03/15/2017, 12.49

The Orthodox "recognition" of St. Patrick, "Irish ecumenism" in Russia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

The Moscow Patriarchate has decided to include the memory of the patron saint of the Irish in its liturgical calendar. The decision is also perhaps to be seen in light of the desired Russian-American friendship, envisaged after the election of President Trump, or perhaps it is a consequence of the resumption of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, followed the meeting of Patriarch Kirill with Pope Francis of last February 2016 in Cuba.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – The decision of the Moscow Patriarchate–  falling within the traditional mutual recognition of spiritual traditions, the liturgical celebrations and the veneration of saints - the to include in its calendar the feast day of St. Patrick, bishop of the patristic times of an undivided Church (he died March 17 461), the patron saint of the Irish and the Americans in New York and Boston is unsurprising. Perhaps the decision is to be seen in light  of the new Russian-American friendship, following the election of President Trump, or perhaps it is a consequence of the resumption of ecumenical dialogue, either way it is certainly an opportunity to share joy and brotherhood among peoples.

The mutual recognition of spiritual traditions, the liturgical feasts and veneration of the saints is an outstanding role in the cultivation of universal unity of Christians, from the earliest centuries of the Church. It is sufficient  to recall the dual celebration of Christmas, in the West, linked to the pagan Dies Solis of December 25, and the east to the Theophany or the Baptism of the Lord, held on January 6, precisely to avoid the coincidence with the imperial festivity. The two dates were later peacefully exchanged and enrich the calendar of all Christians with two celebrations of the divine incarnation, Christmas and the Epiphany.

In the first millennium of Christian history, the liturgy has then gradually integrated devotions that the people spontaneously attributed to martyrs and saints, ascetics and monks, bishops and church founders, miracle workers and "fools for Christ" even princes and emperors. The ancient Martyrologies, the Legendary of the lives of saints and other hagiographic collections of east and west have always spread throughout the Christian world devoid of particular canonical or ecclesiastical limitations, despite the accusations of heresy or schism. This mutual gift of the relics of saints was the privileged mode to express communion with the other churches; particularly sought after were the relics of the Holy Cross and of the Twelve Apostles, or the martyrs of the early centuries, around whose graves the first churches were built.  

Only in the second millennium, the criteria for the canonization and the celebrations of the saints became stricter and more demanding, reserving their proclamation to the Pope of Rome in the West, and bishops and metropolitans in the East. This however did not prevent the spread of the fame of holiness of the major figures in the spirituality of both realities,  beyond all religious boundaries. The story of St. Nicholas of Myra, who became the patron saint of Russia converted to neo-Byzantine Orthodoxy only when his remains were moved to the Catholic Bari is clamorous. The Eastern admire the poverty of Francis of Assisi, the ardor of Dominic de Guzman and the mystic Teresa of Avila, while Latins are attracted by the icons of Andrei Rublev, by Gregory of Palamas and the spiritual fatherhood of Seraphim of Sarov, just to name a few.

It is therefore not surprising that the Moscow Patriarchate has decided to include in its calendar the liturgical memorial of St. Patrick, bishop of the patristic era of the undivided Church (died 17 March 461), a Roman nobleman of Scottish descent, who went on the adjacent island of Hibernia (Ireland) to preach the gospel, and is the revered patron of the Irish and the Americans in New York and Boston. His name has always been promoted in the saints of Orthodox churches, as in Russian Minej  by the name of Patrikij, Illuminator of Ireland.

In fact, in the Orthodox liturgy each day numerous saints are remembered, the major ones relate to a specific date, and those that are particularly venerated by the national or local church. The criterion of daily reduction to a single liturgical memory as in the Catholic reform after the Second Vatican Council is not applicable. From this year, according to statements made by the spokesman of the Russian Patriarchate Vladimir Legojda entrusted to the newsagency Interfax, alongside these saints Saint Patrick will also be named in the liturgical calendar, in the company of St. Gerasim of Jordan, St. Gerasim of Vologda, to Blessed Prince Daniil of Moscow (founder of the city in 1300), Blessed Vasily Rostov, the martyr Ioasaf of Pskov, the ancient martyrs Paul and Juliana, Saint James the ascetic, the memory of the translation of the relics Blessed Prince Vyacheslav to the Czech Republic in 938, and St. Gregory, bishop of Constance in Cyprus.

The patriarchal decision was taken at the meeting of the last Synod of March 9, and extends to all the ancient saints are already covered by the orthodox synaxaria, who lived in central and northern Europe, ie in the lands of Latin Catholicism of the first millennium. This is a group of about fifteen Latin saints, among them the figure of the Irish patron saint, much loved around the English-speaking world, and whose feast was solemnized by public demonstrations also in Moscow for the past twenty years, because of the Irish embassy initiative and that of the American and English-speaking community residing in Russia.

In the words of Legojda, the list was approved on the basis of devotion to these saints by the local Orthodox communities in the various countries of the saints themselves. The criteria for their inclusion in the Orthodox calendar are "blameless confession of the Orthodox faith [meaning prior to the first Councils], the circumstances of their canonization [if there is clear ecclesiastical approval], and also the absence of name of the saint in polemical treatises regarding conflicts with the Eastern Church and the Eastern rite [as opposed, for example, to that of the Pope St. Gregory the Great or Carolingian saints, who attacked the Byzantine traditions]". And anyway, the persistent gap between the Gregorian calendar and the Julian of the East, means that March 17 in the Orthodox calendar actually falls on March 30. That day St. Patrick will be remembered in the Russian liturgy will.

Russian agencies remind that the St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish and American national holiday, a nation inhabited by a historical Irish diaspora, and in 2012 the US President Obama mingled with customers in a Washington pub to down a pint in honor of the saint. Perhaps the decision of the Patriarchal Synod is also one of the envisaged Russian-American friendship, which should be established after the election of President Trump, or perhaps it is a consequence of the resumption of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, following the meeting between Patriarch Kirill Pope Francis last February 2016 in Cuba; certainly it is an opportunity to share the joy and brotherhood among peoples, preached by St. Patrick and watered by the famous Irish beer, which is very popular in Russia. 

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