One of my coauthors suffers from dysphonia, a debilitating condition that virtually eliminated her ability to speak. It took her years to recover her voice. This condition caused major disruptions in her life and was a very heavy cross to bear. She struggled bravely with it and eventually triumphed over it, but the battle still goes on for her everyday. As a consequence of watching her fight with this horrific condition I began to wonder what Christian saints also had to carry this cross as well. Here are just a few:
Zechariah was the father of John the Baptist. His story is told in Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke so there is no need to spend a lot of time repeating it here. Zechariah’s muteness was only temporary, caused by the Angel Gabriel. I have always been struck at the vividness of the account, which even indicated where the angel stood in relation to the Altar of Incense. We in the modern world tend to think of angels as cute little cherubs. That is not the Biblical view of angels where they are as terrifying creatures of great power. They often don’t have a pleasant disposition. Look at the angel with the flaming sword that guarded Eden just to name one example. Zechariah must have surely been terrified at the encounter, even though the Angel Gabriel told him the condition would be temporary. When the time came, Zechariah had to write down the name of his son when pressed, and his mouth was opened. He subsequently proclaimed the beautiful canticle that is recited during Byzantine Matins. Like Zechariah, my friend took to writing as a way of finding her voice. One of her articles is included on this website. Zechariah was eventually martyred according to some tradition and is commemorated on September 5.
St Mark the Deaf-Mute, was a very early saint of which very little is known. St. Mark was known for his piety. The cause of his muteness was probably his deafness. He is commemorated on January 2, where he is unfortunately overshadowed by St. Basil the Great on the Roman Calendar and St. Seraphim on Eastern calendars. He stands as a pointed reminder that sign language services are essential to spreading the Gospel.
Saint Zoe of Rome died circa 286, near the beginning of the prosecutions by the Emperor Diocletian, a tough time for Christians . Zoe was unable to speak for six years. Zoe was healed by St. Sebastian, who was himself martyred during Diocletian’s oppression of Christians. She is commemorated by the Roman Catholic Church on July 5 and the Eastern Church on December 18.
Syncletica of Alexandria was a fourth century Egyptian saint who was also mute for a period of time. She was known for her great austerity and mortifications, which may have contributed to the mute condition. Syncletica also suffered from other painful conditions and has long been associated with Saint Athanasius the Great who is said to have written a book about her life. Athanasius’ most famous work is the Life of Antony, a book still widely read today. It is a hagiography of Antony, the father of male Egyptian monasticism. Syncletica is identified with woman monastics in Egypt so it would appear natural for her life to have been recorded by Athanasius. Scholars now date this work after the life of Athanasius. Scyncletica is commemorated on January 5 by the Eastern Church but was removed from the Roman Catholic Calendar.
St. John the Silent (454-558) lived in solitude for 76 years. He is known to have spent six years in silence. There is no mention of any physical debility. One can only guess at any psychological condition. He is commemorated on May 13 in the Roman Catholic Church and December 3 in the Eastern Church.
St. Drogo was born in 1105 and lived as a hermit due to a physical affliction. He is commemorated on April 16th, the same day as his death in 1186. Drogo is the patron saint of those considered unattractive, the deaf, the mute, the insane or those suffering from painful conditions. The connection of unsightliness and insanity is somewhat troubling to the modern mind. St. Drogo is also the patron saint of coffee, a rather strange attribution at first glance. However, it is well known caffeine can mitigate migraine headaches. Perhaps part of St. Drogo’s condition was caused by extreme migraines? This is only speculation on my part and we will never know for sure.
Of course, there are also saints who were forced to be silent. For example St. Meletios of Antioch was forced to remain silent as his archdeacon placed his hand over mouth during a sermon. Meletios, who had been preaching about the Holy Trinity, was not to be deterred. He held up three fingers, then closed his fist and subsequently put out one finger to demonstrate the nature of the Trinity. Other saints were permanently silenced, such as Maximos the Confessor. This brave light of Christianity had his tongue cut out so he could not speak and his right hand cut off so he could not write.
Each of these saints bore their unfortunate circumstances with fortitude and perseverance, much like my friend. I am sure there are many other saints that were mute or silent. Please let me know if you know of others so I can include them here.