Praying in All Weather: Honoring the Saints and the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste

Praying in All Weather: Honoring the Saints and the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste

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I’ll be honest: I dislike winter. I weary of gunmetal gray skies. The cold exhausts me. No matter how many layers I wear, I can’t seem to get warm. Getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle. As I wait on the bus stop, the wind bites into me. I joke that I’m part bear—I want to hibernate until spring. I try to cultivate gratitude and avoid complaining, but I don’t always succeed. On these cold days, I take comfort in the lives of the saints, especially those who endured the coldest of conditions.

Examples to Follow

St. Patrick was taken to Ireland as a slave in his youth. His faith flourished in captivity. He later wrote in his Confession, “I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain, and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.”

I try to follow St. Patrick’s example and pray while I’m out in the cold, in all kinds of weather, huddling under a bus shelter and waiting for a late-running bus.

St. Lambert was a bishop in Maastricht (present-day Netherlands) in the 8th Century. He had been a nobleman, and in time became a bishop. But due to political unrest, he withdrew to the Monastery of Stavelot and lived as one of the monks without accepting any special privileges that would be offered to a hierarch. Once, he accidentally disturbed the monastic silence while getting up to pray during the night, and the Abbot, without realizing it was him, called out for the noise-maker to do penance by standing barefoot in the snow before a cross outside the church. In the morning the Abbot was dismayed to see that it was Bishop Lambert standing barefoot, covered with snow, before the cross. St. Lambert’s face was shining. The Abbot tried to apologize, but St. Lambert said that he was honored to serve God like the Apostles, in cold and nakedness. His life offers an example of humility and commitment to prayer I too should be honored to follow.

The account of St. Lambert’s shining face calls to mind the encounter between Nicholas Motovilov and St. Seraphim of Sarov. On a cloudy November day in 1831, Motovilov sat on a tree stump in the forest near St. Seraphim’s hermitage, talking with the elder. Already there were eight inches of snow on the ground, and more snow was falling from the sky, blanketing them as they conversed. Fr. Seraphim spoke on prayer and explained that the goal of Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. When Motovilov didn’t understand, St. Seraphim grasped his shoulder. Motovilov saw that Fr. Seraphim’s face was brighter than the sun, and in his own heart he felt joy and peace. His body warmed as if it were summer.

“We are both now, my dear fellow, in the Holy Spirit,” St. Seraphim said. “Thank the Lord for His mercy toward us.” He spoke of the saints and hermits from all ages who, he reminded Motovilov, “were kept warm and did not fear the winter frost, being clad, as in fur coats, in the grace-given clothing woven by the Holy Spirit.” He taught that “the grace of the Holy Spirit shines upon us and warms us from without as well.”

The incident left a lasting impression on Motovilov, who documented it in his memoirs. It’s an account I need to take to heart. While I’m shivering or shoveling snow, I need to remember to pray and seek the true heavenly warmth of knowing God.

Lastly, I can call to mind the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste, who for confessing their faith in Christ, were stripped naked and thrust onto a frozen lake by the soldiers of Emperor Licinius. A deep frost coated the shore, and the emperor’s men erected a warm bathhouse to tempt the confessors. One man failed and ran to the bathhouse and fell dead.

In the middle of the night, one of the guards saw a great brilliance above the lake; the ice melted, and crowns appeared above the heads of those struggling for the faith. Then this guard too confessed in Christ and became the 40th martyr. The next morning, nearly dead from exposure but praising God, the 40 men were executed and their bodies burned. The 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste are commemorated on March 9, and in some traditions skylark pastries are baked at this time to recognize the start of spring; 40 “skylarks” are baked for the holy martyrs.

I’m more than ready for spring. In North America, we watch for robins, not skylarks. Meanwhile, I’ll continue in prayer. May the prayers of all the saints strengthen us.

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About author
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Cynthia Long

Cynthia Long is a librarian, folklorist, and writer with a focus in Celtic folklore, mythology, and history. She earned her M.F.A. in Fiction from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Penn., in May 2016. In August 2017 she presented at Doxacon, the Orthodox Science Fiction and Fantasy convention, on the topic of fairy tales and the famous C.S. Lewis quotation that says, "Some day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again." Cynthia was Chrismated in September 2012 and attends St. George Church in the Philadelphia suburbs, where she tends the parish library.