22 January 2013

22 January - Saints Vincent and Anastasius; Kebabs

If the sun shines brightly on Vincent's Day, we shall have more wine than water (i.e. optimum growing conditions for the vineyards this year).

If the sun shines on St. Vincent, there shall be much wind. [I’ve also seen it written as “much wine”, which goes along with the prognostication above, and which I find preferable.  However, see below for a desire for wind]

To predict the harvest in the coming season, light a torch (a real torch, not a flashlight) and carry it to a high hill.  If the flame is extinguished in the wind, crops will be abundant; if the torch burns in spite of the wind, the season will be bad.

Remember, on St. Vincent’s Day
If that the sun his beams display,
Be sure to mark the transient beam
Which through the casement sheds a gleam;
For ‘tis a token bright and clear
Of prosperous weather all the year.

And glory be!  Snow overnight, but clear blue skies today with abundant sunshine and a sharp wind that will blow out any number of torches.  Good wine, good weather, good crops!

Today is the celebration of Saints Vincent of Saragossa and Saint Anastasius of Persia, men of differing walks of life from opposing parts of the world.  Saint Vincent was far more popular in medieval Europe, hence the weather lore for the day concerns him.  I wrote about Saint Vincent here.

The story of Saint Anastasius is less well known, although just as interesting, and like so many of the saints, serves as a model for us in our modern, more ‘enlightened’ day.

“At Rome, at Aqua Salviae*, St. Anastasius, a Persian monk, who, after suffering much at Caesarea, in Palestine, from imprisonment, stripes and fetters, had to bear many afflictions from Chosroes, king of Persia, who caused him to be beheaded.  He had sent before him to martyrdom seventy of his companions, who were precipitated into rivers.  His head was brought to Rome, together with his venerable likeness, by the sight of which the demons are expelled, and diseases cured, as is attested by the Acts of the second council of Nicaea.”

*A slight mix-up.  Anastasius was martyred near modern Kirkuk, Iraq.  It is possible that the saint’s head was brought to the monastery at Aqua Salviae.

Chosroes II, King of Persia, had, in his sweep through Palestine, conquered the city of Jerusalem and, among other things, stole the True Cross (the same which Saint Helena had found).  Magundat, a soldier in the Persian army, was curious to know, as soldiers generally are, just what was so important about the an old piece of wood, that they must needs risk their lives to take it.  Conquering a country is one thing.  Looting and exacting tribute from the inhabitants is one thing, and actually rather enjoyable.  But to put oneself in harm’s way for an old piece of wood?  Where’s the sense in that?

His mind exercised by this problem, he did not stop until he had received enough information and instruction to cause him to convert to Christianity.  He left the army, was baptized, taking the name Anastasius, and eventually became a monk in Jerusalem – the same place he and his friends had pillaged seven years before.

After seven years in the monastery, he found that it was again time for him to put himself in harm’s way for that same piece of Wood.  He went to Caesarea to visit the Holy Places and preach, but once there, he berated his countrymen for being such fools as to believe in magic and worship fire.  This didn’t go over well.  Christians were grudgingly accepted in the Persian empire (they had freedom of worship), as long as they confined themselves to their worship spaces and didn’t bring their religion into the public square – and noisy rude Christians who might easily call down the wrath of the Great Fire were definitely not welcomed.  Anastasius was arrested and put to heavy labor under horrible conditions to make him abjure his faith, and when that didn’t work, he was sent back to Persia where seventy more Christians were awaiting death, and his tortures increased.  This still did not make him turn, even with the added inducements of high government positions (“Listen, Mag, how about Secretary of Climate Control?  A plum job if there ever was one.  Nice office, good salary, great perks (all on the taxpayer’s dime) and a couple of really hot interns who don’t mind smokin’ if you know what I mean (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).  Besides, the king is really into Climate Control, y’know.  Keeps his subjects’ minds off his really bad economic policies…”). 

Truly, they did all they could to keep Anastasius alive, even telling him the he could be a secret Christian and go back to the monastery, if only he would publicly renounce Christ.  “What’s one little lie to keep your life?  After all, we’ve got lots of supposed Christians in the government.  Yep.  They claim to be Christians, but they all worship the Great Holocaust in public, like they’re supposed to.  They would never dream of imposing their religion on the rest of the country…”

Not even these incentives could move Anastasius, and he was finally strangled to death and then decapitated.  He died in 628.  So also did King Chosroes. 

In 628, the armies of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius conquered much of the Persian empire.  Chosroes fled to a place of safety, which turned out to be not so safe, as he was assassinated a month after the martyrdom of Anastasius.  The True Cross, that old piece of Wood for which Anastasius risked his life, was returned in triumph to Jerusalem 15 years after it had been stolen.  But that is a story for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14 September.


To honor Saint Anastasius, have a Middle-Eastern dinner tonight.  KEBABS are always easy and you can make them under the broiler, or on top of the stove, if it is too cold to fire up the grill outside (as it is here).

To make kebabs in a skillet:
Cut up 1½ pounds of sirloin steak into 1-inch chunks
Cut 2 tomatoes into 8 wedges each (for a total of 16 wedges) or use cherry tomatoes
Cut up 2 green peppers into 1-inch pieces. [I like to mix colors – not just green peppers on my skewers, but red and yellow as well… the cook’s helpers used to make ‘stoplights’ on their skewers – red, yellow, green, red, yellow, green…]

Alternately thread the meat and vegetables on short or long skewers.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat a small amount of cooking oil in a large skillet and quickly brown the kebabs on all sides.

Reduce heat, cover the skillet, and let the kebabs cook for another five to ten minutes, or until they are done to your taste.  Serve with rice or between toasted rolls.

This icon is supposed to be Saint Anastasius, but that is one of the fancier monk’s outfits I’ve ever seen. No idea who wrote it, as everybody uses it, but nobody gives the attribution.