Today on Veterans Day, we commemorate St. Menas, the soldier-saint. It is fitting then that a miracle from his life ties the two events together.
St. Menas, an Egyptian by birth, was a military officer and served in the Kotyaeion region of Phrygia under the centurion Firmilian during the reign of the emperors Diocletian (284-305) and Maximian (305-311). He was brave in battle and was actually honored for his service. Yet, when the orders came to persecute Christians in North Africa, Menas, unlike many of the puppets to authority that enact vile acts of violence, chose to follow the dictates of his own conscience. He abandoned his post, went AWOL into the mountains and dwelt in silence and seclusion there for several years.
Abbamoses.com continues this saint’s life, “In time, he presented himself at a pagan festival, denounced the idols and declared himself a Christian. For this he was handed over to the governor of the city, who subjected him to horrible tortures and finally had him beheaded. Some faithful retrieved part of his relics and gave them honorable burial near Lake Mareotis, about thirty miles from Alexandria. The church built over his tomb became a place of pilgrimage not only for countless Egyptians but for Christians all over the world: evidence has been found of journeys to his shrine from as far away as Ireland.”
But 15 centuries after his death, the saint appeared once again to fight the good fight. This time during the Second World War in the North African front. The Synaxarion gives an account of this miracle:
“In June 1942, during the North-Africa campaign that was decisive for the outcome of the Second World War, the German forces under the command of General Rommel were on their way to Alexandria, and happened to make a halt near a place which the Arabs call El-Alamein after Saint Menas. An ancient ruined church there was dedicated to the Saint; and there some people say he is buried. Here the weaker Allied forces including some Greeks confronted the numerically and militarily superior German army, and the result of the coming battle seemed certain. During the first night of engagement, Saint Menas appeared in the midst of the German camp at the head of a caravan of camels, exactly as he was shown on the walls of the ruined church in one of the frescoes depicting his miracles. This astounding and terrifying apparition so undermined German morale that it contributed to the brilliant victory of the Allies. The Church of Saint Menas was restored in thanksgiving and a small monastery was established there.”
The legendary appearance of the saint to do battle during the Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October–11 November 1942) marked a watershed moment for the Allies. They had lost a previous battle there, and it was this victory that according to Wikipedia, “turned the tide in the North African Campaign and ended the Axis threat to Egypt, theSuez Canal and the Middle Eastern and Persian oil fields via North Africa. The Second Battle of El Alamein revived the morale of the Allies, being the first big success against the Axis since Operation Crusader in late 1941. The battle coincided with the Allied invasion of French North Africa in Operation Torch, which started on 8 November.”
Indeed, many a veteran of WW2 owes his life to the intercessions of the Holy St. Menas. It is not against Christian teaching that soldiers pray for victory over the dark forces that threaten to take over the world. If ever there was a demonic action that manifested in real history, it was the Nazi invasion of Europe and North Africa. May the martyred soldier-saints such as Aghios Menas continue to do battle against these dark forces especially in the 21st century when they are gaining strength because of the atheism, egoism, and pride that have infiltrated the soul of post-modern mankind.
Oh Holy Saint Menas pray for us! Remember the veterans like him who served with their lives to defend the causes of liberty, justice and goodness.
A short Greek documentary explaining the events: