St. Patrick, one of the few saints I recognized before becoming Orthodox, lived somewhere around the years of 390-460 AD. People all over the world still celebrate his feast day, though it is usually by consuming alcohol, wearing the color green, and perhaps decorating with four-leaf clovers. But who was St. Patrick? What kind of life did he live? I read his autobiography and put together this blog to answer those questions:
THE REAL ST. PATRICK
St. Patrick was not Irish, but was taken as a slave to Ireland from Britain when he was about sixteen. Recounting his capture, he considers it a just punishment from God for his immoral lifestyle in his youth. As a slave, he shepherded a flock, and during that time, he began to pray and found God.
Before reading his autobiography, I had never heard mention of his prayer life. But it was truly quite profound. It reads much like the eastern mystics and some of the desert fathers. While the holy fathers of the desert often fled company with people, St. Patrick found constant communion with God in the “interior desert” of his heart. His life was a very fascinating hybrid of missionary and desert father. He prayed hundreds of times in the day and night, meaning that he truly understood what it means to “pray without ceasing.” He memorized the book of Psalms and would pray fifty of them each day.
One night as a slave he was told in a dream of his upcoming return home and shortly thereafter a voice said to him, “Behold, your ship is ready.” He left the flock he was tending, walked about 200 miles to the coast, and boarded a ship as the Spirit led him. He had some adventures on the way home, and eventually arrived in Britain where his kinsfolk lived.
HIS CALLING AND BETRAYAL
While preparing to be made a deacon, Patrick confessed a sin of his childhood to a dear friend. Around the same time, this friend recommended to the church leaders that Patrick be made a bishop. While Patrick was absent, the friend betrayed him and publicly ridiculed Patrick for his childhood sin.
In his autobiography, Patrick wrestles with this betrayal (not with bitterness, just the sadness of what happened). He cannot understand why someone whom he respected would recommend him as bishop and then betray him.
Patrick felt a deep calling and received specific visions and vivid dreams from God that he should return to the people who enslaved him: to the Irish in order to bring them to Christ.
All of his family begged him to stay home; they argued and even attempted to bribe him. He states that at that time he did not realize the grace God had given him and he found it difficult to argue with them. Seeing that Patrick had been taken as a slave to Ireland, his family was deeply concerned for his well-being. It seems he knew his calling, but the criticism and lack of encouragement he received made it difficult for him.
THE VOICE OF THE IRISH
Patrick did not argue or attempt to defend himself from those who wanted to keep him in Britain. He remained silent in the face of opposition.
But God opened a door “that I [Patrick] might come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel and endure insults from unbelievers; that I might hear scandal of my travels, and endure many persecutions to the extent of prison; and so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others, and if I should be worthy, I am ready [to give] even my life without hesitation; and most willingly for His name.”
After being made a bishop, Patrick with ardent resolve fled his family, went to Ireland, and faced many difficulties. His conversion of many thousands of the Irish caused dissent and jealousy among the druids of the land. God kept him safe in many difficult situations. He writes, “Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery.”
He was nearly killed, betrayed, and captured at least twelve times that we know about, however, God quickly freed him from every situation and Patrick ended up spending the rest of his days in Ireland and died a natural death at an old age.
MORE ON ST. PATRICK
You can read his autobiography here: Confession of St. Patrick. It is short, and I found it to be quite captivating.
Also, he wrote a powerful morning prayer. You can read and download a PDF of it here: Lorica – St. Patrick.
THE CLOVER: Patrick used the three leaf clover to demonstrate the concept of the Trinity to the Irish people (three in oneness). I am not sure how the four leaf clover replaced the actual three-leafed clover that Patrick used — perhaps because it is rare it is considered lucky. But just as the three leaf clover is everywhere to be found, so is God the Trinity.
Some might be surprised at the title of my blog which proclaims St Patrick as “equal to the apostles.” After all, he’s associated with drinking parties and the color green. However, the hymns of our Church, which teach us theology, declare him to be so due to his amazing and godly life in which he changed an entire country from pagan to Christian.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone:
O Holy Hierarch, equal of the Apostles, Saint Patrick, wonderworker and enlightener of Ireland: Intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.