Appendix 1. St. David of Wales.
The Celtic Churches & Eastern Orthodoxy
The phenomenon of the Celtic Churches, far to the west of the main centres of Orthodox Christianity in the East, and yet quite clearly of the same spirit as Eastern Christianity, and comparable to it in the rich abundance of its spiritual fruit, has fascinated Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike. How could such a rare and beautiful flower arise in such an isolated and seemingly inhospitable environment?
Fr. Gregory Telepneff has provided part of the answer to this question in his book ‘The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs’ by demonstrating the strong links between Celtic and Egyptian monasticism. However, he identifies the Celtic Church with the Irish Church and its offshoots in Scotland and Northern England, excluding the Church of Wales from his review. The reason he gives for this exclusion is very surprising: “The fifth and sixth centuries in British ecclesiastical life were a time of decay, both externally and internally. That such a Church could have been the centre of spiritual influence outside of its borders is hardly probable”. (269) The purpose of this article is twofold: to show, on the one hand, that Fr. Gregory is mistaken in his estimate of the British (Welsh) Church by reference particularly to the Life of St. David of Wales, and on the other, to provide further confirmation for the correctness of his main thesis, that the Celtic Church as a whole was integrally linked with the Orthodox Church of the East.
One has to admit that the critics of the Church on the British mainland were eminently well-qualified. In his ‘Confession’, St. Patrick, while mentioning that he was from a clerical family (his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest), has nothing good to say about the state of his native Church. Nearly a century later, the Welsh St. Gildas the Wise, in his ‘On the Ruin of Britain’ laid into his native Church with extraordinary fierceness.
The British were an unruly lot, in his opinion. At the end of the Roman period they had “ungratefully rebelled” against “Roman kings”, and had failed in their “loyalty to the Roman Empire”. (270) As for Gildas’ contemporaries: “Britain has kings, but they are tyrants; she has judges, but they are wicked. They often plunder and terrorize the innocent; they defend and protect the guilty and thieving; they have many wives, whores and adulteresses; they constantly swear false oaths, they make vows, but almost at once tell lies; they wage wars, civil and unjust; they chase thieves energetically all over the country, but love and reward the thieves who sit with them at table; they distribute alms profusely, but pile up an immense mountain of crimes for all to see; they take their seats as judges, but rarely seek out the rules of right judgement; they despise the harmless and humble, but exalt to the stars, as far as they can, they military companions, bloody, proud and murderous men, adulterers and enemies of God… They hang around the altars swearing oaths, then shortly afterwards scorn them as though they were filthy stones…” (271)
The clergy were hardly better: “Britain has priests, but they are fools, very many ministers, but they are shameless; clerics, but they are treacherous grabbers. They are called shepherds, but they are wolves ready to slaughter souls. They do not look to the good of their people, but to the filling of their own bellies. They have church buildings, but go to them for the sake of base profit. They teach people – but by giving them the worst examples, vice and bad character. Rarely do they sacrifice and never do they stand with pure heart amid the altars. They do not reprimand the people for their sins; indeed they do the same things themselves. They make mock of the precepts of Christ, and all their prayers are directed to the fulfilment of their lustful desires. They usurp wit unclean feet the seat of the Apostle Peter, yet thanks to their greed they fall into the pestilential chair of the traitor Judas. They hate truth as an enemy, and love lies like favourite brothers. They look askance at the just poor as though they were dreadful snakes, and shamelessly respect the wicked rich as though they were angels from heaven… They canvass posts in the church more rigorously than the Kingdom of heaven… They remain in the same old unhappy slime of intolerable sin even after they have obtained the priestly seat… They have grabbed merely the name of priest, not the priestly way of life.” (272)
Gildas spoke kindly only of the monks: they were “the true sons” who led “worthy lives”. He mentioned “the habit of a holy abbot”, “the caves of the saints”, and how King Maglocunus, pondering “the godly life and rule of the monks”, had vowed “to be a monk forever”. (273) And this leads us to believe that there was probably a sharp divide between the corrupt life of the secular rulers and married clergy, on the one hand, and the monks, on the other.
Moreover, this divide may have reflected, in part, a doctrine divide, between, on the one hand, the Orthodox Christians, and on the other, the Pelagians, who, in their debates with St. Germanus of Auxerre are described as “men of obvious wealth”. (274)
Pelagianism was a heresy that denied original sin and over-emphasized the role of free will in salvation, and was condemned by Councils of the Carthaginian and Roman churches.
Snyder writes: “What [Pelagius’] religious upbringing in late-fourth-century Britain was like we do not know, only that he was undoubtedly Christian and well educated before he left for Rome at the beginning of the fifth century. Pelagius’s story is that of the Mediterranean world c.410, but the spread of his heresy after his disappearance in 418 directly involves Britain. Pelagian bishops were sufficiently influential in the British Isles to worry the pope and warrant the missions of Germanus to Britain and Palladius to Ireland. Claims that Pelagiansm played a political role in Britian’s separation from Rome and subsequently split the island into factions have never been adequately demonstrated…” (275)
It is clear, then, that, on the one hand, the British Church had major problems, both doctrinal and moral, in the century and a half after the Roman legions left in 410, but on the other, that there was a powerful new movement in the shape of monasticism which would both take the lead in the struggle against Pelagianism and demonstrate an extraordinary striving for moral perfection rarely seen before or since.
The origins of Celtic monasticism are often ascribed to Gaul, not only because Gaul was the nearest place where monasteries are known to have existed in the fifth century, but also because the saints who made the biggest impact on the life of the early Celtic Church all had close links with Gaul. Thus St. Ninian of Whitborn (+397) built the first stone church in Britain in honour of his teacher, St. Martin of Tours. Again, the scourge of British Pelagianism, St. Germanus of Auxerre, was himself a Gallic bishop. And St. Patrick of Ireland, the first founder of monasteries in the Celtic lands, was trained in Gaul and received Episcopal consecration there. Moreover, it is tempting to ascribe the origin of the Eastern influences found in Celtic monasticism to the Gallic Church insofar as the latter had strong links with the Church in the East. Thus St. John Cassian, a Roman and a former spiritual son of St. John Chrysostom who travelled extensively throughout the East, eventually settled near Marseilles. Cassian’s works, together with those of Saints Athanasius and Pachomius the Great (both Coptic monks), were well known both to St. Patrick and to the later monastic founders of Britain and Ireland.
However, Fr. Gregory has argued persuasively that while Eastern influence was exerted indirectly on the Irish Church through Gaul, there was also extensive direct influence from the Coptic Church of Egypt. Only such direct influence could account for a number of peculiarities of Celtic monasticism and liturgical life which distinguish it from Gallic monasticism but link it with Coptic monasticism.
In addition to the evidence Fr. Gregory produces to support this thesis, we may cite the strong evidence for direct trade routes by sea from the Eastern Mediterranean to South-West Britain. Thus in about 320 BC a Greek called Pytheas published his work ‘On the Ocean’, which described his journey through the Straits of Gibralter to South-West Britain and on as far north as the Orkneys, ultima Thule. In the first century BC, Diodorus Siculus describes the inhabitants of Britain who “are especially friendly to strangers and have adopted a civilized way of life because of their interaction with traders and other people”, their main trade being in tin. He describes an island off the coast of Britain called Ictis, which most authorities indentify with St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. (276) St. Michael’s Mount was so-called because a fisherman had a vision of the Archangel there in 492. It was visited by two of the early British monastic founders, St. Cadoc and St. Keyne. 277 J.W. Taylor cites evidence that these tin-traders of South-West Britain were in fact of Eastern, probably Jewish origin; so that when Joseph of Arimathea came to this part of Britain after the crucifixion, he was following a well-worn trade route established by his own countrymen. (278)
An interesting later (seventh-century) confirmation of the tin trade with the Eastern Mediterranean comes from the Life of St. John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria. The captain of a ship from Alexandria laden with twenty thousand bushels of corn told of his journey to Britain: ‘We sailed for twenty days and nights, and owing to a violent wind we were unable to tell in what direction we were going either by the stars or by the coast. But the only thing we knew was that the steersman saw the Patriarch [St. John] by his side holding the tiller and saying to him: “Fear not! You are sailing quite right.” Then after the twentieth day we caught sight of the islands of Britain, and when we had landed we found a great famine raging there. Accordingly when we told the chief man of the town that we were laden with corn, he said, “God has brought you at the right moment. Choose as you wish, either one ‘nomisma’ for each bushel or a return freight of tin”. And we chose half of each’. (279)
Extensive evidence for a trade in tin with the Eastern Mediterranean, which was exchange for the wine and oil essential for the celebration of the Church services, has been discovered during archaeological excavations at Tintagel, “king Arthur’s Castle”, on the North Cornish coast. Over three hundred imported vessels have been found. Some of the buildings excavated have been interpreted by some authorities as the remains of an early sixth century monastery founded by St. Juliot, (280) and by others as the fortified seat of the rulers of Dumnonia (south-west England), including Mark and Tristan. Snyder writes: “Even if the settlement on the headland turns out to be thoroughly secular, there is still strong evidence of early Christianity at Tintagel. Thomas led two seasons of excavations at the Tintagel parish churchyard, which is on the mainland not far from the castle. His team uncovered two slate-lined graves, two rock-covered burial mounds, and one memorial pillar; associated imported pottery and a cross on one of the slates identify the site as early Christian (c.400-600).” (281)
Again John Marsden writes: “The eighth-century Irish Litany of Pilgrim Saints includes an invocation of the ‘Seven monks of Egypt in Diseart Uiliag’ – a site tentatively indentified as Dundesert near Crumlin in Antrim – and raises the remarkable prospect of Egyptian monks finding their way to Ireland along seaways which had even then been known to Mediterranean navigators for three thousand years. Glass fragments of Egyptian origin and with no Roman connection have been excavated at Tintagel in Cornwall. They have been dated to the third century AD – which would make them almost precisely contemporary with the emergence of monasticism in Egypt – and must have been brought to Cornwall along the same sea-road which had been in regular use by Phoenician tin traders plying the Cornish coast as early as the sixth century BC.
“if Egyptian glassware could reach Cornwall in the third century after Christ, there is no reason why holy men out of the Egyptian desert should not have continued further along the same prehistoric seaway to make landfall in Ireland. If, indeed, they had done so, it would well explain why so many Irish hermits in search of retreat from the world should have been seeking a ‘desert place’ in the ocean, how variant Gospel readings known to derive from the Desert Fathers came into Irish usage, how Coptic textual forms found their way into the seventh century Book of Dimma from Tipperary, and why the third-century St. Antony of Egypt features so prominently in the carvings on the high crosses at Kells and Monasterboice [and the Isle of Man].”(282)
William Dalrymple has pointed out a very close resemblance between a seventh-century rock-carving from Perthshire depicting Saints Anthony and Paul of Egypt with an icon in St. Anthony’s monastery in Egypt, and cites the words of the seventh-century Antiphonary of the Irish monastery of Bangor.
The house full of delight
Is built on the rock
And indeed the true vine
Transplanted out of Egypt.
“Moreover,” he continues, “the Egyptian ancestry of the Celtic Church was acknowledged by contemporaries: in a letter to Charlemagne, the English scholar-monk Alcuin described the Celtic Culdees as ‘pueri egyptiaci’, the children of the Egyptians. Whether this implied direct contact between Coptic Egypt and Celtic Ireland and Scotland is a matter of scholarly debate. Common sense suggests that it is unlikely, yet a growing body of scholars thank that that is exactly what Alcuin meant. For there are an extraordinary number of otherwise inexplicable similarities between the Celtic and Coptic Churches which were shared by no other Western Churches. In both, the bishops wore crowns rather than mitres and held T-shaped Tau crosses rather than crooks or crosiers. In both the hand-bell played a very prominent place in ritual, so much so that in early Irish sculpture clerics are distinguished from lay persons by placing a clochette in their hand. The same device performs a similar function on Coptic stelae – yet bells of any sort are quite unknown in the dominant Greek or Latin Churches until the tenth century at the earliest. Stranger still, the Celtic wheel cross, the most common symbol of Celtic Christianity, has recently been shown to have been a Coptic invention, depicted on a Coptic burial pall of the fifth century, three centuries before the design first appears in Scotland and Ireland.” (283)
Professor E. G. Bowen believes that the whole of south-western Britain was subject to the influence of the Egyptian Church in the fifth and sixth centuries, and that the geographical situation of the main monastery of St. David (+589) would have made it a central point of diffusion of this influence: “We know that the early persecution of Christians in the Roman Provinces of Egypt and the Near East caused many there to flee to the Desert. At first, they lived solitary lives practising extremes of hardship. Later, however, some came together in large or small groups for work and worship, and so renounced the World. They were visited in the Desert from time to time by leading Christians in the West and these, on returning home, set up their own monasteries in imitation of those of the Desert. Lerins, near Marseilles, and Liguge, and Marmoutier, near Tours, a re cases in point. The patterns of these Gaulish monasteries ultimately spread to Britain. Even more significant it would appear is the fact that modern archaeologists have been able to show that the lands around the Eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor and the Aegean islands were in post-Roman times in direct trade contact with south-western Britain. Certain types of wheel-made pottery clearly non-British in character have been found in recent years in Southern Ireland, Wales and the South-West Approaches. Exactly similar pottery occurs in such Eastern Mediterranean ports and depots as Tarsus, Athens, Antioch and Constantinople. The pottery concerned is of two types. Some are red coloured platters and table wares – classified as Type A and often stamped with Christian symbols, and secondly, Type B which are portions of amphorae used as wine containers, transporting wine from such centres as Rhodes and Cyprus and other Aegean islands. The wine was imported by little Celtic monasteries for use in the Eucharist and some, of course, reached the table of the aristocrats. It is important to note… that the Western Mediterranean area is not involved – the sea route appears to have passé through the Straits of Gibraltar direct to Western Britain with the coastlands of the Bristol Channel being particularly involved. If this pottery could travel to the monasteries around the shores of south-western Britain (where many pieces have been recorded) so, too, could pilgrims, books, and ideas; so that there can be no longer any doubt that it was along these western sea-routes that full monastic life (found first of all, it would appear, in Britain at Tintagel on the north coast of Cornwall between 470 and 500 A. D.), arrived. The monastic pattern spread rapidly afterwards to such sites as Llanilltyd Fawr, Nantcarban, Llandaff, Caldey, Glastonbry, St. David’s and Llanbadarn Fawr and other places in Wales before passing over to central and southern Ireland… Activity at St. David’s must, therefore, have been intense at this time. Here the major land and sea routes met. It must have been a veritable ‘Piccadilly Circus’ in Early Christian times…” (284)
The first full-length ‘Life of St. David’ was written by Bishop Rhigyfarch of St. David’s towards the end of the 11th century, only a few years before the Church of Wales became subject to Canterbury and, through Canterbury, to the heretical Roman papacy. As such, it represents a kind of “swan-song” of British Orthodoxy, a last witness to the greatness of the old Celtic traditions by one of its last independent bearers. Moreover, it provides clear evidence of the Eastern influence on Celtic monasticism in its peak period:
“Such an austerity did the holy father decree in his zeal for the monastic system, that every monk toiled at daily labour, and spent his life working with his hands for the community. “For who does not work,’ says the apostle, ‘let him not eat’. Knowing that carefree rest was the source and mother of vices he bowed down his shoulders of the monks with pious labour, for these who bow heads and minds in leisurely repose develop a spirit of instability and apathy with restless promptings to lust.
“Thus they work with feet and hands with more eager fervour. They place the yoke upon their shoulders; they dig the ground unweariedly with mattocks and spades; they carry in their holy hands hoes and saws for cutting, and provide with their own efforts for all the necessities of the community. Possessions they scorn, the gifts of the wicked they reject, and riches they abhor. There is no bringing in of oxen to have the ploughing done, rather is every one both riches and ox unto himself and the brethren. The work completed, no complaint was heard: no conversation was held beyond that which was necessary, but each performed the task enjoined with prayer and appropriate meditation.
“Labour in the fields once ended they would return to the cloisters of the monastery, and they spent the whole day until evening in reading, writing, or praying. When evening was come, and the stroke of the bell sounded in the ear of anyone, when only the tip of a letter or even half the form of the same letter was written, they would rise quickly and leave what they were doing; and so, in silence, without any empty talk or chatter they repair to the church. When they had finished chanting the psalms, during which the voice and heart were in complete accord, they humble themselves on bended knees until the appearance of the stars in the heavens should bring the day to a close. After all had gone out, the father remained alone to pour forth his prayer to God in secret for the condition of the Church.
“At length they assemble at table. Everyone restores and refreshes his weary limbs by partaking of supper, not, however, to excess, for too much, though it be of bread alone, engenders self-indulgence: but at that meal, all take supper according to the varying condition of their bodies or age. They do not serve courses of different savours, not richer kinds of food: their food is, in fact, bread and herbs seasoned with salt, whilst they quench a burning thirst with a temperate kind of drink. (285) moreover, for either the sick, or likewise those wearied by a long journey, they provide some dishes of tastier food, since it is not proper to apportion to all in equal measure.
“When thanks has been returned to God, they go to the church in accordance with canonical rule, and there they give themselves up to watching, prayers, and genuflexions for about three hours. Whilst they were praying in the church, no one unrestrainedly dared to yawn, no one to sneeze, no one to spit.
“This done they compose their limbs for sleep. Waking up at cock-crow, they apply themselves to prayer on bended knees, and spend the remainder of the night till morning without sleep. In like manner they serve throughout other nights.
“From Saturday evening until daybreak at the first hour of Sunday, they give themselves to watching, prayers, and genuflexions, except for one hour after matins on Saturday.
“They reveal their thoughts to the father, and obtain his permission even for the requirements of nature. All things are in common; there is no ‘mine’ or ‘thine’, for whosoever should say ‘my book’ or ‘my anything else’ would be straightaway subjected to severe penance. They wore clothes of mean quality, mainly skins. There was unfailing obedience to the father’s command: great was their perseverance in the performance of duties, great was their uprightness in all things.
“For he who would long for this manner of saintly life, and should ask to enter the company of the brethren, had first to remain for ten days at the door of the monastery, as one rejected, and also silenced by words of abuse. If he put his patience to good use, and should stand there until the tenth day, he was first admitted and was put to serve under the elder who had charge of the gate. When he had for a long time toiled there, and many oppositions within his soul had been broken down, he was at length thought fit to enter the brethren’s society.
“There was no superfluity: voluntary poverty was loved: for whosoever desired their manner of life, nothing of his property, which he had forsaken in the world when he renounced it, would the holy father accept for the use of the monastery, not even one penny, so to speak: but naked, as though escaping from a shipwreck, was he received, so that he should not by any means extol himself, or esteem himself above the brethren, or, on grounds of his wealth, refuse his equal share of toil with the brethren; nor, if he should throw off his monk’s robes, might he be force extort what he had left to the monastery, and drive the patience of the brethren into anger.
“But the father himself, overflowing with daily fountains of tears, and fragrant with sweet-smelling offerings of prayers, and radiant with a twofold flame of charity, consecrated with pure hands the due oblation of the Lord’s Body. After matins, he proceeded alone to hold converse with the angels. Immediately afterwards, he sought cold water, remaining in it sufficiently long to subdue al the ardours of the flesh. The whole of the day he spent, inflexibly and unweariedly, in teaching, praying, genuflecting, and in care for the brethren; also in feeing a multitude of orphans, wards, widows, needy, sick, feeble, and pilgrims: so he began; so he continued; so he ended. As for the other aspects of the severity of his discipline, although a necessary ideal for imitation, this brief abbreviation forbids us to enlarge upon it. But he imitated the monks of Egypt, and lived a life like theirs.” (286)
The last sentence says it all: “he imitated the monks of Egypt, and lived a life like theirs.” Celtic monasticism, not only in Ireland, as Fr. Gregory asserts, but also in Wales and Cornwall, and therefore also in Brittany, was an offshoot and imitation the life of the Coptic monks of Egypt. Of course, Davidic monasticism was of the coenobitic type associated with St. Pachomius of Egypt rather than the heremitical, anachorectic type associated with St. Anthony of Egypt, which Fr. Gregory says was particularly popular in Ireland. However, the heremitical type of monasticism is also found in Wales. Thus St. Nectan of Hartland, whose sister Meleri was the paternal grandmother of St. David (287), set off to live the heremitical life in Devon, inspired by the example of the Egytian saints: “It came into the mind to imitate Antony, the greatest of the hermits, and the other Egyptian fathers of godly living, by embracing the observances of the heremitical life”. (288)
We amy also suppose that some of the Coptic elements that Fr. Gregory finds in the Irish liturgy came to Ireland via the monks of Wales. Thus in 565, write Baring-Gould and Fisher, “Ainmire mounted the throne as High King of Ireland. He was desirous of restoring religion in the island, as paganism was again raining its head, and there was a slackening of the Faith. He invited Gildas, David, and Cadoc to come to him and revive the flagging Christianity of the people. Gildas certainly went in response, but whether David did more than send a form of the Mass and some of his best pupils to engage in the work, we are unable to say. The Church of Naas, in Kildare, however, regards him as its patron, and presumably its founder. Near it are the remains of an ancient structure called by the people the Castle of St. David.” (289)
If Rhigyfarch’s Life of David represents the last literary flowering of Celtic Orthodox Britain, the Life of Samson by a monk of Dol, his Episcopal see in Brittany, represents one of the earliest, dating to about AD 600. Here we find another characteristic of Orthodox Christianity – eldership. Thus we read that the parents of St. Samson, Amon and Anna, were grieving because they did not have any children. But “the comfort of Almighty God came near. For Anna often gave alms and fasted together with her husband.
“Now it came to pass that on a feast-day they went to church, and there… heard a discussion about a certain Librarius, a learned elder who lived in the far north and who was sought out by many provinces, for people believed that what he told them would undoubtedly turn out as he said. At that moment many people in the church were eagerly making up their minds to go and seek his advice. When Amon heard this he joyfully resolved with Anna to make the same journey to the elder.
“At length, at the end of the third day of their tiring journey, they reached the place where the elder Librarius lived, and found him sitting with many people and discoursing at length on several particular cases. Then Amon and his wife came with gifts and fell down on their knees before the elder, begging him to give careful consideration to their case. He imposed silence with regard to the other cases which were causing a stir around him, and then, smiling all the time, closely questioned them as good people who had come a long way. ‘O my children, tell me why you have expended such labour in coming so far.’ Amon opened his mouth but shut it again joyfully when the elder said to him: ‘I know the reason for your visit; it is because your wife has been barren up to know. I believe that the Divine Compassion will come to her aid. But you make a silver rod equal in length to your wife and donate it on her behalf. Then Almighty God wil raise up seed for you in accordance with His Will and in fulfilment of your desire.’ At these words Amon joyfully said: ‘I will give you three silver rods of her length’.
“The elder, seeing the prudence and discernment of Amon, made them stay with him in his guest-room until they had given their poor bodies a night’s sleep after the fatigue of the journey. And so it came to pass that as Anna lay there God deigned to speak to her in a vision: ‘O troubled woman, strong in faith, steadfast in the love of God and instant in prayer, blessed art thou, blessed is thy womb, and more blessed the fruit of the womb. Lo! They firstborn son has been found worthy of the priestly office; for thy womb shall conceive and become fruitful and bring forth a son, and its offering will be seven times brighter than the silver which thy husband has given thy behalf to god.’ The woman rejoiced at the greatness of the vision and the glory of the angel of God who stood by her and spoke to her, and also at the prospect of the hoped-for child. Nevertheless, she was shy and, as is the way with good women, could not reply for modesty; ‘Fear not, O woman,’ said the angel, ‘nor have doubts; for God will deign to comfort thee in thy grief, and thy tears shall be turned into joy for thee. Lo! Thou shalt have a child, and thou shalt call him, thy firstborn son, Samson. He shall be holy and a high priest before Almighty God. and thou shalt have proof of this morning, through that elder to whom thou hast come.’
“Awakening, the woman told everything she had seen and heard to her husband in order. As they rejoiced and discussed these things together, the sun rose; and as they had a long journey ahead of them, they rose early and she began to get ready and put on her clothes. Just then the elder appeared shouting for joy: ‘Blessed art thou, O woman,’ he said, ‘and blessed is thy womb and more blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for this last night the Lord has deigned to reveal things concerning thee and thy offspring. For thy firstborn son is ordained by God to be a high priest, and, when thou shalt give birth to him thou shalt name him Samson. Then, at the appropriate time, thou shalt hand him over to be educated. Of the British race there never has been, nor ever shall be, anyone like him, a priest who will help many people,’ When they had received the elder’s blessing, the parents returned home happy and contented.” (290)
The pattern of monastic saints acting as elders to married people that is so familiar to us from the Eastern Orthodox Church was also common in the West. Another example comes from the life of St. Columba, Apostle of Scotland (+597): (possibly be Dal Riata which later to be known as Argyll, this was set up on the western side of Pictland, by the Scoti from Northern Ireland, what is know County Antrim in Ulster, Scotland was not established until 843, whose Apostle is St. Andrew) “Another time, when the saint was living on the Rechrena island, a certain man of humble birth came to him and complained of his wife, who, as he said, so hated him, that she would on no account allow him to come near her for marriage rights. The saint on hearing this, sent for the wife, and, so far as he could, began to reprove her on that account, saying: ‘Why, O woman, dost thou endeavour to withdraw thy flesh from thyself, while the Lord says, ‘they shall be two in one flesh’? Wherefore the flesh of thy husband is thy flesh.’ She answered and said, ‘Whatever thou shalt require of me I am ready to do, however hard it may be, with this single exception, thou hast dost not urge me in anyway to sleep in one bed with Lugne. I do not refuse to perform every duty at home, or, if thou dost command me, even to pass over the seas, or to live in some monastery for women.’ The saint then said, ‘What thou dost propose cannot lawfully be done, for thou art bound by the law of the husband as long as thy husband liveth, for it would be impious to separate those whom God has lawfully joined together.’ Immediately after these words he added: “This day let us three, namely, the husband and his wife and myself, join in prayer to the Lord and in fasting.’ God, when thou askest them, those things that seem to us either difficult, or even impossible.’ It is unnecessary to say more. The husband and wife agreed to fast with the saint that day, and the following night the saint spent sleepless in prayer for them. Next day he thus addressed the wife in presence of her husband, and said to her: ‘O woman, art thou still ready today, as thou sadist yesterday, to go away to a convent of women?’ ‘I know now,’ she answered, ‘that thy prayer to God for me hath been heard; for that man whom I hated yesterday, I love today; for my heart hath been changed last night in some unknown way – from hatred to love.’ Why need we linger over it? From that day to the hour of death, the soul of the wife was firmly cemented in affection to her husband, so that she no longer refused those mutual matrimonial rights which she was formerly unwilling to allow.” (291)
The continuing vitality of the British Celtic tradition of eldership is witnessed by the story of the conversion, in about 995, of the famous Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvason through a Celtic hermit (possibly St. Lide).
As we read in the ‘Epitome of the Sagas of the Kings of Norway’, this hermit lived in the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall, “famed for his excellent learning and various knowledge. Olaf was eager to test this, and dressed one of his retainers like a king, so that under the name of a king he might seek (the hermit’s) advice. Now this was the answered he received: ‘You are no king, and my council to you is that you should be loyal to your king.’ When Olaf heard this answer, he was yet more eager to see him, because he no longer doubted that he was a true prophet, and in the course of his talk with him… (the hermit) addressed him thus with words of holy wisdom and foreknowledge: ‘You will be,’ he said, ‘a famous king, and do famous deeds. You will bring many people to faith and baptism, thereby profiting yourself and many others. And, so that you may have no doubts concerning this answer of mine, you shall have this for a sign. On the way to your ship you will fall into an ambush, and a battle will take place, and you will lose part of your company and you yourself will receive a wound, and through this wound you will be at the point of death, and be borne to the ship on a shield. Yet within seven days you will be whole from this wound, and soon you will receive baptism.’” (292)
The thirteenth-century Icelandic historian Snorri Srurlason describes the sequel: “Olaf went down to his ships and there he met foes who tried to slay him and his men. But the meeting ended as the hermit had told him, so that Olaf was borne wounded out to his ship and likewise he was well after seven nights. Then it seemed clear to Olaf that this man had told him the truth and that he was a true prophet from whom he had this foretelling. Olaf then went again to find the man, spoke much with him and asked carefully whence he had this wisdom by which he foretold the future. The hermit said that the God of Christian men let him know all he wished, and then he told Olaf of many great works of God and after these words Olaf agreed to be baptized, and so it came about that Olaf and all his followers were baptized.” (293)
According to the ‘Epitome’, Olaf disappeared during a sea battle and ended his days in a monastery in Palestine (294), demonstrating thereby the essential unity of the Christian world at that time, from the Celts in the west to the Scandinavians and Slavs in the north to the Greeks, Syrians and Copts in the east and south. His story was fondly told by St. Edward the Confessor…
The Irish king’s invitation to the Welsh saints to revive the flagging Christianity of his people is an example of the characteristically Orthodox conception of the relationship between Church and State: not complete separation, but cooperation in the common task of the salvation of souls.
We find similar stories both earlier and later in British Orthodox history. Thus as early as the second half of the second century, according to the Venerable Bede, a local British king called Lucius invited Pope Eleutherius to send missionaries to Britain to revive the flagging faith of the Britons. Modern scholars tend to follow Harnack in dismissing this story as confusing the mythical Lucius of Britain with the real-life Lucius of Edessa. However, strong traditions about lucius can be found in Wales (295), in Glastonbury (particularly) (296), and in London (297); and it seems unlikely, as H.M. porter points out, that a Syrian king should have turned for missionaries to Rome, 1500 miles/2.413km away, when he could have much more easily referred to the great Patriarchate of Antioch only 170 miles/273km away. (298)
Again, in the early seventh century, we find a touching example of Church-State symphony in the relations between the holy King Oswald of Northumbria and the holy Bishop Aidan. As the tenth-century Abbot Aelfric writes, on the basis of Bede’s ‘History’: “King Oswald became very charitable and humble in his way of life, and was bountiful in all things. With great zeal he erected churches and monastic foundations throughout his kingdom. It happened on one occasion that Oswald and Aidan were sitting together on the holy day of Pascha, and they brought the royal meats to the king on a silver dish. Then one of the king’s nobles who was in charge of his almsgiving came in and said that many poor people from all over had come for the king’s almsgiving, and were sitting in the streets. Then the king immediately sent the silver dishes, meat and all, to the poor, ordering it to be cut in pieces and distributed to each his portion. This was done, whereupon the noble Bishop Aidan with great joy took hold of the king’s right hand cried out with faith: ‘May this blessed right hand never rot in corruption’. It turned out just as Aidan prayed – his right hand is incorrupt to this day…” (299)
The close cooperation between Church and State in the Celtic lands may have been partly due to the fact that the chief men in Church and State were often related. Thus both St. David and St. Columba were of royal blood, and most of the first monastic missionaries of Cornwall were children of the Welsh Prince Brychan. Another factor may have been the very early introduction of the rite of anointing to the kingdom of Britain – earlier than in any other country with the possible exception (if we exclude the doubtful case of King Clovis of the Franks) of the anointing of the first Christian King of the South Arabian kingdom of Omir, Abraham, in the presence of St. Elesbaan, King of Ethiopia. (300)
This raises the possibility that, just as Celtic monasticism appears to be, to a significant degree, an offshoot of Coptic monasticism, so the Celtic sacrament of anointing to the kingdom came from the same part of the world. This remains no more than an intriguing idea because of the paucity of evidence. However, we can be sure that the sacrament could not have come from Rome or Byzantium, because the Roman emperors were not anointed until, at the latest, the eighth century in the West and the tenth century in the East.
Unfortunately, the sacrament of anointing does not appear to have elicited great reverence for the king in the immediate aftermath of the Roman withdrawal from Britain. Thus in his ‘On the Destruction of Britain’ St. Gildas’ refers to events taking place in the fifth century as follows: “Kings were anointed [Ungebantur reges] not in God’s name, but as being crueller than the rest; before long, they would be killed, with no enquiry into the truth, by those who had anointed them, and other still crueller chosen to replace them.” (301)
But things improved later in the century with the appearance of Ambrosius Aurelianus, “a modest ma, who alone of the Roman nation had been left alive in the confusion of this troubled period… He provoked the cruel conquerors [the Anglo-Saxons] to battle, and by the goodness of our Lord got the victory”. His parents, according to Gildas, even, “wore the purple”. (302)
And then, towards the end of the fifth century, there appeared the famous King Arthur, who, according to the Welsh monk Nennius in his ‘History of the Britons’, in one battle, at Fort Guinnion, “carried the image of St. Mary, ever virgin, on his shoulders and that day the pagans were turned to flight and a great slaughter was upon them through the virtue of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the virtue of St. Mary the Virgin, his Mother.” In a later battle, at Mount Badon, according to the ninth-century ‘Annals of Wales’, “Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulder for three days and three nights, and the Britons were victorious.” (303)
Not long after this, in 574, the Irish apostle of Scotland/Dalriada, St. Columba, consecrated (by laying on of hands rather than anointing) the first Orthodox King of Scotland/Dalriada, Aidan Mor. The seventh-century Abbots of Iona Cummineus Albus and Adomnan both relate the story, according to which, when the saint was staying “in the island of Hymba [Eileann-na-Naoimh, in the Scottish Hebrides], he was in an ecstasy of mind one night and saw an Angel of the Lord who had been sent to him, and who held in his hand a glass book of ‘The Ordination of Kings’. The venerable man received it from the Angel’s hand, and at his command began to read it. And when he refused to ordain Aidan as king according to the direction given to him in the book, because he loved his brother logenan more, the Angel, suddenly stretching out his hand, struck the saint with a scourge, of which the livid mark remained on his side all the days of his life, and he added these words, saying: ‘Know thou for certain that I am sent to thee by God with this glass book, that according to the words which thou hast read in it, thou mayst ordain Aidan to the kingship – and if thou art not willing to obey this command, I shall strike thee again.’ When, then this Angel of the Lord had appeared on three successive nights, having in his hand that same glass book, and had pressed the same commands of the Lord concerning the ordination of that king, the saint obeyed the Word of the Lord, and sailed across to the Isle of Iona where, as he had been commanded, he ordained Aidan as king, Aidan having arrived there at the same time.” (304)
The next year, St. Columba went with King Aidan to the Synod of Drumceatt in Ireland, where the independence of Dalriada (that part of Western Scotland/Pictland colonised by the Irish/Scotti tribe, of which Iona was the spiritual capital) was agreed upon in exchange for a pledge of assistance to the mother country in the event of invasion from abroad.
It is perhaps significant that the earliest examples of sacramental Christian kingmaking comes from parts of the world that were remote from the centres of Imperial power. Neither Southern Arabia nor Ireland had ever been part of the Roman Empire (305), while Britain had fallen away from the Empire. Perhaps it was precisely here, Romanity was weakest or non-existent, that the Church had to step into supply political legitimacy through the sacrament, especially since in these cases a new dynasty in a new Christian land was being created, which required both the blessing of the former rulers and a special act of the Church – something not dissimilar to the creation of a new autocephalus Church. Of course, this is just speculation. But it is by no means impossible that the land which brought the first Christian emperor to the throne – and the first rebels against the Christian empire – should have been the first to introduce the rite of anointing to the kingship as a grace-filled means of consolidating and strengthening Christian power.
Attitudes to Heresy & Schism
Britain appears to have escaped the heresy of Arianism, as well as the eastern heresies of Nestorianism and Monophytisim. However, as we have seen, the British Church had its own home-grown heresy in the form of Pelagianism. In the early fifth century, St. Germanus of Auxerre made two trips to Britain to help suppress the heresey; but it lingered on. (306) Finally, in the late sixth century the British Church itself convened a Council to refute the heretics, as told by Rhigyfarch in his ‘Life of St. David’:
“Since even after St. Germanus’s second visit to help the Pelagian heresy was recovering its vigour and obstinacy, implanting the poison of a deadly serpent in the innermost regions of our country, a general synod is assembled of all the bishops an innumerable multitude of priests, abbots, clergy of other ranks, kings, princes, lay men and women, so that thevery host covered all the places round about. The bishops confer amongst themselves, saying: “The multiude present is too great to enable, not only a voice, but even the sound of a trumpet to reach the ears of them all. Almost the entire throng will be untouched by our preaching, and will return home, taking with them the infection of the heresy.’ Consequently, it is arranged to preach to the people in the following manner. A mound of garments was to be erected on some rising ground, and one at a time was to preach, standing upon it. Whoever should be endowed with such a gift of preaching that his discourse reached the ears of all that were furthest, he, by common consent, should be made metropolitan and archbishop. Thereupon, a place called Brevi is selected, a lofty mound of garments is erected, and they preach with all their might. But their words scarcely reached those that are nearest, it is as though their throats seem constricted; the people await the Word, but the largest portion does not hear it. One after another endeavours to expound, but they fail utterly. A great crisis arises; and they fear that the people will return home with the heresy uncrushed. ‘We have preached,’ said they, ‘but we do not convince; consequently our labour is rendered useless.’ Then arose one of the bishops, named Paulinus, with whom aforetime, holy Dewi [David] the bishop had studied; ‘There is one,’ said he, ‘who has been made a bishop by the patriarch, (307) who ha not attended our synod; a man of eloquence, full of grace,experienced in religion, as associate of angels, a man to be loved, attractive in countenance, magnificent in appearance, six feet in stature. Him I advise you to common here.’
“Messengers are immediately dispatched, who come to the holy bishop, and announce the reason for their coming. But the holy bishop declined, saying; ‘Let no man tempt me. Who am I succeed where those have failed? I know my own insignificance. Go in peace.’ A second and third time messengers are sent, but not even then did he consent. Finally, the holiest and the most upright men are sent, the brethren, Daniel and Dubricus. But the holy bishop Dewi, foreseeing it with prophetic spirit, said to the brethren: ‘This day, my brethren, very holy men are visiting us. Welcome them joyfully, and for their meal procure fish in addition to bread and water’. The brethren arrive, exchange mutual greetings nd converse about holy things. Food is placed on the table, but they instist that they will never eat meal in his monastery unless he returns to the synod along with them. To this the saint replied: ‘I cannot refuse you; proceed with your meal, we will go together to the synod. But then, I am unable to preach there: I will give you some help, little though it be, with my prayers’.
“So setting forth, they reach the neighbourhood of the synod, and lo, they heard a wailing and lamentation. Said the saint to his companions said in reply; ‘But let us go to the assembly, last our delaying grieve those who await us’. The man of God approached the place of the mourning; and lo, there a bereaved mother was keeping watch over the body of a youth, to whom, with barbaric uncouthness, she had given a lengthy name. He comforted and raised the mother, consoling and encouraging her; but she, having heard of his fame, flung herself forward at his feet, begging him with cries of entreaty to take pity on her. Filled with compassion for human weakness, he approached the body of the dead boy, whose face he watered with his tears. At length, the limbs grew warm, the soul returned, and the body quivered. He took hold of the boy’s hand and restored him to his mother. But she, her sorrowful weepling turned into tears of joy, then said; ‘I believed that my son was dead; let him henceforth live to God and to you’. The holy man accepted the boy, laid on his shoulder the Gospel-book which he always carried in his bosom, and made him go with him to the synod. That boy, afterwards, while life lasted, lived a holy life.
“He then enters the synod; the company of bishops is glad, the multitude is joyful, the whole assembly exults. He is asked to preach, and does not decline the synod’s decision. They bid him ascend the mound piled up with garments; and, in the sight of all, a snow white dove from heaven settled on his shoulder, and remained there as long as he preached. Whilst he preached, with a loud voice, heard equally by those who were nearest and those who were furthest, the ground beneath him grew higher, rising to a hill; and, stationed on its summit, visible to all as though standing on a lofty mountain, he raised his voice until it rang like a trumpet: on the summit of that hill a church is situated. The heresy is expelled, the faith is confirmed in sound hearts, all are of one accord, and thanks are rendered to God and St. David.” (308)
Sadly, only a few years later the Welsh bishops refused to cooperate with the mission of St. Augustine of Canterbury to the pagan Saxons. Some have seen in this a virtue, an early rejection of the papist heresy, and cite the following document of the Welsh Church: “Be it known and declared that we all, individually and collectively, are in all humility to defer to the Church of God, and to the Bishop of Rome, and to every sincere and godly Christian, so far as to love everyone according to his degree, in perfect charity, and to assist them all by word and deed in becoming children of God. But as for any other obedience, we know of none that he, whom you term the Pope, or Bishop of bishops, can demand. The deference we have mentioned we are ready to pay to him as to every other Christian, but in all other respects our obedience is due to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Caerleon, who is alone under God our ruler to keep us right in the way of salvation”. (309)
However, to accuse the Romans of papism in the seventh century is an anachronism: Rome, far from being papist then, was the most Orthodox of patriarchates. And the Pope of the time, St. Gregory the Great, even declared that anyone who accepted to be called “Bishop of bishops” was “a forerunner of the Antichrist”! The truth is rather that from 664, when the Welsh rejected the Synod of Whitby, they entered into a proto-nationalist schism for nearly a century before being brought back into Orthodox Catholic unity by Bishop Elbod of Bangor in 768. (310) During this period they were regarded as schismatics by the Anglo-Saxon and Irish Churches. As an Irish canon put it, “the Britons [of Wales] are … contrary to all men, separating themselves both from the Roman way of life and the unity of the Church”. (311) Again, as St. Aldhelm of Sherbourne wrote: “Glorifying in the private purity of their own way of life, they detest our communion to such a great extent that they disdain equally to celebrate the Divine offices in church with us to take course of food at table for the sake of charity. Rather,… they order the vessels and flagons [i.e. those used in common with clergy of the Roman Church] to be purified and purged with grains of sandy gravel, or with the dusky cinders of ash.. Should any of us, I mean Catholics, go to them for the purpose of habitation, they do not deign to admit us to the company of their brotherhood until we have been compelled to spend the space of forty days in penance… As Christ truly said: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish’. (312)
However, the period 664 – 768 was an uncharacteristic interlude in the otherwise glorious history of the Welsh Church snd of the Celtic Church in general. Much more characteristic of their attitude to the Orthodox Faith was the bold and uncompromising, but by no means self-willed or schismatic behaviour of the Irish Saint Columbanus of Luxeuil (+615) in writing to Pope Vigilius. The Pope was vacillating with regard to the heretical Three Chapters condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Council, and St. Columbanus, after discussing the possibility that he may have fallen into heresy, continued that if he had, then those “who have always kept the Orthodox Faith, whoever these may have been, even if they seem to be your subordinates,… shall be your judges… And thus, even as your honour is great in proportion to the dignity of your see, so great care is mindful for you, lest you lose your dignity through some mistake. For power will be in your hands just so long as your principles remain sound; for he is the appointed keybearer of the Kingdom of Heaven, who opens by true knowledge to the worthy and shuts to the unworthy; otherwise if he does the opposite, he shall be able neither to open or shut.” (313)
“For all we Irish,” as he said to another Pope, “inhabitants of the world’s edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon by the Holy Spirit, and we accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching; none has been a heretic, none a Judaizer, none a schismatic; but the Catholic Faith, as it was delivered by you first [St. Celestine the Pope sent the first (unsuccessful) mission to Ireland], who are the successors of the holy apostles, is maintained unbroken.” (314)
In July, 1920 the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, together with the Russian Metropolitans Anthony of Kiev and Evlogy of Paris, came to St. David’s in Wales to celebrate the dis-establishment of the Church of Wales. If this Church had truly been dis-established from heresy and thereby returned to its roots in the Celtic Church of the early centuries, there would indeed have beengood cause of rejoicing; but sadly, that was not the case. However, the event did serve a most salutary purpose in proclaiming the oneness of faith of the Eastern Orthodox Church of the twentieth century with the Celtic Church of the sixth century, to which St. David, with his astonishing life so redolent of the feats of the Eastern monastic saints and strong links with the Eastern Church of his day, was perhaps the most vivid witness. It is therefore worth concluding by recalling another incident from the life of St. David (not recorded by Rhigyfarch’s ‘Life’ because it belongs to the tradition of another Church, that of Glastonbury) which witnesses to the fact that the Orthodox Church in the British Isles was closely linked with the Church in the East not only during the time of the flourishing of the Celtic Church from the fifth century, but much earlier, from the time when the Founder of our Faith Himself set foot “on England’s green and pleasant land”: “How highly St. David, the great archbishop of Menevia, esteemed that palce [Glasonbury] is too well-known to need illustration by our current account. He verified the antiquity and sanctity of the church by a divine oracle; for he came thither with his seven bishops, of whom he was the chief, in order to dedicate it. But after everything that the service customarily required had been prepared he as indulging himself in sleep on what he thought would be the night preceding the ceremony. He was submerged all his senses in slumber when he beheld the Lord Jesus standing beside him, gently asking him why he had come. Upon his instantly disclosing the reason the Lord restrained him from his purpose by saying that He Himself had long ago dedicated the church in honour of His Mother, and that it would not be seemly to profane the sacrament with a human repetition. As He was speaking He seemed to pierce the saint’s finger palm with His finger and added that he should take it as a sign that he ought not to repeat what the Lord had done beforehand; but because he had been motivated by devotion, not impudence. His punishment would not be prolonged, so that, when he was about to say the words ‘through Him and with Him and in Him’ in the liturgy on the following morning, the full vigour of his health would be restored to him. The priest was shaken out of his sleep by these terrors and, just at the time he grew pale at the ulcerous sore, so later he applauded the truth of the prophecy. But so that he might not seem to have done nothing he quickly built another church and dedicated it as his own work.” (315)