St. Martin was born in that part of the Roman Empire which is now called Hungary. Though he was the son of pagan parents, he was drawn from his youth to the Christian faith and at the age of ten he asked to be made a catechumen. His father was an officer in the Roman army and Martin was still in his teens when he was forced to become an Imperial Horse Guardsman; this ended his schooldays.
Even before baptism, his actions followed so closely the Gospel teaching that at times he was regarded as a monk rather than a soldier. One freezing night in Amiens,
France' while on guard duty at the fort, the young officer saw a poor man with no cloak. He removed his cape, drew his sword, and slashed the cape down the middle; half he gave to the poor man and half he put on his own back. That night in sleep, young Martin had a vision: he saw the Lord Jesus Christ wearing the half of his cloak that he had given away. Thus encouraged, he took the first opportunity to be baptized.
Two years passed, and France (then called Gaul) was invaded by barbarians. Not wishing to transgress the commandments of God, Martin asked his commander for permission to give up his position as an officer, saying, "I am a soldier of Christ; I am not allowed to fight.'' [This indicates that he already considered himself to be a monk] The commander was furious and called him a coward, but Martin offered to stand in the front line of battle, armed only with the sign of the Cross.· The next day the barbarians surrendered without a fight and Martin was allowed to leave the army, seeing in this the Providence of Almighty God.
In the town of Poitiers was the holy Bishop Hilary; Martin now placed himself in this Saint's hands. It was not long before he was warned in a dream that his parents would soon die and he received the bishop's blessing to travel to his far-off homeland. There he had the happiness of seeing his mother' s conversion before her death. Passing through a certain city on his way back to Gaul, he came across many Arians whose false doctrine he so actively opposed that he was whipped in front of a crowd. Soon afterward, he heard that his beloved Bishop had been forced to leave Gaul. Instead of returning there alone, St. Martin went to an island off the coast of Italy .to live a solitary life until he heard news of St. Hilary's return. The two monk-saints then established at Poitiers the first monastery in the West, Liguge, which grew into a community of hermits in about ten years and followed the rule of St. Basil for communal monastic life.
In 371 St. Martin was again forced to become a Guardsman, this time of the Church, With great reluctance he accepted his election as Bishop of the city of Tours. At this consecration, however, were some influential and jealous men--nobles, landowners, and even bishops--who preferred "gentlemen" to saints, saying, "A man of such insignificant appearance, with unkempt hair and dirty clothes..." should not be bishop. But already, his reputation as a wonderworker and a man of God was so well established in the hearts of the people, that they came in great multitudes and made his election sure.
Burdened by the constant stream of visitors to his cell next to the cathedral, St. Martin moved to an isolated place about two miles outside the city. There he established a monastery, directing 80 brothers in the hermitic life while carrying out his duties as Bishop with flaming zeal. He converted the people of many regions in and surrounding Gaul, traveling with few provisions and a small band of monks, usually on foot. His preaching was accompanied by miracles of prophecy and healing of the sick, some of whom were healed simply through touching a piece of his garment; once he cleansed a leper with a kiss of mercy; three times the dead were raised; once five people saw a "ball of fire" surrounding his head when he blessed the congregation.
His prayers were eager, expectant, and pleasing to God. This roused the anger of the evil one. Many times and in the most varied disguises the devil appeared to St. Martin, But that holy man always protected him self with prayer and the sign of the Cross. Once Satan appeared to him in the form of Christ. At another time he taunted the Saint for allowing wicked sinners to become monks. To this St. Martin replied, "If you yourself would even now repent of your misdeeds, I have such trust in the Lord Jesus Christ that I would promise you mercy.' Once a troop of soldiers beat him up because the sight of his ragged figure made the mules shy and balk. The monks carried him to safety unconscious, but the mules would not budge until the soldiers recognized the Bishop and begged his pardon.
Everywhere he went, earthly powers humbled themselves before his heavenly spirit: an empress served him at table; when St. Martin ordered a tree sacred to the pagans to be cut down, he stood boldly right in the path of its fall--to everyone' s great astonishment, as it toppled it swerved to avoid him! and the multitude of pagans with one accord acclaimed the name of Christ. In fact, much of this Saint's life was devoted to the destruction of idols and their shrines, and his daily life was full of miracles proclaiming the power of the one true God, the Creator, and the folly of worshipping anything created. And wherever he went, he left monks and priests to carry on the work of instructing the new believers.
At last, adorned with the venerable gray hairs of old age, St. Martin longed to reach the end of his earthly sojourn. For many years he had with stood the attacks of demons like a true soldier of Christ, armed with patience and prayers which never left his mind and heart. He had attained such purity of life that not only were the demons powerless before him, but he was also granted to converse with angels. At last, while visiting some brethren in need of his 'peacemaking talents, the Saint collapsed from exhaustion. Foreseeing his departure from this world, he called together the brethren of his monastery who begged him not to leave them "at the mercy of wolves." The old Saint wept and said, "lord, if I am still necessary to Thy people, I do not refuse to toil; Thy will be done. But God answered the Saint's desire and took the soul of His faithful servant who died peacefully, his face turned to the window so he could see the sky. St. Martin was the first to be called Saint without having been martyred, and immediately his grave at Tours became the most venerated shrine in Gaul; his memory the most honored in all the West, and many churches and villages were dedicated to this holy Saint of France.
Our knowledge of St. Martin comes from his friend and biographer Sulpicius Severus whose testimony we can trust. Since so many --and such unusual--miracles are recorded in this Saint's life, some people have had a hard time believing them, both then and now. But that should only be those who are unbelievers. We should remember that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said that His true disciples would work miracles even greater than He did while on earth. Through the prayers of the fervent and faithful St. Martin, may we come to full and unashamed belief in the one true God and ail His works. Amen.
(Written for young people by Agafia Prince)[OA/_private/oabot.htm]