30 March 2009

'Hail, Sacred Shepherd of Ireland'—St Patrick

Today, 17 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Patrick (c. 390-461), Enlightener of Ireland. St Patrick is a popular saint among American converts to Orthodoxy, especially as so many of us have some Irish heritage, however slight. So I thought I would post an interesting extract from his Confession (The Confession of Saint Patrick, trans. John Skinner [NY: Image, 1998]), a document that gives us fascinating glimpses of the man himself in his own words.

Part II, 16
But after I had come to Ireland,
it was then that I was made to shepherd the flocks day after day,
and, as I did so, I would pray all the time, right through the day.
More and more the love of God and fear of Him grew strong within me,
and as my faith grew, so the Spirit become more and more active,
so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers,
and at night only slightly less.
Although I might be staying in a forest or out on a mountainside,
it would be the same;
even before dawn broke, I would be aroused to pray.
In snow, in frost, in rain,
I would hardly notice any discomfort,
and I was never slack but always full of energy.
It is clear to me now, that this was due to the fervour of the Spirit within me. (pp. 38-9)

St Patrick describes the experience of this inner prayer in even more depth in chapter 25 of Part II (pp. 46-7):

And once again, I saw Him praying within my soul;
it seemed as if I was still inside my body,
and then I heard Him above me, that is, over my inner man.
So that there He was, praying with many a groan,
and as all this was happening, I was stunned and kept marveling and wondering
who He might be, who was praying in this wise within me.
But as this prayer was ending, He declared that it was the Spirit.
I am reminded, both by the tone as well as the content, of much of We Shall See Him as He Is, by our own contemporary, Elder Sophrony of Essex. Clearly, merely wearing green and drinking green beer is not an adequate way to celebrate such a man, who worked so hard for the salvation of a people who had kidnapped and enslaved him! If you missed your chance two weeks ago (and after all, the Julian calendar was the one St Patrick himself used), try reading his life and writings now. Here is a link to the Confession, and here are several Lives of St Patrick. There is also some good stuff here, at Fish Eaters. Finally, the title of this post is my translation of the first line of the aposticha from Vespers of the 'Service to Our Father Among the Saints, Patrick the Wonderworker, Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland', written in Greek by Protopsaltes Panagiotis Somalis of St John Chrysostom Church in Nicaea.

Incidentally, I’ve taken the dates above from Brendan Lehane’s book, Early Celtic Christianity (London: Constable, 1996), pp. 45-6. Lehane gives an overview of the twentieth-century debate about when St Patrick was born, arrived in Ireland, and died, and at last mentions that in 1966 one R.P.C. Hanson did a reasonable job of meticulously establishing St Patrick’s birth in 390, thus making the other two dates (432 for his arrival, and 461 for his repose), besides according with tradition, look rather plausible. I’m sure there has been further debate since 1966, but I’m just going to go with this.


The Ochlophobist said...


461 for his repose?

aaronandbrighid said...

Oh, yes, of course. Thanks!