A Story of St. Joder -- St. Joders Day 2003
In the spirit of celebrating St. Joder's Day, I offer the following summary of a story I've concocted, but first, a few words.
1) This is a work of fiction. Do not mistake it for anything claiming to be history. I've incorporated some historical details and tried to include some things from the paintings on the walls of St. Joder Kappelle, but it's mostly just my imagination. As a matter of fact, the whole story of the Theban Martyrs has been called into question since the Reformation, and there's a lot of evidence it never happened. Even so, it's fun to tell a good story about it.
2) This is only a summary of the story. If I (or hopefully anyone else) were to write or orally re-tell the story, I would add a lot of description and dialog and so forth. The summary is just to give an idea of how the story might go, and isn't intended to be used verbatim. You could try, but I don't think it would make for a very good story.
3) I give permission to anyone who wishes to use this story for their own purposes, either to be written or re-told. The only thing I ask is that, like all good storytellers, you make it your own. If there's something you don't like or would do differently, add, delete, or switch things around to your heart's content. All good storytellers changes stories before they pass them along.
So here's the story summary . . .
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Forgiveness in Your Bones
St. Joder is traveling in the Rhone river valley near Agaunum, in the Roman province of Alpes Graiae et Poeninae, in the mid 360s AD. He is traveling from his home base of Octodurum (modern Martigny) down to Genava (modern Geneva) on church business. Traveling with him is his dog Ossy, a skinny, bony mutt he took in. During a storm, he seeks shelter in a mountain cave. He has a vision of a Roman legion commander who has been slain. He looks Egyptian from his features, and standing behind him in the shadows are two other officers. The vision doesn't speak but just looks at him in mute appeal. St. Joder asks how he will know the cause of the soldier's death. The vision points to St. Joder's dog and fades away.
After the storm is over, St. Joder finds his way into the town of Agaunum. This town, unlike others in the province, has never had a Christian congregation, and has stubbornly resisted any traveling evangelists. St. Joder begins to ask around about any legionnaires who died recently there. At first, the townspeople deny knowing anything about it, but St. Joder has a feeling that they aren't telling the truth. He keeps checking until an old man, toothless and almost senile, mutters something about "them getting what they deserved." He won't say any more.
The next morning St. Joder prepares to leave but can't find his dog. He searches all over until the dog turns up-- chewing on an old dry human thigh bone. He finds the place where the bone comes from-it's a very old mass grave-- hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are buried there. He confronts the townspeople, whose leader is a large man named Lucius. The townspeople become violent and attack him, beating him into unconsciousness and leaving him for dead. He is awakened by Ossy licking his face. He continues on his trip to Genava.
On his way back, several weeks later, he gets word that Agaunum has been struck by a plague. He rushes to the town. He learns Lucius's home has several members struck down with disease. St. Joder goes to Lucius's home and prays. Each person he prays for is healed. He prays for the town as a whole and the plague stops.
Afterwards, Lucius and several others ask St. Joder why he would help them. He explains-- Christ's parable of the unforgiving servant, Christ forgiving the soldiers who nail him to the cross, Stephen forgiving those who were stoning him. He explains how God's forgiveness for his sins frees him to forgive all others. You can't help it-- it's almost like something in your bones. They ask for his forgiveness for what they did to him and he freely gives it.
Lucius leads the townspeople in accepting the gospel and converting to Christ. Lucius then reveals what really happened almost 80 years before: the story of the Theban Martyrs. (A legion of some 6,000 soldiers is from Thebes in Egypt and is entirely composed of Christians. When they refused to attack and kill fellow Christians, and refused to join in emperor worship, Emperor Maximian, the junior emperor to Diocletian, is enraged. Twice he orders decimation-- killing every 10th soldier-- but they are steadfast, and finally the emperor orders the death of the entire legion, including its commander, Mauritius. )
Lucius reveals that the people of that town (their grandparents and great grandparents) had willingly participated in the massacre. They did it for many reasons: hatred of Christians, prejudice against Egyptians, greed for owning and re-selling the legion's weapons and supplies, and anger at the Roman government for the way it was slowly crumbling. The bodies were buried in several mass graves and accounts of the whole event were suppressed. The guilt and fear had been like a cancer in everyone's hearts. Lucius asks if God could ever forgive them. St. Joder says if God could forgive the whole world its sin, theirs was but a tiny part of that. He leads them in prayer for forgiveness.
The townspeople wish to do something to balance out what happened. St. Joder suggests they build a church near the massacre site so that praise to God would rise in place that had known only death. They agree to do so.
In time, the town of Aguanum will change its name to St. Maurice (also spelled Moritz), and 4 cathedrals, 598 churches and 74 towns would eventually carry that name. The Theban Legion would never be forgotten.
That night St. Joder sees the soldiers again in a dream. This time they are healed and smiling.
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I hope you enjoyed it.
ESL Instructor, Storyteller, Father of Two