Friday, February 4, 2011


Bishop and Missionary to Denmark and Sweden (d. 865)


I love Anskar.  I love the fact that Anskar made the Episcopal Church calendar, Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  And I really love Anskar because he gives me hope.  Or, rather, he reminds me that hope is not about success and that God's ways of looking at people are not ours.  It's a bit the way I feel about the apostle Peter, who kept putting his foot in his mouth and otherwise acting impulsively and who even betrayed Jesus. But he came back, and look what God was able to do with him.  There was something of Peter in Anskar, I think.

Anskar, you see, was not a roaring success.  In fact, if you only look at the numbers, he was almost a downright failure in some areas of his work.  What Anskar did was trust and keep going instead of giving up.  He hoped and persevered instead of getting discouraged.  No matter what happened – and a lot did – he just kept on going.  I'm not sure if he was more like the Energizer Bunny or like the tortoise who beat the hare, but he certainly wasn't Chicken Little. 

Perhaps – and I'm dating myself here – Anskar is like a Weeble. Those of you of a certain age will remember that Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down.  Or, depending on how you look at it, they pop back up.  I've actually prayed with a Weeble, thanks to my sister, at times when I have needed to remember that every time I have thought I was down for the count, God has popped me back on my feet. 

There are times all of us need someone like this to consider.  Anskar, Peter, a Weeble… and even Jesus, who ended up a failure by the world's standards, abandoned by his disciples and executed as a criminal.  Yet through him death turned to life and bondage to freedom and the world was never the same again. 

So next time you feel hopeless or discouraged, consider Anskar.

Almighty and everlasting God, who sent your servant Anskar as an apostle to the people of Scandinavia, and enabled him to lay a firm foundation for their conversion, though he did not see the results of his labors: Keep your Church from discouragement in the day of small things, knowing that when you have begun a good work you will bring it to a faithful conclusion; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

And for your further edification or entertainment, depending on your view of it, I offer you an excerpt from the biography (hagiography, no doubt) by his successor.
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Excerpts from chapters IX and X of the Life of Anskar by Rimbert

Meanwhile [i.e. in 829] it happened that Swedish ambassadors had come to the Emperor Ludovic, and, amongst other matters… they informed him that there were many belonging to their nation who desired to embrace the Christian religionSo it came about that his serene majesty began once again to discuss the matter with your abbot… Thus it was that Anskar was summoned by royal command to the palace, and was told that he should not even stop to shave himself before coming into the royal presence. The man of God, who knew clearly beforehand for what purpose he was being summoned, burned with fervour and with love towards God and esteemed it a special joy if he might be allowed to press forward in the work of winning souls... If in a journey of this kind any harm or misfortune should befall him, he was resolved to bear it patiently for Christ's sake; and he had no hesitation in undertaking this task, as he was comforted by the heavenly vision which he had previously seen…
How great and serious were the calamities which he suffered while engaged in this mission, father Witmar, who himself shared them, can best tell. It may suffice for me to say that while they were in the midst of their journey they fell into the hands of pirates. The merchants with whom they were travelling, defended themselves vigorously and for a time successfully, but eventually they were conquered and overcome by the pirates, who took from them their ships and all that they possessed, whilst they themselves barely escaped on foot to land. They lost here the royal gifts which they should have delivered there, together with all their other possessions, save only what they were able to take and carry with them as they left the ship. They were plundered, moreover, of nearly forty books which they had accumulated for the service of God. When this happened some were disposed to turn and go back, but no argument could divert God's servant from the journey which he had undertaken. On the contrary, he submitted everything that might happen to him to God's will, and was by no means disposed to return till, by God's help, he could ascertain whether he would be allowed to preach the gospel in those parts.

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