How Do I Choose My Patron Saint?

When someone becomes Eastern Orthodox through the holy mysteries of baptism and chrismation, he/she receives a patron saint. But what is a patron saint? How do you know who your patron saint is? Do you choose your own patron saint as an Orthodox Christian, or does someone else choose for you? We explore all of those questions in this post!

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

What are patron saints?

patron saint is the intercessor and advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, or person, before God in heaven. Since the days of the early Church, Orthodox Christians have called upon patron saints for help with anything and everything. Finding employment, mental disorders, even for protection of your garden from pests! The same way someone might say, “There’s an app for that,” the Orthodox would tell you, “There’s a patron saint for that!” In this post, though, we’ll focus primarily on personal patron saints.

Where did this tradition come from?

The Eastern Orthodox tradition of taking on patron saints started during the reign of the Roman Empire. Many public Christian churches were built over the graves of Holy Martyrs, whose name the church then assumed. The martyr over whose remains the church stood then became the “patron” and protector of that church and its people. Over time, Christians began dedicating churches to other holy men and women. Some of them martyrs, and others not.

The patron saints of Orthodox churches (as well as regions and countries) are typically chosen because of some connection that saint had to that place. Perhaps he preached the Gospel there, reposed there, or someone found or transferred some/all of his holy relics there. In Eastern Orthodox churches today, we continue this tradition, dedicating every new church to a patron saint. Some churches even have the relics of their patron (or of another saint) displayed in the church for the parishioners to venerate.

Receiving your Christian name

Traditionally, an Orthodox child does not receive a name at her physical birth. Instead, she receives her name during her spiritual birth (baptism), and she takes as her patron the saint whose name she is given at her baptism. In this case, she will have her “Christian name” all her life.

But not everyone is born Eastern Orthodox. Some people convert later in life. In this case, the individual takes on his “Christian name” after he is baptized as an adult. From that moment on, the priest will refer to him by his baptismal name. This reaffirms his identity as a child of God and a member of His Church. He will hear it upon receiving Holy Communion, during the mystery of Confession, and even at his funeral when the priest prays for the repose of his soul.

Those who convert to Orthodoxy later in life typically do not adopt their Christian name in everyday usage (replacing the name they have used most of their lives up to that point). They do, however, use their Christian names in the Church when they participate in worship and the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist) and when the priest or other Orthodox Christians pray for them.

Some Orthodox Christians, due to unusual circumstances, do not receive Christian names at their Baptism and Chrismation for various reasons (usually as an act of what we call oikonomia). These are rare exceptions for those born Orthodox, and even rarer for those who convert.

Why is having a Christian name so important?

The Orthodox consider receiving a Christian name a great dignity and privilege. After all, that name unites us to God’s family, to Himself, to His Son and Holy Spirit, and to the Saints of Heaven. We remember that Christ Himself, through the mouth of the priest, gave each of us our new name and identity. As the Lord said, “To him who overcomes…I will give a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).

Celebrating your “Name Day”

In Orthodox Tradition, we also celebrate our Name Day (spiritual birthday) on the feast day of our patron saint. So, for example, someone with St. Thekla the Protomartyr as their patron would celebrate her Name Day on September 24, because that day is the feast day that commemorates St. Thekla. Our actual date of birth, while nice to celebrate, is not as important as celebrating our spiritual birth. In fact, what makes our physical birth meaningful in the first place, is our spiritual rebirth at Baptism.

Icon of Saint Thekla, a patron saint in the Orthodox Church
Orthodox icon of Saint Thekla the Protomartyr

Celebrating your name day honors your patron saint and directly connects you with your baptism and the continuing life and intercession of your patron. If Liturgy is offered on your Name Day, try your best to attend and receive Holy Communion. It is a day of great happiness, and the perfect opportunity for you to experience God’s Grace in the Eucharist while celebrating your acceptance into the family of God.

Choosing your patron saint

Every Orthodox Christian should have his or her own patron saint. Most Orthodox receive that patron for the day upon which they were baptized. This applies whether you were a child or adult. But what if you’ve been Orthodox for quite a while…and realize you don’t actually have a patron saint? Don’t worry!

If you are Orthodox and find yourself without a patron saint, here are a few suggestions to help you choose:

  • Pray that God will connect you to a patron. Ask that the saint would act on your behalf, and in effect choose you first.
  • Meditate in silent prayer to discern if a love for a certain saint has been born in you already by the Holy Spirit. Is there a saint you feel connected to more strongly than others?
  • Locate the date of your birth and baptism. Consider taking as your patron one of the saints commemorated on either of those days. (You can search for saint commemorations online by date, or purchase a Calendar of the Saints to help with this.)
  • Consider speaking with a spiritual father who knows you well. Perhaps he knows of a saint who would serve as a wonderful patron for you!

A journey awaits…

Try not to make the taking of a patron so difficult that it takes you years to decide. After prudent consideration and prayer, make your decision and begin to use your Christian name. If you choose not to use it all the time, at the very least, ask your priest and fellow parishioners to use it for prayer and the Sacraments.

Then you can begin the wonderful journey of learning about the life of your patron saint, striving to follow his example, and developing an enriching spiritual bond with him.

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10 Responses

  1. This was a very helpful article, because I wasn’t sure how to go about choosing a patron saint! I am a Catechumen right now. Can a woman choose a male patron saint, or should women choose female patron saints and men choose male patron saints? I’m reasoning that since you want a patron saint whose life can best be a role model for your own, would it be “better” to choose a patron saint who is the same gender, or does that matter?

    1. Gloria,

      Christ is in our midst! We are so glad you found this article helpful and edifying. And God bless you on your journey to Orthodoxy. With regard to your question, this varies depending on cultural tradition. For instance, the Slavic tradition specifies that a male must take a male saint as their patron, and a female a female saint. The only exception is for monastics: Monks may be given the masculine form of a female name (uncommon), and nuns the feminine form of a male name (quite common). In contrast, the Greek tradition does not insist on this “same-gender” requirement.

      And yes, you would be correct that in most cases, a saint sharing your gender would be a better role model for you. Most women identify with female patrons, and men with male patrons. However, not everyone fits this mold. Also take into account that some Orthodox Christians have a Feast Day as their patron (because they were baptized at that Feast). Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules here. If a particular saint has established a connection with you, regardless of his or her gender, then that saint has chosen you for a purpose. It would be silly to reject that purpose simply because you were different genders.

      God bless!

      1. Saint John Church,

        Christ is in our midst! Thank you so much for your blessings to me on my journey to Orthodoxy! Please keep me in your prayers!

        Thank you also for your well informed reply. I had no idea that choosing a patron saint would have anything to do with cultural tradition. That is so interesting!

        I am a second-generation American; I am 75% Slovakian and 25% Polish. Even tho there are many male saints that highly inspire me by the way they lived their lives, coincidentally, I have a few really good female saints that I am very interested in also that are strong contenders to be my patron saint, so given my strong Slovakian roots, fortunately, this works too! LOL! 🙂

        I will pray more about this, as I know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will direct me to the saint that He wants me connected with, the saint that will guide me on my earthly journey, and ultimately help lead me to Heaven! Such a glorious and beautiful thought!

        I will keep you in my prayers, Saint John Church, that by the intercession of our Most Holy Theotokos, Jesus always blesses and protects you.

        Thank you so much again for your most helpful, spiritual guidance!

        1. Gloria,

          He is and ever shall be! You are most welcome. 🙂 When you discern through prayer who your patron saint will be, do reach back out and let us know who it is! It is always edifying to hear stories of how others come to choose their patron saint. And thank you so much for your prayers. We will also continue to pray for you and all others who engage with us here!

          Blessed Pascha to you!

  2. Hello, my name is Sarah and I have been so blessed to become a catechumen in the Orthodox Church. Thanks be to God for the understanding and comfort I have found. There are so many questions in my mind, and I am SO excited to search for the answers.
    Thank you for this article, as it’s helped me to better understand the practices and traditions behind patron saints. I do have a quick question, however, that has been nagging at me.
    Since my given/baptismal name is already biblical, is my patron saint to be the Righteous Sarah of the Old Testament, whom I was named after? Or am I still to choose the saint who calls to me most? For context, I was not born orthodox, and my parents likely did not have in mind connecting me with a patron saint when naming me. I was baptized in the Episcopal church, and I’m not sure what their traditions are about naming and baptizing, if that makes any difference.
    I apologize for the long comment. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it, and for caring about people like me who search for answers.

  3. Sarah,

    Christ is in our midst! How joyous it is to hear that you have entered the catechumenate! Glory to God!

    We are beyond grateful that this article was helpful to you. Regarding your question, the choosing of a patron, especially if one was not born Orthodox, is a very personal matter. Our best advice would be to speak to the priest at your local parish; however, we can give you some general advice. As you move closer to the date of your baptism into the Church, read the lives of the Saints, starting with those whose name you bear. Not only is there Righteous Sarah, but other Saints commemorated by the Church with that name. The most prominent is Mother Sarah of the Desert (5th century), but there are certainly others. Perhaps one of them will resonate with you as you continue to grow in the Faith. Perhaps your parents naming you Sarah was God’s way of connecting you with your patron saint, rather than your parents’ deliberate intent. Only God knows!

    One additional recommendation would be to attend the Orthros/Matins services if your local parish celebrates them. In these services, the Church reads aloud the Synaxarion, in which we list the Saints being commemorated that day. In many cases, highlights from the life of that Saint are read to the people. If your parish does not offer these services for whatever reason, there is a Daily Calendar of the Saints you can purchase that provides the lives of at least one Saint per day of the year that you can meet and get to know.

    We hope this is helpful to you! God bless you on your journey home! 🙂

  4. Hello, my name is Erik. I’m of a Jewish background, but I’ve been inquiring Orthodoxy for over a year now.

    For a while now I’ve considered St Nicholas as my patron, but there are many saints whom I love and I ask for their intercessions. I still have long ways to go until I am baptized.

    Do you know about any Saints who were born Jewish that I could read about?

  5. Erik,

    Christ is in our midst! Welcome home – we will pray for you as you continue on your journey toward the fullness of the Truth. We assume in your request that you are asking for Saints who actively converted from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity, not necessarily those like Saint Stephen the first martyr, who were Jewish and accepted Christ first. In that case, Saint Constantine the Jew (commemorated December 26) is one you may be interested in reading more about.

    Additionally, if you have not read Father Bernstein’s book Surprised By Christ, you may find it quite edifying! He speaks of his own conversion from Judaism to Orthodoxy, and many of the things he contemplated during that journey. God bless you!

  6. Hello! I am a catechumen, planned to be chrisnated on the 23rd! I have a question: what if not enough is known about one’s patron saint?
    I felt called to choose Saint Drostan of Aberdeen to be my patron. However, there is so little information available on the internet. I’ve absolutely loved learning what I have about him, but I wish I could learn more! I’ve thoroughly read just about everything that pops up when you google “Saint Drostan”, but I just want to get to know him more and more. I’ve only found six icons of him, and at least four of them were of modern origin. Besides praying that God leads me to new resources, is there anything I can do?

    1. Robert,

      Christ is in our midst! Unfortunately, there are Saints in the Tradition of the Church whose lives we will never have the privilege of learning more about. However, that does not mean they cannot serve as patrons for the faithful. Through prayer, the Lord can continue to foster the relationship between you and your patron saint. Getting to know someone need not be restricted to merely reading about them; after all, such a relationship would be superficial at best. It is through intercessory prayer that we truly come to know our patron saints! God bless you, and welcome home!

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