URC Daily Devotion Thursday 20th April 2023 St Elizabeth the Wonder Worker
Thursday 20 April 2023 St Elisabeth the Wonderworker
Icon of St Elizabeth the Wonderworker from the Orthodox Church of America’s website, oca.org/ and used with their kind permission.
Born around the fifth century in Heraklea, St Elisabeth the Wonderworker showed early signs of holiness. By the age of three she could recite the lives of the saints. When her parents died, she gave their wealth to the poor and entered a convent in Constantinople where she pursued a life of extreme asceticism. At some point the Emperor Leo I gave St Elisabeth a convent. However, she was unable to take possession of the building for her community because a dragon had taken up residence and was refusing to budge. Armed only with a crucifix, St Elisabeth stood barefoot before the convent and summoned the dragon out, whereupon she defeated the beast by spitting upon it and then trampling it with her feet. Her feast day is 24 April.
Reading St Matthew 15: 21-28
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
St Elisabeth’s feast day comes a day after that of another, much better known, dragon-slayer, St George. Their stories invite comparison and I think represent two types of authority. St George was a soldier, a tribune from Cappadocia who went into battle with the dragon to save the life of the daughter of a king who had been offered up to the dragon when the supply of sheep used to keep it sweet had run dry. He wounded the dragon with a lance, saved the princess, and then, with her, led the dragon on a leash into the town saying he would only slay the dragon if all would be baptised. George’s power and authority were conferred upon him externally – by the army – represented by his lance. He used his power to protect other external authorities, the monarchy and Church (by adding to the number of its baptised members), the latter by fear.
All of Elisabeth’s power came from within. She did not have the might of the imperial army behind her – just her own spittle and feet – which she used for no other purpose than to claim her home. It is the authority of integrity, of openness to, and dependence upon, God. It is the kind of authority Jesus manifested and it is authority demonstrated by the Canaanite woman who dared to challenge Jesus for the sake of her daughter. This is not the authority of force or of institutional power but the authority of the self, a self open to God.
Send us leaders of integrity whose souls are open to you, O God, and whose hearts are set on love of others. Help us to crave the power of grace, not force, and to work for a world whose ways are ways of gentleness and whose paths are all of peace. Amen
The Revd. Professor Elizabeth Stuart, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost, The University of Winchester and Associate Priest in the Parish of St Matthew with St Paul in Winchester.