On Thursday 2 December 2021 we commemorate the Pontiff St Clement and Bishop St Bagrat of Taormina.
Pope Clement I (called Clemens Romanus to distinguish him from the Alexandrian), is the first of the successors of St Peter of whom anything definite is known, and he is the first of the “Apostolic Fathers”. The Apostolic Fathers were a group of early Christian leaders who were believed to know the Apostles personally. St Clement was said to have succeeded St Peter as the Pope of the Church at Rome.
He was a disciple of St Peter and it is thought that the Clement whom St Paul praises as a faithful fellow worker, whose name is written in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3), was St Clement.
Clement I has one genuine writing, a letter to the Church of Corinth. However, many others have been attributed to him. The letter to Corinth is particularly significant in Catholic theology in that it demonstrates the Roman church’s early role in guiding the conduct of other churches. The letter was widely read in the early Christian churches and is included in some early manuscripts as scripture, along with the letters of Paul.
Little is known of Clement’s ministry other than the writings attributed to him. Early sources indicate that he died a natural death, but later tradition holds that he was martyred.
According to apocryphal Acts of the Martyrs, dating to the 4th century at earliest, Clement was banished from Rome to the Chersonesus during the reign of the Emperor Trajan and was set to work in a stone quarry. Finding on his arrival that the prisoners were suffering from lack of water, he knelt down in prayer. Looking up, he saw a lamb on a hill, went to where the lamb had stood and struck the ground with his pickaxe, releasing a gushing stream of clear water. This miracle resulted in the conversion of large numbers of the local pagans and his fellow prisoners to Christianity. As punishment, Clement was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea.
The Inkerman Cave Monastery marks the supposed place of Clement’s burial in the Crimea. A year or two before his own death in 869, Saint Cyril (born Constantine, 826–869) brought to Rome what he believed to be the relics of Saint Clement, bones he found in the Crimea buried with an anchor on dry land. They are now enshrined in the Basilica di San Clemente. Other relics of Saint Clement, including his head, are claimed by the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves in Ukraine.
St Bagrat was born in Antioch in Cilicia, during the time when the Lord Jesus Christ walked as a man among men on earth. After the Ascension of Christ, St Bagrat (Pankratios/Pancratius/Pancras) at the age of three, went with his parents to Jerusalem. They converted to Christianity after hearing Christ Himself preach and seeing His miracles. After his parents died, St Bagrat took up a solitary life in the province of Pontos, where the Apostle Peter found him, and in agreement with the Apostle Paul he was appointed as the Bishop of Taormina in Sicily. In Taormina, St Pancratius worked many miracles, destroyed idols, baptised those who converted and strengthened those that were already baptised. He was a devout and loved leader of the Church.
A heathen commander by the name of Aquilinus heard that the entire city of Taormina had converted to Christianity. He set out with an entire army in order to destroy the city of Taormina. St Pancratius encouraged the faithful not to be afraid. His clergy joined him as he went outside the city carrying in his hands the invincible weapon of the cross. When the army approached the city, darkness befell them and the soldiers were overcome with great fear. In their confusion, the attackers turned against one another and pierced and slaughtered each other with their swords. Thus Bagrat, the chosen one of God, saved the city and his flock by the power of his prayer before the Lord. In the end, Bagrat was stoned to death by the heathens and found rest in the Lord. A portion of his relics are kept on Mount Athos.