St. Tabitha and the Silence of the Synaxarion

The good people of the “Come Receive the Light” radio programme wanted to interview me about St. Tabitha (whose resurrection by St. Peter is described in Acts 9:36f), so I found myself going to the Synaxarion to see what other information or traditions about St. Tabitha I could glean there.  The Synaxarion, a collection of stories about all the saints of the church calendar, is usually a rich repository of lore, legend and history.  Some sifting is required admittedly, but it never disappoints.  Under the entries for October 25 (her feast day), guess what I found for St. Tabitha?

Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Or more precisely (in the more elegant prose of the Synaxarion), “Memory of St. Tabitha, who was restored to life by the Apostle Peter at Joppa (Acts 9:39-40), and afterwards died in peace.”  Like I said, zip. 

To fully appreciate this lack of information (all the entry really gave was the Scripture reference), one needs to realize how fulsome the Synaxarion usually is with pretty much every saint, including ones few people have ever heard of.  Ever heard of the “Venerable Father Fintan of Taghmon”?  Me neither. He was the son of an Irish bard in the seventh century.  He gets over a page.  How about “our Holy Fathers Theophilus and his Disciple James, Founders of the Skete of the Mother of God at Omutch”?  Heard of them?  Didn’t think so.  They were in northern Russia in the early fourteenth century.  Even they get a paragraph.  But St. Tabitha gets simply the acknowledgement that her story can be found in Acts 9.  What does this mean?

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it meant good news.  For the silence of the Synaxarion means that St. Tabitha didn’t do anything in particular.  Before Peter came to her hometown, she simply lived a life of devotion to Jesus in her parish, saying her prayers, going to church, working hard at acts of charity as a part of her church community.  When she died, St. Peter restored her to life, and then she kept on as before.  She never did anything extraordinary, never did anything worthy of mention in the pages of Church newspapers.  She didn’t rise to restored life and then found a monastery, or suffer martyrdom, or travel to distant lands bringing the Gospel, or witness to kings and become “St. Tabitha, Illuminator of Wherever”.  She continued living a life of faith in her parish, and then she finally died.  And—here’s the point—that was enough.  She is still a saint, and still finds a place in the church calendar and the pages of the Synaxarion. 

That’s good news, because it means you don’t need to be an A-list player to make it with God.  You don’t need to be a monk or a martyr or a missionary.  Simply being a faithful parishioner who quietly serves Christ and His Church is enough.  The Scripture tells us to “strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  When I think of the holiness of St. Seraphim of Sarov, praying for a thousand days on a rock and glowing with uncreated light, I could get a little nervous, since there’s no way I could ever pray for that long on a rock.  But when I think of St. Tabitha, her holiness and life console me.  It tells me that there is room for a saint whose sanctity consists simply of a life of faithful service in the parish.  That means there might be room in the Kingdom for me too.