ST. ODA “THE GOOD”, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY (+ 958)
By Vladimir Moss
Our holy Father Oda was born in East Anglia, of Danish parents. His father had been a soldier in the pagan Great Army that killed the holy Martyr-King Edmund of East Anglia in 869, and was opposed to his son’s Christian leanings. So Oda left father and mother and all his possessions to attach himself to a pious man named Ethelhelm, who adopted him as his son and taught him the Christian faith.
Once Ethelhelm and Oda were on a pilgrimage to Rome. Suddenly the elder had a heart-attack. Oda resorted to prayer, and then gave his teacher a cup of wine over which he had made the sign of the Cross. On drinking the wine, Ethelhelm immediately recovered. News of this miracle reached the ears of the king. As a result, Oda, who was already a priest, was consecrated Bishop of Ramsbury in Wiltshire in 925.
In 936 Bishop Oda was sent by King Athelstan to France to negotiate the restoration of Louis, the son of Emperor Charles the Simple, who was at that time in exile in England.
In 937 Bishop Oda was present at the Battle of Brunanburgh, where by his prayers King Athelstan’s sword was miraculously repaired, thereby saving his life. (According to another account, his saviour was St. Aldhelm.)
In 942 Oda was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, having become a monk at Fleury-on-Loire shortly before. As archbishop, Oda showed much courage and wisdom. He encouraged monasticism, issued decrees promoting good morals and asserted the independence of the Church from the secular authorities.
St. Oda was once celebrating the Divine Liturgy with tears, as was his custom. Suddenly he saw a drop of Blood flowing from the consecrated Gifts. Amazed and struck with fear, he called a priest and showed him the miracle secretly. “You should rejoice, highest Father,” said the priest, “for today Christ the Son of God has honoured you, in that He Who is blessed above all has counted you worthy to see this with your bodily eyes.” “And now I beseech the power of the ineffable God to return this His Body to its original form,” said the archbishop. When he had prayed, he arose and found it as before, and partook of it with reverence.
After the Liturgy, all the poor, the pilgrims, the orphans and widows were brought together and given food to the glory of that great miracle.
St. Oda greatly embellished his cathedral church at Canterbury, completely renovating and enlarging the structure erected by St. Augustine. It is said that during the repairs to the cathedral no rain at all fell on the city. He also brought to it the relics of St. Wilfrid from the ruins of Ripon Minster, while at the same time commissioning the writing of a new Life of the saint.
One of his last acts was to consecrate St. Dunstan to the episcopate. For when King Edwy died, and his brother Edgar ascended the throne of Wessex, the new king immediately recalled Dunstan from exile. And at a witan (parliament) held at Bradford-on-Avon, “by the choice of all Dunstan was consecrated bishop, especially so that he might constantly be in the royal presence on account of his far-seeing and prudent counsels”. During the service, however, St. Oda paused at the point where the church to which the new bishop is to be appointed is declared, and, to the astonishment of all, named him bishop of the metropolitan see of Canterbury. Quietly resisting the objections of those around him, he said: “I know, dearly beloved, what God has spoken in me.” The holy prelate said this through the Holy Spirit, foreseeing the grace that was to fill Dunstan. And indeed, within two years St. Dunstan became Archbishop of Canterbury.
St. Oda reposed on June 2, 958, being called “the Good” by St. Dunstan, who never passed his tomb without kneeling. He was succeeded by Elfsin, Bishop of Winchester, a man of very different character. One day, after he had been elected but before he had received the pallium (omophorion) from the Pope, Elfsin was standing over Oda’s tomb, and addressed him, saying: “Behold, O Bishop, here you lie prostrate, and I enjoy the rights of victory. While you were alive, I did not obtain them, but now that you are dead, I have taken them.” Then he disdainfully struck the tomb with his staff and went away. That night the weather was very bad. St. Oda, clothed in hierarchical vestments, appeared to a certain priest and said to him: “Go to the bishop and diligently ask him why he mocked me yesterday and struck me with his staff.” On awaking, however, the priest forgot the word of the saint. Again St. Oda appeared to him and repeated the same words. Again the priest kept silent – this time out of fear. On the third night the saint came to him and reproached him for his slothfulness, adding: “If you wish to preserve the prosperity of this sweet life of yours that you now enjoy, tell your bishop what you have heard.” Taking courage from the saint’s words, the priest went to the bishop, prostrated himself at his feet, and said: “There came to me, not Gabriel, the Virgin’s messenger, but that glorious Oda, your predecessor, who ordered me to say these words to your Eminence with indignation: ‘Since you despised me yesterday in word and deed, I tell you that you will cross the sea and climb the mountains, but in no wise will you sit upon the apostolic throne.’” The bishop dismissed this as an idle dream. But the prophecy was fulfilled to the letter: on his way to Rome to receive the pallium, Elfsin caught a cold in the Alps and died.
St. Oda is commemorated on June 2.
(Sources: William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, I, 14; Saxon priest B., Vita Dunstani, in W. Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan, Rolls series, 1874; Anonymous, Vita Oswaldi, in J. Raine, Historians of the Church of York, Rolls series, 1874, vol. 1; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 296-297).