A patron is a holy person or event from the history of the church that Orthodox Christian parish churches are named for. Our church's patron is Willibrord, the 8th century bishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands. He is credited for bringing the good news of Jesus to the violent, pagan Frisian peoples who lived in the region.
Our church, established in 2014, was named for him because many of us have Dutch family roots, and we honor this man who brought the Christian faith to our ancestors. As he was faithful to our Lord there, in the "old Holland," so we strive to be here in the "new Holland" of West Michigan.
The Life of Willibrord
Saint Willibrord was born in the kingdom of Northumbria in AD 658. Soon afterward his mother died and his father, Wilgis, went away to live as a hermit. He left his infant son in the hands of Saint Wilfrid, the abbot of the monastery at Ripon, where he was raised.
At the age of 20, Willibrord went to Ireland, to the Abbey of Rath Melsigi, where he stayed for twelve years. At the age of 33, he was ordained a priest.
Saint Egbert, the abbot of Rath Melsigi, strongly desired for the Irish monasteries to organize a mission to evangelize the pagan Frisians on the mainland, but he was deterred by the destruction of his ship in a storm, as well as his poor health. He then founded a new monastery, enlisting monks who shared his intentions and prepared them for the work ahead. After twelve years of thorough preparation, Egbert sent twelve monks to Frisia, on the coast of the North Sea, with Willibrord as their leader.
In 690 Willibrord was warmly welcomed by Pippin of Herstal, the Majordomo of Austrasia, who had just completed a successful expedition against Radboud, the heathen king of the Frisians. Willibrord began his work in the areas conquered by Pippin. He showed such great talent for evangelism that Pippin made every effort to get him to Rome for consecration as a bishop. Reluctantly persuaded to accept, Willibrord went to Rome, laden with gifts from Pippin, and in 696 Pope Saint Sergius consecrated him with the name of Clement, and with his see at Utrecht. Three years later, he was given a church and a monastery in Echternach as gifts, the first of the many gifts that he received during his missionary work.
The following year he traveled to the Danes, but with little success due to the furious opposition of the Vikings there. He took about thirty boys back with him, intending to educate them and return them to their country as missionaries. On the way he despoiled a pagan shrine on the island of Heligoland, where Radboud was staying. The king, however, was too afraid of Pippin to act violently against the saint, and Radboud provided Willibrord safe passage to Francia. He then came to another island in the throes of the sea: Walcheren, where he founded several churches.
The death of Pippin in 714 was a catastrophe for Willibrord's accomplishments, as Radboud immediately revolted and undid much of his work, destroying churches and leading the Frisians back into paganism. After Radboud's death in 718, Willibrord enlisted the help of Saint Boniface to bring them back into the flock. Like the apostles, Willibrord worked many miracles and effected healings. The divine Light illumined the people's hearts and the Word of Truth was proclaimed throughout the land.
The historian Alcuin writes of the impressive demeanor of Saint Willibrord. He displayed calmness in all circumstances, and Alcuin praises his nobleness and his friendly manner of acting. Throughout his diocese, he built churches and founded monasteries for men and women, gradually softening the savage customs of the people. He was aided in his work by Irish monks, and news of his successes brought many more monks from Ireland to assist in the effort.
Willibrord continued his apostolic labors well into his seventies. After a half-century of hard work, he retired to his beloved Abbey of Echternach, but continued to preach and serve as abbot. He reposed peacefully on November 7, 739, and was buried at Echternach.
By the prayers and labors of this new apostle, the Christian Faith was planted for the first time throughout the Low Countries. Through Saint Willibrord, the light of Christ kindled a flame that engulfed this very dark corner of Europe.
Portions from the Dutch synaxarion "Heiligenjaar," by Archim. Adriaan (Korporaal, +2002). Translated by Tyler Dykstra.
Saint Willibrord's Day is celebrated on November 7 each year, the anniversary of his death, or rather, his entry into heaven. On this holiday, this hymn is sung in his honor.
The command of God to our Forefather Abraham, "Go forth from thy country," thou hast received as a word for thyself, as the Lord doth ask to leave all things for His sake. As an inheritance, He hath given thee a distant land, which thou hast won for Him through thy labors. Intercede for us, O holy Father Willibrord, that we may become worthy children of the Light.— Vespers Dismissal Hymn, Tone 1
Click here to download the Orthodox liturgical propers for St. Willibrord.