My relationship with her began in 2005 when my priest Father Jacob Myers asked, “Who is your patron saint?” I looked at him intently, “What is that?”
“That is the saint whose name you take on as a Christian when you are Chrismated into the Orthodox Church.
“Oh!” I responded, feeling as if I were somehow incomplete.
Sitting at his disheveled desk, he shuffled with some papers and leaned slightly back in his chair. “You should have Saint Angelina as your Saint,” Father flung the name at me with a wry smile. “She is a wonderful mother of boys. You will be good for each other!”
“…good for each other?” What did Father mean by that comment? I am a mother of boys. I pondered the idea for a while and then a small boy probably came over and rubbed his nose on my skirt and that was the end of the discussion! From that moment on, St. Angelina of Serbia was my saint-name.
For the next 10 years, each time I approached the Holy Eucharist, Father would address me as, “Servant of God, Angelina.” This title agreed with me, but I was much too busy to go beyond merely accepting what Father Jacob told me about Angelina. With five children at home, a husband, a part-time job and a new faith to learn, I had my hands full.
Then, one day last year, I got to thinking about Angelina and how we would be good for each other. Before I could really get to know my saint, I had to tackle my hurdle about saints and their roles in our lives. Why know these people, I thought? Why have a saint-name? It took about 10 years of being an Orthodox Christian before I could honestly answer these questions.
As a lay person from a non-Orthodox background, this is how I have come to understand the idea of saints and their roles in our lives. The saints of the church are men and women who have proclaimed and followed Jesus Christ. Some followed Him all of their lives; some followed only at the end, but all made a decision to follow. Many lived their earthly lives before the common era. All of these godly people struggled and persevered in the face of persecution, rejection, horrible circumstances or spiritual trials. Now, they are at the feet of Jesus praying.
Having a saint-name is a holy privilege. As children adopted into the family of God, our saint-name is our spiritual family name and reminds us that we are part of God’s earthly and heavenly family. Having a patron saint directly connects us with a spiritual family member who has already gone through this life with its struggles and trials.
Knowing your saint is like knowing an elderly relative who has already lived through your season of life. She has been there and is already at the feet of Christ praying for you. And, just as you might ask your great aunt to pray for you with a job situation or a new marriage, you can ask your saint to pray for you and she will.
Once I began to understand and be cool with this mystical idea that saints know us, care about us and pray for us, then it was easy to take the next step. And that step was getting to know Angelina and her life.
St. Angelina of Serbia, who lived nearly 600 years ago, was a godly mother and wife. She was married to St. Stephen Brankovich and together they had two boys. She was made a widow by the Ottoman Turks, who gouged out her husband’s eyes. Together, with her boys, she relocated her husband’s relics to his beloved homeland of Serbia. In spite of this and the persecution she received at the hands of the Ottomans, she continued to raise her sons to an adulthood of faithfulness. Angelina was devoted to prayer and acts of mercy all of her life. Today, St. Angelina is the most revered saint in Serbia along with St. Militza! What a legacy.
As a model of prayer, a woman of charity and a mother of love and kindness, St. Angelina has already been good for me! This 15th century woman of God reminds me daily that living a life of prayer and humility in a self-oriented culture that devalues faith and family is the most important thing. In her icon, we see her holding a small cathedral, which symbolizes that she is a pillar of the church.
After writing and pondering, I looked around and realized we didn’t have an icon of St. Angelina at church. So, in December, I got together with my godson and we made a couple of wooden icons, one of the Dormition of the Theotokos and one of St. Angelina.
Seeing Angelina frequently reminds me of that important thing that Fr. Jacob told me, “that we would be good for each other.” If I am to meet my end of the bargain, I’ve got to get walking in her footsteps.