionary, 1918

The apostle to the Bataks was a man of deep faith, courage, and prophetic vision. Born in 1834 in Schleswig-Holstein, he left in 1861 for Sumatra and labored there among the Bataks, a large tribal group then untouched by either Islam or Christianity. The developing church had a thoroughly Batak flavor--a Bible translation, acceptance of features of customary law, and training of Batak Christians as evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The Batak church of today is his living memorial.

Ludwig Nommensen

5/24: Nicolaus Copernicus, astronomer, 1543

Copernicus was born Mikolaj Kopernik, February 14, 1473 in Torun, Poland. Like many of his time, he Latinized his name. He was a notable Renaissance man whose interests were universal and whose thirst for knowl-edge was insatiable. He gave himself to the study of mathematics, law, astron-omy, and medicine at the Universities of Cracow, Bologna, Padua, and Ferrara, and was, in addition, a canon of the Frauenburg Cathedral. He made his most lasting contribution in astronomy, going back to a theory first advanced by Aristarchus of Samos that the earth went around the sun. Removing the earth from the center of the picture of the universe was a bold break with the ideas accepted in his time. This intellectual revolutionary was also a humble and compassionate man.


5/29: Juraj Tranovsky, hymnwriter, 1637

The "Luther of the Slavs" and father of Slovak hymnody was born in 1592 in Silesia, the son of a blacksmith. He studied theology at Wittenberg and taught for some years in Prague. He was pastor in Moravia from 1616 to 1620 and in Liptovsky Mikulas in Slovakia. Pastor Tranovsky was a great compiler of hymns, and his hymnal, Cithara Sanctorum (Lyre of the Saints), which appeared in 1636, has remained the basis of Slovak Lutheran hymnody to the present day. His liturgical activity was of great importance for Lutheran-ism in Bohemia, Silesia, Poland, and Slovaks, Czechs, Poles, and Slovenes all recognize him as their countryman.

Juraj Tranovsky

5/31: The Visitation

The visit by Mary to Elizabeth is a comparatively recent festival. It was first observed by the Franciscans in the 13th century, was added to the Roman calendar in 1389, and was extended to the whole church in 1541 at the Council of Basel. The festival celebrated the occasion of the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. In the Roman, Episcopal, and Lutheran calendars, the festival is moved from its traditional July 2 date to May 31 so that it will come before the birthday of John the Baptist and so make better chronological sense. Read: Luke 1:39-47.

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