The Year in Church and Religious History

3 Jan – Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, in his papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, after Luther refused to recant his writings as required by the 1520 papal bull Exsurge Domine (1521).

6 Jan – Epiphany, the traditional date of the arrival of the Magi (Three Kings) to the Holy Family in Bethlehem. The traditional names of the Three Magi are Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar (4-6 BC).

8 Jan – American missionaries Jim Eliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian were killed by Huaorani (then known as “Auca”) Indians, at a sandbar on the Curary River (1956).

16 Jan – The English Parliament outlawed Roman Catholicism (1581).

16 Jan – Virginia enacted the Statute for Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson (1786).

21 Jan – The Anabaptist movement began in Switzerland when Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, and several others baptized each other in Zurich. This state-independent “believer’s baptism” was inconsistent with the state sponsored and Catholic infant baptism, breaking a 1,000 year old tradition (1525).

28 Feb – Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy, the first Pope to do so since Gregory XII in 1415 (2013). He was the first one to resign without outside pressure to do so since Celestine V in 1294.

Feb or Mar – Shrove Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Traditionally it is a time of self-examination and repentance for sin. It is called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in French because observants eat of the fat, rich food in the house in preparation for the Lenten season of prayer, fasting and repentance.

Feb, Mar and Apr – Lent – the forty days leading up to Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday. It is a time to exercise spiritual disciplines such as self-denial, silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, repentance, and giving to the poor.

1-20 Mar – The Uppsala Synod adopted the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Augsburg Confession (1530) as official doctrine for the Lutheran Church of Sweden (1593). Catholicism, Calvinism and Zwingliism were officially banned.

17 Mar – Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, died in Ireland (461). St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world celebrating his life and work, introducing Christianity to Ireland.

20 Mar – St Cuthbert’s Day – Cuthbert (634-687) was a monk, hermit and bishop in Northumbria, England.

31 Mar – Bernard of Clairvaux preached his sermon at Vezelay, calling Christians to arms in the Second Crusade (1146).

8 Apr – Winchester Cathedral, the Anglican church that is the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe, was dedicated (1093).

Mar or Apr – Holy Week, the last seven days of Jesus’ life on earth, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday was Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Holy or “Spy” Wednesday was the meeting of the Sanhedrin to betray Him, Maundy Thursday was the Last Supper, and Good Friday was the day that Jesus was tried and crucified.

Mar or Apr – Passover, the Jewish celebration of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.

Mar or Apr – Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By convention established during the First Council of Nicea (325), Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox, which is traditionally 21 March.

Apr or May – Ascension Thursday celebrates the ascension of the Resurrected Christ from the Mount of Olives into heaven. It occurred 40 days after Easter.

Apr or May – Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Christian Church. It occurs 50 days after Easter. Rather than celebrate Pentecost, followers of Judaism recognize this day as the culmination of the Festival of Weeks, celebrating the ingathering of the first fruits of the winter harvest.

2 May – Printer Robert Barker published the King James Bible in London (1611).

4 May – John Wycliffe declared a heretic and his writings banned posthumously by the Council of Constance. Later his remains were exhumed, burned, and cast into the River Swift (1415).

14 May – The Protestant Union, a coalition of German states including Anhalt, Ansbach, Baden-Durlach, Bayreuth, Brandenburg, Hesse-Kassel, Neuburg, Nuremburg, Palatinate, Strassbourg, Ulm and Wurttenberg, was founded to guard protestants and their interests (1608).

30 May – St. Joan’s Day – Joan of Arc (1412-1431) inspired the French forces to victory against the British in the Hundred Years War.

13 Jun – The Edict of Milan, issued by Constantine the Great and co-emperor Valerius Licinius and establishing religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire, was posted for public view in Nicomedia (313).

13 Jun – The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora, establishing a precedent for married clergy in the Lutheran Church. The Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, required that priests remain unmarried (1525).

22 Jun – St. Alban’s Day – Alban of England (209-251) helped spread Christianity to Roman Britain.

6 Jul – John Hus, having been declared a heretic at the Council of Constance, was burned at the stake (1415).

15 Jul – St. Vladimir Day – Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great (958-1015) was Prince of Novgorod and spread Christianity to the Rus people in 988.

28 Jul – Saint Alphonsa Day – Alphonsa Muttathupadathu (1910-1946) was a beloved teacher in a convent school and the first woman of Indian origin to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

31 Jul – St. Ignatius’ Day – Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and became their first Superior General. He was a major force in the Counter Reformation.

4 Aug – The traditional date when the Romans under Titus destroyed the Second Jewish Temple, built during the time of Ezra (70).

19 Aug – The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergius, issued a Declaration proclaiming the absolute loyalty of the Church to the Soviet State and the government’s interests. This was in response to Communist persecution of believers (1927).

22 Aug – Pope Paul VI arrived in Bogotá, Columbia to become the first pope to visit Latin America (1968).

25 Aug – Kaiser Wilhelm II’s German troops destroyed the library at the Catholic University of Leuven, losing hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable documents (1914).

11 Sep – Moriscos. Spanish Moors that converted to Christianity, sometimes by force, were ordered to leave the country (1609).

14 Sep – Composer George Frideric Handel completed his oratorio, Messiah (1741). The famous work was first performed in Dublin, Ireland on 13 April 1742.

27 Sep – Jean Francois Champollion, a French philologist and orientalist, finished deciphering the Rosetta Stone, a stone including Greek, demotic script, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. This enabled scholars to understand hieroglyphics for the first time (1822).

28 Sep – St. Wenceslaus Day – Wenceslaus I (907-935) was the Duke of Bohemia and was known for acts of kindness to his people.

4 Oct – St Francis Day – Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) founded the Order of Friar’s Minor (men), Order of St. Claire (women), and Order of St. Francis (Franciscans). He traveled to Egypt in 1219 to try to convert the Sultan to end the Crusades, and in 1223 arranged the first nativity scene.

8 Oct to 1 Nov – The Council of Chalcedon adopts the Chalcedonian Creed, affirming and describing Jesus’ dual nature as fully human and fully divine (451).

11 Oct – Swiss Protestant pastor and reformer Huldrych Zwingli was killed in action fighting soldiers from Roman Catholic cantons (1531).

11 Oct – The Second Vatican Council, which heralded groundbreaking changes in the Catholic Church, began in Rome under Pope John XXIII. It ended in December 1965.

13 Oct – King Philip IV “The Fair” of France simultaneously imprisoned and later executed hundreds of men of the Knights Templar, effectively destroying the Order (1307).

18 Oct – Troops under Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah completely destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Church had been built on the traditional site of the Resurrection and Burial of Christ (1009).

22 Oct – Saint John Paul the Great Day – Karol Jozef Wojtyla (1920-2005) was Pope from 1978 to 2005, improving the Church’s relationship with other faiths.

25 Oct – St Crispin’s Day – Saints Crispin and Crispinian, twin brothers, preached the gospel to the Gauls and supported themselves by making shoes in the 3rd century AD. They are the French Christian patron saint of cobblers, curriers, tanners and leather workers.

27 Oct – The traditional date in which the Roman Emperor Constantine was said to have received the Vision of the Cross (312). He later became the first Roman Emperor to legally recognize Christianity, though he did not make it the official religion.

10 Nov – St. Leo Magnus Day – Pope Leo Magnus (“The Great” – 400-461) met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to abandon his invasion of Italy. He also issued the Tome of Leo, which informed the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon.

15 Nov to 24 Dec (revised Julian and Gregorian calendar) – Nativity Feast, in which Christians in the Eastern Churches, especially Orthodox, prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Many orthodox churches continue to follow the Julian calendar, and the Nativity Feast begins on 28 Nov.

16 Nov – St Agnes Day – Agnes of Assisi (1197-1253) was a noblewoman and follower of St Francis of Assisi who became abbess of the Order of the Poor Ladies, providing charity in Assisi, Italy.

17 Nov – St. Gregory’s Day – Gregory of Tours (538-594) was Bishop of Tours and a historian of Roman Gaul.

29 Nov – American missionaries Dr. Marcus Whitman, his wife Narcissa, and 15 others are massacred by Umatilla and Cayuse Indians in Oregon, resulting in the Cayuse War. 54 other women and children were captured and held fr ransom (1847).

Nov-Dec – Advent – Starting the fourth Sunday before 25 Dec, Advent is a four week season celebrating the Nativity of Jesus, the Incarnation of God. The first Sunday can be from 27 Nov to 3 Dec.

6 Dec – Sinterklaas Day – Also known as St. Nicholas Day, a Belgian and Dutch celebration in which children place shoes outside their door in the evening and find them filled with toys and treats in the morning. During WW2, the Royal Air Force dropped boxes of candy over occupied Netherlands on Sinterklaas Day (1941).

7 Dec – Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I and Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI mutually lifted the orders of excommunication that were written in the Great Schism of 1054 (1965).

13 Dec – Santa Lucia Day – An Italian and Scandinavian holiday celebrating St. Lucy, A Sicilian martyr in the third century. In Sweden, the eldest daughter in a household wears a white robe, red sash, and crown of twigs and candles. Early in the morning she serves family members St Lucia (saffron) buns and drinks.

25 Dec – Birth of Jesus Christ celebrated (4-6 BC)

26 Dec – Boxing Day, a secular holiday in which traditionally bosses would give presents to their employees.

26 Dec – St. Stephen’s Day, honoring Stephen the Deacon and first Christian martyr as mentioned in the Book of Acts.

27 Dec – Pope John Paul II visited his would-be assassin, the Turk Mehmet Ali Ağca, in Rebibbia’s prison and forgave him for the 1981 attack on him in St. Peter’s Square (1983).

 

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More Christmas Traditions to Celebrate

Celebrations at Christmas time can be far more than just good food and good presents on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Starting in late November and ending in early January, families can celebrate other traditions of Christmas for a whole month. This teaches important truths to children, develops important family traditions, and is a lot of fun!

6 December – Saint Nicholas Day (Sinter Klaas Day)

Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, Asia Minor, who was born around 15 February 270 and died on 6 December, 346 AD.  He was born to a wealthy family, but chose to use his wealth to help the poor rather than trying to grow wealthier.  His generosity soon became legendary, and though he was never officially canonized, he has been recognized as a saint over the ages.

Legend states that as he was walking past a house in the poor part of the city, he overheard a young woman crying to her father that she could not marry her beloved because she had no dowry.  That night, dressed in his red Bishop’s robe, he secretly tossed some money in to their house through an open window.  A second daughter had the same problem, and received the same kindness.  The last daughter needed the same, but when Nicholas came, the windows were closed.  He climbed to the roof and dropped a bag of gold coins down the chimney, were the landed in the girl’s stocking that had been left to dry.  Nicholas was discovered, and he spent the rest of his days ministering to others in God’s love.

Saint Nicholas is venerated throughout the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, and well admired by Protestant Christians as well.  European children will find candies and toys in their shoes on the morning of December 6, placed there on the night of the fifth.  The American icon Santa Claus comes directly from the Dutch “Sinterklaas”.

12 December – Gross Day

This holiday, which I learned from Mr. McDonough, my Spanish 2 teacher at California High School in Whittier, California, is on the 12th day of the 12th month, because 12×12 = 144, one gross.  On that day, he was also famous every year for planting a dead tree branch in a pot and hanging a 30-6 shell from it. Mr. McDonough called it his “cartridge in a bare tree.”  It is a fun time to eat a gross of something or do a gross of something, or even eating or doing something gross.

13 December – Santa Lucia Day

Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) was an Italian Christian who was martyred by Diocletian in Sicily around 300 AD.  Legend states that she spent her days helping Christians hiding in the catacombs, bringing food and other supplies to sustain them.  To keep both hands free, she wore a crown of candles.

In Scandinavian tradition, 13 December was Lussi night (Lussinatta), the longest night of the year in the unreformed Julian calendar.  Lussi was a witch, and she, along with her retinue of evil spirits and dead people, flew through the air looking for victims to steal away.  Sometimes Lussi would come down the chimney and steal children.

When large numbers of Scandinavians followed Christ, the holiday changed.  Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) is a young woman who brings lights and sweets to the people in December 13th.  She wears a crown of candles (lights) in her hair and leads a procession of others, each holding one candle.

Santa Lucia Day is another example of Christians taking something evil and changing it for good.

 

25 December – Happy Birthday to Jesus

Though many people celebrate Christmas, few celebrate it as a birthday party for Jesus. While we give presents to one another, it is also important to give presents to Him. In our family we have a birthday cake, sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, and have the youngest child present blow out the candle. Sometimes we give money or gifts to a charity for Jesus’ birthday. This is yet another way to remember what Christmas is really about, and have a good time doing it.

6 January – Three Kings Day (Epiphany)

Epiphany is the Greek word for “manifestation” or “striking appearance”. As such it describes the appearance of the Magi (wise men or kings) to pay homage to Jesus, the infant king.

As much as we like the image of Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the stable, surrounded by animals, shepherds and wise men, the real birth of Christ probably did not happen that way. The wise men, according to the Gospel of Matthew, did not arrive until later, after the Holy Family had moved into a house. It is not clear why Joseph and Mary didn’t go quickly back to Nazareth, but perhaps the census took longer than we would expect and so they decided to settle down in Bethlehem. Either way, Jesus was probably 12-18 months old when the wise men came.

While the Eastern Orthodox church celebrates the visit of the magi on 25 December, to account for the delay, Western church tradition celebrates the coming of the wise men on 6 January, the twelfth day after the Nativity. They gave three gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh, but there is no mention of how many wise men came. Western tradition teaches that there were three, a Persian scholar named Melchior, an Indian scholar named Caspar, and an Arabian scholar named Balthazar.

  1. Syrian tradition – Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Homisdas
  2. Ethiopian tradition – Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater
  3. Armenian tradition – Kagpha, Badadakharida, and Badadilma.

Families traditionally exchange presents on Epiphany and some cultures have parties or other events to commemorate the coming of the kings.

Conclusion

The Christmas season is exactly that, a season, and not merely a day. Regardless of one’s denomination or affiliation, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, celebrating Jesus’ birth in other traditions is a fantastic way to build family unity, have fun, and better understand the mystery and magic of the Coming of Christ.