When the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, crowds of people around the world will be celebrating the new year. However, as people stay out late, shoot off fireworks, and feast, many won’t know that they are participating in traditions honoring an early church Pope and saint, St. Sylvester.
St. Sylvester served as Pope from 314 to 335. Although this was 1700 years ago, the feats of St. Sylvester’s papacy make him a legendary figure.
As Pope, St. Sylvester served during the reign of Emperor Constantine and the heights of the Aryan Heresy. Before Constantine, the emperors had been less than friendly to Christianity, most actively persecuting the early Christians. However, with emperor Constantine, something miraculous occurred, this powerful man, leader of a pagan empire, converted to Christianity!
According to tradition, St. Sylvester played a large role in this miraculous conversion of emperor Constantine. Struck with terrible leprosy, Constantine suffered greatly. However, after an encounter with St. Sylvester, he was miraculously healed and converted!
Not only did he help convert one of the world’s most influential men, St. Sylvester also helped defeat one of the most pervasive heresies of the early Church: Arianism. Under his papal authority, St. Sylvester gathered the first-ever Church Council, the Council of Nicea. At this council, the Church established the Nicene Creed and formally denounced the Arian Heresy.
Under his direction, great Churches were built such as the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, Santa Croce Church, and Old St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Sylvester died on December 31st, 335 A.D. which is now celebrated as his feast day. Due to his great influence, St. Sylvester was widely honored after his death. Those devoted to him would stay up late into the night on his feast to celebrate a Watchnight Mass, host great feasts, and give glory to God. So while millions of people host parties and celebrate the strike of midnight, they are unknowingly participating in ancient traditions honoring the great ST. Sylvester!
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