“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
The Orthodox Church has always been rich not only on Eastern saints, but also on ancient saints of the Western Europe, and their number is quite large in fact. However, since Eastern saints are stated first in our menologies and martyrologies, the memory and the importance of numerous Western saints for universal Orthodoxy sometimes fade and this is why they often vanish from our prayerful life.
However, the significance of these saints can be rather high. They are especially important for the Orthodox Christians, who live far from their homeland or just in terms of other diasporas, in the countries where these saints had become well-known thanks to their confession of Orthodoxy and their good deeds. For example, there was a case with one Russian immigrant woman in the twentieth century, who lived in Paris. The woman suffered from severe headache and was already desperate about finding a cure. Once she had a dream, in which St. Genevieve appeared to her and asked: “Why do not Russians pray to me in my city?” Soon, the woman came to St. Genevieve’s grotto and her pain was gone. And one of such saints, whom we commemorate on October 12 (October 25)—but whom not all Orthodox Christians have heard about—is St. Martin of Tours, the patron saint of France.
The future saint was born in Pannonia in 336 A.D. (the present day territory of Hungary, Croatia and Austria) to a non-Christian family. At the age of 10 he turned to Christ and became a catechumen of a local Christian community despite the protests of his parents. The saint’s father was a military tribune and that is why his son, when he was 15, was called for service in the Roman army. Martin was serving in Gaul and even had the rank of an officer. It was during his military service, when Martin did one of his most well-known deeds – he cut his cape with a sword and gave a half of it to the almost naked homeless person suffering from winter cold. As it is said in the life story of the saint, when Martin fell asleep that day, he saw Christ in a dream, dressed in the very cape that Martin gave to the poor man. Then Christ told His angels: “It was Martin, who dressed me in this vestment, although he is just a catechumen”. That dream strengthened Martin’s faith, and at the age of 18 he was baptized. The saint left his military career because of his unwillingness to kill and began to preach Christian faith. More than once he was exiled from various cities by the Arian bishops. Later he would become the disciple of St. Hilary of Poitiers, the great and well-known theologian of the West, and go to the monastery not far from Poitiers. Soon, a whole new monastic community gathered around him, which later became the breeding ground for monasticism in Gaul.
In 371, St. Martin was chosen against his will as a bishop of the city of Tours. The citizens were very inspired by the saint's way of life. Martin was asked to come to Tours for his ordination under the guise of praying for a severely ill person. According to one of the versions, when Martin found out the truth, he tried to hide in a shed for geese. However, that did now work out—the geese in the shed began to gabble and make noise, which made it easy for people to find Martin there. St. Martin looked so torn and messy after his unseccessful attempt to escape that his critics claimed he was not worthy of the rank of a bishop but still the majority of people did not supported them. As a bishop, Martin paid much attention to evangelization of the local mostly pagan citizens, to the spreading of Bible, as well as was really kind towards the poor and cared a lot about the sick and hungry. For this reason he was called “the Merciful”. When Martin became a bishop he did not forget his monastic ideals and moved from the city to the monastery of Marmutie, which he organized not far from Tours. It is known that in that monastery St. Martin established special strict rules of asceticism.
The Icon of St. Martin in one of the churches of St. Elisabeth Convent St. Martin is also well-known for his Christian and truly evangelic attitude towards people of other beliefs. When a group of Priscillians was judged by the secular court on the application by one of the bishops, St. Martin personally went to Trier, where he claimed that the case of those sectarians should have been heard at the church court. Together with St. Ambrose of Milan, he insisted that execution was impossible in that case, recalling the words of Jesus Christ to His disciples and His parable about the wheat and the tares. Thus, the saint managed to persuade even emperor-usurper Maximus. However, as soon as the saint left the city, Priscillus and several of his followers were executed, which caused great dismay throughout the whole Church of Christ—people still remembered recent times, when they were persecuted for their faith, too.
St. Martin devoted so much time and effort to rescuing the imprisoned that the authorities and even emperors, when they heard that Marin of Tours was going to visit them, refused to meet him since they knew he would ask them to have mercy on some prisoners and understood that they could not refuse.
St. Martin reposed in the city of Canda in the year 397. He became one of the most honored saints in the West. Thousands of churches were named in his honor, and he also remains the national patron saint for France even today. He always inspired local Christians in their own monastic labors.
By the prayers of St. Martin of Tours, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.