Sunday, February 15, 2009

St. Modomnoc O'Neil and the Bees

By Denny Sellen, Eastern Orthodox Christian based in Seattle
(Specialist in Semitic Anthropology and Compared Religions)

Since the first time I read this story, it has made a great impression on me. The Celtic saints, in particular those of Ireland, have always exhibited a keen connection with the world of nature, with which they felt no duality, but rather perfect harmony. They saw the natural world as being at the forefront of redemption and the grace of God as being able to work through even the violent-natured of animals. This story is an example of the lovely the Celtic saint had for animals, and, more over, the love those animals had for them. We cannot forget the stories of modern day saints and their animal friends, such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov who had a bear that lived with him (whom he had met when it was an adult), or Fr. Paisios of Mount Athos (d. 1995) who according to countless witnesses had a supernatural ability to communicate with animals and even became sadened when a visitor killed a snake.

St. Modomnoc O'Neil, Bishop
(Domnoc, Dominic, Modomnock)
------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -
Died c. 550. Modomnoc, descended of the Irish royal line of O'Neil, had
to leave Ireland to train for the priesthood, since he was a student
before the creation of the great Irish monasteries. His name is most
likely to have been Dom or Donogh but the Celtic saints were so tenderly
loved that "my", "little" and "dear" were very often added to the names,
which completely altered their appearance. Another disciple from Ireland
much loved by St.David was originally called Aidan, but usually appears
in accounts of the monastery as Maidoc.

He crossed the English Channel to be educated under the great Saint
David at Mynyw (Menevia, now Saint David's) Monastery in Wales. All
those who resided in the community were expected to share in the manual
work as well as the study and worship, and there is a story which tells
how one day Modomnoc was working with another monk making a road, when
he had occasion to rebuke him for some matter. The other monk was seized
with anger and took up a crowbar, but before he could bring it down on
Modomnoc, SaintDavid, who was witness to the incident, stayed his arm by
his spiritual powers and it remained paralysed.

Modomnoc was given charge of the bees and he loved it. And so did
everyone else--they all loved honey, but few like taking charge of the
hives. Modomnoc liked the bees almost more than he liked their honey. He
cared for them tenderly, keeping them in straw skeps in a special
sheltered corner of the garden, where he planted the kinds of flowers
best loved by the bees.

Every time they swarmed, he captured the swarm very gently and lovingly
and set up yet another hive. He talked to the bees as he worked among
them and they buzzed around his head in clouds as if they were
responding. And, of course, they never stung him.

At the end of summer, they gave him much honey, so much that Modomnoc
needed help carrying it all inside. The monks never ran out of honey for
their meals or making mead to drink. The good Modomnoc thanked God for
this, and he also thanked the bees. He would walk among the skeps in the
evening and talk to them, and the bees, for their part, would crowd out
to meet him. All the other monks carefully avoided that corner of the
monastery garden because they were
afraid of being stung.

As well as thanking the bees, Modomnoc did everything he could to care
for them in cold and storm. Soon his years of study ended, and Modomnoc
had to return to Ireland to begin his priestly ministry. While he was
glad to be returning home, he knew he would be lonely for his bees. On
the day of his departure, he said good-bye to the Abbot, the monks, and
his fellow students. Then he went down to the garden to bid farewell to
his bees.

They came out in the hundreds of thousands in answer to his voice and
never was there such a buzzing and excitement among the rows and rows of
hives. The monks stood at a distance watching the commotion in wonder,
"You'd think the bees knew," they said. "You'd think they knew that
Modomnoc was going away."

Modomnoc resolutely turned and went down to the shore and embarked the
ship. When they were about three miles from the shore, Modomnoc saw what
looked like a little black cloud in the sky in the direction of the
Welsh coast. He watched it curiously and as it approached nearer, he saw
to his amazement that it was a swarm of bees that came nearer and nearer
until finally it settled on the edge of the boat near him. It was a
gigantic swarm--all the bees from all the hives, in fact. The
bees had followed him!

This time Modomnoc did not praise his friends. "How foolish of you," he
scolded them, "you do not belong to me but to the monastery! How do you
suppose the monks can do without honey, or mead? Go back at once, you
foolish creatures!" But if the bees understood what he said, they did
not obey him. They settled down on the boat with a sleepy kind of
murmur, and there they stayed. The sailors did not like it one bit and
asked Modomnoc what he intended to do.

He told them to turn the boat back for Wales. It was already too far for
the bees to fly back, even if they wanted to obey him. He could not
allow his little friends to suffer for their foolishness. But the wind
was blowing the boat to Ireland and when they turned back, the sail was
useless. The sailors had to furl it and row back to the Welsh coast.
They did it with very bad grace, but they were too much afraid of the
bees to do anything else.

Saint David and the monks were very surprised to see Modomnoc coming
back and looking rather ashamed. He told them what had happened. The
moment the boat had touched land again, the bees had made straight for
their hives and settled down contentedly again. "Wait until tomorrow,"
advised the abbot, "but don't say farewell to the bees again. They will
be over the parting by then."

Next morning, the boat was again in readiness for Modomnoc and this time
he left hurriedly without any fuss of farewell. But when they were about
three miles from the shore, he was dismayed to see again the little
black cloud rising up over the Welsh coast. Everyone recognised the
situation and the sailors turned back to shore immediately.

Once more the shamefaced Modomnoc had to seek out David and tell his
story. "What am I to do?" he pleaded. "I must go home. The bees won't
let me go without them. I can't deprive you of them. They are so useful
to the monastery."

David said, "Modomnoc, I give you the bees. Take them with my blessing.
I am sure they would not thrive without you. Take them. We'll get other
bees later on for the monastery."

The abbot went down to the boat and told the sailors the same story. "If
the bees follow Modomnoc for the third time, take them to Ireland with
him and my blessing." But it took a long time and a great deal of
talking to get the sailors to agree to this. They did not care who had
the bees as long as they weren't in their boat.

The abbot assured the sailors that the bees would give no trouble as
long as Modomnoc was onboard. The sailors asked, if that were so, why
the bees did not obey Modomnoc's command to return to the monastery.
After much back and forth, the sailors were finally persuaded into
starting out again.

For the third time the boat set sail, Modomnoc praying hard that the
bees would have the sense to stay in their pleasant garden rather than
risking their lives at sea. For the third time he saw the little black
cloud rising up in the distance, approaching nearer and nearer until he
saw it was the same swarm of bees again. It settled on the boat once
more. This time it did not turn back. Modomnoc coaxed his faithful
friends into a sheltered corner of the boat, where they remained quietly
throughout the journey, much to the sailors' relief.

When he landed in Ireland, he set up a church at a place called Bremore,
near Balbriggan, in County Dublin, and here he established the bees in a
happy garden just like the one they had in Wales. The place is known to
this day as "the Church of the Beekeeper."

He became a hermit at Tibberaghny in County Kilkenny and some say he was
later consecrated Bishop of Ossory(Benedictines , Curtayne).

Troparion of St Modomnock tone 4
Pomp and splendour held no attraction for thee, O Father Modomnock./ By
leaving the glitter of the world, thou didst freely embrace thy poverty
with the Waterman,/ praying for the salvation of all faithful souls.

Kontakion of St Modomnock tone 7
Retiring from the company of men,/ thou didst serve God in solitude, O
Father Modomnock,/ and thy Father, seeing thy virtue in secret,/
rewarded thee openly./ Therefore we glorify thy name/ and praise and
bless thy righteous memory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My little girl and I were driving to the place where I was going to have her birthday party. She is autistic and was so excited that this was her big day. While at a red light I noticed that a bee had landed on the windshield of the car. I started talking to the bee as we drove and telling him how brave and strong I thought he was for hanging on so tightly without being blown off, as I was reaching speeds of 65 mph on the interstate. My little girl was fascinated that the bee had held on for so long and had even lost his grip at one point, somehow able to be jarred free only to latch back on again onto a different spot on the windshield, and still while traveling at 65 mph,
Watching this feat of this bee stuck with me. I asked the Lord if He were trying to tell me something. It wasn't until the next night that I started thinking about that bee again and went on the computer looking to see what saints out there that may be affiliated with bees. The Patron Saints Index listed 3, with Modomnoc being one of them. Because of the rarity of such a name I clicked on him first and started to read. Much to my surprise i saw that his feast day was the very next day! I knew that for some reason God had sent him to my little girl and I. So I immediately started to pray to him and speak to him and try to be open to what he was doing being sent to us.
Happy Feastday St. Modomnoc!