The Feast of Bishop Remi – a homily

As you probably noticed in the Collect, today the Church remembers a saint with a name as difficult to pronounce as his life story is to tell.  It would take most of the afternoon to discuss the tumultuous political and religious climate in western Europe in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, but suffice it to say, things were complicated.  Remigius, thankfully better known in his native tongue as Remi, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  His father was the Count of Laon and his mother was the daughter of a Bishop.  Remi was a brilliant student, and rose quickly to prominence for his wisdom and learning.  In about the year 460, Remi was elected Bishop of Rheims, even though he had not yet been ordained a priest or even a deacon!

Bishop Remi lived well past his 90th birthday and served the church as a bishop for 70 years!  That would be enough to be remembered as a saint all on its own, but Remi’s real claim to fame is that he saved orthodox Christianity from destruction and changed the course of European history.  During the time of Emperor Constantine, there was a heated debate in the Church between Athansius and Arius over the nature of Jesus. Though the Arians, those who Followed Arius and his belief that Jesus was a created being rather than a co-eternal member of the Trinity, had lost the vote in Nicea in 325, they continued to survive in the Church for hundreds of years.  Increasingly, they gained strength in western Europe, especially among the rising powers of the Goths and the Vandals.  By the middle of the 5th century, Because of strong political and military allies, it looked as if the Arians might wipe Nicene Christianity off the map. Until, on a December day in 496 when on the battlefield of Tobliac, A certain king named Clovis, a pagan married to a Christian queen, took a vow that if he was victorious in the battle in which he was highly outnumbered, he would become a Christian.  Clovis and the Franks miraculously  prevailed, and two days later, on December 24th, 496, King Clovis was baptized into the orthodox, Nicene Christianity by Bishop Remi in a small church in the city of Rheims.

Over the course of the next 300 years, this event would prove to be the saving grace of orthodoxy.  On the continent, the Franks converted the Visigoths, and when Charlemagne became the first Emperor of the Roman Empire in nearly three centuries in the year 800, he brought with him the orthodox faith that had been passed down from Bishop Remi.  Meanwhile, in England, Clovis’ great-granddaughter, Bertha, married the pagan King of Kent, King Ethelbert, who was eventually baptized by Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 601, thereby ensuring that we here would be the inheritors of the catholic faith in Christ as a member of the Godhead.

The Gospel lesson for the feast of Bishop Remi is a lesson that is often read at funerals in The Episcopal Church.  In it, we hear from the lips of Jesus what orthodox, Nicene Christians like Remi have fought for as truth: that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; and that knowing Jesus means knowing the Father.  In a time when the outside world was devoutly pagan and the church was torn with strife, it was people like Remigius who kept the Church in touch with her roots.

What does any of this have to do with us today?  I won’t argue that Christians in America are being oppressed, I think that is a ridiculous notion, but the reality is that we leave in a society that is increasingly suspicious of the Gospel.  The world outside the Church sees us as silly to believe in a God who loves us.  Even within the Church there are growing numbers who would have us give up those foolish beliefs in things like the Virgin Birth or a literal resurrection of Jesus.  Yet here we stand, as faithful, Nicene Christians, who, though we might struggle to make it all make sense, we can affirm, like Remi, that God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, fills us with delight, brings us fulfillment, and enables us to live abundant lives.  Politics and theological arguments aside, that is good news.  Amen.