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More than shamrocks: The story of the real St. Patrick

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Parades, concerts, shamrocks and the “wearing o’ the green” mark the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on today. But the real-life fifth century man is even more colorful.

St. Patrick statue at Nativity Catholic Church, Hollywood, Fla. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Ironically, Ireland’s patron saint wasn’t born Irish. Born either in England or Scotland to a church deacon, he was kidnapped as a boy to pirates, who sold him into slavery in Ireland. He grew up a shepherd until he was able to flee and return to his family.

Yet Ireland or God, or both, still had a hold on him: He had a vision in which the Irish were begging him to “come and walk among us again.” He went to France, studied with the Church and was ordained a bishop.

He set up a base in northern Ireland, then gradually won over the fierce Celtic warlords who ruled parts of the island. A popular story has him lighting a bonfire near the hill of Tara, eventually winning over King Laoghaire there. Over the next 40 years, Patrick built churches all over Ireland, baptizing thousands, ordaining priests, converting the sons of local kings.

St. Patrick window in St. Helen Church, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. (Photo: James D. Davis)

Stories multiplied about him: that he used a three-leafed clover to show the threefold nature of God, that his walking stick grew into a tree, and that he drove all serpents off the island (although none are believed to have ever been there). It’s said also that he performed a thousand miracles during his time in Ireland.

Whatever the truth of such stories, his dedication and legacy of Celtic Christianity are beyond question. One of the most popular saints, he is honored not only in Ireland but also by the Church of England and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Patrick himself testified his devotion in writings like his chant-like poem “The Breastplate”:

Christ be within me
Christ behind me
Christ before me
Christ beside me
Christ to win me
Christ to comfort and restore me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ inquired
Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

Patrick died on March 17, 461, at Saul, the site of his first church. He is believed to be buried at Down Cathedral in Northern Ireland.

— JAMES D. DAVIS

Written by Jim Davis

March 17, 2017 at 5:52 am

Holiday Almanac: Easter for Eastern Orthodox Christians

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The world’s quarter-billion Eastern Orthodox Christians will begin celebrating tonight as Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead, a week after their fellow believers in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.

A typical Eastern Orthodox cross, worn by a priest at Christ the Savior Cathedral, Miami Lakes, Fla. Photo by James D. Davis.

A typical Eastern Orthodox cross, worn by a priest at Christ the Savior Cathedral, Miami Lakes, Fla. Photo by James D. Davis.

The founding events are the same: Three days after Jesus’ corpse was entombed, women came to embalm it, but found the tomb open and empty. Jesus then appeared to them, then to his disciples, then to crowds of hundreds, before ascending into heaven.

For most Orthodox, the climax starts late tonight with the Resurrection Service. At midnight, the pastor carries a lighted candle in the darkened sanctuary to proclaim, “Come, receive the light from the light that is never overtaken by night …”

The flame is passed on to his congregants’ candles. Then the pastor and choir sing hymns outside the church and return for the Pascha, the Easter liturgy.

Eastern churches — Greek, Russian, Antiochian, Coptic and other branches — usually celebrate Easter a week or two after their Protestant and Catholic brethren. They reckon the date after the Julian calendar under a formula no longer used by Western churches. This year, however, the eastern and western dates coincide.

Sunday worship features an Agape service, in which the biblical story of Jesus’ resurrection is read in several languages. Greek Orthodox churches bless and distribute red eggs at the end of the service to symbolize the resurrection.

 

— James D. Davis

 

Written by Jim Davis

April 19, 2014 at 9:00 am

Eastern Orthodox Easter

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Easter ended on Sunday for Protestants and Roman Catholics, but it falls on this Sunday, April 19, for the world’s 200,000+ Eastern Orthodox. And for this version of Easter, red eggs are better than chocolate bunnies.

Start with Fact Monster. It’s a surprisingly lucid yet accurate explanation of why the Greek, Russian and other Orthodox churches don’t celebrate Easter along with their Catholic and Protestant counterparts. If you do want a more detailed explanation, you can get it here.

Of course, there’s no substitute for the original sources. For that, there’s the Orthodox Christian Network, with Podcasts and streaming videos. They’re produced by St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Fort Lauderdale, which has a production studio onsite.

Also click this link, from a newspaper in southern California, for a rundown of Easter that takes in several Orthodox branches — including Russian, Serbian, Antiochian and others. The story is also handy for the pop-up notes for terms like “subdeacon” and “Holy Saturday.”

A heartfelt article by actress Rita Wilson, wife of Tom Hanks, tells of Easter preparations growing up in her Greek household: the blood-red eggs, the braided cookies called koulorakia, the funeral procession as worshipers follow the Epitaphio, a stylized casket for a Christ icon.

Along the way, you’ll learn some fascinating lore. Like how Russian jeweler Peter Carl Faberge created those incredibly ornate eggs that bear his name. And how a priest reads the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter in as many languages as he can manage.

Finally, click this link for an Orthodox Church in Anaheim, Calif., and see all the translations — “Christos Anesti,” “Chrestos Voskrese,” “Al Massi eh Kam,” “Kristo Ame Fu Fuka,” “Ua Ala Hou ‘O Kristo,” ” Ha Ri Su To’ Su Fuc Katsu” — that mean “Christ is Risen.” That will give you a taste of how universal the Eastern Orthodox Communion is.

Written by Jim Davis

April 15, 2009 at 12:44 pm

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