February 3 - St. Blase

What is known about the life of St. Blase comes from a number of different traditions in the East and West. His feast day is celebrated in the East on Feb. 11 and in the West on Feb. 3. All sources agree that St. Blase was the Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who suffered martyrdom under Licinius around the year 316 AD.

St. Blase was born to noble parents, and received a Christian education. He was a physician before being consecrated a bishop at a young age.

During the persecution of Licinius, St. Blase, receiving a divine command, moved from town, and lived as a hermit in a cave. Wild animals visited, and he healed any that were sick and wounded. One day, a group of hunters gathering wild beasts for the game in the amphitheater discovered St. Blase and seized him. As he was being taken to the governor Agricolaus, the governor of Cappadocia and Lesser Armenia, St. Blase encountered a woman whose pig was being seized by a wolf; St. Blase commanded the wolf to release the pig, and it was freed unhurt. While in prison, he miraculously cured a small boy who was choking to death on a fishbone lodged in his throat.

Eventually, Agricolaus condemned St. Blase for upholding his Christian faith rather than denying it. He was tortured with the iron comb (an instrument designed for combing wool but was used on St. Blase to shred his skin) and finally beheaded.

By the sixth century, St. Blase's intercession was invoked for diseases of the throat in the East. As early as the eighth century, records attest to the veneration of St. Blase in Europe, and he became one of the most popular saints in the spiritual life of the Middle Ages. Many altars were dedicated to his honor, and even the Abbey of St. Blase in southern Germany claimed to have some of his relics.

St. Blase is also venerated as one of the "Fourteen Holy Helpers," a group of saints invoked as early as the 12th century in Germany and who are honored on Aug. 8: St. Denis of Paris (headache and rabies), St. Erasmus or Elmo (colic and cramps), St. Blase (throat ailments), St. Barbara (lightning, fire, explosion and sudden and unprepared death), St. Margaret (possession and pregnancy), St. Catherine of Alexandria (philosophers and students), St. George (protector of soldiers), Sts. Achatius and Eustace (hunters), St. Pantaleon (tuberculosis), St. Giles (epilepsy, insanity, and sterility), St. Cyriac (demonic possession), St. Vitus (epilepsy), and St. Christopher (travelers).

One reason for St. Blase's popularity arose from the fact he was a physician who cured, even performing miraculous cures. Thereby, those who were sick, especially with throat ailments, invoked his intercession. Eventually the custom of the blessing of throats arose, whereby the priest held two crossed candles over the heads of the faithful or touched their throats with them while he invoked the prayer of the saint and imparted God's blessing.

In our present liturgy, the priest prays, "Through the intercession of St. Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

While we invoke St. Blase for his protection against any physical ailment of the throat, we should also ask his protection against any spiritual ailment - profanity, cursing, unkind remarks, detraction or gossip. The Letter of St. James in the New Testament reminds us, "If a man who does not control his tongue imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is pointless" (1:26) and later, "We use the tongue to say, 'Praised be the Lord and Father'; then we use it to curse men, though they are made in the likeness of God. Blessing and curse come out of the same mouth. This ought not to be, my brothers!" (3:9-10).

Therefore, we invoke the intercession of St. Blase that we might be protected from all evil, physical and spiritual, which may attack the throat.