St. Brendan the Navigator

English Language Study for Russian Orthodox Learners

St. Brendan the Navigator (✝577)
Feast Day – May 3 (16)

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and for evermore.
- Psalms, 120:8

Saint BrendanSt. Brendan was born to a noble and ancient family in Ireland in 484.  He was baptised in infancy and, at age one, given into the care of St. Ita of Killeedy.  When the child turned seven, he was sent to the monastery school at Tuam for more education.  In 512, the same bishop who baptised him ordained Brendan to the priesthood.  For nearly twenty years St. Brendan lived in monastic cells in different parts of the country and established monasteries, including one in Ardfert, his home town.   In 530, he started preparing for his famous journey, the purpose of which was to find the Promised Land of the saints.

On the west coast of Ireland he built a boat.  He made it of branches and covered it with hides tanned in tree bark softened with butter.  After praying on the shore, St. Brendan and 18 monks, his travel companions, sailed in the name of the Holy Trinity.  They were at sea for years, stopping on small islands to rest and look for food.

On the seventh year of their journey, the sailing monks reached a land that they called Paradise, or Promised Land.  It was beautiful and had rich vegetation.

In modern times, there have been many interpretations of where the land was actually located.  Some archaeologists have concluded that the Irish monks were the first to discover the continent of North America:  the brave explorers arrived at a location in the present-day state of West Virginia.  Carvings, written in Ogham, the ancient Irish alphabet, were discovered on a sandstone cliff.  Experts have agreed that the language is consistent with the grammar and vocabulary of Old Irish.  Furthermore, the inscriptions contain Christian symbols that were used by the Irish in the time of St. Brendan.*

After many years of seafaring, St. Brendan returned home.  Hundreds of pilgrims came to the town of Ardfert to seek the saint’s spiritual guidance and hear stories of his amazing adventures.  The holy monk, being a highly educated man, never stopped learning.  He was a disciple of St. Finnian and studied in the monastic school at Clonard.

The last years of the saint’s life were devoted to establishing new churches and monasteries.  The monastery at Clonfert, founded in the 560’s, became one of the most celebrated learning centres in Ireland.  The monks who lived there followed a very strict rule.**

St. Brendan’s sister, St. Briga, was an abbess of a convent.  It was she whom the holy man wanted to see as his final days were approaching.  He came to his sister’s convent and died in her presence in May of 577.  A pious man who had experienced much danger in his life, St. Brendan feared meeting his Maker.  The saint’s dying words to Briga were, “I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King and the sentence of my Judge.”

The story of St. Brendan’s journey was written down and spread across Europe.  St. Brendan the Navigator is considered one of the greatest travellers of ancient times.

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* In the late 1970’s, British explorer and writer Tim Severin conducted a very interesting experiment:  following the instructions of St. Brendan, he built a boat and sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland via Iceland.  The navigator repeated the route of the holy monk and proved that a small boat can reach North America.  In 1983, Dr. Barry Fell, an expert in ancient languages, was able to decipher a message carved on a sandstone cliff in West Virginia.  The content of the message suggested that the Irish monks landed on the continent during the feast of Nativity.  The message read, “A happy season is Nativity, a time of joy and goodwill to all people.  A Virgin was with Child; God ordained Her to conceive and be fruitful. Behold, a miracle!  She gave birth to a Son in a cave.  The name of the cave was the Cave of Bethlehem.  His foster-father gave Him the name Jesus, the Christ, Alpha and Omega.  Festive season of  prayers.”
** monastic discipline

Celtic Cross