Saturday, June 03, 2006

finding a patron

Something I've struggled with on and off throughout this journey is finding a patron saint. I guess at this point my strongest inclination would be to go with my middle name, Michael. I've never thought much of my middle name. My first name is unusual enough that I don't really need one, and it's always seemed kind of plain to me. But it would be economical to avoid adding anymore names to what I already have, and it would be nice to give some special meaning to this name that my parents gave me. Also, I read somewhere that it's good for converts to stick with a Christian name that they already have, since that saint has already been praying for them and bringing them along to the place where they would accept Orthodoxy. I'm not sure whether there's anything to that or not, but it sounds good at least. There are several saints named Michael, but none of them is so well known that my non-Orthodox parents could possibly have had him in mind when they named me. The only logical choice, then, aside from simply creating my own significance, is to assume that it means the Archangel Michael, who I'm told is a very popular patron.

There doesn't seem to be a saint in the West or the East with my first name, although I think it may be related to the name of a Celtic tribe that used to live in Gaul and that established its capital in a German city that still bears a form of its name. There have been several saints associated with that city, but they all seem to have been bishops, priests, or monks who were assigned there. So the likelihood that they actually came from the original Celtic tribe is slim. On the other hand, there is also a commemoration of marytrs from that city under Diocletian, at least some of whom probably preserved the blood of the original tribe and could therefore be associated with my name in some fashion. It's a stretch, I know, but it's another option I've considered. I'm not sure that one can ever have as an actual patron saint a collection of martyrs, though.

At one point I thought about Sigfrid of Vaxjo, who was a Western saint just before the schism. He was English, but he worked in Sweden, which captures about three quarters of my heritage. Although she couldn't be my patron, I've also developed something of an affinity for Anna of Novgorod, who was a Swedish princess but married a Russian and became a devout Orthodox. My wife's middle name is Anne, so who knows? Then, I was born on Dec 17 in the Julian calendar, which is the commemoration of Daniel and the three Hebrew Children. I've always had a thing for Daniel, so that's another connection I've looked at.

Of course, those are all fairly arbitrary associations--when I was born, the names I was given by my parents, my ethnic background, etc. I guess I shy away from having to pick a patron for myself, so I'm looking for something that was already set for me. I could see myself picking a scholarly type--a theologian or a council father--since my tendencies lean that way. Maybe someone like Athanasius, who stood almost entirely alone, or like John of Damascus, who fired volleys at the iconoclasts from within the Islamic empire, of all places, or like Mark of Ephesus, who stood firm at the Council of Florence. But I could also go with just a plain martyr. Out of the American saints, I find myself drawn to Peter the Aleut--perhaps because he was actually born, raised, and died in North America, or perhaps because so little is known about him except that he would not deny that he was already a Christian.

I guess the problem is that there are so many excellent saints to choose from. I don't know how one gets to feel a special connection to any one of them. Maybe Philosophus, a martyr from Alexandria. He might be the first saint I've actually discovered from reading his life on his commemoration day and then noticed when I came back to him the next year. Part of his torture was to be tempted by a prostitute. To keep himself from sinning, he bit off his tongue (his hands and feet were bound) and spit it at her. But it's still hard to pick one.

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