Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Orthodox Scotland, Orthodox South

Father Geoffrey Korz wrote a remarkable essay on Scotland and Canada - remarkable in that, with only a few changes, it could have been written on the South and Scotland.  For the South shares with Canada a high number of Scottish settlers.  It will be best read in that light, as though it were addressed to us Southerners.

Here are some portions from Fr Geoffrey’s article, ‘Scotland the Brave’:

Hark when the night is falling, hear, hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling, down through the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping, now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Towering in gallant fame, Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour, land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever, Scotland the brave!
      - Traditional Folk Song

The Cross of Saint Andrew - the blue and white emblem of Scotland's patron saint - is believed to be the oldest continuously used flag in the world. Simple in its design, it has withstood centuries of political and religious turmoil, and remained the standard for Christian Scots, as well as those who have forgotten the reason their banner bears the Cross. (For the record, Saint Andrew was martyred on an X-shaped cross). Like the people for whom it flies, Saint Andrew's Cross has proven its resilience and strength.

The endurance of Saint Andrew's Cross is seen in the presence it still has in Scotland's largest emigree nation - Canada. In a country whose first Prime Minister was a MacDonald, whose first woman Prime Minister was a Campbell, and which boasted no fewer than nine Prime Ministers of Scottish ancestry (only five Prime Ministers were French), it is not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Scotland still has at least a pint or two of its own running through the bloodstream of Canadian culture. Official ceremonies, academic awards, university names and traditions, along with the pipers who lead their processions - all these have been inherited from the practices of the Celts of Scotland, through their Canadian children.

The Cross of Saint Andrew can be found on five Canadian provincial flags, either within the Union Jack, or in the mirrored image of the flag of Canada's New Scotland, Nova Scotia. Yet those who trace their roots from that chilly isle to this great land do not often read back far enough to discover the essence of Scotland's Celtic roots, roots that reflected the faith of Saint Andrew for nearly one thousand years in a Celtic Church that was vibrant, independent, and fully Orthodox.

For those who entertain new-agey illusions about the Celtic Church, there is bad news: Celtic Christian worship was in most ways very similar to the life of Orthodox parishes today. What is very clear, Celtic Christians had far less in common with the free-wheeling nature worship one might find in certain Protestant or Roman Catholic circles than it did with the spiritual life of Greek monasteries in Byzantium. This shouldn't surprise us: the Greeks and the Celts had the same faith and liturgical life, while the Christian Celts and the modern western confessions, distorted by the Great Schism and the Protestant Reformation, do not.

In his classic book, Liturgy and Ritual of the Celtic Church, F.E. Warren thoroughly outlines this common spiritual inheritance. Concrete examples are numerous. Celtic Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, the universal observance of the Church in the first millennium. They rejected the claims to universal authority that Popes of Rome often claimed over Church decisions in custom, belief, and practice, and resisted innovative changes to early Church practices, including the Church calendar. The Celts observed a highly ascetical life, strongly shaped by the widespread presence of monasteries, where monks and non-monastics alike would say the services of the Hours on a daily basis.

[Fr Geoffrey goes on to list more of these liturgical similarities, which the reader may find in the original essay (address given below). -- W.G.]

It should not surprise us to find these similarities, since in comparing the Celtic Church to the Church in Byzantium, or to Orthodox Christianity today, we are in fact comparing the Church to itself. The Orthodox Christianity of the Apostles, of the Ecumenical Councils, of the Byzantines, the Slavs, the Arabs, and the Celts - it is one faith, not many. The Celtic Church was astonishingly similar to Orthodox life today - because it was Orthodox.

The inheritance of Saint Andrew, whose proud banner waves in front of many a Presbyterian church in Canada, is not to be found inside these churches. Nor is the bold heart of the Celtic Christians of Scotland to be found at Burns dinners or chip shops or the Lodge of the Scottish Rite. The banner of the Celts is an Orthodox Christian one; it always has been. And it is a banner that flies proudly in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, who still await the rediscovery of their own Orthodox Celtic roots, which cannot be found in the western confessions. These confessions of the last thousand years would have been virtually unrecognizable to the Celts of a millennium ago - the same Celtic Christians who would feel right at home in any Orthodox church in North America today.

Canada's first Scottish leader, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, lies buried in the cemetery of a parish church in Kingston, Ontario, the same building that is home to the Orthodox Community of Saint Gregory of Nyssa. Perhaps it is in such a representation that we can rediscover the heritage of the founders of our own nation, its own enduring and brave Orthodox roots, put down in Celtic lands by the same Orthodox monastic saints who once made pilgrimage across the ocean to our own land. For it is only these roots that will keep Saint Andrew's banner long and gloriously waving - not just in our hearts, but in our lives.

Background note: The St. Andrew's cross is a distinctive shape because the Apostle Andrew, who would later become the patron saint of Scotland, asked that he not be crucified on a cross of the same shape as that on which Jesus Christ was executed. (See the Great Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church, November 30th)

The legend of the birth of the Scottish flag takes place circa AD 832 near Athelstaneford in East Lothian. Angus mac Fergus, King of the Picts, and Eochaidh of Dalriada faced off against the army of Athelstane, King of Northumbria, comprising Angles and Saxons. On the eve of the battle, it is said that the Scots saw the clouds in the evening sky arranged in a formation exactly like that of St. Andrew's cross. The Scots saw this as a harbinger of their victory. When they were victorious the following day, they adopted a white St. Andrew's cross on a field of azure blue as their national standard.

Source:  Orthodox Canada,, 15 August 2007, accessed 28 May 2014.  Reposted at,

(Pictures from the copy of the essay.)

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