Martin, Bishop of Tours and Armistice Day

The Armistice that ended the fighting of World War 1 on the Western Front, between Germany and the Allies, came into effect at 11 am (Paris time) on 11th November, a date which coincidently is St Martin’s Day. I am not posting about Armistice Day today but you can see a previous post on that theme in Armistice Day 2014. Today I'm concentrating on St Martin.

Who was Martin? There are several people known as St Martin. The Martin remembered today by Catholics and Anglicans is Martin, Bishop of Tours, the patron saint of beggars, soldiers and conscientious objectors.

Martin was born about AD 316 in the Roman city of Savaria (now Szombathely in Hungary) but spent his childhood in Italy. His father was a tribune, a senior cavalry officer in the Roman army. His parents weren’t Christian but Martin was attracted to Christianity because of Christians he met. As a youth he wanted to be baptised, but was deterred because the law required he follow his father into the army. That was a problem for a would-be Christian. Christians couldn’t then be soldiers because Roman army soldiers had to swear an oath to the Emperor as God and for a Christian that is blasphemy. So, while continuing to receive Christian teaching as a catechumen, baptism was postponed, Martin was conscripted and joined the cavalry like his father.

The best known legend about Martin is from when he was stationed at Amiens. As he rode towards the city gate on a cold winter’s day, he saw a beggar clothed in rags. Martin cut his cloak in 2 to share it with this shivering person.

The following night, Martin dreamt he saw Christ, surrounded by angels and dressed in the half cloak Martin had given him. As a consequence Martin hurried to be baptised as a Christian. Changes in relations between Church and State made it possible for Martin to be baptised.

For at least the later part of his army service Martin functioned as a sort of medical orderly, a non-combatant. Accused of cowardice on the eve of a battle with the Gauls, Martin replied:
"If this conduct of mine is ascribed to cowardice, and not to faith, I will take my stand unarmed before the line of battle tomorrow, and in the name of the Lord Jesus, protected by the sign of the Cross and not by shield or helmet, I will safely penetrate the ranks of the enemy."
The next day the enemy came seeking peace and Martin was released from being a soldier!

Later Martin was ordained priest and reluctantly, but apparently by popular demand, became Bishop of Tours. He died on 8th November 397. His saint’s day is the day of his burial, 11th November. He was one of the first Christians the church officially made a saint because of the way he lived, rather than for the way he died.

What better way to observe Armistice Day than by following the example of Martin of Tours, who took to heart Jesus' message (found in Matthew 25: 34 - 40) about providing food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoner, and understood Jesus’ words,
“…just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me”.. 
Here's the Church of England's prayer for this day: 
God all powerful,
who called Martin from the armies of this world
to be a faithful soldier of Christ:
give us grace to follow him
in his love and compassion for the needy,
and enable your Church to claim for all people
their inheritance as children of God,
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Common Worship Collect for Lesser Festival of Martin, Bishop of Tours

Image Credit: Wikimedia, CC License