Saint Ambrose of Milan
The feastday of a saint is customarily observed on the day of his death, the day on which his spirit ascends into heaven, but an exception to this rule is St. Ambrose of Milan, whose feastday is observed on the day he was consecrated a bishop because that event also was an unprecedented departure from customary procedure. Normally, years of service to Christ are required before a clergyman finally arrives to the office of bishop. However, St. Ambrose, a trained and effective lawyer who performed a great service to the Church through the power of his oratory, debarked from politics and entered the heart of the realm of religious service within an amazingly short period of time.
Born in Milan, Italy in 340, the son of the provincial governor of Gaul, Ambrose was heir to a legacy of government service, for which he was educated and trained in the family tradition. His advancement in politics was swift and his immense popularity led to his selection by Emperor Valentinian as governor of Aemilia, Liguria. In this post he distinguished himself as an unbiased administrator, dedicated to the common good. An orator of consummate skill, he endeared himself to the community with his candor and high purpose.
When Bishop Auxentius of Milan, an Arian, died in 374, an anxious Christian community hoped for a successor free of the heretical teachings of Arianism. The ensuing conflict between the Orthodox and the Arians caused further dissent which threatened to lead to open hostility.
Ambrose was called upon to act as mediator, notwithstanding the fact that the unpleasant situation was religious and not political. In the course of bringing about harmony, Ambrose showed not only tact and diplomacy, but taking the Orthodox stand, he demonstrated deep religious conviction that had heretofore been dormant.
When it was suggested thereafter that Ambrose himself be made the bishop, the hierarchy did not take it too seriously, but when the clamor for Ambrose swelled into a loud mandate, the clergy could not ignore it and the mediator and champion of Orthodoxy was approached. Ambrose at first dismissed the idea, considering himself for one thing to be unworthy, but this only spurred the efforts to make him reconsider. After soul-searching meditation and extended discussion with members of the hierarchy, Ambrose accepted the proposal.
In a whirlwind of events, Ambrose was baptized at the age when his Savior was crucified, was ordained a deacon on December 7, 375, scarcely more than a year after the death of his predecessor, and was appointed bishop of Milan.
The importance of this date is stressed by the fact that December 7, a day that lives in infamy in United States history, lives in glory for Christianity and marks triumph over heresy as well.
Bishop Ambrose was quick to acquire the knowledge required of a successful prelate and managed, along with his studies and administrative duties, to master the Greek language.
The same popularity and influence that were his when he was a governor became his again in his service to Christ and over the years he wielded great influence on the Christian community, all the way to the emperor himself.
At one point Bishop Ambrose refused admittance to his church to Emperor Theodosios and denied him the sacraments because the emperor had authorized the slaughter of hostages seized in Thessaloniki in retribution for the slaying of an officer in that city. A lesser prelate would not have dared such defiance, but Ambrose knew his position and in the end the emperor repented and was readmitted to Christian worship. Bishop Ambrose died on April 4, 397.
-From Orthodox Saints: Volume Four – October-December by Father George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, MA, 2005.