St. Cuthbert’s Eccentic Heir

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The simple grave of Maitland Moir, Dean Cemetery

Last weekend (Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd January 2017) I was invited to a Study Weekend: Holiness in the Bible, at the  Orthodox Community of St Andrew the Apostle, Edinburgh, by the Orthodox Fellowship of St John the Baptist.

Highlights from this event will follow in the coming blog entries, however, the starting point has to be the late Renown Scottish Orthodox Priest, Fr. John Maitland Moir, whose legacy and spirit is so alive in this Orthodox Community. In the words of parishioners I met there, he now continues to live in their hearts. In his words:”I love you but God loves you more.”I had the rare blessing to meet this priest a number of times back in Greece, in my hometown Thessaloniki, on his way to Mount Athos. The last time we met, shortly before he reposed, his face was so radiant, transparent and otherwordly, words cannot describe.

The Life of Fr. John Maitland Moir

Below is his official obituary. Our prayers go to all who knew and loved him, and for the repose of his holy soul.

Fr John Maitland Moir 4Archimandrite John Maitland Moir (1924 – 2013)

Father John Maitland Moir, Priest of the Orthodox Church of St Andrew in Edinburgh, founder of many smaller Orthodox communities throughout Scotland and Orthodox Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh, died peacefully in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on the 17th April 2013.

Fr John Maitland Moir 1A man of profound holiness and bedazzling eccentricity, of boundless compassion and canny wisdom, utterly selfless and stubbornly self-willed, serenely prayerful and fiercely self-disciplined, Father John will surely earn a place as a unique and outstanding figure in the ecclesiastical annals of Scotland. He was born in 1924 in the village of Currie where his father was the local doctor; his fondness for his mother was always mingled with quiet pride in the fact that she was a member of the lesser aristocracy. The privileged but somewhat severe upbringing of an only child in this household together with a chronic weakness in his knees kept him apart from the hurly-burly of boyhood and directed him from an early age to more spiritual and intellectual pursuits. After his schooling at Edinburgh Academy, he went on to study Classics at Edinburgh University during the war years, his never robust health precluding any active military service. After the war, and a short spell as Classics Master at Cargilfield School in Perthshire, he moved to Oxford to continue classical studies at Christ Church and theological studies at Cuddesdon Theological College.

His interest in Eastern Christendom was awakened in Oxford and he eagerly seized the opportunity to study at the famous Halki Theological Academy in Istanbul in 1950-51. During this year he also travelled in the Holy Land and Middle East and forged friendships in the Eastern Churches which he maintained throughout his life. On his return to Scotland he was ordained in the Scottish Episcopalian Church, which he was to serve faithfully for the next thirty years. His first charge was as Curate at St Mary’s in Broughty Ferry, then for a period of six years he taught at St Chad’s College, Durham. He returned to Scotland in 1962 as Curate in Charge of the Edinburgh Parish of St Barnabas and as Honorary Chaplain at St Mary’s Cathedral, then in 1967 he moved north to the Diocese of Moray where he served as Chaplain to the Bishop of Moray and latterly as Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Inverness. His devotion to his pastoral and liturgical duties as well as his personal holiness and prayerfulness inspired a sense of awe in his loyal parishoners. Only his habit of wearing the kilt beneath his cassock provoked a reprimand from his Bishop, who was more than somewhat bewildered by Father John’s fervent and unbending Scottish patriotism. The Scottish Episcopalian Church which Father John loved and served was, he believed, a Church with special affinities with the Eastern Churches: his eyes would light up when explaining how the Liturgy of Scottish Episcopalian Church, like those of the East, contained an epiclesis. With the passing of the years, however, he became convinced that the Scottish Episcopalian Church was moving ever further away in faith and in practice from that common ground with the Orthodox Church which he had also come to know and love and whose prayer he had made his own.

Fr John Maitland Moir 3In 1981, he resigned from his position in the Diocese of Moray and travelled to Mount Athos where he was received into the Orthodox Church at the Monastery of Simonopetra. He returned to Britain to serve now as an Orthodox Priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain with utter devotion for a further full thirty years.

After three years in Coventry, Father John returned to Scotland where he united the two small Orthodox communities in Edinburgh, one Slavonic and one Greek, into the single Orthodox Community of St Andrew. At the same time, he travelled tirelessly around the country by bus serving often tiny groups of Orthodox Christians in Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth, Dundee, St Andrews, Stirling and elsewhere. For Father John, the Orthodox Church was what his beloved C.S. Lewis would call ‘Mere Christianity’, transcending the bounds of nationality and language and embracing all who seek to live a Christian life – the scandal of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. It also embraced for him the most precious elements in the Christian history of Scotland, especially that vision of Christianity expressed in figures such as St Columba and St Cuthbert. An ascetic by nature, his interest was in a practical Christianity nourished by prayer and tradition, rather than in the aesthetic refinements and intellectual gymnastics that attract many Westerners to the Orthodox Church. Not without opposition from members of his flock, Father John introduced English as the common language of worship and succeeded in creating a truly international community reflecting the many nationalities of the Orthodox students studying at the Scottish Universities and of the Orthodox families living and working in Scotland. As the Orthodox Church in Scotland grew in numbers through migration from traditionally Orthodox countries, so did the proportion of Scottish members who found themselves at home in the Community.

His role as Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh was one he took very seriously. The Chapel of St Andrew, set up at first in his house in George Square and then transferred to the former Buccleuch Parish School by the Meadows, lay at the heart of the University complex; the daily services held there with unfailing regularity and its ever open door provided and continues to provide a firm point of reference for countless students. The Chapel of St Andrew, however, was also the base for his work at the other Edinburgh Universities and throughout Scotland – work now being continued with equal zeal and selflessness by two gifted Priests, Fr Avraamy and Fr Raphael.

Fr John Maitland MoreFather John subjected himself to an almost unbelievably austere ascetic regime of fasting and prayer, while at the same making himself available to everyone who sought his assistance, spiritual or material, at all times of day and night. His care for the down-and-out in Edinburgh provoked admiration and no little concern in many parishioners who would come to the Church, which was also his home, only to find him calmly serving coffee with aristocratic gentility to a bevy of homeless alcoholics or to find a tramp asleep on his sofa. He was tireless in his efforts to help the victims of torture and persecuted Christians throughout the world. Few days would pass without him writing a letter of support for someone in prison or in mortal danger. He had inherited a comfortable fortune, he died penniless, having dispersed all his worldly assets to the deserving and undeserving in equal measure.

His habits of life would have marked him as a caricature of Scottish parsimony had they not been joined to an extraordinary generosity of spirit. All his voluminous correspondence was meticulously hand-written on scraps of recycled paper and dispatched by second-class mail in reused envelopes, whether he was writing to Dukes and Prelates or to the indigent and distressed. For many years, he was a familiar sight on the streets of Edinburgh as he passed by on his vintage electric bicycle, his black cassock and long white beard furling in the wind.

As his physical strength ebbed away, he was comforted by the love and care of those who looked to him as their spiritual father and by the ministrations and devotion of his fellow clergy. He was also tended by the medical expertise of the Greek doctors of the Community towards whom he never ceased to express his gratitude.

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The last year of his remarkable life was perhaps the most remarkable of all. Completely bed-ridden, nearly blind and almost totally deaf, he devoted himself even more fully to prayer, especially to prayer for the continued unity, harmony, well-being and advancement of the Orthodox Communities in Scotland. On the day he died, an anonymous benefactor finally sealed the purchase of the former Buccleuch Parish Church for the Orthodox Community of St Andrew in Edinburgh thus securing a material basis for the realization of the spiritual vision that had inspired Fr John throughout his life.

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St. Andrew’s Church has acquired this property and is planning to move here in the future.

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Orthodox Easter St Andrews Church Edinburgh 2013; Father John’s seat.

Read also this ex-Scottish Episcopal priest,  who even then, in the 1960s,  looked like an Orthodox priest, with a wispy beard and a Sarum cassock, and always the  fervent patriot, he once earned an episcopal reprimand for wearing a kilt  beneath his cassock, and and who “became a “weel-kent” figure riding a heavy iron bicycle around Tollcross and the Meadows. …  Although he lived a quiet life, Father John hit the national headlines in 2001 when he helped shelter an eight-year-old girl from her father.

Defying a court order that the girl should not leave the country without her father’s consent, he helped Ashley-Maria Black and her mother Valerie set up a new life in Greece.

Despite angry visits from the girl’s father Keith Black to his offices he refused to reveal the girl’s whereabouts, despite a court order, claiming Mr Black was using the girl to “harass” her mother… in “Renown Scottish Orthodox Priest Dies Just Weeks After Completing His Life’s Work” here and here

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May his Memory be Eternal! 

 

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Thin Places (III)

A Journey into Celtic Christianity

 

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Llwyngwril St Celynin

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“The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow 

when She begins to again venerate Her own Saints

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(Saint Arsenios of Paros †1877)

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Celtic Monasticism, A Model of Sanctity By Hieromonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) — Part III of IV 

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Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

St. David of Wales lived in the 6th century. He came from a monastery which had been founded by a disciple of St. John Cassian. So great is St. David that he deserves a whole lecture to himself, but today I’ll just mention him in connection with the wisdom of the Egyptian desert: he possessed the gift of tears, spoke alone with angels, subdued his flesh by plunging himself into ice cold water while reciting all of the Psalms by heart, and spent the day making prostrations and praying. “He also fed a multitude of orphans, wards, widows, needy, sick, feeble, and pilgrims.” (Edward C. Sellner, Wisdom of the Celtic Saints). The Roman Catholic scholar, Edward Sellner, adds: “ Thus he began; thus he continued; thus he ended his day. He imitated the monks of Egypt and lived a life like theirs.” (Ibid.) The same writer assures us that “because of its [the Celtic Church’s] love of the desert fathers and mothers, it has a great affinity with the spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox [today].”

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Tomb of Venerable Bede, Durham Cathedral

There are many other evidences of Eastern and Egyptian contact and influence, too numerous to list now. But in his interesting study, The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs, Fr. Gregory Telepneff mentions also the fascinating interlacing knots and complex designs found on the famous standing High Crosses, which show Egyptian or Coptic influence. “Celtic manuscripts show similarities to the Egyptian use of birds, eagles, lions, and calves….In the Celtic Book of Durrow, one can find not only a utilization of the colors green, yellow, and red, similar to Egyptian usage, but also ‘gems with a double cross outline against tightly knotted interlacings,’ which recall the ‘beginnings of Coptic books.’ [Henry, Irish Art]. There is at least one instance of the leather satchel of an Irish missal and the leather satchel of an Ethiopian manuscript of about the same period which “resemble each other so closely that they might be thought to have come from the same workshop’ [Warren, Liturgy].” (Telpneff)

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St. Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall

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Culturally, then, I suggest that Celtic culture was a unique

and intriguing blend of Egyptian and other Middle Eastern influences

with native or indigenous cultural elements.

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12th century Shrine of Saint Melangell

Before going further I want to say a few words about the term “spirituality.” In our time this has become a wastebasket word into which we put whatever we want the word to mean. Our English word, “spirituality”, comes from the French, and originally described someone who was clever, witty, or perhaps even mad! But our ancient Christian ancestors, whether from Russia, Europe, the Middle East, or the lands of the Celts, did not have such a concept. Certainly they did not see spiritual life as something separate from the rest of life. For them, spirituality was how they lived, how they prayed, how they worshiped God–and it was all bound up together, not separated out. Today, however, we have managed to artificially compartmentalize ourselves and our lives, making “spirituality” something that we do in addition to or separate from regular life. This has made possible a very artificial approach to the Celts.celtic42

Tomb of St. John Kemble

Thomas O”Loughlin, one of the best of our present-day writers on the subject of Celtic Christianity, make the following sage observation in his book, Journeys on the Edges:

“In the last decade interest in the attitudes and beliefs of the Christians of the Celtic lands in the first millennium has swollen from being a specialist pursuit among medievalists and historians of theology into what is virtually a popular movement. In the process more than a few books have appeared claiming to uncover the soul of this Celtic Christianity in all its beauty….[Many writers] operate by offering their own definitions of ‘Christianity’ past and present, and then setting these against their definition of ‘Celt’ or ‘Celtic’. In this way they can reach the conclusion they want.”

Typical of our modern arrogance and intellectual- spiritual poverty, we project our own feeble ideas back onto a more robust and spiritually rich time, treating the world of Celtic Christianity like a smorgasbord, where we take those things we happen to already “like,” and put them together to form our own very distorted and sometimes even perverted “version” of the Celts.

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1177: Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Christchurch, Dorset, England

An example: It is a fact that in the early Christian centuries, Ireland, Scotland and parts of Wales were never subject to Roman rule–neither the old Roman Empire nor the Church of Rome held sway over “Celts.” But some modern writers interpret this to mean that Celtic Christians, since they were “non-Roman,” were therefore anti-Roman or even anti-authority and against the idea of an organized, patriarchal Church. There is absolutely no evidence for such a conclusion, although in fact Celtic Christians did have a quite different way of organizing communities than did Christians on the continent–but this was not out of rebellion, but because their own models were from Egypt and the East, not from Europe! The simple fact is that “the Irish church had always been at the edges of Roman Christianity, [and considered to be a] a barbarian church of limited interest to the Popes.” (Paul Cavill, Anglo-Saxon Christianity: Exploring the Earliest Roots of Christian Spirituality in England) “Although the climate and situation of Britain were very different from the hot deserts of Egypt, there were principles–simplicity, prayer, fasting, spiritual warfare, wisdom, and evangelism–that were easy to translate to the communities of these isles.” (Michael Mitton, The Soul of Celtic Spirituality in the Lives of Its Saints)

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The Shrine of St. Wite

But this means that entering into the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical world of a Celtic Christian monk is difficult–not impossible, but difficult.

First we must realize that the Celts–had no concept of privacy or individuality such as we have today. Families did not live in separate rooms, but all together; no one thought about the idea of “compartmentalizing space” and only hermits and anchorites felt a calling to be alone in spiritual solitude with God, although monks had separate cells, just as monastics did in the Egyptian Thebaid.

The idea that people are separate individuals from the group was not only unheard-of, but would have been considered dangerous, even heretical. Self-absorption, “moods,” and being temperamental–all of these things would have been considered abnormal and sinful.

It wasn’t until the 13th and 14th centuries that people in the West started keeping journals or diaries, and there were no memoirs–also signs of individuality and privacy, of singling oneself out from the family, group, or community–nor were there actual real-life portraits of individuals, until the 14th century. (The art of realistic portraiture developed in response to the medieval idea of romance–for an accurate portrait was a substitute for an absent husband or wife.)

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Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

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Celtic Christian understood, just as do

Eastern Christians, that man is saved in community;

if he goes to hell, he goes alone.

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Furthermore, “‘the dominant institution of Celtic Christianity was neither the parish church nor the cathedral, but the monastery, which sometimes began as a solitary hermit’s cell and often grew to become a combination of commune, retreat house, mission station…school [and, in general] a source not just of spiritual energy but also of hospitality, learning, and cultural enlightenment.” (Ian Bradley, quoted in Mitten, Ibid.) It was only much later that people began to be gathered into separate parishes, and even later before bishops had dioceses that were based on geographical lines rather than just being the shepherd of a given tribe or group, “being bishops of a community, rather than ruling areas of land. The idea of ‘ruling a diocese’ was quite foreign to the Celtic way of thinking.” (Ibid.)

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Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

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If you think about what all of this means in terms of how we today view ourselves, the world in which we live, and the values that we have today, you can see how difficult it’s going to be for us to enter into the world of the Celts. Today we are quite obsessive about such things as privacy and individuality, of “being our own selves” and “getting in touch with the inner man” and other such self- centered nonsense. But the Celtic Christian understood, just as did and do Eastern Christians, that man is saved in community; if he goes to hell, he goes alone.

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Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire, England 

So the orientation of those Christian Celts to God and the other world was very different than the orientation of our modern world, no matter how devout or pious we may be, and this makes the distance between us and the world of Celtic monasticism far greater than just the span of the centuries. A renowned scholar, Sir Samuel Dill, writing generally about Christians in the West at this same period of time, said: “The dim religious life of the early Middle Ages is severed from the modern mind by so wide a gulf, by such a revolution of beliefs that the most cultivated sympathy can only hope to revive in faint imagination ….[for it was] a world of…fervent belief which no modern man can ever fully enter into….It is intensely interesting, even fascinating…[but] between us and the early Middle Ages there is a gulf which the most supple and agile imagination can hardly hope to pass. He who has pondered most deeply over the popular faith of that time will feel most deeply how impossible it is to pierce its secret.” (Quoted in Vita Patrum, Fr. Seraphim Rose)

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Iona Abbey, Scotland 

But is it really “impossible”? To enter their world–the world of Celtic Christianity, which is the same as Celtic monasticism–we must find a way to see things as they did–not as we do today–; to hear, taste, touch, pray, and think as they did. And this is what I mean by the word “spirituality”–a whole world-view. We must examine them in the full context of their actual world–which was a world of Faith, and not just any Faith, but the Christian Faith of Christians in both the Eastern and Western halves of Christendom in the first thousand years after Christ. Spirituality is living, dogmatic, theology. This is the only way we can begin to understand how Celtic Monasticism can be a model of sanctity for us living today, more than a millennium after their world ceased to be. Remember, I said it would be difficult to enter their world; difficult, but not impossible… When we speak of someone or something being a “model,” what do we mean? In this instance–speaking about Celtic monasticism as a “model”–we mean something that is a standard of excellence to be imitated. But here I’m not speaking of copying external things about Celtic monasteries–such as architecture, style of chant, monastic habit, etc., which are, after all cultural “accidents.” I’m speaking of something inward, of an inner state of being and awareness. It’s only in this sense that Celtic monasticism can be, for those who wish it, a “model of sanctity.”

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Iona Abbey, Scotland 

But what do I mean by “sanctity”? We must be careful not to slip into some kind of vague, New Age warm “fuzzies” which are more gnostic than Christian and have more to do with being a “nice” person than encountering the Living God in this life. By sanctity I mean what the Church herself means: holiness–which is nothing more or less than imitation of Christ in the virtues, and striving to die to oneself through humility, so as to be more and more alive to Christ, successfully cutting off one’s own will in order to have, only the will of Christ, as St. Paul says in his epistle to the Galatians (2:20): “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” So, holiness means dying to oneself and especially to one’s passions, more and more, so as draw closer and closer to the Lord God Himself, through Jesus Christ, and Him crucified and risen. In addition, Celtic Christians had the concept of “hallowing” or “hallowed”–an old fashioned term that today has survived only in the unfortunate pagan holiday called “Halloween” (from “All Hallows Eve”–which began as the vigil for the Western Feast of All Souls Day and later took on vile pagan overtones). To early British Christians, something or someone that was “hallowed” was “set apart” from others and sanctified for service to God. Thus, a priest’s ordination or a monastic’s tonsuring was his “hallowing.”

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St Moluag, Eoropaidh, Isle of Lewis 

And so, thus it was that those blessed and hallowed monastics of Celtic lands modeled forth certain principles that we can still see, study, understand, and imitate today.

The Celts were masters of Christian simplicity. Nowadays there is a movement in our culture to recover some simple basics, but the model is often that of the Quakers or the Shakers or the Amish. Perhaps that’s because those groups are easier and more attractive to imitate; I don’t know. For the Celts, however, simplicity wasn’t so much a question of externals–like furniture, architecture, and so forth. It was something internal, and it was founded upon the Lord’s Prayer–in particular the phrase, “Thy will be done”, as we find in the later commentaries of the Venerable Bede of Jarrow and Alcuin of the court of Charlemagne. This was crucial to living a simple Christian life: “Thy will be done” meant God’s will, not our own–placing absolute trust in the Providence of God for everything–one’s health, one’s finances, the size of one’s family or the size of a monastic community–everything. It meant dying to oneself, not having opinions and not judging others. This was where simplicity began, and from there it easily expressed itself in outward forms, such as not owning five tunics when just two or even one would be sufficient.

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St Moluag, Eoropaidh, Isle of Lewis

Simplicity did not necessarily mean “plainness,” as we’ll see shortly when we look at the intricate sacred art of the High Crosses. Celtic Christians were not “Plain People,” like Quakers or the Amish. But they were “Simple People,” in that they were single-minded and intensely focused on the other world and the journey through this life to God.

B5A2FH Inchcolm Island and Abbey Firth of Forth, Scotland

Inchcolm Island and Abbey Firth of Forth, Scotland

In common with all Christians at that time, the Celts had no concept of “private prayer” in the sense of spontaneously thinking of words or phrases to say to God. This practice belongs to a much later period in Christian history, when ideas of privacy and individualism had become more important than traditional ways of seeking God through prayer. This didn’t mean that a Celtic Christian didn’t pray outside the divine services, but for them, prayer was primarily liturgical, and this meant the Psalms. Most monks and nuns memorized the complete Psalter. Occasionally a particularly gifted monk would compose a prayer, such as the one I read by St. Columban at the beginning of this lecture. But in moments of need one remembered verses and phrases from the Psalms – such as “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me,” from Psalm 120, and “Hide not Thy face from me, O Lord, in the day of my trouble” (Psalm 10, or”In the Lord I put my trust” (Psalm 11).

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[To Be Continued …]

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Source: http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/celtic-monasticism.pdf

Also, listen to Hiermonk Ambrose (Father Alexey Young) about THE UNIQUENESS OF CELTIC MONASTICISM at http://www.asna.ca/angloceltic/

For more information on Celtic Orthodoxy, go to http://www.mullmonastery.com and follow father Seraphim’s struggles to found the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium.

For Part IV go to https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/11/01/thin-places-a-journey-into-celtic-christianity-part-iv/

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’sTrescoSt Martin’sBryherSt Agnes and 140 others.