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of the Day

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinMarch 14, 2003 Issue 

Left the altar for the desert

St. Abraham then spent years destroying pagan altars

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor
Saint of the Day graphic

St. Abraham Kidunaia

When: Sixth century

Where: Mesopotamia

What: Hermit

Feast: March 16

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," goes the old saying. It also could be the motto of St. Abraham Kidunaia, a 6th century hermit of the eastern church.

Abraham was born into a wealthy family in Edessa, Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Although he wanted to live in celibacy as a hermit, his parents insisted that he marry. He didn't want to disappoint them, so he agreed to marry the woman they chose.

The custom called for seven days of festivities to end with the wedding. On the final day, Abraham ran off to the desert. His family and friends eventually found him deep in prayer, but were unable to convince him to return.

He moved into a cabin and had it sealed, except for a small window where food could be passed to him. He received his parents large estate after their deaths, but had a friend give it all to the poor, except a cloak, a goatskin garment, a bowl for food and drink and a simple mat to sleep on.

Living close by were a rowdy group of pagans who had refused all entreaties to convert to Christianity. Despite his own wishes, Abraham obeyed the wishes of the bishop of Edessa. He was ordained and left his hermitage to work in the town of Beth-Kiduna, which he found to be a haven of idolatry.

He convinced the bishop to build a church. When it was done, Abraham came into town praying, then destroyed every pagan altar and idol he found. The outraged townspeople responded by beating him and driving him away.

The next morning, they would find him back in town praying and urging them to give up their superstitions and pagan practices. Again and again, for the next three years, they would drive him out -- sometimes beating him and throwing stones at him -- only to have him return that night while they slept.

Finally, his patience and zeal paid off, and the people began converting to Christianity. He worked among them for the next year, building up the community until he feared that he would begin wanting material possessions and returned to his hermitage.

He left it only once more. Many years earlier, a young niece had come to live at his hermitage after the death of her parents. He built her a room and the two spent their time in prayer. A few years later, a traveling monk raped the then teenaged girl and she ran away, ashamed.

When Abraham, who did not know of the rape, finally heard after many years that his niece was working as a prostitute, he went to find her. She at first refused to tell him what happened, but after he spent the night consoling and counseling her, she was reconciled and returned to live a life of prayer with him.

(Sources: All Saints, Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints and Lives of the Saints)

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