Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Barren South

All across the Irish and British Isles, to look at only one of the South’s main bloodlines, there are dozens and dozens of holy places:  shrines containing the relics of saints, healing wells, hermits’ caves, monastic islands, and such like.  St Fillan of Strathfillan (in Scotland) provides a good ensample of this:

 . . .

St. Fillan (Foelan) lived in the eighth century. He was born in Ireland; his mother was St. Kentigerna and his uncle was St. Comgan. From time immemorial he has been much venerated in both Ireland and Scotland. He may have been educated at Taghmon Monastery in Wexford (Ireland) under St. Fintan Munnu. Later, probably in about 717, he moved together with his mother and other relatives to Scotland. There he became a monk and lived the monastic life until the end of his life. It is known that for some time Fillan preached the Good News together with Sts. Kentigerna and Comgan and then retired to live as a hermit in a cave on the site of the present-day village Pittenweem (“the cave’s place”) in the county of Fife. This village was to become one of the most important places for his veneration. With time Fillan was appointed abbot of a monastery in Fife but after several years he gave up his abbacy and retreated to Glendochart (in Perthshire) where he lived alone in prayer and contemplation and finally built a church. Today a number of places and churches in the vicinity of Glendochart bear the name of the saint.

During his life Fillan by his prayer healed from many diseases the sick who flocked to him. The hermit worked miracles. Once, when he was abbot, a wolf ate one of his oxen while the saint was working in the field. The abbot commanded the wolf as a penance to plough up that part of the field instead of the ox that it had eaten. The wild wolf obeyed the saint and immediately fulfilled the task. The veneration of St. Fillan in Scotland was so strong that in 1314 the Scottish king Robert Bruce took the reliquary with the saint’s arm with him to the Battle of Bannockburn and attributed his victory over the English to the saint's intercession.

Fillan reposed and was buried in Strathfillan, the centre of his veneration. He probably built a church or a monastery on this site and preached to the local Pictish population. The cave of St. Fillan in Pittenweem survives to this day. After his death the cave became a destination for many pilgrims, and a holy well with healing power existed near it for many years. In late medieval times a small Augustinian priory, associated with the monastery on the Isle of May (in the outer Firth of Forth), was founded in Pittenweem and named after St. Fillan. Several centuries ago Fillan’s cave was left derelict and forgotten for a certain time. In about 1900, a horse that pastured in a local priory garden suddenly fell into an overgrown hole. When the hole was cleared it turned out that it was the saint’s cell, abandoned long before. Several stones which had healing properties owing to Fillan’s prayers were discovered in the cave together with the partly surviving holy well. In 2000, both the cave and the well were consecrated and opened for visitors.

St. Fillan’s cave

St. Fillan’s Priory ruins in Strathfillan

The personal bell and staff of St. Fillan survive to this day: they are kept at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. In the past this bell was usually placed above those who suffered from severe headache—and the pain abated! In Strathfillan many lunatics were miraculously healed in ancient times. D.H. Farmer and other researchers write that mentally ill people used to be dipped into the Strathfillan well and then left for one night, tied up in a corner of St. Fillan's ruined chapel. If the following morning they were found loosed from their chains, they were considered to be completely cured. This practice existed until the first half of the nineteenth century. Today Strathfillan is a picturesque strath (a Scottish word meaning a broad, often mountainous, valley) in west Perthshire with the river Fillan flowing through it.

Healing stones of St. Fillan-1

In the picturesque village of Killin, situated near Stirling, there are so-called healing stones, associated with St. Fillan, and kept at a former mill. According to tradition, due to the prayers of St. Fillan each of these stones heals a specific part of the body from various diseases.  . . .

Source:  Dmitry Lapa, ‘A Family of Saints: Sts. Kentigerna, Fillan and Comgan of Scotland’, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/76644.htm, posted 20 Jan. 2015, accessed 25 Jan. and 3 Feb. 2015

Why, then, is the South, after more than four hundreds of years, bereft of any such places?

Because doctrine really does matter.  Because the Great Schism of 1054 that tore Western Europe away from the Orthodox Church also separated the Western churches from the full experience of the grace of God.  This includes those Roman Catholic and Protestant churches of the South.

Southern Christianity, like all Western Christianity, has become distorted, a prideful, humanistic faith rather than an humble one grounded in and guided by the Most Holy Trinity:  Whether one speaks of Protestant churches, in which the individual believer’s interpretation of the Bible is the measure of all things, or of the Roman Catholic churches, in which the Pope’s definition of the faith is the measure of all things, the mind and will of man are exalted above God.

And though the words of the Bible and such other parts of the Orthodox Tradition that have survived in the Western confessions are powerful preservatives, they will not be able to overcome the wiles of our enemy the Devil.  Thus the countries of Western Europe and many places in the [u]nited States are rapidly becoming a graveyard, to use St Justin Popovich’s word. 

The kind of holiness found in St Fillan and the other saints before the Schism in the West has fled; the Christian life is now something mostly outside a man, something one approaches with the rational mind, the emotions, or the imagination, an experience with a created grace (so it is taught), but no longer the union of a man’s soul and body with the uncreated grace of God, which is to say, with God Himself (i.e., His outgoing energies by which He makes Himself known, not His unknown, inward essence). 

This is why no holy men and women have appeared in the South, why no holy places exist among us.  For the grace of God overflows from them, onto the people and things round about them.  As St John Maximovitch said,

Holiness is not simply righteousness, for which the righteous merit the enjoyment of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, but rather such a height of righteousness that men are filled with the Grace of God to such an extent, that it flows from them, upon those who associate with them. Great is their blessedness, which proceeds from personal experience of the Glory of God.  . . .

Source:  ‘The Canonization of Saints’, http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/sermons_john_maximovich.htm#_Toc100019545, accessed 3 Feb. 2015

One can therefore write, as Father Joseph Gleason has,

 . . .

There are some very special treasures on earth, which will outlive every tree, outlast every mountain, and even survive the great and mighty day of the Lord when “the elements will burn with a fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10). These treasures will exist forever. Indeed, they will be in heaven itself.

These priceless treasures are the relics of the Saints.

 . . .

The bones of Saints are considered first-class relics, and have preeminence. Second-class relics are also very special, holy, and are treasured by faithful Christians. Second-class relics include objects worn, used, or touched by the Saints. For example:

·         When the prophet Elijah was taken into heaven, his mantle was left behind. Elisha picked up this relic, and used it to perform a miracle, dividing the waters of the Jordan river so that he could walk across on dry land (2 Kings 2:9-14).

·         God commanded the Israelites to place relics inside the Ark of the Covenant, which resided in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room in the Temple. These relics included a golden jar of manna, a miraculous staff which had belonged to Aaron the high priest, and the stone tablets which Moses had brought down from Mount Sinai, bearing the Ten Commandments (Hebrews 9:3-4).

·         A sick woman was instantly healed when she touched the hem of Christ’s garment (Matthew 9:20-22).

·         St. Paul touched handkerchiefs and cloths, and those cloths were taken to the sick. When they touched these relics, “their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them” (Acts 19:11-12).

Relics point towards the Incarnation, where God takes on human flesh and sanctifies the material world. In the Incarnation, God shows His ability to use created matter in a miraculous way. And in the history of the Church, miraculous events have happened thousands of times with the bones and relics of Christian Saints. God Himself uses miracles to honor the relics of His Saints. It is an example of where heaven breaks through into our present world, renewing creation.

Indeed, holy relics provide some of our first glimpses into heaven itself. When this present world passes away and the sky is rolled up like a scroll, the bones of the Saints will remain. They will be resurrected, they will walk again, and they will be in heaven for all eternity.

Source:  ‘Sacred Relics and a Present Glimpse of Heaven’, On Behalf of All, http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/onbehalfofall/glimpse-heaven/, posted 15 Jan. 2015, accessed 3 Feb. 2015

The South has always excelled in producing gentlemen, men of high attainments to be sure, but men fitted for earthly pursuits, for ‘[military] camp and senate’ to quote Richard Weaver.  But there is a higher calling, the making of saints (quoth Father Andrew Phillips), and that is what the South, and every country, ought to try to pursue, as Dixie’s Orthodox forefathers and mothers did and as the Orthodox try to do today in Greece, Russia, Serbia, etc.

And the South may be in a better position than most non-Orthodox countries to rejoin those on the straight and narrow path of salvation, for as Dr Clark Carlton has said, one cannot become a saint unless one becomes ‘a normally functioning human being’ first,

and this latter is what the gentlemen and ladies of the South have done well in approaching. 

May God bring to full fruition the good work of salvation He has begun in the South, that the shame of our barrenness, like that of St Hannah and Sts Joachim and Anna, may be taken away forever in her giving birth to many saints.

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