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picture of the icon of st genesius
Heaven’s comedian

Posted on 26 August 2010, 4:47

I hadn’t heard of him before today, and alongside St Simeon the Holy Fool (who is the patron saint of Ship of Fools), I think St Genesius the Comedian is a good addition to the house of unlikely saints. His martyrdom is related in the medieval Acts of the Saints and it’s highly likely to be pure legend, but it’s an interesting story, nevertheless.

The story of Genesius is set in the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who was behind the most severe of all the persecutions of Christians at the beginning of the 4th century AD. Genesius was the leader of a theatrical troupe, and hearing that the emperor was coming to town, prepared a comic satire against the Christians for his entertainment.

In the comedy, actors playing the part of a priest and an exorcist came to mock-baptise Genesius, but as he was washed with water, he had a vision. He saw a company of angels who read out his sins from a book, and then washed the book clean, turning his stage baptism into a real one. Genesius was converted on the spot and when he began to preach to the audience, the emperor, who had been laughing at the comedy, became enraged. Genesius was beaten and then killed.

The early church was mostly hostile to the theatre and circuses, and the story of Genesius can be seen as an attack on the theatre; but in a curious way it’s redemptive, suggesting that even the mockery of faith can lead to the discovery of faith. St Genesius remains an important spiritual champion for actors, and one set of prayers I found today calls him ‘heaven’s comedian’. The modern icon shown above has the masks of comedy and tragedy tucked inside his cloak.

Here’s a good article which includes a version of his story.

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