The patron saint of the Russian Orthodox community in Belfast is St Finnian of Clonard, one of the luminaries of the early Irish Church. He was the teacher of other famous Irish saints such as Colmcille (Latin Columba) of Iona, Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, and Brendan the Voyager. Not only was he known as a great teacher, but also through his ascetic labours inspired numerous souls to strive towards the Kingdom of God.
Finnian was born around the year 470 in what is now County Carlow, Ireland. Already as a pious youth he began immersing himself in the spiritual life, being an admirer of the Apostle of Ireland, St Patrick. Finnian went to study in Britain under St Gildas, and from there travelled to the famous monastery at Tours in France for further study. Following this he went to Wales to study under St Cadoc. For the rest of his life Finnian would retain close relations with the British Church.
On his eventual return to Ireland, Finnian built a church in County Wicklow, with the permission of King Oengus of Leinster. From there he went to Kildare, first to establish another church and then to study at St Brigid's famous monastery. On his departure the patroness of Ireland presented him with a golden ring as a token of respect. Finnian is also credited with establishing the church on Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast, with its spectacular setting.
After decades of studying and working for the Kingdom of God, Finnian was now ready for the final stage of his life's journey. He traveled north to Clonard, at the time an isolated area between the kingdoms of Meath and Leinster. There he founded a monastery that would last for centuries, gaining wide renown as an educational centre.
When he was almost 80 years old, Finnian was struck down by the plague (around 549). His relics were preserved at Clonard until the ninth century, when they were destroyed during the Norse invasions. The saint is commemorated on the 12th of December in the Church calendar, which is the 25th in the secular calendar.
Holy Father Finnian, pray to God for us!
Troparion of St Finnian of Clonard tone 8Truly thou art the 'Tutor of the Saints of Ireland', O Founder of Clonard, great Father Finnian./ As thou didst tirelessly teach the faith in thy native land,/ so teach us to follow thy example that many may come to know Christ and be led into the Way of Salvation.