Friday, February 16, 2018

Light Amidst the Darkness

Father Seraphim is once again scheduling pilgrimages to the holy places of the Celtic lands.  If you are interested, this site has the details:

A pilgrimage is not about escapism.  It is about an intimate encounter with the wholeness (holiness) of men and women who have been healed of every fallen, disordered passion, and bringing a small bit of their wholeness back with us into our everyday lives - something our broken world desperately needs right now.

Below are a few more thoughts on the Orthodox Celts from Fr Ambrose that may be of interest to folks living in our times of confusion, despair, uprootedness, madness, etc.:

 . . . “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) 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.)

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 [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.)

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.

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)

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."

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."

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.

 . . .

Pictures from same page as Fr Ambrose’s essay, 16 Feb. 2018


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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