St John the Baptist

Today the Church remembers the beheading of St John the Baptist, one of the world’s quirkier saints. I love using this video to introduce him to school children.

John was a watcher and holy one who spent a lot of time alone in the desert, praying. He did not dress to impress the society he lived in. When people started to see that he had important things to say; that the he was offering a chance to be washed clean and repent, powerful people began to fear him. We often fear what is other and what makes us face the truth we don’t want to see in ourselves. Fortunately, not many of us share John’s fate.

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On this day let us pray for:

  • Esra al Ghamgam, an activist and activist for women’s rights, beheaded in public in Saudi Arabia on the morning of 20 August 2018.
  • All whose sensory needs make them seem odd to others.
  • All who speak the truth, even when it is dangerous to do so.
  • All preparing for baptism.
  • All with a longing for forgiveness.

Guest Post from Mull Monastery: St Fillan and the healing power of love.

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Our first commission of St Fillan was linked to the story of the repentant wolf that willingly bows down in obedience to the saint’s gentleness. It was a commission for which I am particularly grateful, because I had never prayed to St Fillan before having to think about the composition of that icon. Later on, while trying to find out more information about the Saint, we’ve discovered that he is a protector and healer of people suffering from mental illnesses.

There are ancient stories about a small loch next to his hermitage, the waters of which had healing powers through the saint’s prayers. People who suffered from many mental afflictions would travel to see the saint and to ask for his intercession. Once they immersed in the waters of the saint’s loch, they regained their health and spiritual strength. Some of them spent the night in the cold waters, waiting for God’s mercy to descend upon them.

Mental illness… Mental suffering… What exactly does that mean? How many of us, how many of the lovely, wonderful people I know who suffer from depression, loneliness and fear still thirst to this day for someone like St Fillan, whose love can heal them? There is something fearsome and beautiful about this Saint who made himself a vessel for the Holy Spirit, so that God’s presence in the temple of his holy body may soothe and heal the pain of his brothers.

Holiness does not come easy. We always forget that. Holiness only comes through self-denial and self-sacrifice to the point of death – be that physical death, or death by removing oneself from partaking into the world in order to open oneself to Christ. Only sacrifice bears the fruit of holiness, because only the one who has enough love as to give one’s life for the sake of one’s brother is perfect.

Saints are holy not because they are special, nor because they are loved more by God. Saints become holy because their hearts burn with love for the world – that holy fire kills them to the world, and turns them into temples of the Holy Spirit. The healing power of a Saint’s love has nothing to do with our romantic vision of holiness, and it has everything to do with their determination to self-sacrifice for the life and salvation of the world. Saints become Christ-like in their love and healing power because they become Christ-like in their willing self-sacrifice.

The whole world needs healing today. We all need someone to love us not because of who we are, but despite who we are. We need Saints like St Fillan to love us unreservedly and unconditionally – only such Christ-like love will drag us out of our profound sadness and loneliness. Through the prayers of St Fillan, may we all feel the healing power of Christ’s presence in our lives.

Ternan – Bishop of the Picts.

I will soon be rector of St Ternan’s church in Banchory. Here is the little known story of Ternan, who is venerated as the “Bishop of the Picts.”

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He was a Pict of the Mearns in Alba who was converted during St Ninian’s Pictish mission, he was educated at Candida Cassa, he was baptized in early manhood by that disciple of St Ninian whom the Roman writers confused with Palladius, whose native name is Pawl Hen or Paul the Aged. Paul was a missionary, a Briton, and worked with St Ninian. He survived into the early years of the sixth century and thus lived long enough to meet St David, but he could not see him because he was blind with old age.

Ternan  founded a banchor (place of Christian learning) where is today the town of Banchory and, indeed, there are remains of a Celtic foundation to be seen in a number of carved stones close by the old grave-yard. It was here that St Ternan is said to have taught his convert, the Pict St Erchard. The Banchory in Erchard’s time was filled with  manuscripts, and active missionary teachers, spreading the Gospel and Christian civilisation.

What was thought to be Ternan’s skull, and his copy of St Matthew’s Gospel (mentioned in the Aberdeen Martyrology) in a case richly adorned with gilt and silver, are said to have been preserved at Banchory until the 16th Century. So also was his bell called Ronecht, said by tradition to have been given to him at Rome by the pope, and to have miraculously followed him to Alba. This bell is last recorded as being transferred to the custody of Alexander Symson, vicare of Banquhoriterne in 1491. When the glebe was being excavated for the railway in 1863 an old bronze bell was found. It is not clear if this really is Ternan’s bell, but it now hangs on the front wall of Banchory Ternan East Church as a visible reminder of the debt that is owed to this early pioneer of Christianity in Scotland

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On this day lift before God:

  • All teachers, scholars and missionaries.
  • Bishops serving Christ’s church today.
  • The people of Banchory.
  • Tattooists and those who adorn their bodies with tattoos.
  • Bell makers and ringers.
  • The peoples of the once Pictish lands

 

 

Saint Meriadoc -7th June

On 7th June we remember St Meriadoc, Bishop, patron of Camborne in Cornwall. St Meriadoc (also known as Meriasek) was probably a Welshman who founded at least one church in Cornwall and several churches and monasteries in Brittany in the 4th century. He eventually became a bishop there (despite his desire to be a hermit) and his feast is celebrated in several Breton dioceses to this day.

The rare Cornish miracle play: Beunans Meriasek, tells his life story. St Meriadoc was once very rich but he gave away all his possessions – much to the consternation of his relatives – and devoted his life to prayer and caring for the sick and needy.

His bell is still in the church at Stival in Brittany. Placed on the heads of migraine sufferers or the deaf, it is said to heal them.

I came across BBC1’s video of Longfellow’s cafe. It is also doing healing work in the community, allowing teenagers with autism to be a blessing to those around them and to live dignified, purposeful lives. It seems appropriate to share that video today as a way of remembering that God is still working, saints are still serving and communities are still being made whole.

 

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On this day lift before God:

  • The peoples of Cornwall and Brittany.
  • Those who work with others, despite a preference for quiet and solitude.
  • All who suffer migraines.
  • Those who enjoy their lives as part of the deaf community and those struggling with hearing loss.
  • Longfellow’s cafe and other kingdom places, where the world is already turning and glory is shining all around!

Theodora of Alexandria – 9th April

Sister Vassa celebrates another of St Theodora’s feast days, which brings particularly rich associations. A thought-provoking story.

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On this day lift before God:

  • all who live with shame for things they have done.
  • all who live lives of repentance.
  • all who are falsely accused.
  • all who care for the children of others.
  • all who are forced to take on new identities.

 

Saint Shenoute the Archimandrite – 8th April

This is the famous portrait of Saint Shenoute of Atripe, Archimandrite of the White Monastery Confederation, which has recently been revealed.

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“Tears to him were sweet as honey, so that his eyes were deeply sunken, like holes in walls, and because of the great flow of tears continually streaming from his eyes like water, they had become very black.” There was no question about Shenoute’s extraordinary charisma and power of personality.

He is one of the early desert fathers to have considered the lives of those living outside the monastery walls. He was keenly aware of the poverty of Egyptian peasants and is remembered as the founder of Coptic  culture.

Many miracles are also credited to him. We are told that when Shenoute was once in Constantinople, he “was walking into the king’s palace when he found a grain of wheat which had been thrown away. He picked it up and put it in the pouch in his goat-skin habit until he returned to his monastery.” Back in the monastery in Atripe, when “it was a summertime there, and as the brothers were grinding grain for bread, he took the grain of wheat he had brought with him on his return from the king’s palace, and threw it under the mill-stone; and the Lord sent so great an abundance from the mill-stone that they were quite unable to gather it all up.”

On another occasion, we read of an apparition in which Saint Paul appears to Shenoute, and told him: “Because you love charity and give alms to anyone that asks you and keep all the commandments in all ways because of the love of God, behold! The Lord has sent me to you to comfort you because of what you do for the poor and the destitute.” Paul then presented Shenoute with a loaf of bread and gave it to him; and Shenoute took it and tied it in his scrip. Paul told him to put the loaf in the bread-store from which the brothers distribute the bread. When Shenoute arose from the vision, he found the loaf tied in his scrip; and he took it and secretly put the loaf in the store-room and closed the door. The blessed loaf was the reason for miraculous heaps of bread pouring forth; and “the multitudes and the brothers were supplied for six months by the abundance of bread which came forth from the door of the bread-store, and to this very day that bread-store is called ‘the Store-Room of the Blessing.”

The stick Shenoute is carrying, is a palm branch with its leaves removed. Once, when a well being dug collapsed on the labourers, Shenoute arose and took his palm branch, and went down to the well: “He reached out with his palm-branch and drove it into the wall of the well. It immediately took root and sent up palm-branches and palm-leaves, and the men who were working ate its fruit. From that day to this, the well has never moved again.”

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On this day lift before God:

  • Coptic Christians
  • All those moved  to action by the plight of the poor around them.
  • All working to feed the hungry.
  • All whose prayers take the form of tears.

 

World Downs Syndrome Day 2018

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On this day lift before God:

  • Every person gifted with an extra chromosome.
  • Every person whose life is enriched through contact with the Downs community.
  • All who work to improve the lives and opportunities of people with Downs Syndrome.
  • All who will find their lives changed by Downs Syndrome in this coming year.

St Columba – 20th March

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This reflection and icon come from  Mull Monastery.

For a few centuries during the first millennium, St Columba’s Monastery on Iona was not only the heart of the Christian Church in Scotland, but also a major centre of art and culture. Iona’s cultural influence extended far beyond the Celtic Isles through the beauty of the illuminated manuscripts written by the monks on Iona. The Book of Kells itself, one of the greatest treasures from that time which is still in existence today, was painted in St Columba’s Monastery.

The Saint himself copied texts and created many manuscripts throughout his entire life. In fact, the very reason for his presence on Iona had something to do with such a manuscript. In his youth, St Columba was involved in a dispute over the rights to keep a manuscript he had copied from an original that belonged to St Finnian. This dispute escalated into a real battle, which led to the death of several people. As punishment, St Columba was exiled from Ireland, which is why he sailed North, to the Scottish Isles. Tradition tells us that his remorse was so great that he purposely kept sailing until he reached an island from where, looking back, he could no longer see his home country. This island was Iona.

This is how we arrived to the idea behind this commission: St Columba working on an illuminated manuscript. However, the really interesting aspect to me was the personal one. As he grew older, as he sat in his cell on the tiny hill close to the monastery church, copying some text or another, was that remorse still with him? Did that terrible fall in his youth still cloud his soul?

These are the thoughts that we hoped to show in the gaze of this humble, old monk. Because these are questions that affect all of us, and we all must – sooner or later – face this anguish. How does one relate to past sins? How does one face old age still carrying the weight of a fallen nature? How does one look forward to the Resurrection while also looking back to one’s past sinfulness?

We started from the intellectual idea of an icon depicting St Columba working on a manuscript. Prayer took us to the end of this journey, where we discovered that what was given to us was, in fact, something much deeper: as icon of repentance. This holy old monk contemplating the sinfulness of his youth is endlessly more relevant to our life than the historical reality of the depicted scene. The spiritual struggle of one’s inner life remains relevant regardless of age. Through this commission, St Columba revealed himself as a teacher of repentance, one who can lead us into old age and help us bring our repentance before Christ in a way that leads to our salvation, not to despair or abandonment.

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On this day lift before God:

  • all who are haunted by sins or faults from years ago.
  • all whose work is careful and painstaking.
  • all who find Iona a thin place.
  • all who are wary of resurrection this Passiontide.