The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustynnik — 19


Christ is Risen!

 I have in my collection a rare stone- it is from the Island of Iona. It is not precious in terms of monetary value but extremely precious in terms of faith. It comes from the Island where St Columba had his monastery and from where he launched his missionary journeys to Britain in the 6th.century. At the age of eight years of age, I visited the Island and the Monastery with my parents and collected a few of the distinctively green and white mottled pebbles from the beach (which you are not allowed to pick today.) It is rather beautiful how the roaring of the waves and tumbling of the rocks has smoothed the rough edges of the pebbles. Perhaps likewise we too will have our sharp edges smoothed by the storms and tides that beset us in these days.

Nettle soup ( part 1)

There is a story that on one occasion the saint (Columba) was going to the island cemetery to pray over the graves, when he saw an old woman cutting nettles. On enquiring why she was doing this, the old woman informed him that she was waiting for her cow to come into calf so that she could have milk; so until then she was living on nettle soup. St Columba thought that if the woman could have only nettle soup in expectation of a calf, he could have nettle soup in expectation of the Kingdom of Heaven.


The Mathematical Bridge*

“The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone.”

Psalm 118:22




Unhewn, estranged, indifferent,

Inactive, confused and alone;

The fire of the Spirit breathes movement

Forms shape into coarse living stone.


We will make a bridge together

We will cross the wat’ry divide,

Following Christ the God-man

Mystically at His side.


Beholding Mount Zion’s Vision,

Viewed from a Silver street,

Paved in ruby, topaz and beryl,

There, would-be disciples meet.


Turquoise, emerald, jacinth

Agate and amethyst glow

Chrysolite, onyx and jasper

Reflect on the pavement below.


Hope adds to the seeker’s salvation

Faith multiplies joy in the heart.

Love’s dividend shares the sorrow

Subtracts the self-seeking part.


We will break down walls of division

We will tread where saints have trod;

In fellowship as pilgrims

To build the City of God.


Holy Triangulation-Cross examination

Points to the One unknown.

The stone which the builders rejected

Has become the chief cornerstone.


Circled by thousands of angels

Assembled around and above;

Living Stones brought together

As beautiful bridges of love! 


Such is friendship, that through it we love places and seasons; for as bright bodies emit rays to a distance, and flowers drop their sweet leaves on the ground around them, so friends impart favour even to the places where they dwell. With friends even poverty is pleasant. Words cannot express the joy which a friend imparts; they only can know who have experienced. A friend is dearer than the light of Heaven, for it would be better for us that the sun were exhausted than that we should be without friends.  St John Chrysostom


*The so-called Bridge crosses the River Cam in Cambridge, England.


Eν Χριστώ


Columba Sails East


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.




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.  …

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.


 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. …
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


For Celtic Orthodoxy the real ‘authority’ is Father Seraphim and his monastery blog at  Follow his struggles to found Mull Monastery, the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium.