by Kevin Murphy
February in Minnesota means two things to me: life threatening sub-zero weather and throat ailments! And since I'm a Roman Catholic (well, Irish Catholic, really, but that's another story), I get to celebrate Saint Blaise Day! Hooray!
See, Saint Blaise (Blasius in the Latin) was a Fourth-Century Armenian bishop and martyr, imprisoned in Sebaste by the Governor Agricolaus during the vigorous persecution of Christians under the Emperor Licinius, but you probably know all that.
But listen to this: Not only was he legendary for curing wild animals of their ailments, but while in prison he performed a miraculous cure on a young boy who had a fish bone irretrievably jammed in his windpipe and was in danger of choking to death. His persecutors thanked the good bishop by torturing him and lopping off his head.
Since then he's turned out to be one of the most beloved martyrs in the Eastern synaraxia and the better European martyrologies and hagiographic texts, and his relics are scattered across Europe like fast-food chains. It's become a tradition on his feast day (February 3rd -- mark it!) to have one's throat blessed in the old Armenian's name.
It's a tradition that I fondly remember from my childhood. We would go to church, stand in line and kneel in front of the priest while he held two unlit candles crossed at the base of our throats and say an obscure blessing: "May the intercession of Saint Blaise preserve you from all ailments of the throat and every other evil."
Think of it! Here I am, seven, maybe eight years old, scared to death of going to Hell for eating my own boogers before Holy Communion (I was a true ninny of a child) and we get this free ride, this no-obligation blessing with none of the draconian rules, the attendant guilt or shameful self-reckoning I had attached to growing up in a Catholic school. Just two candles at my throat, a blessing and boom!
I'd swear I could actually feel my throat being protected. I would hold a vision in my head of the old Vicks cough drop commercials, and I'd see my own throat in cross-section, the blessing of Saint Blaise soothing and coating, protecting me from sore throat and dry hacking cough.
And the nuns loved it, man. There were songs about Saint Blaise; we'd draw pictures of him back there in Armenia, spiriting fish bones out of the throats of kids. And I remember that the swattings and the mental abuse we got on a daily basis would subside for a while, they way they would around Christmas and Easter. What a great feast day.
To this day I have my tonsils, so I get an annual sore throat in which my tonsils become savagely inflamed and pocked with lesions. And I'd say that my issues with the Catholic Church far exceed Luther's 95 Theses. But whenever I get a sore throat, for what it's worth I think of Saint Blaise.
Therefore I invite you to celebrate the day. It's better than Ground Hog's day, in my opinion; and I won't even begin to tell you what kind of confusion surrounds St. Valentine's day. And it may seem entirely silly, and that may be why I brought it up. But keep in mind that our cultures and our very psyches are built around myths and legends far more disturbing and malevolent than this. So go out and get your throat blessed at your local Catholic Church, even if you're not Catholic -- I doubt they'll kick you out.
For my part, I hope you enjoy good throat health all your days. And in the words of the tradition, Per intercessionem Santus Blasii Liberet te Deus a malo gutteris et a quovis alio malo.