SYNAXIS OF ALL SAINTS OF THE BRITISH ISLES & IRELAND
“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow
when She begins to again venerate Her own Saints“
(Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)
Celtic Monasticism, A Model of Sanctity By Hieromonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young)
A Journey into Celtic Christianity — Part I of IV
Prayer of St. Columban of Iona
Kindle in our hearts, O God, The flame of that love which never ceases,
That it may burn in us, giving light to others.
May we shine forever
in Thy holy temple,
Set on fire with Thy eternal light, Even Thy son, Jesus Christ,
Our Savior and Redeemer.
The Holy Hierarch Saint Patrick, Apostle of Ireland († 493)
[This week I went on a pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of North England. ] With the imagery of fire and light contained in this wonderful prayer I want to move immediately to a recorded incident in the life of St. Columban, a description which shows how he himself personally experienced this “light”–which of course Orthodox Christians recognize as a vision of the Uncreated Light spoken of in Scripture and in the Holy Fathers. Here is the account:
The Holy Virgin-Martyr Saint Winifred of Wales († 650)
“One winter’s night a monk named Virgnous, burning with the love of God, entered the church alone to pray. The others were asleep. He prayed fervently in a little side chamber attached to the walls of the oratory. After about an hour, the venerable Columban entered the same sacred house. Along with him, at the same time, a golden light came down from the highest heavens and filled that part of the church. Even the separate alcove, where Virgnous was attempting to hide himself as much as he could, was also filled, to his great alarm, with some of the brilliance of that heavenly light. As no one can look directly at or gaze with steady eye on the summer sun in its midday splendor, so Virgnous could not at all bear the heavenly brightness he saw because the brilliant and unspeakable radiance overpowered his sight. This brother, in fact, was so terrified by the splendor, almost as dreadful as lightning, that no strength remained in him. Finally, after a short prayer, St. Columban left the church.
The next day he sent for Virgnous, who was very much alarmed, and spoke to him these consoling words: ‘You are crying to good purpose, my child, for last night you were very pleasing in the sight of God by keeping your eyes fixed on the ground when you were overwhelmed with fear at the brightness. If you had not done that, son, the bright light would have blinded your eyes. You must never, however, disclose this great manifestation of light while I live.’”
The Holy Hierarch Saint Brannoc, Abbot of Braunton, Devonshire († 6th c.) It’s no wonder, then, that ancient writers said that, on the faces of Celtic monks who had advanced in spiritual life, there rested the glow of caeleste lumen, heavenly light.
In the life of St. Adomnan we read about the following incident:
“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 with 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 chance 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…”(Fr. Gorazd Vorpatrny, “Celts and Orthodoxy,” http://www.orthodoxireland.com/history/celtsandorthodox y/view)
The Holy Hierarch Saint Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne († 687)
In the Introduction to his translation of the Vita Patrum: The Life of the Fathers, the Righteous Fr. Seraphim of Platina wrote appreciatively about the Orthodox saints of the pre-schism West in Gaul, but of course he could have been writing about the Celtic saints of the British Isles from exactly the same period of time.
“A touchstone of true Orthodoxy,” Fr. Seraphim wrote, “is the love for Christ’s saints. From the earliest Christian centuries the Church has celebrated her saints–first the Apostles and martyrs who died for Christ, then the desert- dwellers who crucified themselves for the love of Christ, and the hierarchs and shepherds who gave their lives for the salvation of their flocks. From the beginning the Church has treasured the written Lives of these her saints and has celebrated their memory in her Divine services.
These two sources–the Lives and services–are extremely important to us today for the preservation of the authentic Orthodox tradition of faith and piety.
The false ‘enlightenment’ of our modern age is so all-pervasive that it draws many Orthodox Christians into its puffed up ‘wisdom,’ and without their even knowing it they are taken away from the true spirit of Orthodox and left only with the shell of Orthodox rites, formulas, and customs.. To have a seminary education, even to have the ‘right views’ about Orthodox history and theology–is not enough. A typical modern ‘Orthodox’ education produces, more often than not, merely Orthodox rationalists capable of debating intellectual positions with Catholic and Protestant rationalists, but lacking the true spirit and feeling of Orthodoxy. This spirit and feeling are communicated most effectively in the Lives of saints and in similar sources which speak less of the outward side of correct dogma and rite than of the essential inward side of proper Orthodox attitude, spirit, piety.”
Holy Martyr Saint Nectan, Celt Hermit, Devonshire († 6th c.)
With this principle in mind–that the lives of the saints are of critical importance if we are to understand and pass on true Orthodox Christianity to the next generation–I want to continue by defining two important terms: “Celtic” (or “Celt”) and “spirituality.”
It may come as a surprise to learn that the Celts actually never called themselves “Celts.” This word comes from the Greek Keltos, and means something like “the other” or “a stranger.” The Greeks also called these people Keltoi, which was a word the Celts did adopt because it means “the hidden ones” or the “hidden people.” In fact, the Old Irish word ceilid means “to hide or conceal.” So these people were called “Celts” by those who came into contact with them and saw them as being quite different than other tribes and peoples. And they were. In their long, pre- Christian period they were a ferocious war-loving lot who fought just for the sheer joy of fighting. “One Roman writer described Celtic men as ‘terrible from the sternness of their eyes, very quarrelsome, and of great pride and insolence’. Nor, to his dismay, did these qualities stop with the men. ‘A whole troop of foreigners [he wrote] would not be able to withstand a single one if he called to his assistance his wife, who is usually very strong.’ The Greek historian Strabo was more blunt in his assessment. ‘The whole race,’ he concluded, ‘is war mad.’” (No author given; Heroes of the Dawn: Celtic Myth)
The Venerable Hilda, Abbess of Whitby († 680)
Monasticism appeared attractive to a warrior people who were drawn to an ascetic lifestyle. … It appealed to a marginalized people who saw the monk as one who lived on the edge of things, on the very margins of life.
[To Be Continued …]
Also, listen to Hiermonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) about THE UNIQUENESS OF CELTIC MONASTICISM at http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/
To follow an alternate route at our pilgrimage to the Celtic sacred sites and pilgrim routes of England, you may go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/05/scilly-pilgrimage/ and visit Scilly –pronounced “silly”–Islands! (/ˈsɪli/; Cornish: Syllan or Enesek Syllan) (Introduction of the “c” may be to prevent references to “silly” men or saints!) Yet another look at Christian faith from a Celtic perspective. The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain, comprising 5 Major, inhabited islands,St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, Bryher, St Agnes and 140 others.