Monday, August 25, 2003

Even the Lord God has a sense of humor: St. Genesius the Actor

One of the saints remembered today is a most unlikely one: a comic who spent his entire life making crass fun out of any and all available targets. Genesius was a highly renowned comic actor and playwright --- if he couldn't make something to be crude, lewd, and funny, then nobody could.

His reputation continued to grow with every audience he left rolling in the aisles, until in due time he and his theatrical company, all of them convinced pagans, were hired for a command performance before the Emperor Diocletian. Genesius had to create an entertainment worthy of an Emperor, and he thought he had a wonderful idea.

Diocletian's hatred of Christians, Christianity, and all related things was notorious. So, just for the Emperor, Genesius decided to write a melodrama about Christians, focusing on the foibles and perils of a Joe-Blow-Catechumen, featuring a baptism parody. He himself would take the lead role. His company agreed that the concept was brilliant, and they went into rehearsal.

As the rehearsals went on, the attitude of Genesius started to change --- he got somber for a while, then more and more serious. His performance was no longer full of comic exaggeration, but instead full of pathos, and then developing to a realism disturbing to the others of his theatrical company. Would they bomb in their most important performance yet?

Then, finally, came opening night in the presence of the Emperor. Despite their director and lead actor's strange behavior and emotional state, things seemed to be going pretty well, the audience was obviously enjoying the performance. The "bishop" and the "priest" and the "deacons" put Catechumen through his paces, then very enthusiastically performed the baptism-parody scene, practically drowning their director in the doing; then more members of the company playing "praetorian guardsmen" took Genesius' character, now not Catechumen but Newly-Illumined, into custody, bound him, and took him before the real-life Emperor.

This was when Genesius was to deliver the comic monologue about the great evil and just plain silliness of the Christians --- but he could not. God had turned the impious parody into reality; Genesius, standing there in his baptismal white garment costume, was in fact, not in role, the Newly-Illumined. He declared himself a true believer in Christ, testifying to his minutes-old faith. "There is no other Lord besides Him whom I have seen. Him I worship and serve, and to Him I will cling, though I suffer a thousand deaths."

Diocletian stopped laughing. The "praetorian guardsmen" stepped aside to be replaced by the real-life ones, who carried out the Emperor's command to scourge Genesius. All Genesius would say was "No torments shall remove Jesus Christ from my heart and my mouth. Bitterly do I regret that I detested His holy name, and came so very late to His service." Finally, Genesius was beheaded.

The performance of Genesius' life became the very life of Genesius' performance, by the grace of God.

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