St Fillan and the Repentant Wolf

If you have not heard of St Fillan, please search his life and read it. There is nothing shameful in not knowing anything, in not having even heard of him or any of these wonderful Saints. We see today the effects of centuries of purposeful destruction of their heritage, centuries of constant attempts to delete their memory. When you discover a Celtic Saint of which you had no previous knowledge, give thanks to God: you have unearthed an amazing treasure. Begin from there and see where Christ leads you – there is no accident, no coincidence in the eyes of God.

St Fillan is such a treasure. I have not been able to find any previous icon of him – if you know of any, please send it to me. This icon focuses on one particular event in the Saint’s life, but tries to make something else visible. Once, a wolf killed the ox which St Fillan used to work the fields, so the wolf had to replace the dead ox and plough the fields with the saint. On the surface, this is what the icon shows.

Pray for a little while and the icon suddenly becomes the image of a confessor’s gentleness, or that of a parent’s struggle to both love and educate. This is the icon of the struggle any loving heart goes through when faced with the need to direct or to punish. Love punishes in a manner that edifies – not crushes; love corrects in a way that allows one to grow into one’s true identity (God has created the wolf to serve man, and in this obedience it finds its true meaning) – not deform one’s identity by imposing the parent’s identity on him.

When love educates, there is no battle of wills involved. In fact, there is no human will here – the only will present is that of God. Looking at their faces, it is obvious that to punish goes against the Saint’s love, while to obey goes against the wolf’s fallen nature. And yet both of them bow down to one another (see their posture) and together, they both bow to God’s will.

The hands that impose obedience look more like hands that caress, hands that bless. The one in authority has the posture of the one under obedience. When you look at their posture, one cannot distinguish who is the one in authority, who obeys to whom, for they both obey to God, and they bow down to one other.

Humanity is called to use the created world in love, not to abuse it with indifference. Humanity is called to help rekindle the true identity of the created world, not to destroy it. For after all – and this is something we should never allow ourselves to forget – our own fall, the fall of Man has dragged the world into its current fallen state.

The expression on St Fillan’s face reflects this very awareness: this animal has killed, this animal has fallen because of our fallen nature, and ultimately, because of my own sinfulness.

Source: Mull Monastery — Fr. Seraphim Aldea

*St Fillan — 9 Jan — is the patron Saint of the mentally ill

* “When you discover a Celtic Saint of which you had no previous knowledge, give thanks to God: you have unearthed an amazing treasure. Begin from there and see where Christ leads you – there is no accident, no coincidence in the eyes of God.” Indeed! But more about the Celtic Saints who have come to me in my recent pilgrimages in the blog posts to follow …

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Suzana Monastery Retreat I

 

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Part A: How the little city hermit became a bird, a fountain, a tree and a pearl!

 

Deep peace of Christ, silence, hesychia, these are the words that come to my mind when I remember Suzana monastery and my three-day retreat there this summer. Also, self-emptying, kenosis. But above all, silence!

 

Only through poetry can such silence be conveyed, so I will paraphrase a favourite poet of mine, Rumi, to convey to you what I experienced here.

 

I had begged the Wise One to tell me
 the secret of my existence, my calling in this world.
 Gently, gently, He whispered at Suzana monastery “Be quiet,
the secret cannot be spoken,
 It is wrapped in silence.”

 

I ground myself, strip myself down, to this overpowering Silence. I feel spiraling into a void of silence where a hundred voices thundered messages I longed to hear.

 

At its unfathomable bottom I encounter a vast fullness, the Spark of LIFE and LOVE, a secret passage to the WAY which wandering talk blocks, a dimension where HE was waiting for me, for my soul to shake.

 

I was carrying so much baggage while seeking the signs of the Way.

 

But at Suzana* monastery, I am ‘forced’ to stop, open up, surrender to this thundering silence, be invaded by ‘It’, and 
stay there until I Saw, until I looked at this blinding Light 
with infinite eyes.

 

This overpowering Silence kidnaps me to the core of Life. There is a sacredness in it. Silence is indeed the language of God, and all else is poor translation.

 

This is exactly what I experience when I am trying to write a poem, how I feel especially when I finish a poem. A great silence overcomes me and I wonder why I ever thought to use language.

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Silence is indeed the sea, and speech is like the river. The sea is seeking you: don’t seek or walk into the river. Don’t turn your head away from the signs offered by the sea. Listen to the ocean.

 

The sound of Waters and the sound of Silence is a motif in Suzana monastery. At least for me. Everywhere the sound of waters reaches you, so overwhelmingly that I often feel the need to stay in my ‘cell’ and not even venture out.

 

Just listening to that sound was so overwhelming! The very moment I set my foot on this monastery, the sound of Living waters immobilized me, an ocean wave, a mighty river in flood, a cascading waterfall, a fountain of benediction, a Life- Giving spring, welling up to Eternity.

 

Isaiah 43:19

19 Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.

 

John 7:38

38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

 

 

 

Kenosis is also another state I suffered there:

“And they shall build the old wastes,

they shall raise up the former desolations,

and they shall repair the waste cities,

the desolations of many generations.” (Isaiah 61:4)

 

I needed so desperately such ‘Decluttering’ in my life, a Relentless Focus, a Subtraction, Becoming ‘poor’, an Unburdening, a Curtail, a Reduction and Emptying, Until my rebellious bones sore.

 

 

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This silence, this moment, every moment, this silence brought all what I needed. I sat quietly, and listened for a voice which told me ‘Be more silent.’ ‘Die’ and be quiet. Maybe quietness is the surest sign that you’ve ‘died’. My old life was such a frantic running from silence. Suzana monastery moved me, even for a little, outside the tangle of fear-thinking.

 

In the end, I became a pearl!

 

“And since I have wandered in thee, pearl,

I will gather up my mind

And by having contemplated thee,

Would become like thee,

In that thou art all gathered up into thyself;

And as thou in all times art one,

One let me become by thee!” (St Ephraim, The Pearl)

 

This very old, poor, secluded, fairy-tale monastery, surrounded by forests, mountains and springs, and steeped in holiness, is most certainly God’s special Providence for my tired, exhausted self.

 

I feels like coiling in a virginal womb, unwinding time, beholding

 

“The memory of the glory that I had when I was entirely with You and entirely in You, before time and temporal illusions.

 

When I, too, was a harmonious trinity in holy unity, just as You are from eternity to eternity.

 

When the soul within me was also in friendship with consciousness and life.

 

When my soul also was a virginal womb, and my consciousness was wisdom in virginity, and my life was spiritual power and holiness.

 

 

When I, too, was all light, and when there was no darkness within me.

 

When I, too, was bliss and peace, and when there were no torments of imbalance within me.

 

When I also knew You, even as You know me, and when I was not mingled with darkness.

 

When I, too, had no boundaries, no neighbors, no partitions between “me” and “you.” (St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Memories – Prayers By the Lake XXX)

 

Even the very fact that I cannot not speak Romanian, just barely understand it, is an added blessing, an extra ‘precaution’, a ‘just in case’ … Speaking all too often impoverishes, drenches us. As St. Seraphim of Sarov wisely urges us, “Keep away from the spilling of speech”.

 

Hesychia, Deep peace of Christ wrapped me in green leaves like a tree;

I breathed like a tree in the quiet light!

 

* Suzana Monastery is a Romanian monastery about 5.5 to 6 hours away from Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia, where Fr. Seraphim Aldea was tonsured as a monk in 2005. After my retreat here I have a slightly better, more ‘intimate’ understanding of ‘Romanian’ Orthodoxy and Fr. Seraphim’s calling to found the first Orthodox monastery, Mull monastery, in the Hebrides in over a millennium. In a sense only a Romanian hieromonk would be really equipped, spiritually, emotionally, as well as intellectually, to undertake such a huge task! Glory to God for everything!

 

 

 

 

 

Continue to Part II

Pebbles and Pilgrimages

 

I’ve been travelling for the last two weeks. It was simply wonderful, but I’m waiting for a few free hours to put together a post about all this, my moving to the UK, the Archdiocesan Conference with our Father and Metropolitan His Eminence Silouan which I attended, and all the new friends I made and the living signposts (newly baptised ‘converts’ with amazing stories to share, clairvoyant priests who would read your thoughts across the room! …) I met in just two weeks!

 

Meanwhile …

 

While unpacking here, I discovered a small box with 4 pebbles and put it in my icon corner (under construction …)

IMG_3033Orthodox Christian Celtic Pilgrimage

It all started with 3 pebbles I was given by my spiritual father back in 2015. (All but the pebble in the middle above) They were from St Patrick’s ChapelSt Herbert’s Island (Celtic Pilgrimages) and Sambata de Sus (Romania).

Heysham — St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham, Lancashire, UK

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St Herbert’s Island

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Sambata de Sus

arsenie boca1For Fr. Arsenie Boca – the blessed Romanian elder and prophet, who “made Christ transparent to us”, watch the documentary The Man of God.

Little did I know then how those tiny pebbles would affect my life! They were not just a memento of my visit to the UK, but “relics” blessed with extraordinary Grace of most mighty Saints who were to turn my life upside down.

Back in Greece, these 3 pebbles started to exert a magnetic “attraction” in my icon corner and soon “assembled” there dozens of Saints’ relics from all over the world!

This Easter I was offered by my spiritual father yet one more …

 

This pebble was picked by him when he was 10 (!) from Iona Island, another major Celtic pilgrimage.

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I now know better …

Columba Sails East

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You say you are Orthodox? And what did you say your baptismal name was? I am a Northern Irish convert to Orthodoxy who regularly finds himself working and going to church in places which are much closer to the traditional heartland of eastern Christianity. So I am often asked, by gingerly Greeks or sceptical Serbs, about my path to Orthodoxy and in particular my patronal saint. When I give the answer, the scepticism sometimes deepens. And so – if the conversation is worth pursuing at all – I find myself attempting to explain the Christian heritage of the place where I grew up, and my own relationship to that place. Sometimes people are interested; sometimes I can watch their eyes glaze over. But since my story is the story of many western Orthodox Christians, I shall try telling it in print.

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St Columba’s Bay, Iona

When I had the joy of being received into the Orthodox Church just over seven years ago, I took the name of Columba, the saint of Ireland andenlightener of Scotland. The process whereby priest and catechumen settle on a name is always a mysterious one; but in my case the decision to accept the name and seek the protecting guidance of Columba seemed to accord well with my own cultural origins; and also with the calling I had felt, however dimly, to another Kingdom, in which all national and cultural differences are set aside.  …

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Columba and the other great saints of the early Christian West are part of the common heritage of the undivided Church, and so they have a well-deserved place among the treasures of Orthodoxy. But for good reason, people from the old Orthodox world are reluctant to be taught new tricks by upstart converts from strange countries; so more than once I found myself put down rather sharply. The other difficulty I encountered was with western Christians: “We know the Roman Catholics have an interest in the early Celtic Church,” they would say, “and so do the Scottish Presbyterians and the Anglicans – but what possible connection can there be between Gaelic saints like Columba and the eastern Orthodox?”

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… But is Orthodoxy simply one among many competitors for a slice of the Columba heritage? Reading the ecclesiastical history of the British Isles in the 19th century, you can trace the almost comical way in which one Christian denomination after another tried to lay claim to the saintly enlightener of Scotland. Roman Catholics tried to proclaim Columba as a loyal servant of the Pope, while the non-conformists stressed the differences of practice between Rome and the early Celtic Church, making the saint into an early anti-Papist hero. In the 20th century, a charismatic Presbyterian churchman, George McLeod, founded a community on Columba’s island which modelled itself on the saint’s gritty practicality: it was supposed to combine religious practice with engagement with the problems of the world at its most sordid and grimy.

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 Since then, the Iona community has become inter denominational and, from an Orthodox perspective, far more political than spiritual. There is also an Anglican retreat house on the island and as of quite recently, a Roman Catholic one. So are the Orthodox, who have been organizing pilgrimages to Iona since 1997, simply johnniescome-lately who want to plant their own flag on Columba’s Iona, along with all the others? And where do the Orthodox stand in the contest between many different constituencies (by no means all religious) to claim a piece of Columba’s heritage? Ecologists call him an early green, Scottish nationalists call him a proto-patriot, feminists see him and the Celtic Church as pioneers of gender equality. So does it make sense, then, for an Orthodox Christian to ask: which is “our bit” of Saint Columba?

In the end, it is only the saint himself who can answer that question. …
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For the whole article  by Columba Bruce Clark, secretary of the Friends of Orthodoxy on Iona, and a senior journalist for The Economist, go to http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_17/Columba_Sails_East.pdf

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For Celtic Orthodoxy the real ‘authority’ is Father Seraphim and his monastery blog at http://www.mullmonastery.com/page/1/?s=St+Columba  Follow his struggles to found Mull Monastery, the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium.