Father Andrew Phillips wrote of France:
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Before the formation of Roman Catholicism in France in the Middle Ages, in the Year 1000 the main sites of pilgrimage in France were on the Loire, Tours and Fleury-sur-Loire, now better known as Saint Benoit-sur-Loire.
As regards Tours, in 371 it became the See of St Martin, the fourth-century Apostle of Gaul, the greatest saint of France, the untiring missionary and founder of churches. Still people wend their way to Candes-Saint-Martin, where the precise spot where the great Saint reposed is marked. When St Martin's relics were taken in November 397 from Liguge to the oldest monastery in France, St Martin's monastery (Marmoutiers) outside Tours, all the trees and flowers blossomed and the birds reappeared and began to sing. And so to this day French people call an Indian summer 'St Martin's summer'. The banks of the Loire still abound in churches, foundations of the fourth and fifth centuries. Many of these were indeed founded by St Martin himself or his disciples. Thus Tours became a great city, 'Martinopolis'.
It was here that in the fifth century the Frankish leader Clovis, conquered by his conquest and so baptised, was confirmed in his power by the Emperor Anastasius of Constantinople, and was made a Consul of the Empire. It was here that Clovis called the first General Council of the Church of Gaul, now Christian through the prayers of the remarkable St Clotilde and the bishops of Gaul. And with St Martin, Tours became the pilgrimage centre of all France. Even today over 2,000 villages in France are named after him and 4,000 churches are dedicated to him. And the surname 'Martin' has become the French equivalent of 'Smith'.
As regards Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, here still lie the relics of St Benedict, brought here from Italy at the end of the seventh century. St Benedict, inspired by St Basil the Great, is called the 'Patriarch of Western Monks', for he is the foremost father of Western monasticism. All French monasticism and much of Western Europe's, especially that of England, was once inspired from here. When his relics were returned from safekeeping in Orleans after the Viking raids, they came upstream, with neither sail nor oar, breaking their way through the ice, and the gardens and the woods flowered, thus repeating the miracle of the relics of the great St Martin. By the Year 1000, 300 monks lived here and worked for their salvation and that of those around them. This was a divine umbilical cord not only of France, but of monasteries all over Western Europe. Here in the crypt of the church, still a monastery, lie not only the relics of St Benedict, but also of another forty-three saints of God, with a relic of the True Cross and a portion of the Veil of the Virgin Mary.
A few miles away is the wonderful church of Germigny-des-Pres, dedicated in the year 806, and still standing with part of its mosaics intact. It reminds us that the whole Loire was once a river of abbeys, convents, priories, a watered street of white-walled churches, belled and roof-crossed, standing high and picturesque on the green, wooded banks over the deep blue river and its sand-banks and islands. Those churches were built in the pre-Romanesque manner, the Orthodox style of the West, celebrating Romanity. The Loire was a canal of monasteries, as Venice was never to be. And as regards the vineyards we mentioned earlier, the main cargo of its Viking-style boats was eucharistic: wheat and wine, feeding the cortège of churches along its banks. Although the boatmen themselves particularly venerated St Nicholas, the list of towns and villages along the Loire, named after the saints their churches are dedicated to is a whole litany. From source to mouth, these sainted towns on the Loire include, some of them several times over, the following saints:
St Eulalie, St Etienne, St Vincent. St Reine, St Rambert, St Just, St Cyprien, St Jodard, St Laurent, St Paul, St Priest, St Maurice, St Andre, St Aubin, St Are, St Songy, St Ouen, St Leger, St Baudiere, St Thibault, St Satur, St Agnan, St Firmin, St Brisson, St Gondon, St Pere, St Benoit, St Mesmin, St Pryve, St Ay, St Liphard, St Die, St Denis, St Pierre, St Cyr, St Genoulph, St Michel, St Patrice, St Hilaire, St Lambert, St Martin, St Clement, St Maur, St Remy, St Mathurin, St Saturnin, St Sulpice, St Gemmes, St Jean, St Offange, St Georges, St Germain, St Florent, St Gereon, St Julien, St Luce, St Sebastien, St Herblain, St Brevin.
This is a holy river indeed. It deserves once more to become the spiritual centre of France . . . .
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The Loire is not Paris, with the philosophies and theorizing of its intellectual ideologues. It is not Paris with its partisan politics and sects. It is not centralized, Frankish Paris, the seat of palace mayors with their intrigues and corruption, with its false glory treating the other provinces of France as its colonies. Paris is all form and no content, because it has no content. It is artificial, hedonistic, Frankishly aggressive, Paris cannot spiritually regenerate.
The Loire, on the other hand, is the meeting-place of a France composed of different regions and provinces, of unity in diversity, it is the unifying birthplace of the French language and French way of life. More than once in French history, it has been the place of withdrawal, the place of resistance, where wellsprings of new strength and new life have been found in order to go out and combat once again the evils of the day. The Loire has not been ruined by modern industrial and urban 'culture'. It is the place of spiritual glory, a place for spiritual regeneration, a new renaissance for the peoples of France, a place of the real unity that comes only when unity is built around a spiritual principle. Paris may still be a high place of European 'culture', but the Loire with its heritage of the saints of the First Millennium, can once again become a high place of European spirituality - but only if the Faith of the Saints of old and the will to follow them is there.
Holy Martin and Benedict and all the Saints of the Loire, pray to God for all the French lands and their peoples!
Source: http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/oefranc1.htm, accessed 6 May 2016
In France as in England and elsewhere in Western Europe, the Grace of God remains in the holy churches, shrines, relics, wells, and so on of the saints from their Orthodox past. Like hot embers lying beneath the ashes of yesterday’s fire, ready to burst into flame if they touch the right material, so is the Grace of God in them: ready to light the fire of God’s Love in the hearts of those who, drawing near with humility and repentance, trust these men and women beloved of God to help them.
While the South has no holy saints or holy places like those in Europe or in other Orthodox countries (perhaps one, in Archbishop Dimitri of Dallas, but the final word has yet to be spoken on his canonization), the Light of the True Faith, however so dimly and unrecognized, nevertheless has always shone forth in the South. Shone forth from where? From the names given to some of the towns and counties and churches and rivers and etc. in the Southern States in honor of Orthodox saints. Though given by Roman Catholics and Protestants, the names have and always will be a witness to Orthodoxy in the South. Here are just a few ensamples of the Orthodox saints honored in the South in town and county names:
St Paul in Virginia
St Florian in Alabama
Sts Gabriel, Philip, Anthony, Anna, and Sabbas in Texas
Sts George, Matthew, and Stephen in South Carolina
And now that many Orthodox churches have been built and consecrated all across the South, the bones of holy martyrs (which are always placed beneath the altar in Orthodox churches) are present to hallow our faltering land.
From all of these saints and others the South may draw life, if she is willing.
As St Justin Popovich said when writing about one of Serbia’s great saints, St Basil the Wonderworker of Ostrog (+1671):
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And Saint Basil hears their prayers. A saint is like a ray of sunshine, identical in its nature to the sun itself, which along with the countless other rays shines upon the earth. The soul of a saint, having become one with God as with a spiritual sun, illumines as part of this sun the whole universe seeing and knowing the hearts and minds of all people and hearing their needs and prayers.
O, holy father Basil, God-pleaser and Wonderworker of Ostrog, you who even during your earthly life took care of your spiritual flock and interceded for them before the Throne of the Most High! Look also upon us living in strange lands, far away from the land of our fathers, pray for us and guide us that we may never stray from the path of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, wherever we may be. Entreat Him to grant us forgiveness of our many sins and transgressions, to straighten our steps and to endow us with the gift of faith, hope and love, that we may one day find Life Eternal, along with the choirs of our holy forefathers of Heavenly Serbia. Holy hierarch Basil, Wonderworker of Ostrog, pray to God for us!
Source: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/93283.htm, Ana Smilnaic, trans., accessed 13 May 2016
Christianity, the journey of salvation, is not something we are to attempt alone. We need one another in the Church, both those who are living and those who have forthfared (departed). If the South would truly be a Christian land, we must honor the saints of our Orthodox forefathers from the Irish and British Islands, Africa, and the other countries that have given birth to the South (and those of any other lands who present themselves to us in a special way for veneration, like, perhaps, St Lazar and the Holy Martyrs of Kosovo, to whom Stonewall Jackson and all the fallen Confederates may be likened): first and foremost St Ælfred the Great, sitting forever as a king over the England of Heaven, the South’s wonderful patron saint, from whose kingdom of Wessex much of Southern culture received its form; together with Sts Audrey, Hilda, Cuthbert, Patrick, Ninian, Moses, Anthony the Great, Gildas the Wise, Columba, Martin, Genevieve, and all that bright host (together with those spoken of above who were dear to our kinsmen). Then, through their prayers, the lovingkindness of God, and our own acts of repentance and love, we may be able to see at times, however fleetingly, the precious sight of the Heavenly South here on the earth.
. . . Heavenly Serbia, an expression which is commonly misused and misunderstood today, is a phrase coined by another great son of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the holy bishop Nikolai of Zicha and Ochrid. There is a poem written by our beloved Vladika Nikolai, which clearly illustrates the deeper meaning of the expression. Heavenly Serbia is not a physical place. Its existence is real, but only in Christ and through Christ. It exists in the blood of our martyrs, in the sacrifice of our fathers and brothers, in the love of our mothers and sisters, in the unwavering faith of our people, in the prayers and ascetic struggles of our monks and nuns, in the patient long-suffering of our people and in the Cross they bear, in our repentance. Heavenly Serbia exists, but it is not in this world and not of this world. One may catch a glimpse of it if one looks deep into the inner chambers of one’s heart, a thing which is possible only through prayer and repentance. Our holy father Basil, as one who has even during his lifetime achieved holiness and boldness before God, is one of the beacons of Heavenly Serbia which lights up the way for the faithful wherever they may be.
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O Holy Saints of the South, pray for us sinners at the South!