Monday, 19 December 2011

Saint Ursula

Saint Ursula ("little female bear" in Latin) is a British Christian saint. Her feast day in the extraordinary form calendar of the Orthodox Church is October 21. Because of the lack of sure information about the anonymous group of holy virgins who on some uncertain date were killed at Cologne.

Her legend, is that she was a Romano-British princess who, at the request of her father King Dionotus of Dumnonia in south-west England, set sail to join her future husband, the pagan Governor Conan Meriadoc of Armorica, along with 11,000 virginal handmaidens. However, a miraculous storm brought them over the sea in a single day to a Gaulish port, where Ursula declared that before her marriage she would undertake a pan-European pilgrimage. She headed for Rome with her followers, and persuaded the Pope, Cyriacus (unknown in the pontifical records), and Sulpicius, Bishop of Ravenna, to join them. After setting out for Cologne, which was being besieged by Huns, all the virgins were beheaded in a dreadful massacre. The Huns' leader shot Ursula dead, supposedly in 383 (the date varies).

Greek Version

Η Αγία Ουρσούλη ή Αγία Ούρσουλα είναι Αγία της Δυτικής Εκκλησίας. Ήταν πριγκίπισσα κόρη του Βασιλιά της Βρετάνης Δεονάτου. Εχριστιανίσθηκε στη Γαλατία και στις Χώρες του Ρήνου. Θανατώθηκε από τους Ούνους το 453. Η μνήμη της εορτάζεται, από τη Δυτική Εκκλησία στις 21 Οκτωβρίου.

Υπό τη προστασία της Αγίας Ουρσούλης δημιουργήθηκε τον 6ο αιώνα το γνωστό γυναικείο μοναχικό Τάγμα Ουρσουλινών (καλογριών).

Προς τιμή της Αγίας και παρθένου Ούρσουλας ο Χριστόφορος Κολόμβος ονομάτησε τις νήσους που ανακάλυψε στο δεύτερο ταξίδι του το 1493, τις γνωστές Νήσοι Παρθένου ή Νήσοι Παρθένων (Virgin islands) στη Καραϊβική.


THE ANCIENT CELTIC CHURCH had intimate ties with the same Desert Fathers of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine who fostered the ascetic literature and monasticism of the Byzantine and Slavic Orthodox Churches. This essay attempts to elucidate Celtic Christian spirituality and monasticism in the light of Orthodox Christian monastic and ascetic tradition. Specific points are illustrated with salient examples drawn from the Celtic Saints, the ancient Christian East and, for a perspective closer to our own times, from nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox monasticism, along with commentary from contemporary Orthodox writers. These flourishings of monastic sanctity, separated by great distances in space and time, manifest a deep internal kinship and harmony.

Introductory Remarks. At the present time, there is an increasing interest in Celtic Christianity in Western Europe and North America. Various problems of the present age naturally compel thoughtful and sensitive individuals to ponder what wrongs have been committed throughout history and why Western civilization faces such problems, be they practical or spiritual in nature. There appears to be a nostalgia for a unified perspective, a renewed vision and approach to both the spiritual and the material world. Perhaps, without being fully understood, this nostalgia, as such, finds a refreshing spring of pure water in Celtic Christianity, in the saintly personalities and poetry of its monks. Here, the searching soul comes upon a new perspective and unified vision of reality. But this pleasing discovery is not always accompanied by the realization that Celtic Christians found this same renewed perspective only through a long, arduous, and often painful spiritual struggle—one which opens the way for Divine Grace to effect the interior changes that enable a person to see reality in such a wholesome way.

In his day, Julius Csar noted that the entire Gallic nation was very religious.1 Of course, he was speaking about pagan Celts, but a deep religiosity has been a characteristic of the Celts in general over the centuries, and especially during the Christian era. Alexander Carmichael, who collected folklore in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland during the nineteenth century, is another, more recent witness to the deep religiosity of the Celts. He observed that the music of their hymns had a distinct individuality, which resembled, but was clearly distinct from, the old Gregorian chants of the Church. He ventured the opinion that this peculiar and beautiful music was that of the old Celtic Church.2 Nor have the Celtic Saints been forgotten:

Isabel Mac Eachainn said that a widow woman at Tabal, Mull, had a cow ill with the tarbhan (swelling from surfeit), and she was wringing her hands and beating her breast to see her beloved cow in pain. At that moment she saw Calum Cille, Columba, and his twelve disciples in their curachan (little boat or coracle), rowing home to Iona. The widow ran down to the rudha (point) and hailed Calum Cille, and asked him to heal her cow. Calum Cille never turned a dull ear to the poor, to the penitent, to the distressed, and he came ashore and made the ora to the white cow, and the white cow rose upon her feet and shook herself and began to browse upon the green grass before her.

Go thou home, bronag, and have faith in the God who made thee and in Christ the Saviour who loved thee and died for thee, and in thine own self, and all will go well with thee and with thy cow.

Having said this, Calum Cille rejoined his followers in the curachan and resumed his journey to Hi. There was no one like Calum Cille, no one, my dear. He was big and handsome and eloquent, haughty to the over-haughty and humble to the humble, kind to the weak and wounded.3

Ireland and the other regions inhabited by Celts abounded in churches and monasteries during the first millennium of the Christian era. Celtic Bishops and Priests led their flocks to spiritual perfection, to holiness. Of course, not everyone attained such heights, but there were surprisingly many who did; it was not without reason that Ireland was called Insula Sanctorum (the Island of Saints). The Celtic spiritual Fathers (anamcharas and periglours) helped to heal the interior wounds of their spiritual children; they gave them strength and courage for further spiritual struggles. On the ancient Celtic holy sites in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere rested the glow of that cleste Lumen (heavenly light), shining from the faces of the Celtic monks who had advanced in spiritual life and attained theosis (deification).

Celtic clergy helped to spread the Christian Faith in a peaceful and blessed way. Some time toward the end of the sixth century, there began an exodus from Ireland of the Scotti peregrini, among whom was St. Columbanus. They contributed greatly to a spiritual and cultural renaissance on the European continent. It is possible that their missionary efforts reached as far as the territory of the present Czech Republic. One might say that all of this was too beautiful to last forever. The Holy Spirit, at work in the local Celtic Churches, produced this wonderful blossoming, which gave form to the very best and most beautifully distinctive qualities and gifts of the Celtic peoples. Yet, one of the greatest tragedies of Church history is the withering of this very special blossom of Celtic Christianity on the stalk of the Church.

As I became more deeply acquainted with Celtic Christianity, through reading the ancient lives of Celtic Saints and visiting the holy sites in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England, I became convinced of a deep inner spiritual unity between Celtic Christianity, which has almost vanished, and Orthodox Christianity. This deep inner unity is not surprising; spirituality is living dogmatic theology, dogmatic theology reified in life. The confession of the Orthodox Faith formed the same spirituality in the Celtic peoples that it did in other peoples and cultures that confess Orthodox Christianity. Thus, Celtic Christianity has not perished completely. Its holy places retain their unique spiritual atmosphere and a pilgrimage to them can enrich anyone who is appropriately motivated and spiritually sensitive. The Celtic lands produced numerous Saints who are alive in God and who are helping those who turn to them with faith in their prayers.

The Origins of Monasticism in the West
Gilbert Hunter Doble has written that, "the most characteristic feature of the Celtic Church was its preference for the monastic and eremitic life," and that, "the history of the Celtic Church is largely a history of monks and monasteries." 4 Monasticism, like Christianity, has its origin in the East and quickly spread through Palestine, Egypt, and Syria to the West. In the fourth century, monasticism reached Gaul, through the efforts of St. Martin of Tours (ca. 315-397). St. Martin lived as a hermit on an island off the Ligurian coast. In 360, he became a member of the clergy surrounding St. Hilary at Poitiers. In LigugÉ, not far from Poitiers, he founded a semi-eremitical community, the first monastery in Gaul. In 370 or 371, he was consecrated Bishop of Tours. He lived in a solitary place nearby, where another monastery was soon founded, Marmoutier. His example led to the establishment of other monastic communities elsewhere.5

The influence of another monk, St. John Cassian, was also very important in Gaul. St. John spent a number of years as a monk in Bethlehem and Egypt, and was thus familiar with the life and teachings of the Desert Fathers. About the year 415, he established a monastery and a convent at Marseilles. In his Institutes, he related the traditions of monastic life and also analyzed the eight cardinal passions. In the Conferences he recorded his talks with the Egyptian spiritual Fathers. His writings on monastic life were studied by the Celtic monks on the British Isles.6 A contemporary of St. John Cassian, St. Honoratus (ca. 350-429), founded a monastery on one of the islands of Lérins (now St. Honorat) off Cannes in the south of France, where he settled after a pilgrimage to Greece and Rome around the year 410. St. Lupus of Troyes also became a monk here, and later accompanied St. Germanus of Auxerre to Britain in 429. It is possible that St. Patrick, the Apostle of the Irish, lived for a time on Lérins.7

St. Athanasios of Alexandria, the defender of Orthodoxy at the First Œcumenical Synod in Nica, in 325, had a profound knowledge of monastic life. In 336-337, he was exiled to the West, to Trves (Trier). It was probably at the request of the monks in the West, to whom he dedicated this work, that he wrote his famous Life of St. Anthony, during his third exile in Upper Egypt between 356 and 362. The life of St. Anthony was translated into Latin around 380 and profoundly influenced and contributed to the development of monastic life in the West. This work was read on Iona, and St. Anthony and St. Paul of Thebes are depicted on several Irish high Crosses.

A disciple of St. Martin of Tours, St. Victricius, Bishop of Rouen, visited Britain in about 396. In Rouen, there was a monastery of men and a chorus virginum at the end of the fourth century. According to his biographer, St. Victricius may have borrowed his monastic Rule from Trves. It is quite likely that Saints Ninian and Patrick, both Roman Britons, were influenced by the monastic movement in Gaul, which also influenced St. Germanus of Auxerre, whose two missions to Britain not only strengthened the British Church in Orthodoxy, but also contributed to the development of monasticism in Britain. The British Church maintained close contact with the Church on the Continent. This contact was later impaired, but not entirely broken, by the Anglo-Saxon incursions. In the days of St. Jerome, Britons travelled to the holy sites of Palestine and some visited the Desert Fathers in Egypt. We learn from the Historia Religiosa of Theodoretos of Cyrrhus (fifth century) that many Britons also flocked to the pillar of St. Symeon the Stylite.8 The old Irish litany of Saints mentions seven Egyptian monks who were buried in Dysert Ulaidh in Ireland.9

Thus, the monastic ideal and practice of spiritual life reached the British Isles through the Gallican Church, through pilgrims who traveled to the East, through spiritual literature (e.g., the Life of St. Anthony and the writings of St. John Cassian), and perhaps also through pilgrims who traveled from the East to the West, such as the seven Egyptian monks buried in Ireland.

The Significance of Monasticism
Even in the Old Testament times, the members of the Old Testament Church, that is the people of Old Israel, were called to holiness, as it is written in the Book of Leviticus (19:1-2): "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the congregation of the children of Israel, and thou shalt say unto them, Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am Holy." In the New Testament, members of the Church are called to spiritual perfection, as we read in the Gospel according to St. Matthew (5:48): "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father Which is in Heaven is perfect." This Commandment indicates the path which all true Christians are to follow, without expecting it to "end" at any point.10 This is the path of spiritual perfection. Those who persevere through the trials of this life will continue to travel this path in the future life beyond the grave.

All true Christians, without exception, are called to this ideal. There are not two ideals: one for the laity and another for monastics. St. John Chrysostomos gives the following instructions to a Christian parent: "You are very mistaken if you think that one thing is expected of lay people and something else from a monastic. The difference between them is that one enters into marriage and the other does not; in everything else they have the same responsibilities."10a A saintly Bishop in Russia during the nineteenth century, Ignatius (Brianchaninov), wrote that what is important is Christianity and not monasticism; monasticism is important only insofar as it brings the monk to perfect Christianity.

When the rich young man asked the Savior what good thing he should do in order to inherit eternal life, the Lord Jesus Christ replied to him, that if he wanted to enter into eternal life, he had to keep the commandments. When the young man persisted in his questioning, the Lord told him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven, and come and follow Me" (St. Matthew 19:21). The Savior also speaks about those who do not live in marriage, because they have renounced it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and adds: "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (St. Matthew 19:12).

The Apostle Paul writes, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." The Apostle then says: "And this I speak for your own profit, not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction" (7:32-35).

Thus, while all Christians are called to spiritual perfection, whether they are married or not, these citations from the New Testament clearly show that poverty (non-attachment to material things) and purity are effective means for attaining spiritual perfection in this life, with the help of God.

From the beginning of the life of the early Christian Church, there were those who longed for spiritual perfection, for total commitment to their Lord, and for undivided service and consecration to God. Outward solitude and quiet, a life apart from the world, and living in a community of like-minded Christians are other aids and means for attaining this noble goal. Gradually, some deserts and uninhabited regions were settled by spiritual warriors. Some lived in small groups, others in larger communities: cœnobitic monasteries. Others, whose spiritual state corresponded to such a way of life, lived completely alone as anchorites. Various rules regulating the monastic life were soon developed and ascetic literature began to be recorded and circulated. Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) notes that monasticism was thus established in the early Church by the Holy Spirit, and the holy Elder Barsanuphius of Optina says that monks are called to be the light of the world and, in the future life, to be kings and Priests.

The various monastic rules, pertaining to clothing, diet, and a special way of life separated from the world, are tools employed to attain a spiritual goal. But sometimes these outward things, while in themselves good and important, may be misapplied and hinder a person on the spiritual path. Elder Barsanouphius of Optina wrote:

There are two kinds of monasticism: outward and inward. The outward one is easy to acquire, but it is difficult to become a monk inside. Outward monasticism includes the practice of external asceticism, such as fasting and vigils; it also includes orderly attendance at the Divine services and sobriety. One cannot dispense with outward monasticism, but one must never be satisfied with it alone. Outward monasticism without the inner may even be harmful.

Elder Barsanuphius goes on to speak about the Prayer of Jesus as an important factor in the formation of the inner monk:

The Prayer of Jesus sanctifies the entire interior life of the monk; it gives him strength in combat. Inner monasticism is the purification of the heart from passions and the struggle with thoughts. Outward monasticism on its own does not bring spiritual profit; interior fire is required.11

So, a person may spend his entire life in a monastery without making any progress on the path of interior purification. One may even lead a worse life in a monastery than in the world. True monasticism is very difficult; it is the university of spiritual life.

Theosis: Mans Purpose and His Fallen State
In the book of Genesis we read: "And God said, Let Us make man according to Our image and likeness" (Genesis 1:26). The Church Fathers, since ancient times (e.g., St. Irenus of Lyons), have distinguished between the Divine image and likeness. Man was created in the image of God, but he had yet to attain His likeness, to become like God, to achieve full theosis. However, man fell. The first man, Adam, prior to his fall, possessed an internal unity through God's Grace (charis, gratia). He was turned Godward in love. But when he sinned, he lost this special Grace which had protected and united him. The good order of his soul was corrupted, and a corrupt and sinful man came into existence.12 The passions that overcame man were not outside forces which entered from without and which must be uprooted. Rather, they are energies of the soul which have been distorted and need to be transformed. In the human soul, there are three faculties: the intelligent (logistikon), appetitive (epithymetikon), and the incensive (thymikon). These three faculties must be directed toward God. When they turn away from Him, they become sinful passions. A sinful passion is therefore a movement of the soul contrary to nature.13

The first man did not carry out the task which lay before him, "to cultivate and to keep" (Genesis 2:15), to strengthen himself in goodness and coöperate with Divine Grace to attain full deification and become god by Grace. Because of the fall, the Divine œconomy for man had to be adapted; however, the goal for which man was created did not change. St. Athanasios of Alexandria states that God became man so that man might become god.13a This teaching about theosis is to be found in the writings of the Church Fathers from the earliest times; it has Biblical origins.

The idea of personal and organic union between God and man— God dwelling in us and we in Him—is set forth in the Gospel according to St. John and the Epistles of St. Paul. The latter sees the Christian life mainly as a life in Christ. The same idea is expressed also in the Second Epistle of St. Peter: "According as His Divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness..., that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine Nature" (II St. Peter 1:3-4). In Orthodox theology, man's salvation and redemption mean his deification. This teaching must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God's Essence and His Energies. Union with God means union with the Divine Energies, not with the Divine Essence.14

An early witness to this teaching about the distinction between the Divine Essence and Energies is provided by St. Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century. In "Letter 234," he writes: "We know our God from His Energies, but we do not claim that we can draw near to His Essence. For His Energies come down to us, but His Essence remains unapproachable."14a This teaching was later developed by one of the greatest theologians of the Orthodox Church, St. Gregory Palamas.15 The union between God and man is a true union, in which man retains his full personal integrity and personal characteristics without ceasing to be human.

Deification involves the body also. "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit," wrote the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 6:19). At the Resurrection, the bodies of the Saints will be transfigured by Divine Light, as the body of the Lord was transfigured on Mount Tabor. Even in this present life, some Saints have experienced the beginning of this visible and bodily glorification. In the Apophthegmata Patrum, a collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers, we read of Abba Pambo: "Just as Moses received the image of the glory of Adam, when his face was glorified, so the face of Abba Pambo shone like lightning, and he was as a king seated on his throne."15a The body is sanctified and transfigured together with the soul. The Divine Grace present in the Saintsbodies during their lifetime on earth remains active in their Relics after their death, which is the reason behind the veneration of holy Relics in the Church.16

By His Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Founding of the Church, the Lord opened for His most precious creature, man, the path to his true goal, to theosis. In the Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation, a person receives the fullness of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. But he must still make this Grace "his own"; he must go through the process of acquiring the Holy Spirit. St. Mark the Ascetic says that Christ as Perfect God gave to the Baptized the perfect Grace of the Holy Spirit, which is revealed and manifested insofar as a person lives the Divine commandments.17

According to St. Gregory of Sinai, there are two ways to achieve the activity (energeia) of the Holy Spirit which a person receives in Baptism. The first way is for a person to struggle to fulfill the commandments over a long period of time, with great labor and effort (the active life, praxis). The second way is noetic prayer, "the continual and skillful invocation of the Lord Jesus." St. Gregory also describes certain external techniques for interior prayer, including bodily posture and breathing while offering up the Jesus Prayer.18

The call to sanctity and spiritual perfection is directed to all Christians and therefore all true Christians do everything that is in their power to acquire the Holy Spirit and to achieve inner unification and the healing of the passions. They discover that there are various steps of spiritual ascent to purification of the heart and illumination, when the intellect (nous) is united with the heart, in ceaseless prayer, to achieve theosis.19

The process of spiritual advancement is not something mechanical or magical, however, as if by certain actions we can "force" Divine Grace to effect our internal transformation. Divine Grace brings about this internal change when the time is ripe. But it can also be said that it works in correspondence with a persons own struggle and efforts in repentance and humility. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" (St. Luke 11:13). The coöperation (synergy) of Divine Grace with a persons own free will is thus required.

Monasticism: Martyrdom and Militia Christi
Great effort is necessary to enable a believer to traverse the path of spiritual perfection. A degree and form of spiritual combat (askesis) is required of all Christians. The path to theosis is difficult. It is truly the way of the Cross, a narrow path leading to life everlasting. In fact, St. Athanasios the Great compares the ascetic or eremitic life of St. Anthony the Great to a daily martyrdom.19a A homily in archaic Irish, probably dating from the last quarter of the seventh century, also speaks of martyrdom:

Now there are three kinds of martyrdom, which are accounted as a cross to a man, to wit: white martyrdom, green (glas) and red martyrdom. White martyrdom consists in a man's abandoning everything he loves for God's sake, though he suffer fasting or labor thereat. Green martyrdom consists in this, that by means of fasting and labor he frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance. Red martyrdom consists in the endurance of a cross or death for Christs sake, as happened to the Apostles in the persecution of the wicked and in teaching the law of God.20

This division of bloodless martyrdom into "white" and "green" is peculiar to Irish monasticism, "white" representing the first great step in renunciation of the world, and "green" the practice of exceptional austerity within the ascetic life.20

The comparison of monasticism with martyrdom is very apt and is related to the concept of spiritual life as combat: the struggle with ones self and with the fallen spirits who assail true Christians who labor for spiritual perfection. For this reason the Celtic tradition regarded monasticism as the Army of Christ (Militia Christi) and the monk as a soldier of Christ (miles Christi).21 Young men, in their effort to emulate the heroism of their ancestors, entered monasteries. Instead of fighting in the Fianna (the Celtic army), they joined the Militia Christi to wage war against the evil spirits and sin.22

Spiritual Guidance
Spiritual life in the Orthodox tradition is very practical and sober. It can bring its adepts to great heights of spiritual perfection. But the path is very arduous and demanding. Orthodox monasticism has been called the "science of sciences" and "art of arts." This science and art must be learned from a master who is thoroughly conversant in it, if indeed one can find such a genuine teacher or Elder. Here is the rôle of the institution of Eldership: True Eldership is a special gift (charisma) of the Holy Spirit. Atrue Elder knows Gods will, insofar as it is revealed to him, and is thus able to guide the person who entrusts himself to his spiritual guidance to spiritual perfection in God without hindrance.

People often suffer because they do not know how to make decisions, what they should do, and which path they should follow.A spiritual guide can protect his disciple from making wrong decisions and taking a wrong step, if the disciple consults and heeds his guide in the spirit of humble and loving submission. A three-way relationship can be established: the Elder is enlightened by Divine Grace, the disciple is strengthened by the Grace of God, and the Holy Spirit thus works in both. The gift of spiritual guidance by a God-bearing Elder is not always available to a Christian, and Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov) issues the following warning:

An indispensable condition of such submission is a Spirit-bearing guide who by the will of the Spirit can mortify the fallen will of the person subject to him in the Lord, and can mortify all the passions as well. Mans fall and corrupt will implies a tendency to all the passions. It is obvious that the mortification of a fallen will which is effected so sublimely and victoriously by the will of the Spirit of God cannot be accomplished by a directors fallen will when the director himself is still enslaved to the passions....

It is a terrible business, out of self-opinion and on ones own authority, to take upon oneself duties which can be carried out only by order of the Holy Spirit and by the action of the Spirit. It is a terrible thing to pretend to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit when all the while relations with satan have not been broken and the vessel is still being defiled by the action of satan! It is disastrous both for oneself and ones neighbor; it is criminal in God's sight, blasphemous.

It will be useless to point out to us that Saint Zachariah who was living in obedience to an inexperienced elder, his natural father Karion, attained to monastic perfection, or that Saint Acacius found salvation while living with a cruel elder who drove his disciple with inhuman floggings to an untimely grave. Both were in obedience to incompetent elders, but they were guided by the counsels of Spirit-bearing Fathers and the most edifying examples which were in abundance before their eyes. Therefore, they could only have remained in outward obedience to their elders. These cases are outside the general rule and order. The mode of action of Divine Providence, said St. Isaac the Syrian, is completely different from the common human order. You should keep the common order.

Perhaps you retort: A novices faith can take the place of an incompetent elder.

It is untrue. Faith in the truth saves. Faith in a lie and in diabolic delusion is ruinous, according to the teaching of the Apostle.23

There have been, and continue to be, many situations where believers cannot reap benefit from a God-bearing spiritual guide. Yet this does not mean that the path to spiritual perfection is closed. In these cases, the Christian struggling for perfection must then turn to studying the Holy Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers—especially that which corresponds to his situation and spiritual condition—and also seek out the advice of like-minded persons with more experience in spiritual life. But even such advice should also be checked with the teachings of the Holy Fathers.

Such a path is naturally more arduous and fraught with greater dangers. But if a person conducts his spiritual life aright, in repentance and humility, and fights the spiritual battle lawfully (cf. II Timothy 2:5), he gradually comes to understand himself and to become aware of the extent of his corruption and sinfulness. This confirms him in the basic principles of true humility and ever-deepening repentance. He wages a prolonged and persistent struggle against his passions, bad habits, and weaknesses. Each day he takes account of his weaknesses and failures, learning inner prayer, confessing his sins to the Priest whom God provides for him, and partaking of the Holy Mysteries.

The Apostle Paul regarded himself as the chief among sinners, and any person who is living a proper spiritual life reaches the same conclusion about himself. Such a person begins to taste of humblemindedness and the deep state of repentance known as joy-creating lamentation, the first steps in the purification of ones conscience and the attainment of inner peace and that living faith which opens the way to spiritual joy and freedom from the tyranny of the passions. The Kingdom of God begins to rule within such a person. Because of serious failings and faults, Divine Grace often hides its operation, in part for didactic reasons, that is, to demonstrate ones total dependence on God's help and to effect a direct experience of the truth of the Saviors words: "Without Me ye can do nothing" (St. John 15:5). This experience leads a person to cry out with all of his heart, entreating the Lord Jesus Christ to have mercy on him.

In the Christian monastic tradition, the institution of spiritual Fathers and Elders existed from the earliest times. There were a number of God-bearing Elders among the Egyptian Desert Fathers, and such holy spiritual Elders can be found throughout the history of the Orthodox Church down to the present day. Celtic monasticism was also adorned by such holy spiritual guides, such as St. Columba of Iona. In the Celtic Church there existed the very important institution of spiritual Fathers, who in Ireland were called anamchara ("soul-friends," anamcara, from the Latin animae carus); in Welsh, periglour. Each monk had his spiritual guide, anamchara, to whom he was to open his heart, confess his thoughts, and reveal his conscience (manifestatio conscientiae). An ancient Irish saying comments that a person without a soul-friend is like a body without a head.24 Through his writings, St. John Cassian was a teacher of spiritual life in the British Isles. He also instructs his readers concerning the benefits of revealing ones thoughts to the Fathers, though not indiscriminately. (One should, he says, consult spiritual Elders who have spiritual discernment [diakrisis].) In the Life of St. David of Wales we find additional evidence of the practice of the confession of thoughts. In 28, it is recorded that the monks in St. Davids monastery revealed their thoughts to the spiritual Father.25

I.M. Kontzevitch has left an account of his visits to the Optina Hermitage in pre-Revolutionary Russia, where Elder Anatoly (Potapov) heard the monks confessions of thoughts. He describes the impressive scene of the concentration and reverence with which the monks, one after another, would approach the Elder, kneel, receive his blessing, exchange a few short sentences with him, and leave calm and consoled. This happened twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. Thus, life in Optina was truly without grief and all the monks were kind, joyful, and concentrated, immersed within themselves.26 Here we see that the same practice that was followed in the monasteries of Wales in the sixth century was in use in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. The efficacy of this universally applied custom is captured in a Celtic proverb: "As the floor is swept every day, so is the soul cleansed every day by confession."

The Celtic spiritual Fathers helped and counselled not only monks, but also the lay people who had recourse to them. The soulfriend was to be a guide who helped in all the trials and difficulties of spiritual life. The purpose of this revelation of conscience was to heal the wounds inflicted by sin and enable one to continue his path to unification with God. A truly wise soul-friend was one who had learned humility. Everyone was recommended to choose a humble and experienced soul-friend.27 In responding to this widespread recommendation, these spiritual Fathers often made use of penitential manuals which enumerated the penances for various sins.28

External Asceticism
Celtic Christians took the spiritual life very seriously, and to attain their spiritual goal they employed various forms of external asceticism, such as standing in cold water, "cross vigils" (cross figell, from crux vigilia), or the "ascetic practice of praying all night long with arms outstretched in the form of a Cross,"29 and prostrations (slectain), that is, kneeling down and touching ones forehead to the ground. "There was an anchorite in Clonard, a man of great asceticism. He made two hundred prostrations at Morning Prayer, a hundred at each hour of prayer, and a hundred at vigils. In all, he made seven hundred each day."30 "In a Culdee text from around the eighth century we learn that monks were normally not to perform more than two hundred prostrations daily."31 Such prostrations continue to be a part of the liturgical life and prayer rule of both monks and lay people in the Orthodox Church.

In addition, regulations concerning fasting have always been an important part of the external asceticism of monastics. Abstaining from meat and discretion in drinking wine were monastic traditions from the earliest times in the Christian East, and in the Rule of Cormac Mac Ciolionain (ca. 900) it is stated that a monk should renounce meat and wine.32

Prayer: Praxis and Theoria
The heart of monastic life was prayer: private prayer and participation in the communal Divine services in Church. According to John Ryan, "Avery large proportion of the Irish monks progressed so far in prayer that they were capable of unbroken contemplation. The evidence for this is the growth of the anchoretical habit."33 Although we do not find in Irish sources a description of the method of interior prayer, the fruits of the spiritual struggles of the Celtic monks indicate that noetic prayer was learned from the same sources that have been preserved and elaborated upon in the Orthodox East. This ascetic tradition distinguishes between two aspects of the spiritual life: praxis and theoria. Praxis consists in the purification of the heart from passions, with the help of prayer, obedience, fasting, vigil, silence, the chanting of Psalms, and patience in tribulations. This corresponds to the process of purification, the first degree of the spiritual life. Theoria is the illumination of the intellect (nous) and the vision of the uncreated glory of God. According to St. Gregory the Theologian, praxis is the way to theoria. Theoria is identified with the vision of uncreated Light, uncreated Divine energy, the union of man with God, theosis. Thus, theoria, vision, and theosis are closely related. There are various degrees of theoria: illumination, Divine vision, or a prolonged vision which may last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Noetic prayer is the first stage of theoria. A person is granted theoria through praxis, and when this state of theoria ceases, he resumes praxis anew.34

The biographer of St. Samson of Dol says that the Saint never ceased to pray either during the day or during the night (cf. I Thessalonians 5:17). Like some Desert Fathers, St. Samson sometimes appeared transfigured. Once, when certain persons went to call him to a council, they saw his face shining like that of an Angel. The same is recorded about the Egyptian Desert Fathers Abbas Or and Theonas.35 According to St. Gregory Palamas, Adam, before his fall into sin, was originally clothed in the garment of glory, of Divine Light and splendor. He participated in the Divine Light. The light at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor manifested to the Apostles not only the future glory of the Kingdom of God, but also this lost state of the beatitude of Adam in Paradise before the fall. Before the fall, the natural elements did not harm man. Animals looked to man as to their King and rendered him service. In the Saints, those who attained the illumination and deification lost by Adam, the same phenomenon is observed: wild animals are not afraid of them, do not harm them, and serve them faithfully. They recognize their King in the Saints, as it was in the beginning. Many such accounts are found in the lives of Celtic Saints.36

Theosis: Uncreated Divine Light
Some Celtic Saints reached a very high degree of spiritual life. Revelations of the uncreated Divine Light (cleste lumen, divina lux) accompanied St. Columba of Iona, as recorded in the Saints Life written by St. Adomnan. Here are two such instances:

At another time when the holy man was living in the island of Hinba, the Grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon him abundantly and in an incomparable manner, and continued marvelously for the space of three days, so that for three days and as many nights, remaining within a house barred, and filled with heavenly light, he allowed no one to go to him, and he neither ate nor drank. From that house streams of immeasurable brightness were visible in the night, escaping through chinks of the door leaves, and through the key-holes. And spiritual songs, unheard before, were heard being sung by him. Moreover, as he afterwards admitted in the presence of a very few men, he saw, openly revealed, many of the secret things that have been hidden since before the world began. Also everything that in the Sacred Scriptures is dark and most difficult became plain, and was shown more clearly than the day to the eyes of his purest heart. And he lamented that his foster-son Baithene was not there, who if he had chanced to be present during those three days, would have written down from the mouth of the blessed man very many mysteries, both of past ages and of ages still to come, mysteries unknown to other men, and also a number of interpretations of the sacred books.37

In a second narrative, St. Adomnan speaks about a disciple of the Saint named Berchan, who, contrary to the Saints prohibition, came at night to his cell and saw through the key-hole that his lodging was filled with the glory of heavenly brightness (clestis splendore claritudinis).38

The Life of St. Basil the Great contains a similar account of persons to whom it was granted to behold the Saint at prayer in his cell totally illuminated in the uncreated Light of God, the Light of Divine Grace.39 The same manifestation of spiritual life occurred in sixthcentury Ireland and in fourth-century Asia Minor; one can find numerous examples in the monastic Saints of the Orthodox Church throughout the centuries up to present times. This phenomenon is explained by Metropolitan Hierotheos in his book on St. Gregory Palamas. When man attains to the vision of the uncreated Light, he is deified. Deification is man's union with God. This union offers Divine knowledge, which surpasses human knowledge. There are many degrees of vision of the Divine Light, but there is no end to perfection. The degree of vision depends on the persons spiritual condition and on God's gift.40

St. Columba passed through the first stage of spiritual ascent, purification of the heart; he was released from all evil thoughts. He attained a higher level, the illumination of the intellect (nous), which is related to the acquisition of unceasing, noetic prayer, wherein a person is delivered from ignorance and forgetfulness and is therefore constantly aware of God, and finally attained vision of God. Thus, the words of the Gospel were fulfilled in him: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (St. Matthew 5:8).41

Selfless Love, Spiritual Freedom, Spiritual Realism
When a person attains purity of heart, his selfish love is transformed into selfless love for God and his fellow man. He loves others without expecting anything in return. He loves independently of whether others love him. When selfish love is changed into selfless love, the spiritual struggler becomes a real human being. The cure of man consists in this transformation.42 With this higher level of spiritual life comes spiritual freedom and a true, rather than a legalistic or external, understanding of monastic life. This can help elucidate the behavior of the Celtic monks—for example, their travels (peregrinatio) during the days when Celtic Christianity was flourishing. All outward things served them as means for attaining a spiritual goal.

Metropolitan Hierotheos observes that many people think that the rigor of the ascetic struggle makes a man hard and insensitive to the problems of life, as well as indiscreet in giving advice. But in fact, the opposite is true. When one lives the ascetic life in a godly way, in deep humility, he removes the mask of fragmentation and becomes a real man. Then he acts naturally, understands the questions and problems of others, and can provide practical and realistic guidance.43 Thus, it was written of the Optina Elder St. Ambrose (1891), that he knew that everything in life has its value and its consequences; thus, there was no question which he would not answer with compassion and goodwill. For example, he advised an old woman about how to care for her turkey-hens.44 When another woman asked another Optina Elder, St. Nektary (1928), about how she should serve the Lord, the Elder replied: "From the time that you entered into lawful marriage, you have continuously served the Most Holy Trinity. For a woman, lawful marriage is the beginning of her service to the Most Holy Trinity."45

St. Adomnan also preserved an interesting story from the life of St. Columba. The wife of a certain man named Lugne, who lived on the island of Rechru (Rathlin), had an aversion to her husband, because he was very ugly. She did not want to enter into marital relations with him. When the Saint learned about this, he tried to talk to her, but she told him that she was prepared to do anything, if only he should not ask her to do that. She even expressed her willingness to enter a convent. The Saint replied: "What you suggest cannot rightly be done..., for it is forbidden to separate what God has lawfully joined together." St. Columba proposed that all three of them should fast and pray to the Lord. The Saint prayed for them during the night. The next day, St. Columba asked her if she was ready to enter a convent, and she confessed that during the past night her heart had been changed from hate to love.46 The few examples cited here demonstrate that spirituality is a living dogmatic theology. Because, in the first millennium for the Christian age, the Celtic Churches confessed the same orthodox Faith as the Orthodox Church, it is not surprising to find a deep inner unity between Celtic Christian spirituality and traditional Orthodox spirituality.

1. Anna Bauerov, Zlaty vek zeme Bju [The Golden Age of the Land of Boii] (Prague: 1988), p. 182. [The name "Bohemia" is derived from a Celtic tribe called the Boii—Authors note.]

2. Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica [Gaelic Poetry] (Edinburgh: 1997), p. 29.

3. Ibid., pp. 655-656.

4. G.H. Doble, Lives of the Welsh Saints, ed. D. Simon Ewans (Cardiff: 1971), p. 45.

5. Donald Attwater, Dictionary of Saints (London: 1983), p. 227.

6. Ibid., p. 193; The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: 1979), p. 246. St. John Cassian is mentioned in the poem, "Amra Choluimb Chille," which was composed around the year 600. At least some parts of the Conferences [Collationes] were known by the author of the poem, "Altus Prosator," which may have been written by St. Columba himself (T.O. Clancy and G. Markus, Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery [Edinburgh: 1995], p. 217). The writings of St. John were read by St. Columbanus, too. They are also an important source for hymns and collects in the "Antiphonary of Bangor" (Jane Stevenson, "Introduction," in F.E. Warren, The Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church [Woodbridge: 1987], p. xlii, n. 200).

7. Attwater, Dictionary, pp. 169-170.

8. A.M. Allchin, Celtic Christianity: Fact or Fantasy? (Wales: 1993), pp. 12, 22; Ian Bradley, The Celtic Way (London: 1993), p. 10; Doble, Lives of the Welsh Saints, pp. 43-45.

9. About this litany, see N. K. Chadwick, The Age of the Saints in the Early Celtic Church (Felinfach, Wales: 1960), p. 113.

10. In this vein, see the comments of St. Maximos the Confessor: "He who thinks that he has achieved perfection in virtue will never go on to seek the original source of blessing, for he has limited the scope of his aspiration to himself and so of his own accord has deprived himself of the condition of salvation, namely God. The person aware of his natural poverty where goodness is concerned never relaxes his impetus towards Him who can fully supply what he lacks. He who has perceived how limitless virtue is never ceases from pursuing it, so as not to be deprived of the origin and consummation of virtue, namely God, by confining his aspiration to himself. For by wrongly supposing that he had achieved perfection he would forfeit true being, towards which every diligent person strives" (St. Maximos the Confessor, "Third Century of Various Texts," 14-15, in The Philokalia [London: 1981], Vol. II, pp. 212-213). 10a. Third Discourse, "To the Believing Father," 14, in Works [in Russian] (St. Petersburg: n.d.), pp. 109-110.

11. Nadezhda, No. 8 (Frankfurt am Main: 1982), p. 107.

12. I.M. Kontzevitch, Stjazhanije Ducha Svjatago v Putjach Drevnej Rusi [The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit in the Ways of Ancient Russia] (Paris: 1952), pp. 11-12.

13. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, O rthodox Spirituality (Lebadeia, Greece: 1996), pp. 236-237. 13a. "On the Incarnation," ch. 54, 3, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXV, col. 192B.

14. Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos), The Orthodox Church (Harmondsworth, England: 1986), pp. 236, 237. 14a. "Epistle 234," 1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXII, col. 869AB.

15. Ware, The Orthodox Church, pp. 29, 77. 15a. Pambo 12.

16.. Ibid., pp. 237-239.

17. Monks Kallistos and Ignatios, "Nastavlenije bezmolstvujushchim" ["Instructions for Hesychasts"], in Dobrotoljubije (Jordanville, NY: 1966), Vol. V, p. 221.

18. David Balfour (ed.), Saint Gregory the Sinaite: Discourse on the Transfiguration (Athens: 1982; offprint from Theologia,Vols. LII, No. 4-LIV, No. 1 [1981-83]), pp. 138-158.

19. See Metropolitan Hierotheos, Orthodox Spirituality, p. 44. "In ascetic theology the heart is the essence of the soul and the intellect (nous) is the energy of the soul. When the intellect enters the heart and acts therein, there exists a unity between the intellect-nous (energy) and the heart (essence) of the soul" (ibid., pp. 34-35). 19a. Life of St. Anthony, 47, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. XXVI, col. 912B.

20. John Ryan, Irish Monasticism (Dublin: 1992), pp. 197-198.

21. Ibid., p. 196.

22. Hugh Conolly, The Irish Penitentials (Dublin: 1995), p. 9.

23. [St. Ignaty Brianchaninov], The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, trans. Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY: 1983), pp. 43-45.

24. Conolly, Irish Penitentials, p. 14.

25. A.W. Wade-Evans, Vita Sancti David per Ricemarchum [The Life of St. David by Ricemarchus] (U.K.: 1904), p. 50.

26. Kontzevitch, Stjazhanije Ducha Svjatago, pp. 31-32. On Eldership, see pp. 30-40.

27. Conolly, Irish Penitentials, pp. 15-16.

28. On extant penitential manuals of Irish origin, see Conolly, Irish Penitentials, pp. 32-33; see also J.R. Walsh and T. Bradley, A History of the Irish Church 400-700 A.D. (Dublin: 1991), pp. 111-125.

29. Father Gregory Telepneff, The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs (Etna, CA: 1998), p. 35.

30. "The Rule of Tallaght," 103, in The Celtic Monk: Rules and Writings of Early Irish Monks, trans. Uinseann O Maidin (Kalamazoo, MI: 1996), p. 129.

31. See Oliver Davies, Celtic Christianity in Early Medieval Wales (Cardiff: 1996), p. 154, n. 61; cf. St. John Cassian, "Conference X," 10, 14.

32. The Celtic Monk, pp. 53-55.

33. Ryan, Irish Monasticism, pp. 331-332.

34. Metropolitan Hierotheos, Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 26, 60-61. "Noetic prayer is the state when the intellect (nous) returns within the heart and prays there"; "Nous is a word used in various ways by the Church Fathers. It indicates either the soul or the heart or also an energy of the soul. Nous is primarily the eye of the soul, the purest part of the soul. Nous is not identified with reason; in English translations of Orthodox ascetic works it is often rendered by the word intellect" (idem, A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain [Lebadeia, Greece: 1998]), pp. 189-190.

35. Davies, Celtic Christianity, pp. 14-15. Cf. Acts 6:15: "And all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel."

36. Kontzevitch, Stjazhanije Ducha Svjatago, pp. 11-12; Elissa R. Henken, The Welsh Saints: A Study in Patterned Lives (Cambridge: 1991), p. 108.

37. Adomnans Life of Columba, ed. and trans. A.O. Anderson and M.O. Anderson (Oxford: 1991), p. 209.

38. Ibid., p. 213.

39. Archimandrite George, Deification as the Purpose of man's Life (Thessaloniki: 1997), pp. 46-47.

40. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Saint Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite (Lebadeia, Greece: 1997), p. 351.

41. Ibid., p. 352.

42. Idem, Orthodox Spirituality, p. 64.

43. Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Saint Gregory Palamas, p. 97.

44. I.M. Kontzevitch, Optina Pustyn i jeja vremja [Optina Monastery and Its Era] (Jordanville, NY: 1970), p. 269.

45. Ibid., p. 511.

46. Adomnans Life of Columba, p. 165.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVIII, No. 4 (2001), pp. 12-29. English translation edited by the Fathers of the Holy Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justina, Fili, Attika, Greece.

St. Ninian, Enlightener of the Picts

Ninian lived at a time when monasticism was sweeping the Roman Empire and attracting many of the most serious Christians. He settled in what is now southwestern Scotland; in the IV Century, "Alba", the country north of Hadrian's Wall, was an ethnically and culturally heterogeneous territory inhabited by non-Indo-European Picts, Q-Celtic-speaking "Scots" from Ireland, P-Celtic-speaking North Britons, Latin-speaking Romans, and possibly the first waves of English-speaking Saxons.
St. Ninian built a monastery at Casa Candida (known since the early Middle Ages by the Old English equivalent "Whithorn"). Besides pursuing the ascetic life, he and his brethren attempted to revive the faltering Romano-British churches of the North, and reached out to the pagans as well, especially it would seem to the Picts. The extremely ancient Pictish Orthodox churches dedicated to St. Ninian or to St. Martin of Tours, the patron saint of the Whithorn community and Ninian's role model, in places as remote as the Orkneys and Shetland attest that this missionary outreach must have been both rapid and amazingly extensive.

After St. Ninian's repose, Whithorn continued for centuries as one of the most important monastic and educational centres of Orthodox Alba. During the period of Anglo-Saxon rule, St. Bede's mention of Ninian in the Ecclesiastical History made the saint famous all over Europe, and his relics were one of the three chief objects of pilgrimage in mediæval Scotland. (Unfortunately, they were destroyed by the Calvinists.)

Norman Hugh Redington

Saturday, 10 December 2011

St. Hilda of Whitby

by Fr. Gregory Hallam
St. Hilda of Whitby (icon by Aidan Hart)
The recovery of the Saxon, that is, broadly speaking, the Old English Church in the minds of the contemporary English is a vital task. In so far as the English once found their place within a religious and social pluralism that included the Celts then perhaps we should be optimistic about the recovery of an English identity within contemporary Britain. No one bats an eye at the Scots, Irish or Welsh recovering their identities. This is much praised but not so, unfortunately, with England. Maybe this is because England is associated in the minds of the politically correct with the oppressor. If there is an oppressor to be reckoned with here it is surely William the Conqueror who put an end to the golden age of English culture. So complete is the propaganda associated with the Conquest that no one really thinks that anything worthwhile existed before William breathed fire through the land nearly 1000 years ago. The Normans brought the Dark Ages and then induced everyone to believe that their reign was "light" in comparison with the so-called "Dark Ages" that had gone before.
It is difficult to define the English Church since "England" really consisted of many different kingdoms, races and peoples. Many understand the word "English" to be coterminous with the Anglo-Saxon culture and this is fair to a point. So how did these Germanic and Danish peoples, the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes and others become Christians?
Well, we should not rob St. Augustine of Canterbury of his fare share of this work. Here was an Orthodox Christian bishop who with a small band of 40 monks stayed 7 years at the turn of the 7th Century and converted King Ethelbert and His Kingdom in Kent to the Faith of the Apostles. The names of Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great who sent him, and the Apostles Peter and Paul were ever to be revered by the English but no less so than the Celtic missionaries who had evangelised the North of England and lowland Scotland (as is now) from the West. The English Church had such a profusion of saints in the 400 years before the Schism that it’s difficult now to adjust our expectations of England today to this high water mark.
Orthodoxy is not, however, concerned to recover some sort of lost racial consciousness, a place "forever England." That would be to violate the vision of our forefathers whom God used as architects of the Kingdom of God, a nation that knows no boundaries. Pre-eminent among these "English" fathers for example is St. Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, (668-690), a Greek pastor who lovingly welded the Celtic and Anglo Saxon Orthodoxy of many scattered kingdoms into a truly united Church for all races under Christ. His was a true Orthodox pluralism not based on English national identity, (for such a thing did not exist), but on the commonwealth of Heaven. England, like Zion, is not a nation, she is an attitude of mind, a presence in the heart, a rustle of wind amongst the people, the trace of the Holy Spirit. When the Normans came under a new and confusing papal banner and laid waste to England’s innocence at Hastings and thereafter, they did not destroy England, but they did subvert its national life, replacing the flowers of Eden with the thorns of efficiency and grandeur. Much of that legacy endures today in the British establishment.
For a while, perhaps, we have been seduced by the pompous grandeur of a "greater" Britain. The Scots, the Irish and the Welsh won’t put up with it anymore. Isn’t it about time that the English didn’t either? But, we should be aware. We must not play the Norman mentality at its own game. Orthodox England will not be rebuilt by her politicians, but, as ever before, by her saints. We by the mercy of God, have been called to play our part in this recovery of the heart of England which is Christ and the land which, according to our tradition, is Mary’s dowry. Let us be worthy of such a high calling. Sometime, perhaps in the far distant future, or perhaps next year, Orthodox England will live again. God knows. For us it is sufficient to sing and to work; to love and to pray. May Christ our God have mercy on our souls, Amen!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Saint Gallus (Gall), enlightener of Switzerland († 640)

commemorated on Saturday October16 (29 ns)

Saint Gallus (Gall) was born in Ireland to wealthy parents, who sent him to be educated at the Monastery of Bangor.

There he embraced the ascetical life and became a monk. He was one of the twelve monks who traveled with his spiritual father St Columbanus (November 23) as missionaries to Gaul.

In time some of the group traveled into pagan lands, up the Rhine river to Lake Zurich. The monks settled on Lake Constance around a chapel dedicated to St Aurelia, which had been taken by the pagans as a shrine; they cleansed and re-consecrated the chapel, which became the center of their new monastery.

Saint Gall lived as a hermit, serving the brethren by making nets and catching fish.

In 612 Saint Columbanus went on to Italy with most of his disciples, leaving Saint Gall and a few others to continue their life.

When Saint Gall delivered Frideburga, the daughter of a local duke, from a demon, he offered the saint a tract of land on the shores of Lake Constance; here was founded the monastery that in later times bore Saint Gall's name.

At various times, the holy Gall refused calls to become a bishop, or to take over the abbacy of the great monastery at Luxeuil. To all such requests he answered that he would rather serve than command.

He continued living in his isolated monastic community until he reposed in peace in 640, at the age of ninety-nine.

In later years, and continuing well into the middle ages, the Monastery of Saint Gall became famed for the holiness of its monks and for its library.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Commemoration of St. Ciaran (Kieran)

St. Kieran

September 9

There are many Irish saints of this name, but the most celebrated is St. Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, also known as St. Ciaran the Younger. He was born between 512 and 516AD in Connacht, Ireland. His name can be confusing and is sometimes written as Kieran but there is no K in the Gaelic so the authentic usage is probably Ciaran (pronounced Keer-un). Because of his prominence in the early Irish church, St. Ciaran is known as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.
Ciaran is somewhat unique amongst the Irish saints in that most of them came from noble birth, but Ciaran came from an artisan background. Ciaran is surnamed Mac an Tsair, (son of the carpenter) and some references suggest that his father was, in fact, a chariot maker. Ciaran inherited a love of learning from his mother's side
of the family; his maternal grandmother had been a bard, poet and historian. Baptized by Deacon Justus (the righteous one) who served as his first tutor, the boy Ciaran worked as a cattle herder. Even in his early life, stories testifying to Ciaran's holiness are told. Some believed his work as a herdsman foreshadowed the shepherd-like care he would offer the many who sought his wisdom.
According to legend his family was too poor to support him when he wished to join the school of St. Finian in Clonard. He asked for a cow to offer as payment but this was also beyond the family means. However, as he began the journey to Clonard, a dun cow and her calf followed him. Not wishing to take both cow and calf, Kieran used his staff to draw a line on the ground between the animals. After that, neither the cow nor the calf would cross this line, and the calf returned home. According to legend, Kieran's cow provided milk for the monks and students and guests throughout his time at the monastery. After the cow's death, it is said that her hide was the parchment on which the Book of the Dun Cow, "Lebor Na h'Uidre" was written. This book of poetry, stories and genealogy is one of the oldest surviving manuscripts in Ireland.
Ciaran quickly gained the reputation of being the most learned monk at Clonard. His friend and fellow student, Columcille of Iona (St. Columba) testified to Ciaran's brilliance by saying, "He was a lamp, blazing with the light of wisdom." Ciaran had great friendships with many other leaders of the early Irish church. In addition to Justus, Columba and Finian, Ciaran counted Enda of the Aran Isles as his mentor.
After completing his studies at Clonard, Ciaran moved to the monastery of Inishmore in the Aran Isles, directed by St. Enda. While a member of this community, Enda and Ciaran saw the same vision of a great and fruitful tree growing on the bands on a stream in central Ireland. This tree sheltered the entire island, its fruit crossed the sea surrounding Ireland, and birds came to carry some of that fruit to the rest of the world. Enda interpreted this vision for his friend by saying: "The great tree is you, Ciaran, for you are great in the eyes of God and all people. All of Ireland will be sheltered by the grace in you, and many will be nourished by your fasting and prayers. Go with God's word to the center of Ireland, and found your church on the banks of a stream."
From Inishmore, Ciaran went to visit his religious brothers at Isel in central Ireland. His stay here was brief, as the other monks envied his fame as a scholar, and resented what they considered his excessive charity to the poor. Asked to leave Isel, Ciaran was led to Inis Aingin, or Hare Island. While he lived here, brothers from all over Ireland came to study under him, and more miracles attested to his holiness.
Ciaran departed Hare Island with eight monastic brothers, and eventually settled on the east bank of the river Shannon where he found a grassy ridge called Ard Tiprait, or the "Height of Spring". Here, the annuls say, on January 23rd 544 he laid the foundation stone of the great monastic school of Clonmacnoise. Ciaran was fortunate to gain the friendship and patronage of Prince Diarmait, son of Cerball, the High King. Diarmait offered every assistance to the building of the monastery and endowed large amounts of land for use of the community. Diarmait was later to become the first Christian High King of Ireland.
The monastery could only be reached by river or via a track known as the Pilgrim's Road (the main road from Dublin to the West in early Christian times) and so ensured relative isolation and lots of peace and quiet. In spite of this isolation the monastery drew students from all over Ireland and Europe and became Ireland's center of study, art, and literature. For more than 600 years the monastery was one of the supreme seats of learning in the country for artwork, craftsmen, and illuminated manuscripts. It has been estimated that as many as six or seven thousand students may have been at Clonmacnoise at its height – a monastic university founded by a carpenter's son.
Ciaran himself never saw the emergence of Clonmacnoise as the great literary school of Ireland. In September of 544, only 9 months after the work began, Ciaran died from the yellow plague which was sweeping across Ireland. But Ciaran gave it its character - that of a school for the whole nation. The teachers were chosen for their learning and zeal and the abbots were elected from every province. It enjoyed the support of bishops and kings. In the grounds are buried Diarmait the High King and many other royal benefactors including Rory O' Connor, the last High King of Ireland.
The prosperity of Clonmacnoise was not to last for ever. It was subject to difficulties and attack. In the seventh century a plaque killed almost all its students and monks and in the eighth century the monastery was burned down three times, probably due to its wooden buildings. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries, the Shannon became the route for the Viking invasion of central Ireland and the monastery was frequently plundered. The attacks were continued by the Normans and finally, in 1552, the site was plundered for the last time by the English garrison at Athlone.
The present site has the ruins of a Cathedral, eight churches, two round towers, three high crosses, a collection of very early Christian grave slabs, and circular Celtic living quarters known as crannogs. The sandstone high crosses were brought under cover in 1993 for protection against the elements. Replicas of the crosses have been erected in their original places. Clonmacnoise remains a Celtic Christian site worthy of a visit by anyone interested in ancient things Celtic. To this day tourists and pilgrims still visit Ciaran's monastery to see some of the finest monastic ruins and high crosses in all of Ireland.
The Feast of St. Ciaran is celebrated on September 9.


Friday, 28 October 2011

Celtic Orthodox Brittany

Celtic Orthodox Church

The Story and History of Saint Palladius of the Scots

The story and history of Saint Palladius of the Scots. The name of Palladius shows this Saint to have been a Roman, and most authors agree that he was deacon of the Church of Rome. At least St. Prosper, in his chronicle, informs us that when Agricola, a noted Pelagian, had corrupted the churches of Britain by introducing that pestilential heresy, Pope Celestine, at the instance of Palladius the deacon, in 429, sent thither St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, in quality of his legate, who, having ejected the heretics, brought back the Britons to the Orthodox faith. In 431 Pope Celestine sent Palladius, the first bishop, to the Scots then believing in Christ. The Irish writers of the lives of St. Patrick say that St. Palladius had preached in Ireland a little before St. Patrick, but that he was soon banished by the King of Leinster, and returned to North Britain, where he had first opened his mission. There seems to be no doubt that he was sent to the whole nation of the Scots, several colonies of whom had passed from Ireland into North Britain, and possessed themselves of part of the country since called Scotland. After St. Palladius had left Ireland, he arrived among the Scots in North Britain, according to St. Prosper, in the consulate of Bassus and Antochius, in the year of Christ 431. He preached there with great zeal, and formed a considerable Church. The Scottish historians tell us that the Faith was planted in North Britain about the year 200, in the time of King Donald, when Victor was Pope of Rome. But they all acknowledge that Palladius was the first bishop in that country, and style him their first apostle. The Saint died at Fordun, fifteen miles from Aberdeen, about the year 450.
Feast Day of Saint Palladius of the Scots
The Feast Day of Saint Palladius of the Scots is July 6. The origin of Feast Days: most saints have specially designated feast days and are associated with a specific day of the year and these are referred to as the saint's feast day. The feast days first arose from the very early Christian custom of the annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths at the same time celebrating their birth into heaven.

Saint Patrick

Patrick, called the Apostle of Ireland, was born about the year 389, of Roman and British parentage. Blessed Martin of Tours is said to have been among his kin. But although he is usually accounted as British, the place of this birth is unknown. When Patrick was a lad he was taken prisoner by slavers and carried to Ireland, whence he escaped after six years. Meanwhile he learned to serve God well, for whilst attending the flock of his master he would rise before the light, in snow and frost and rain, to make his prayers.
Having been finally raised to the priesthood, Saint Germanus of Auxierre consecrated him bishop, and
sent him back to Ireland, in succession to Saint Palladius, the first Christian missionary, who, after twelve months of labour there, had gone to Scotland and then died. Patrick travelled to every part of Ireland, converting many of the people and their chiefs by his preaching and example. And everywhere his preaching of the Word was confirmed by wonders and signs following. He washed many of the Irish folk in the laver of regeneration, ordained many bishops and clerks, and decreed rules for virgins and for widows living in continency. And he established Armagh as the primatial See of all Ireland.
Besides that which came upon him daily, the care of all the churches of Ireland, he never suffered his spirit to weary in constant prayer. It was said that it was his custom to repeat daily the whole Book of Psalms, together with certain other hymns and prayers, and that he took his short rest lying of a bare stone. He was a great practicer of lowliness, and after the pattern of the Apostle, always continued to work with his own hands. At last he fell asleep in the Lord in extreme old age, according to some authorities about the year 461, glorious both in word and deed. His body was translated to the Cathedral of Down in Ulster in 1185.

Άγιος Παλλάδιος (Palladius) απόστολος της Σκοτίας.

Ό άγιος Παλλάδιος ήταν κελτικής καταγωγής και υπηρετούσε ως διάκονος στη Ρώμη.

Ο πάπας Κελεστίνος Α' (422-432), εκτιμώντας τις ικανότητές του, τον προσέλαβε ως αρχιδιάκονό του.

Ο αιρετικός Αγρικόλας, ένας από τούς κορυφαίους πελαγιανιστές, είχε αναστατώσει τότε με τα ψυχοφθόρα κηρύγματά του την Εκκλησία των Βρετανικών Νήσων.

Ο άγιος Παλλάδιος έπεισε τον πάπα να στείλει εκεί, το 429, τους αγίους επισκόπους Γερμανό της Ωξέρ και Λούπο της Τρουά, οι οποίοι κατόρθωσαν να εξαφανίσουν την αίρεση με τη συστηματική και επίμονη ιεραποστολή τους.

Το 431, δύο χρόνια μετά την άνοδο του Λόουνγκαιρ στο θρόνο του «υπέρτατου βασιλιά» της Ιρλανδίας -που λεγόταν τότε Σκότια- ο πάπας έστειλε τον άγιο Παλλάδιο στην όμορφη νησιωτική αυτή χώρα της Β. Ευρώπης ως πρώτο επίσκοπο της, για να κηρύξει το ευαγγέλιο και να θεμελιώσει την τοπική Εκκλησία.

Ο άγιος αποβιβάσθηκε στο Λάινστερ με δώδεκα συνοδούς, που θα τον βοηθούσαν στο ιεραποστολικό του έργο. Δυστυχώς όμως, δεν μπόρεσε να μείνει εκεί για πολύ.

Στα τέλη του ίδιου χρόνου αναγκάστηκε να εγκαταλείψει το νησί, διωγμένος από τον ηγεμόνα Ντάθι. Πρόλαβε ωστόσο, να βαπτίσει ευάριθμους Σκώτους (Ιρλανδούς) και να κατασκευάσει με τους συνεργάτες του τρεις ξύλινους ναούς.

Φεύγοντας, άφησε πίσω του τέσσερις από τούς δώδεκα συντρόφους του (Αυγουστίνο, Βενέδικτο, Σίλβεστρο και Σολίνο), τα χειρόγραφά του, καθώς και τεμάχια αγίων λειψάνων.

Τον ευαγγελισμό της χώρας πραγματοποίησε αργότερα, κάτω από ευνοϊκές συνθήκες, ο κατεξοχήν απόστολος της Ιρλανδίας άγιος Πατρίκιος (+ 461).

Ο άγιος Παλλάδιος στράφηκε προς τις βόρειες επαρχίες της Βρετανίας, όπου ζούσαν πολλοί Σκώτοι (Ιρλανδοί) μετανάστες και η ημιάγρια φυλή των Πικτών. Στην περιοχή αυτή, τη γνωστή και σήμερα ως Σκοτία, κήρυξε την ευαγγελική αλήθεια για δεκαεννέα ολόκληρα χρόνια.

Και ήταν τέτοια η επιτυχία του, ώστε, μολονότι ο χριστιανισμός είχε φτάσει εκεί από τον 2ο αι., η τοπική παράδοση θεωρεί ως απόστολο και πρώτο επίσκοπο Σκοτίας τον άγιο Παλλάδιο.

Απεβίωσε ειρηνικά το 450 και η μνήμη του τιμάται στις 6 Ιουλίου.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


The precise date of his birth is unknown; however, Columban was born around 540 AD (some suggest 559) in Ireland, to a noble family.  He received a good classical education and decided early, although the pretty Irish girls were not without some attraction to him, to embrace the ascetic life.

Columban learned how to read the psalter at the age of six.  His ability to tame animals revealed his closeness to nature. As a young man he would often visit a recluse whose wisdom he appreciated.  This was what determined his vocation.  He decided to embrace the religious life. He walked to the Abbey at Cluaninis where he was under the tutelage of the Abbot Sinell.  Later, he went to Bangor, in Northern Ireland under Abbot Congall. Columban delighted in the severity of the daily offices and in the innumerable ascetic exercises, like fasting totally for several days, praying with arms outstretched in cold water…he was called to the priesthood before leaving, with twelve monks, to evangelise the pagan regions of Gaul. The faith was there but greatly ignored and the country was constantly torn by war. Sigbert gave them authority to found a monastery at Annegray which was soon engulfed by people seeking healings and asking for the brothers' prayers.  A chorus of praise celebrated Columban. Desiring to escape the popularity, he found a cave like place for retreat. As it was already inhabited by a bear, he simple asked it to go.

His disciples were becoming numerous, Columban therefore searched for a new foundation. He discovered Luxeuil some miles away. The monks created a place to mirror the monastery at Bangor.  The novices flowed, it was necessary to create a new foundation for them.  Columban chose a rich terrain, full of sources, which he named Fountaines.  One day a contagious malady struck the monks of Luxeuil.  Columban visited the sick and ordered them to rise and go thresh the wheat. All who obeyed were cured, but the disobedient struggled for a year in pain. Columban directed three abbeys: Annegray, Luxeuil and Fontaines, where, together, three hundred monks lived.  The king Theodebert asked him to evangelise the countries of the Rhine. Having arrived at Bale, the monk Urcisin was despatched from the community and later founded the Abbey of Saint Ursanne in the Jura. Expelled by the Celts, driven out of Tuggen, the community then headed East, to Austria, and settled at Bregenz.

After the death of king Theodebert, the country became dangerous. Columban resolved to leave for Bregenz, and took the shortest route to Italy.  Only Gall, suffering from fever, wished to remain.  Columba authorised this but forbade him from saying Mass. Therefore, he left Gall in Switzerland.  Overcoming many obstacles in the Alps, he settled at Bobbio, near Milan. He rebuilt the ruins, cleared the undergrowth and prepared the ground. In spite of age and fatigue, Columban worked and heaven rewarded his courage.

Overcome with infirmities, spent and tired, he died on the 23rd of November, 615 at Bobbio, surrounded by his monks, at the age of 75. Many of his disciples founded monasteries which covered Europe.

Saint Columban’s feast day is November 23rd

Άγιος Κολουμβάνος (Columbanus), απόστολος της Γαλλίας

Ό Άγιος Κολουμβάνος γεννήθηκε το 543 στο Λάινστερ της Ιρλανδίας από γονείς ευγενείς, που του έδωσαν αξιόλογη κλασική παιδεία. Πολύ νωρίς πόθησε τη μοναχική πολιτεία, από την οποία όμως τον κρατούσαν μακριά οι νεανικοί πειρασμοί. Η εξαιρετική ομορφιά του, έκανε πολλές νέες να τον ερωτεύονται παράφορα. Ζήτησε τη συμβουλή μίας ηλικιωμένης ασκήτριας, που τον παρακίνησε ν' απαρνηθεί την πατρίδα του και τα εγκόσμια.

«Φύγε και σώσου», του είπε λακωνικά.

Κι εκείνος πραγματικά έφυγε, παρά τις αντιρρήσεις της μητέρας του, που δοκίμασε να τον εμποδίσει.

Ύστερ' από σύντομη παραμονή στη μονή Κλουάινινις του Λούφερν, πήγε στο περίφημο μοναστήρι Μπαγκόρ του Καρρικφέργκως, μεγάλο εκπαιδευτικό και ιεραποστολικό κέντρο, όπου μαθήτευσε στο διάσημο ηγούμενο άγιο Κογγάλλο (+ 602).

Το 590, φλεγόμενος από τον πόθο της ιεραποστολής, αναχώρησε με δώδεκα ακόμη μοναχούς για την Ευρώπη. Πέρασε τη Βρετανία και ήρθε στη Γαλλία, χώρα με χριστιανική παρουσία ήδη, αλλά, λόγω των πολεμικών αναστατώσεων και της ολιγωρίας του ανώτερου κλήρου, σε κατάσταση πνευματικής καταπτώσεως και εκκλησιαστικής αταξίας

Για πολλά χρόνια αφοσιώθηκε στο ευαγγελικό έργο.

Διατρέχοντας τη χώρα απ' άκρη σ' άκρη, κήρυσσε την πίστη, καλούσε σε μετάνοια, δίδασκε την αρετή, έδινε με τη ζωή του το παράδειγμα της ταπεινοφροσύνης, της αγάπης, της φιλανθρωπίας και της καλοσύνης.

Στην Ιερή αυτή διακονία τον ακολουθούσαν και τον βοηθούσαν οι δώδεκα σύντροφοι του.

Σε μιαν από τις αλλεπάλληλες αποστολικές περιοδείες του, έφτασε και στη Βουργουνδία, όπου έγινε δεκτός από το βασιλιά Γκοντράν (+ 593).

Η αγιότητα και η ευγλωττία του, σαγήνευσαν το μονάρχη, που του πρόσφερε το ρωμαϊκό κάστρο του Αννεγκραί για να το μετατρέψει σε μοναστήρι. Έτσι η μικρή αδελφότητα του αγίου εγκαταστάθηκε εκεί, ζώντας με πτώχεια, εγκράτεια και προσευχή.
Η ραγδαία αύξηση των μοναχών έκανε σύντομα αναγκαία την αναζήτηση άλλου τόπου. Ο Γκοντράν παραχώρησε στον άγιο το ευρύχωρο φρούριο του Λουξέγ, όπου πλήθη Φράγκων και Βουργουνδών, όλων των τάξεων και των ηλικιών, συνέρεαν είτε για ν' απολαύσουν τις ψυχωφελείς διδαχές του ηγουμένου Κολουμβάνου, είτε για να ενταχθούν στο κοινόβιό του.

Είκοσι χρόνια φώτιζε πνευματικά ο Άγιος τους μοναχούς και τους κοσμικούς, όχι μόνο της Βουργουνδίας αλλά και ολόκληρης της Γαλλίας, επιτελώντας ένα αξιοθαύμαστο εποικοδομητικό έργο.

Όπως αναφέρεται χαρακτηριστικά στο συναξάρι του,

«θεμελίωσε τη συνείδηση της Ευρώπης...

σε όποιον τόπο πήγε, έκανε να βλαστήσει η αληθινή αγιότητα...

άναψε το πυρ του Χριστού όπου μπορούσε, αδιαφορώντας αν θα καιγόταν ο ίδιος από τη φλόγα...».

Και πράγματι, τα φλογερά κηρύγματά του, ελεγκτικά κάποτε των παρεκτροπών κάποιων ασυνείδητων ρασοφόρων, δυσαρέστησαν μια μερίδα του τοπικού κλήρου.

Θέλοντας να τον εκδικηθούν και μη βρίσκοντας άλλη αφορμή, τον κατηγόρησαν για το ότι ακολουθούσε το κελτικό τυπικό στον εορτασμό του Πάσχα και στη μοναχική αμφίεση.

Ο Άγιος Κολουμβάνος απολογήθηκε με επιστολές, τόσο προς τη σύνοδο των Γάλλων επισκόπων (Σεν, 601) όσο και προς τον πάπα Ρώμης άγιο Γρηγόριο το Μέγα (590-604), υποστηρίζοντας τις θέσεις του με την επίκληση της παλαιάς δυτικής (ιρλανδικής) πράξης και του αγίου Ανατολίου Λαοδικείας (+ 282), συγγραφέα πραγματείας για το Πάσχα.

Στη συνέχεια γνώρισε τον κατατρεγμό και από την κοσμική εξουσία.

Ακέραιος καθώς ήταν, προκάλεσε το μίσος της διεφθαρμένης βασίλισσας Βρουγχίλδης, χήρας και μητέρας αντίστοιχα των βασιλέων της Αυστραλίας (Ανατ. Γαλλίας) Σιγεβέρτου Α' (+ 575) και Χιλδεβέρτου Β' (+ 596).

Η Βρουγχίλδη, είχε την κηδεμονία των δύο ανήλικων εγγονών της, βασιλέων της Αυστραλίας Θεοδεβέρτου Β' (γενν. 586) και της Βουργουνδίας Θεοδώριχου Β' (γενν. 587) και κατοικούσε στα ανάκτορα του πρώτου.

Όταν η σκανδαλώδης ανάμειξή της στη διακυβέρνηση της χώρας ανάγκασε τους άρχοντες να απαιτήσουν από τον νεαρό βασιλιά την απομάκρυνσή της, εκείνη κατέφυγε στον άλλο εγγονό της (599).

Στη Βουργουνδιανή Αυλή, η φίλαρχη και αδίσταχτη γυναίκα χρησιμοποίησε κάθε αθέμιτο μέσο για να πάρει στα χέρια της την εξουσία. Εξώθησε τον ευάλωτο Θεοδώριχο σε ακόλαστη ζωή, ματαίωσε τον νόμιμο γάμο του με μια Βησιγοτθίδα πριγκίπισσα κι έβαλε κακοποιούς να δολοφονήσουν τον άγιο Δεσιδέριο, επίσκοπο της Βιέν, που αποδοκίμαζε τις ανομίες της.
Στόχος της οργής της έγινε και ο άγιος Κολουμβάνος, όταν αρνήθηκε να ευλογήσει τους τέσσερις γιους, που ο εγγονός της είχε αποκτήσει με παλλακίδες.

«Αυτά τα παιδιά είναι καρποί της αμαρτίας!», είπε.

«Όχι μόνο δεν θα βασιλέψουν ποτέ, αλλά θα έχουν και κακό θάνατο σύντομα», πρόσθεσε προφητικά, απαγορεύοντας άφοβα στη βασιλομάμμη να μπει στη μονή του.

Ύστερ' από λίγο, στρατιώτες συνέλαβαν τον άγιο και όλους τους Ιρλανδούς μοναχούς του. Τους επιβίβασαν με τη βία σ' ένα πλοίο, που σάλπαρε αμέσως με προορισμό την Ιρλανδία. Το ταξίδι όμως ήταν προβληματικό και το σκάφος κινδύνεψε να ναυαγήσει. Οι δεισιδαίμονες ναυτικοί, αποδίδοντας τον κίνδυνο στην παρουσία των μοναχών, τους αποβίβασαν σε μια γαλλική ακτή, απ' όπου κατέφυγαν στη Νευστρία (Δυτ. Γαλλία).

Ό βασιλιάς τής χώρας Κλοτάριος Β' (584-628), εχθρός του Θεοδώριχου και της Βρουγχίλδης, τους δέχτηκε φιλόφρονα και τους έστειλε με συνοδεία στο μονάρχη της Αυστρασίας Θεοδεβέρτο, που τους πρόσφερε την προστασία του και τους παρακάλεσε να εγκατασταθούν στην επικράτειά του. Ο Άγιος Κολουμβάνος όμως «μετά από μάταιες προσπάθειες τόσων χρόνων για τη διόρθωση βασιλέων και υπηκόων που ήθελαν να λέγονται χριστιανοί χωρίς όμως να ζουν χριστιανικά, αποφάσισε να στρέψει το ιεραποστολικό του ενδιαφέρον στους ειδωλολάτρες.
Κατευθύνθηκε λοιπόν με τους μαθητές του προς την Ελβετία.

Εκεί κήρυξαν το ευαγγέλιο στις παγανιστικές φυλές της περιοχής της Κωνσταντίας.

Στο μεταξύ ξέσπασε πόλεμος ανάμεσα στους αδελφούς Θεοδεβέρτο της Αυστρασίας και Θεοδώριχο της Βουργουνδίας, με υποκίνηση της δαιμόνιας γιαγιάς τους.

Ο δεύτερος νίκησε τον πρώτο δυο φορές, στην Τούλη και στο Τολβίακο, τον αιχμαλώτισε και τον παρέδωσε στη Βρουγχίλδη (612). Εκείνη, για να εκδικηθεί τον εγγονό της, που την είχε διώξει δεκατρία χρόνια πριν από το παλάτι του, τον έκειρε με τη βία μοναχό -η κούρα ήταν για τους Φράγκους ηγεμόνες η έσχατη ταπείνωση(!!)- και τον έκλεισε στο φρούριο του Σαλόν-σύρ-Σέν, όπου τον θανάτωσε λίγο αργότερα.

Ο Άγιος Κολουμβάνος, που οι ανάγκες της ιεραποστολής τον είχαν φέρει κοντά στις κατεχόμενες πια από τον Θεοδώριχο περιοχές, βρέθηκε σε κίνδυνο. Αναγκάστηκε, λοιπόν, να αναχωρήσει με το μαθητή του Άτταλο για την Ιταλία. Πέρασαν τις Άλπεις κι έφτασαν στο Μιλάνο, όπου ο βασιλιάς των Λομβαρδών Αγιλούλφος (590-615) τους δέχτηκε εγκάρδια και τους παραχώρησε την περιοχή του Μπόμπιο, στα Απέννινα, για την ίδρυση μονής.

Εκεί έζησε ο Άγιος τα τελευταία του χρόνια, οικοδομώντας το μοναστήρι του και πολεμώντας με τα πειστικά κηρύγματά του την αίρεση του αρειανισμού, που είχε μολύνει τον λομβαρδικό λαό.

Κοιμήθηκε ειρηνικά στις 21 Νοεμβρίου του 615 και τάφηκε στο Μπόμπιο.

Στο μνήμα του έγιναν πολλά θαύματα.

Αξίζει να σημειωθεί ότι λίγο νωρίτερα, το 613, ο Θεοδώριχος πέθανε στο Μέτς δηλητηριασμένος από την εγκληματική Βρουγχίλδη. Κι εκείνη, όμως, έπεσε στα χέρια του εχθρού της Κλοτάριου Β' της Νευστρίας, που τη θανάτωσε με φρικτά βασανιστήρια, αφού πρώτα έσφαξε τους τέσσερις γιους του Θεοδώριχου και δισέγγονους της.

Έτσι επαληθεύτηκε η προφητεία του αγίου Κολουμβάνου.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

St. David of Wales (Dewi Sant)

by Fr. Gregory Hallam

St. David
On a recent trip to Wales, I was, on occasion overcome with a profound sadness. Where was God now in this fair land of green clad hills and ancient springs? I suppose I meant, where was God in the culture? - for He was everywhere to be seen in the landscape. In human terms though there was a curious vacancy, a sense of a time long forgotten, or as Peter Berger once said “a rumour of angels” - now barely heard. There were of course churches and chapels a-plenty to be seen, but they seemed to be caught in a time warp and others were ruinous and effectively abandoned.

The churches in rural mid-Wales are pretty, compact, well maintained on the whole. They seem nonetheless to suffer from a certain cultural disconnection, except that is when hosting concerts for the tourists in tourist areas!  Does God still matter though to the Welsh? The chapels have fared even worse. Village after village after village embarrasses itself with the crumbling facades of the long gone 19th century Welsh revival. It is as if the dragon had roared but the fiery embers were always destined to grow old, cold and forgotten. But why? Why could not the fire of Christ ignite Welsh culture beyond the immediate generation of those original (largely) Methodist apostles? Why is Wales now seemingly so neglectful of the faith of David, Non, Seiriol, Illtyd, Dyfrig, Gildas, Dwynwen, Melangell, Gwenfrewy, Winefride, Beuno, Asaph and countless others?

The same questions could and should be raised for England, Scotland and perhaps to a lesser extent Ireland, north and south. Why have the landmarks of sanctity in the lives of the Christian heroes of these lands been erased from the public mind, confined to the private realm of the dwindling faithful and the secular archives of the historian? Why has Christianity become disconnected from the culture and replaced by a secular mind more entertained by New Age fripperies and the gods of hedonism and individualism? As the Anglo-Catholic priest Fr. Eric Mascall once penned as a title to a book:- “Whatever happened to the Christian mind?”

The trouble is that the Orthodox know the answer but few seem to understand the question. We say, of course, that Britain has both forgotten the treasure (our Orthodox faith) and where she has buried it (in the distortions of Rome and Geneva). The incomprehension of the post-Orthodox Christian in the face of this answer is understandable for too many years have passed since the burying and the earthworks have now all but gone. The preachers of the Welsh Revival and all the other revivals of British Non-Conformity faced the problem of Christianity’s decline during the Industrial Revolution but they did not do their homework; they failed to look for the buried treasure but instead mistook fool’s gold for the real thing. They can’t be blamed for this. They were children of their time in revolt from a contaminated spiritual source, but sometimes in their confusion mistaking elements of its corruption for purity, its artifice for authenticity. The writing was on the wall no sooner than the wall had been built.

There are some Orthodox who say that British (or if you like, English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish) Orthodox Christianity is dead and buried and incapable of being revived. These claim that only through a fresh infusion of Orthodoxy with a very clear ��country of origin” sticker affixed will the real thing be recognised once more. I beg to disagree ... and most profoundly! It is no solution at all to point a lost soul to a foreign country just because he has got lost in his own. We need to need to repaint the signs; not have them repositioned in a new direction.
St. Arsenios of Paros, a Greek saint of the 19th century knew this full well. He said presciently ...

“When the Church in the British Isles begins to venerate her own Saints then the Church will grow.”
         St. Arsenios of Paros (+1877)
This is the remedy for the amnesia of the British. Let them see their own saints again ... not just in the churches (that they may never frequent) but in the countryside, in the cities, in the towns. We need to reconnect Christ and Culture in the Orthodox way. We need to roll back of the desert of secularism by touching the heart, by restoring the memory, by energising the will. We need to get out there and make Christ visible again.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

St. Brigid of Kildaire

The Orthodox Celts

by Fr. Deacon John-Mark Titterington
St. Brigid
Orthodox Christians are bound by their own history to take a strong interest in Celtic Orthodox Christianity.  In recent years there has been renewed interest in society as a whole in what has become known as "Celtic spirituality".  Speaking generally, there seems to be a lack of interest today, however, in the other achievements of the Celts. Maybe this is because they did not build edifices which survived. After them came the Normans who erected enormous cathedrals and castles, as for example, at Durham, and this mark of permanence is reckoned to give them (the Normans) prestige in our times.
For the Celtic peoples, their "mark of permanence", if that is the right phrase, lies in people rather than buildings. Their great contribution to European culture and civilisation can be summed up in one word:- MISSION. They lived, and gave their lives, believing that "the Church is Mission". In no way were they confined to what is called the Celtic fringe of Cornwall, Wales and Ireland, and their missionary activities made them, in more ways than one, the founders of modern Europe.
The approach of the Celts to mission was thoroughly Orthodox. It began with a man, and sometimes a woman, experiencing a call from God; collecting some like-minded assistants and, following the guidelines laid down in the Gospels, just set off for distant lands with no change of tunic and knowing there was no possibility of a return to their homeland, preaching as they went.
The timing of these efforts was important. We heard last month of the break-up of the Roman Empire and how western Europe was left to defend itself. This it could not do and was soon over-run by pagan invaders who settled, in the case of our own country, like the Picts in the north; or the Angles in the north and east; the Saxons came into the south and the Jutes landed in Kent. One result of all these invasions was that the Christian church was pushed to the western fringes of our land which in the main, reverted to paganism and the history books often dub this period as "the Dark Ages".
But even barbarians settle down eventually and formed states, some larger than others, and helped by the residual Church and also by trade with other nations, became open to civilising influences. In this, by far the greater part was played by Celtic, largely Irish, saints and scholars.
The fifth century was a time of great upheaval on our shores but by the end of it, Ireland was largely Christian in a typically Orthodox way, which means that the bishop was a monk who lived in a monastery, where he was not usually the abbot, and so was himself subject to discipline. This organisation of the Church around monasteries, instead of around cathedrals, was to cause trouble and confusion later on, but at the time it suited God’s purpose admirably by providing a strong, well-educated and disciplined body of men (and women) who were able to go forth and make disciples of the nations of the earth. And that is just what they did.
We are familiar with the re-evangelisation of our country after Colum Cille, or Columba, had founded the monastery on Iona and from there, had sent the monks into Scotland and across the north of England to Lindisfarne, which they made into a Holy Island, and the next base for their mission activities. From there, this part of the country heard the Gospel again under the guidance of Saint Aidan (died 651) and further south, later on, had their turn through the efforts of the brothers Cedd and Chad. So much is well known to us and we do right to thank God that it was so. And also, we can rejoice that at the same time, the Roman mission under Saint Augustine landed in Kent and began the evangelisation of the south in 597.
But Scotland, together with the northern half of England and Wales, is only a very small part of the total outreach of the Celtic Church. Their wandering missionaries went as far afield as France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Some monks went north to the Faroes and Iceland, and others found their way as far east as Jerusalem and even to Kiev in Central Russia.
Usually, the route to Europe was through Iona and Lindisfarne. Sean McMahon describes them as going into "the pagan land of the Franks by coracle against the stream of north-flowing rivers. Consciously following Christ’s example, these bands of determined men took little apart from precious religious books and objects. Land journeys were on foot unless they fell in with trade caravans. They journeyed until they found a location they felt suitable, hoped for a grant of a little land from a not unfriendly chief and set up their holy ground to the glory of God and (though it would not have occurred to them) the honour of Ireland." (Rekindling of the Faith page 14).
What did they bring? First and foremost, the fullness of the Catholic Apostolic faith as hammered out at the Ecumenical Councils, albeit with some trappings which were passing out of use in Western Europe by the end of the period. These were, as we have noted, the centrality of the monastery with a monastic bishop; a different way of calculating the date of Pascha and a strange way for monks to tonsure themselves. These apart, they brought a firm faith and with it sound learning and also an artistic approach, especially to the production of the scriptures by hand, which is still breath-takingly beautiful.
We are today hearing a lot about the formation of a united Europe. The first conscious attempt to establish this could said to have taken place under the leadership of the King of the Franks, Charles the Great, or Charlemange, who was crowned by the Pope on Christmas day in the year 800. To quote Sean McMahon again:--
"Charlemange ruled most of western Europe and was so noted as a lawgiver, administrator, protector of the Church and promoter of education that his court at Aachen was the centre for an intellectual and artistic renaissance. He invited the greatest scholars of the day to take part in his work, the most notable being Alcuin, of York, and the Irishmen, Clement Scottus, Dicuil and Dungal" (ibid page 31).
It is interesting that even today there is a building called "the Scottish Church" in the centre of the Austrian city of Vienna. It was originally founded by Celtic missionaries in 1156 and dedicated to Our Lady. From it a daughter house was established in the Russian city of Kiev, but that was abandoned in 1241 due to the invasion of the Mongols.
This indicates the extent of the influence of the Celtic Christians across the length of Europe and shows how the ministry of these wandering monks, gradually, over a period of about six centuries, helped to change for the better, the religious and cultural life of Western Europe and so prepared the way for what is rashly called "the new learning" of Dante and Erasmus. And they have been blamed for opening the doors which led to the so-called Reformation five hundred years later. But that is another story.