I received a notification last week that my Celtic calix restoration was complete. I was advised that the craftsman involved "enjoyed refinishing this old precious item to its very best form possible." My sacred vessel arrived this weekend of the Lunar New Year, the 2nd lunar month from winter solstice, in this case the closest supermoon of the millenium. 2023 is a year of hope and reflection with big changes, health-wise & career-wise for me personally, as I continue to rehab from a covid19-coma while transitioning from 'doing' as an orthopedic surgeon-healer to that of 'being' as a spiritual hospital-chaplain. Laurence Gardner wrote that the Grail was transformative, "Whom does the Grail serve? It serves those who quest despite the odds - for they are the champions of enlightenment."
On inspection, my treasure was meticulously nested in two corrugated boxes. I carefully unpeeled each layer of packing. This chalice was now magnificently transfigured. It was substantially fortified and robust with a new silver coppa or cup quite capable of performing the task at hand--that is maintaining the continual succession of the sacrificial celebration by containing the consecrated divine presence of Jesus in unity, body and blood. The entirety of the inner and outer surfaces were gleaming with newly applied gold plating. The Celtic nodo or node sparkled with silver plating accents. Finally the piede or foot was engraved with my soul's battle cry or heart-song--Spero Meliora--I aspire for greater things.
The seemingly unobtainable healing grace sought by Arthurian knights and symbolized by the Grail is, however, attainable. Regarding sacramental communion, Saint-Mother Teresa instructs us to, "Put your sins in the chalice for the Precious Blood to wash away. One drop is capable of washing away the sins of the world." We, as Sons-of-God, can be in daily spiritual communion with our Lord if we but do the following: "Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being to receive, to carry, and to give back. It must be held out empty--for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity (Dag Hammarsköld)." The Tao tells us that "It is easier to carry an empty cup than one that is filled to the brim... it is the emptiness inside that makes the vessel useful...we work with the substantial, but the emptiness is what we use."
The combined economic effects of ‘Brexit’, Covid, and the energy crisis have not made the past three years easy for anyone. Earned income has dropped considerably, and the cost of living has risen sharply – and the Micawber line of financial survival has become the knife-edge of reality for far too many careful people. We are all in the same storm; and many of us wonder when ‘normality’ might return.
Against this backdrop, I was fortunate to receive a gift from my aunt, with the instruction that I was to treat myself in a way I might not be able to from my own resources. Thus, for the recent Epiphany weekend, I found myself travelling via Eurotunnel to a hotel in the south-eastern suburbs of Paris for a short but welcome break.
On the Friday morning (the Feast Day itself), I said the morning office in the Square du Vert Galant, a small city park on the north-western tip of the Île de la Cité. I guess most visitors to Paris might overlook this peaceful oasis. Few would know that it wasn’t created until 1884, when two small islands beyond the Pont Neuf and the equestrian statue of Henry IV were connected to each other and the main island, and built up into the present space.
It was on the smaller of these two former islands, the Isle des Juifs, that St Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, had been burned at the stake alongside his regional preceptor for Normandy, St Geoffroi de Charney, way back in 1314; but sitting on the south western side of the small park for half an hour, with just an early morning street cleaner performing his daily round, gave a strange sense of connection with both history and the divine presence in nature.
A walk the length of the Île de la Cité followed, passing the massive re-building site that is currently Notre Dame de Paris, crossing the Isle St Louis to reach the church of St Gervais & St Protais, just to the east of the Hotel de Ville.
An interesting church to visit, as the style is Gothic, but the façade, being built over a hundred years after the main church is in the classical or French Baroque style. The organ dates back to the early seventeenth century, and was where various members of the Couperin dynasty of musicians (Louis and Francois particularly remembered) occupied the console. The chapel behind the main altar, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary - unusually having an architectural crown suspended from the roof over the altar. The church itself, became home in 1975 to the Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem, a new monastic community founded with the intention of living the desert life of Charles de Foucauld in the modern city centre. Where in France, the historic church buildings are maintained by the secular state – it is in some way both curious and refreshing to find a sense of living faith and vibrancy in one of the lesser-known churches of Paris.
A short journey up Ligne 1 of the Metro put me at the main entrance to the Tuileries Gardens, where on the south side is the Musee de l’Orangerie, home to eight of Monet’s gigantic waterlily paintings. Having visited the gardens at Giverny, Monet’s home for over forty years, it is inspirational to sit in front of these vast paintings, appreciating the dappled impressionistic effects of sunlight in the waters – and indeed Monet’s lifetime of work in creating the gardens themselves.
A filling snack lunch in the museum café gave the overworked legs a short time to rest before a very crowded four stop trip on ligne 12, and a visit to the chapel at the Rue du Bac. Otherwise known as the chapel of the Miraculous Medal, this place of pilgrimage was where in 1830, Catherine Labouré, a religious novice, received three visitations from the Virgin Mary; through which the starred medal was described, and then created and issued.
I have now visited this place twice, the first time some seven years ago, hearing Mass on that visit. This time, I just sat quietly in prayer, observing the special nature, and the divine presence within the chapel. Fervent pilgrims were kneeling at the altar in rapt devotion; whilst Parisians on their daily round of work and shopping would also come in for a few moments pause and refreshment, before bowing their heads and returning to their routine tasks.
These four brief visits were enough for my stamina on this day. But the awareness and blessings brought by them, were enough to remind my better or higher self that there is inspiration and encouragement in the uncertain times which we are all living through. Let us pray for each other that we may all be open to the divine blessing, however and wherever we find ourselves.
Dom Paul-Bernarde OSBA
The Christian symbolism of Christmas – a speech by the Very Revd Fr. Giovanni for a Theosophical Society event.
On the 21st December 2022, our Archpriest Giovanni, Vicar of the Mar Thoma Liberal Catholic Church in Italy, was invited by the Italian Theosophical Society to give a speech within a conference entitled “Sol Invictus and Christmas: the triumph of Light”. In the conference, Giovanni++ presented a speech about the Christian Symbolism of Christmas, a topic that was complemented by other two speeches: one about the alchemical meaning of Christmas and the other was about the “Sol Invictus and Winter Solstice”, showing how the Winter Solstice was celebrated in ancient Rome. The event was attended by around 70 people on Zoom and 130 participated to the streaming session on Youtube. Here below is reported the script of Fr. Giovanni’ speech.
In my presentation I have tried to condense a few concepts, but above all I have tried to bring the reflection to a somewhat different plane than the one we are all used to. When we talk about Christmas in the Christian world, as Christianity is an historical religion, we normally speak of the coming of the Son of God into the world and we place this event at a precise point in space and time. Instead, I would like, within the limits of my current understanding and knowledge, to try to transcend the historical dimension and attempt to show the universal dimension of the Nativity story. I will adopt the inner point of view, seeking the correspondences between the universal and the relative dimensions, showing that the Gospel accounts, beyond the historical aspect, speak of the journey of us all.
Moreover, that God and his kingdom are to be sought from within, the writings of the Evangelists themselves remind us of this: from Luke who reminds us that about the Kingdom of God we cannot say “Look! Here it is” or “There it is’”, which is echoed in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas who adds "If it were in heaven, the birds would be there before you". Both conclude 'The Kingdom of God is within you'. Or St Paul, who in his letter to the Colossians recalls 'Christ in us, the hope of glory' and again 'Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?' A clear invitation to look within ourselves.
Before delving into the mystery of the Nativity, I would like to make a very brief premise. My point of view certainly does not reflect most Orthodox positions and is therefore not to be understood as representative of the institutionalised world of the Churches. My position derives from the doctrine of a Church independent from Rome, which in the last century has had a rather interesting history and spread: the Liberal Catholic Church.
The origin of this church can be traced back to 1870, the year of the First Vatican Council, at which the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed. For this reason, some dissenting European dioceses separated from Rome and formed a communion known as the Utrecht Union of the Old Catholic Churches. The Union extended to England in 1908 with the episcopal consecration of Arnold Harris Mathew who formed the British branch of the Old Catholic Church. James Ingall Wedgwood, at the time on a vocational path in the Anglican Church, became fascinated by some of the speeches of Annie Besant, President of the Theosophical Society, and began to take an interest in Theosophy and was therefore removed from the Anglican Church. On learning of Mathew's ministry, Wedgwood contacted him, expressed his doctrinal views (now close to Theosophical thought) and was then admitted as a minister. In 1913 he was ordained a priest.
The year 1915 marked a watershed, Mathew became intolerant of theosophical thought and decided to leave, leaving the reins to Wedgwood. In the meantime, Mathew had also caused a schism in the Utrecht Union, separating the British and Continental branches. In 1916 Wedgwood was consecrated bishop and, during a trip to Australia, consecrated Bishop Charles Webster Leadbeater, an eminent theosophist, and formerly an Anglican priest. The two began a revision of liturgical texts and an in-depth study of the sacraments, laying the foundations for what would become the message of the new church they founded: the Liberal Catholic Church. The Great Depression, Leadbeater's death in 1934 and the war, as well as disagreements over certain organisational aspects of the church led to separations. Although this church no longer survives intact, in its original form, there remains a constellation of Liberal Catholic churches, more or less large, around the world that pass on the episcopal genealogy of Mathew, Leadbeater and Wedgwood, as well as their thought. One of these is the church of which I am a member.
We come now to Christmas, the feast of Light.
I would start here, from this traditional antiphon part of the "Major Antiphons of Advent". The Advent Major Antiphons, also known as "O Antiphons" - because they all begin with O - are antiphons that are used between 17th December and 23rd December during liturgical celebrations and are invocations to the coming of Christ. Today is the 21st December, which you see in the Slide marks a change of pace. Before the 21st, Christ is invoked using appellations derived from prefigurations in the Old Testament (Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David). From now on, Christ is announced by his own appellations: Oriens (Light), King of the Gentiles and finally "Emmanuel", which I remember means "God with us".
Today's antiphon, which falls on the very day of the solstice, is particularly interesting. Let us read it.
O rising star, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice:
Come, enlighten those who lie in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Today is the darkest day of the year. In a day from which the light will begin to increase, we invoke Christ as the Light who comes to enlighten us. We are those wandering in darkness and in the shadow of death, as we are in a condition in which we experience tribulation and death, but for which we have been promised salvation. Man, who fell with Adam as a victim of his own sin, finds the way to Salvation by following the Light of Christ that guides him out of darkness.
But where is this Light? The words of John's Gospel come to mind. "The Light, it enlightens every man who comes into the world". It is always with us, but "It shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it".
With the Fall, a separation is created. Man loses his integrity: two centres are created, symbolised by the heart (which represents the centre of being, where this light of the 'Beginning' continues to shine) and the brain, the centre of the separate identity, an organ that contributes to creating mental superstructures with which Man tends to identify himself and forget his own origins, his own nature, and through which he filters reality. Man recognises himself in the finite and in forms, and disregards the Eternal, which, however, is always present because, as we have seen, it is within us, it is part of us, and we are part of Him.
Traditionally, the heart is associated with the symbol of the Sun, the brain with the Moon. The Sun shines with its own light, the Moon with reflected light. A sign that the connection between the two centres remains, it is always there.
It is simply ignored, but within us a voice resounds a "Voice of one crying out in the wilderness". A voice that calls us back to the deepest meaning of our existence and that we all hear at least once in our lives.
Here is another recurring character in the Advent readings. The Forerunner, John the Baptist is, we read from the Gospel, sent to bear witness to the Light. Although he is not the Light.
In the Gospels it is his voice that cries out in the wilderness, announcing the Coming of the Lord.
"Behold the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. 5 Let every valley be filled and every mountain and hill be lowered
What inner meaning can we draw? What does the forerunner ask for in order to prepare for the coming of Christ?
Obviously, this is not a call to a team of engineers to pave the way for the arrival of the Lord. But the call is precisely to our centre which lives by reflected light, which contributes to the sense of separation with its attachments, its emotions, its selfishness. A call to humble ourselves: if we have risen because of pride: let us come back down to earth. If we have sunk as victims of despair and discouragement, let us regain hope, let us raise our heads again. It is a call to clear those obstacles that screen the True Light, which shines in us, so that we can see it and begin to follow it.
In the Western Christian calendar, the feast of St John the Baptist is associated with the Summer Solstice, the time of year from which the hours of light begin to diminish. John says, referring to the coming Christ, 'I must decrease, and He must increase'. This phrase echoes "Prepare the ways of the Lord". On the other hand, the coming of Christ, in the same calendar, occurs at the time of year when light begins to increase (Winter Solstice).
If we then think of the name John, it has two meanings: 'God's mercy' but also 'praise to God'. In the Christian calendar, associated with the two solstices, we find two Johns. To the first, the Baptist, the first meaning fits better. To the second, St John the Evangelist (who is celebrated on 27 December), the second fits better. Mercy is a descending movement, from God to Man, a sign of the connection that always remains between Man wandering in darkness and God, the gift of life and free will with a God who hides but does not cease to relate to Man.
Praise, on the other hand, starts from Man and goes towards God. A sign that with the coming of the Light into the world, an ascending path begins, the way back to God is shown. The Light that comes into the world is Jesus, true Man and true God, who himself says of himself that he is "The Way", he invites Man to follow him, stripping himself of everything. Man who is regenerated in Christ begins his journey of transformation in an ascending sense. As St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, 'Your old life, ruined and deceived by the passions, you must leave it [...]. You must allow yourselves to be renewed in heart and spirit, to become new men created like God'.
We arrive now at the Nativity.
Christ is born in a cave and is then placed in a manger. He is born in extreme poverty in a place that is traditionally associated with the heart and the depths.
The cave is traditionally considered the entrance to the underworld, located in the direction of the centre of the Earth.
The Light of Christ, the one that enlightens every man, is found within us, deep inside.
In many spiritual traditions we find that purification marks a starting point and that this purification is represented by an inner journey of becoming aware of one's imperfections and 'rectifying' them. We are asked to dig within ourselves to bring to light every imperfection, every illusion or defect.
Returning to this state of purity brings us to another symbol, Christ comes into the world in the womb of a Virgin. Man must regain his innocence, lost in Adam's sin, before he can generate Christ in himself.
And it is from there that the path of ascent begins. The Virgin recalls another correspondence with the “Beginning”. In Genesis we find a God who, in the act of creation, shapes matter, envelops it, interpenetrates it. Through matter and its transformations, he manifests himself in his Creation. This primordial matter was virgin, untouched. It begins to transform the moment it meets the 'spirit that hovers over the waters'. The old hermetic saying reminds us that what is above is like what is below, the macrocosm finds correspondence in the microcosm. The name Mary, in fact, derives from Mare (Sea), Mary is often depicted dressed in blue. A reminder of the symbol of water.
From an inner point of view, the Virgin represents all of us, about to let ourselves be enveloped by the Spirit and be transformed by it. With our YES, like what Mary said to the Archangel Gabriel, we can generate Christ within us, in our hearts. And this allows us to set out on the path that leads us back to God, the same God from whom we come. The first thing to do is to want it.
Restoration of the Grail .... some news from our Mar Thoma LCC Associate Member, Bishop Morgan Lorio.
I came across an older J. Piana chalice (1), and I felt moved to rescue this grail cup which possessed strong simple lines and celtic banding, albeit beaten up and worse for wear. I liked the idea of restoring this chalice to its former glory so that it might once again be worthy of His Precious Blood. I must admit that I am a novice to the restoration of sacred vessels. I meticulously packed and shipped this treasure off into what one might call an Odyssey after researching which craftsman might best mend it. My chalice was received and expertly assessed. I was advised that 'the cup appeared to to be dangerously thin, out of round, compressed or pushed down onto the main neck of the chalice at some point in its life, the base plate was not removable and to not be surprised if the plater [refinisher] backs away from a perfect restoration...in short it was suggested that I simply place it on a shelf. At this point, I identified more than ever with this Eucharistic receptacle for Our Lord. I set a goal of restoring this symbol of my very own Hiramic Temple. I expanded my search and discovered a true, capable master craftsman undaunted by the task at hand, possessing superior talents right in his wheelhouse. In my quest, I learned that it was not enough to simply refinish the cup...It was necessary as Paracelsus said to recreate the calix (myself) by both replacing and forging a new cup. "Destruction perfects that which is good; for the good cannot appear on account of that which conceals it. The good is least good whilst it is thus concealed. The concealment must be removed so that the good may be able freely to appear in its own brightness (Paracelsus)."
The Tao tells us that we must empty our cup to have it filled by the Master and Eckhart Tolle tells us that some if not most must be 'crucified' to achieve true conciousness or salvation. The Gnostic 'Fifth' Gospel of Thomas Saying (89) parallels the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke regarding the Pharisaic concern with ritualistic washing or one's external appearance as expressed in Matthew (23:25-26) and Luke (11:39-41). Saying 89 is revealing - "Jesus said: Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not understand that He who made the inside is also He who made the outside?" Hebrews 5:8-10 says, "Son though He was, [Jesus] learned obedience from what He suffered being made perfect." Obedience is a Gethsemane 'Surrender' or "Thy Will Be Done." Going a little farther, He fell with His Face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will (Matthew 26:39)." Our cup must be taken so that it can be replaced with a wellspring. I have only to 'Wait on the Lord' AND to say "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You but only say the Word and I shall be healed." This chalice, has for me, become a symbol or Sangreal of the Great Change I am undergoing having received the Great Seal of Pure Grace, the Sacrament of Episcopal Consecration, within the Holy Celtic Church for which I am truly grateful.
(1) Joseph Piana was a renowned Gold and Silversmith from the USA.
Thank you for sharing Bishop Morgan. It's a beautiful chalice and I am sure we all look forward to seeing another photo when it is fully restored. (A.H.B.)
Talk on Celtic Christianity given to clergy of the Church of Norway at the Bedehus, Bruflat, Etnedal , 8/12/22 Rt Revd Dom Alistair Bate OSBA, M.A. Div.
The Essence of Celtic Christianity
It was a pleasure and a privilege for the Primus to be invited to give this talk to seventeen local Norwegian clergy in Etnedal on the 8th of December 2022. The attendees asked many intelligent questions and a memorable time of warm fellowship was enjoyed by all.
God morgen kjære venner. Takk for invitasjonen til å snakke med dere denne morgenen om keltisk spiritualitet.
Even if I can’t speak Norwegian I did want just to begin by greeting you in your own beautiful language. Although Norsk is in a completely different language group to the Celtic languages, yet in cadence and pronunciation it reminds me so much of the Scots Gaelic spoken by some of my ancestors in the Hebrides of Scotland, islands which were actually Norse for many centuries.
This morning I will attempt to cover quite a bit of ground in a short time with this prepared talk, which I will be happy to share with any of you to read later on in digital format. Hopefully we will also have some time for any questions you may have. If you don’t understand something feel free to stop me and ask for clarification.
I expect most of you know a bit about Celtic Christianity but for those who may not I will give you an outline of historic Celtic Christianity from my perspective, and it is fair to say that Celtic Christianity can be viewed from a number of different perspectives. The Roman Catholics, the Reformed, the Anglicans, the Orthodox and various independents like ourselves all come to the subject from slightly different perspectives, yet inspired by the same tradition.
When many people hear the words “Celtic Christian” the image that immediately springs to mind is St Patrick, the 5th century Apostle of Ireland, dressed in green vestments as a Roman Prelate and holding up a shamrock. He was of course an immensely important missionary and as a man of Romano-British heritage the seeds of the Christianity he sowed in Ireland were essentially Roman. In fact, among the sayings of St Patrick that have been preserved, he once said “The Church of the Irish, (which) is indeed that of the Romans, if you would be Christians, then be as the Romans. ...” (Dicta 3). So, from the start, the church in Ireland, and in the other Celtic countries, did not see itself in any way separate from the great Patriarchate of the West based in Rome, though of course in those days the Bishop of Rome was first among equals rather than an infallible source of authority and revelation.
What St Patrick did differently than many other missionaries, was that he did not impose Christianity at the point of a sword or threat of the stake, but rather he affirmed and Christianised all that was good in the native religious traditions of the people, explaining Christianity as the fulfillment of the native Druidic tradition, rather than its antithesis.
Canon Anthony Duncan, an Anglican writer whom I much admire, explained it thus, “When the Celts became Christian, the ancient myths were said to have been fulfilled in history. Heaven had "married" Earth and Mary, a real woman of flesh and blood, had fulfilled all the mythology of the goddess. She had "named and armed" her Son, who was the real, historical and redemptive sacrifice, validated by his witnessed resurrection from the dead. And the Christian's Good God was experienced by them as a Trinity, like the triple aspects of the ancient Celtic deities. It was a natural progression from the best in paganism, and it was about love, not fear.” This policy of Christianisation of ancient beliefs and practices wherever they were compatible with the new religion, was faithfully followed by later generations of Celtic missionary monks who preached a kinder gospel of love and peace throughout northern Europe and even as far east as Slovenia.
St Patrick attempted to organise the Irish church into a diocesan structure but as things turned out a monastic ecclesial structure quickly became dominant due mainly to the fact that the wild Celtic countries did not have towns, but rather the monasteries became educational, trade and administrative centres for the small kingdoms and the clans which ruled them. In the case of Kildare, for example, St Brigid and her successors as Abbess, ruled the surrounding countryside as the administrative ecclesial power, though naturally the Abbesses worked closely with a bishop who provided the necessary sacraments. As well as celibate monks and nuns many of these monastic villages also included married members with families and in fact some Abbots were hereditary, the title and function being passed from father to son, though the Culdee monastic reform movement from the 9th century onwards tried to impose a more regimented lifestyle on the monasteries.
Based as it was on the practices of the Desert Fathers in Egypt, Celtic monasticism was of course heroically ascetical, but so too was the Druidism of earlier times. Both monks and Druids recognised that nothing of lasting value can be acheived without blood, sweat and tears, so wise people and saints were tested and strengthened with various ordeals. One of the most beloved of our Celtic saints is St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, actually an Angle by birth, but also a Celtic monk. He used to wade out into the sea in the evening and remain there, mortifying the flesh, singing psalms thoughout the night, but when he returned to dry land the sea otters would gather around to warm him with their body heat. Many are the tales told of Celtic saints and their animal allies such as St Brigid with her cow, St Melangell of Wales with her hare, St Kevin with his blackbird, St Gobnait with her bees and many saints with wolves and deer. Actually, St Patrick was said to have shape-shifted into the form of a deer on one occasion to escape a dangerous situation, and there is definitely something very close to shamanism in the kinship between Celtic saints and their animal companions.
In the early centuries there were some minor differances between the customs of the churches in Celtic countries and those of most of the rest of Europe, such as the date of Easter, which Celts calculated according to the Egyptian Coptic tradition and the style of the clerical tonsure - the Irish and Scottish monks kept the Druidic tonsure, shaving the head at the front from ear to ear but leaving the hair to grow long at the back. There were also some liturgical variations of the Roman Rite, that in recent years have been given new life by ourselves and some other small Celtic churches, yet I think it fair to say that the main distinguishing feature of Celtic Christianity was not these little variations but rather an underlying theology which we might express in these words from Genesis, “And God saw all that he had made and behold it was very good”. We believe, as our ancestors did before us, in Original Blessing and not in Original Sin, and whilst acknowledging that sometimes nature is indeed “red in tooth and claw” our theology is and always has been “panentheistic”, that is the Divine is not confined to the material universe but rather the universe, ourselves included, is infused with the presence of God. We emphasise the Divine immanence in humanity and the natural world, as well as the Divine as transcendent mystery. St Paul also reminded us of the panentheistic vision when he was speaking to the Greek Philosophers, and said, as it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are His offspring.’” And again in his epistle to the Colossians St Paul wrote,
“There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything.” (Colossians 3:11) To the Celtic hermit God was ever present, both in his heart and in the world around him.
To give you a feel for this spirituality of Divine immanance I will read you a poem entitled the “A Hermit’s Desire, attributed to St Kevin of Glendalough, who lived in Ireland in the 6th century.
“I wish, ancient and eternal King, to live in a hidden hut in the wilderness.
A narrow blue stream beside it, and a clear pool for washing away my sins by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
A beautiful wood all around, where birds of every kind of voice can grow up and find shelter.
Facing southwards to catch the sun, with fertile soil around it suitable for every kind of plant.
And virtuous young men to join me, humble and eager to serve you.
Twelve young men – three fours, four threes, two sixes, six pairs – willing to do every kind of work.
A lovely church, with a white linen cloth over the altar, a home for you from Heaven.
A Bible surrounded by four candles, one for each of the gospels.
A special hut in which to gather for meals, talking cheerfully as we eat, without sarcasm, without boasting, without any evil words.
Hens laying eggs for us to eat, leeks growing near the stream, salmon and trout to catch, and bees providing honey.
Enough food and clothing given by you, and enough time to sit and pray to you.”
At this point you may be asking yourself, what was the purpose of this lifestyle. What did they hope to acheive? I think it is true to say that like monks and nuns everywhere the Celtic hermit monastics were “Seeking God”… The Benedictines sought God in the cloister, in reading the bible and praying in church, whereas the Celtic monk sought God primarily in the wilderness, in the woods and wild untamed places where the untamed man within could come to the surface and gradually be healed of the infirmity of sin. It was and is fundamentally a process of self-realisation and reintegration into the Godhead, very similar to the hesychastic path towards theosis still practiced today by Orthodox monastics. As St. Columbanus said, “Therefore let us concern ourselves with heavenly things, not human ones, and like pilgrims always sigh for our homeland, long for our homeland.” That homeland is Divine Union, God-realisation or Enlightenment.
The Celtic eremitical model of monasticism continued through the first millenium and the more urban Benedictine model, the backbone of the Church in England, never took root in the wild Celtic lands of the west, yet the 12th century Cistercian reform, being more agricultural than cultural, and with a particular emphasis on devotion to the Immaculate Mother of God, really appealed to the Celts and gradually supplanted the older form of Celtic monasticism.
I have spoken a great deal about Celtic monasticism, without which a distinctive Celtic Christianity simply would not exist, but there is also something to be said about folk religion - those prayers, poems, stories and rituals handed down in families and communities, devotions to various Celtic saints and pilgrimages to sacred wells, stones and trees associated with them, which have survived right through the centuries to the present day. When the monasteries were suppressed throughout the British Isles in the 16th century, folk Catholicism in Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland and the Bardic tradition in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany preserved many valuble oral traditions and practices that have contributed to a revival of the Celtic tradition in the 20th century. For example, the Celtic blessings with which you may be familiar probably either come from, or are inspired by, the collection of ancient prayers, poems and charms collected into a book called the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael in Scotland and published in 1900.
Various Celtic churches have been founded in the 20th century, some in America which are about as authentic and true to tradition as plastic leprechauns and green beer for St Patrick’s Day, though to be fair, one of the greatest scholars of early Celtic liturgies was also an American and a Celtic Orthodox bishop. The roots of our own church, the Holy Celtic Church International, are in Liberal Catholicism, a branch of Old Catholicism, founded in England in 1917 as well as the Holy Celtic Church of Brittany founded in 1957. We hold more than forty distinct lines of Apostolic Succession from Roman Catholicism, Old Catholicism, Anglicanism and nearly all the branches of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy. Apostolic Succession and the traditional theory and practice of the sacrament of Holy Orders is vital to the maintenance of our tradition. It is our most prized possession, for as St Ignatius of Antioch wrote back in the 2nd century, “Wherever the bishop is, there is the people of God; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” And as Tertullian wrote in the 3rd century, “Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that the bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men.” For us, the Apostolic succession is a channel of spiritual power, yet we also recognise that God’s grace cannot be confined to traditional channels. His Holy Spirit certainly moves in groups of Christians outside the Apostolic Succession and indeed the same Spirit is also discernable in members of other religions and none.
Marit also asked me to say a few words about Christmas and give you a few Christmas preaching ideas, but sadly I must confess right away that preaching is not my forte, so I asked around my clergy friends and one, an Anglican priest who is also a member of our community, told me that for many years for the Christmas morning Parish Mass he would ask in advance for each child to bring one of the Christmas gifts they had received and at the time of the sermon he would look at all the gifts and compose a homily there and then referring to each of them. This could sometimes yield surprising insigts and it was a bit of fun that the families appreciated. Perhaps it’s something you may like to try?
However, in our church we are mainly solitaries or minister only to small groups of family and friends so we rarely have any occasion for formal preaching. Teaching, yes certainly, but preaching very rarely, as we prefer to let the words of the liturgy speak for themselves and of course we also regularly celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina and Meditation, so, hopefully, we do “listen to the words of the Master”, as St Benedict recommends. We also appreciate these words of St Francis "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Therefore, all that really needs to be said is that Christmas reminds us that God is “Emmanuel” - “God with us” and more than that, in the Celtic tradition we would say God with us, God within us, above us, below us and all around us.
For me the essence of Christmas is summed up in the words of this well known hymn, “
O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!
I would like now, if I may, to close with a blessing. Let us pray: “As the sun rises over woods and sets upon the same, Lord bring your Yule blessings of good cheer. As the fire rises on the hearth, Lord bless us all with the warmth of your love, As the gift is given in the quiet of darkness, Lord bless us all and all we know with the surprise of your nearness. Amen. “
(Blessing by the Revd Tess Ward)
Dear Members and friends,
Just a short Pastoral Letter today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as I will also be posting a talk I gave this morning to a group of Lutheran clergy here in Norway, on Celtic Christianity.
I am a little bemused sometimes when I see Old Catholic and Independent Catholic churches use the definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as one of the reasons why they identify as “Old Catholics”. What might have been an issue back in 1854 surely isn’t still an issue today, when people generally hold doctrines with less certainty that hitherto? ... For me, anyway, it is a non-issue. I love the Miraculous Medal and Our Lady of Lourdes and if Our Lady said “I am the Immaculate Conception” and gave the medal prayer “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” that’s good enough for me. St Catherine Labouré and St Bernadette were great mystics whose personal mystical experiences were affirmed and interpreted by the church in the manner with which we are so familiar, however, it is up to each of us to apprehend the doctrine according to our own lights, and personally whilst I use the traditional language my intuition is that the Immaculate Conception is a Universal truth. Our Spirits always remain pristine, even if our souls arrive in this life with some residual dross. Baptism wipes the karmic slate as clean as that of Our Lady herself, and by her gracious assistance we can hope for some progress towards attaining that pure heart which is so necessary for our eventual reintegration with the Divine Heart.
Since my last Pastoral Letter in June we have celebrated the ordinations to the diaconate of Revd Br Columba OSBA and Revd Br Joseph Lawrence HFC by our dear friend and Associate Member, Bishop Morgan, in Florida. Also in Colombia, we rejoice in the ordinations of Revd Br Juan Carlos OSBA to the diaconate and Revd Fr Agustin PHS to the priesthood as well as the incardinations of Fr Mario Alexander in Columbia and of Fr Beni in California. Also here in Europe we have good news to report, as in October, in Switzerland, I was delighted to elevate the Very Revd Fr Giovanni Pede to the rank of Archpriest and received the Brigidine vows of Sr Hallyson Abigail BHS. It is wonderful to see the Congregation of St Romuald grow with new communities, inspired by diverse monastic charisms; particularly the Patricians of the Holy Spirit in Colombia and the Society of Mariavite Oblates in Mexico. I am so proud of you all and pray the Good Shepherd to guide you in faithfulness to your various vocations. The “New Monastic” model of discipleship has always been very important to our particular jurisdiction and I am glad to see fresh expressions of that general idea continuing to evolve. Happily, our Templar Order and associated groups also continue to attract new members.
In August of this year we launched the Guild of Our Lady of Llanthony, a association of church members and friends who are committed to the ministry of intercessory prayer, and I wish to emphasise that intercessory prayer is a ministry in itself. Those who may not have the opportunity for a more active ministry can still make time to pray and offer Masses for the intentions of the Guild and who knows how much good may be the result. So do join the Guild group if you are interested in joining us in this prayer ministry.
There are a few words about Christmas in the forthcoming article, “The Essence of Celtic Christianity”, so I shall close now, by wishing you all every blessing for the remainder of Advent and a very Merry Christmas!
+Alistair OSBA (csr)
Titular Abbot-Bishop of Glendalough & Primus
Rubiera (Reggio Emilia, Italy), 06 November 2022
Here follows the homily presented by Fr. Giovanni on the occasion of the eucharistic concelebration held with the Chiesa Cattolica Celtica, with whom we are in communion, at Rubiera. On this day, +Edio, Primus of the Chiesa Cattolica Celtica visited our MTLCC community of Reggio-Modena.
“Dear brothers and sisters,
This is an important day for our church. Today we meet in person for the first time.
Today we have here with us the Primate of a church in communion with us, with whom I am sure cooperation and exchanges will be continuous and fruitful. Let me say that all this is a gift, a blessing for us all.
On the term "blessing" I would like to turn our attention.
Why is being here today a blessing? What is a blessing?
In Holy Scripture we can say that the theme of blessing is a pivotal theme. God has been blessing animals and man since Creation. And since then there have been many examples of men and women being set apart, blessed, according to God's plan. And herein lies a key point: he who is blessed is not blessed for his own merit, he does not receive a prize, he is not elevated from the ordinary person to something special. He who is blessed becomes an instrument, he spreads the blessing, he brings others into the one and only blessing: the one bestowed by God at the beginning of time. Let us think of Jacob, blessed by Isaac (with the same formula used by God to bless Creation, which came to Jacob through Abraham), from whom the same people consecrated by God were then born, from whom the lineage of David and, therefore, Christ was generated. Let us think of Mary herself, to whom the Angel brought God's announcement and blessing. Who in turn blessed the world by giving birth to Jesus.
Let us now try to apply all this to our own little church reality. We are an independent church, somehow 'set apart' to fulfil a purpose. Is there, after all, a reason why we are here and not inside one of the institutional churches? Now, if this being 'set apart' is only motivated by our ego, by wanting to be special, to be different, let me say that there is little that is blessed. We set ourselves apart, divided from the rest. And division for selfish purposes we know well from whom it comes....
But what if instead we took note of the great opportunity that this gift of independence brings us? I don't think it is far-fetched to say that the opportunity given to us is to provide a direct path towards Unity. Unity with a capital U, mind you. The Unity we seek is that with God through Christ. Not unity with any earthly human agglomeration, a more or less large organisation of believers, run by an earthly authority to whose will and interpretation we must conform, leaving to others the assessment of how and to what extent what is being told participates in the Truth.
The opportunity we are given is a path, certainly not the same for everyone, that leads each of us to seek Christ within ourselves and in Him to recognise ourselves: to find Christ in our hearts, because it is there that He lives and that part of us made in the image and likeness of God resides.
This is precisely that Unity of which I spoke earlier, the one with a capital U. That this Unity must be sought within us, both Luke and Thomas remind us in their Gospels.
In fact, we read in Luke: "The kingdom of God does not come in a way that can be observed; nor will people say, 'Here it is' or 'There it is'; for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17: 20-21). This is echoed by Thomas: "Jesus said: - If those who lead you say to you, 'Behold, the kingdom is in heaven,' then the birds of the air will go before you. If they tell you that it is in the sea, then the fish will precede you. But the kingdom is within you and it is external to you. When you have recognised yourselves, then you will be recognised and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father'
(Gospel of Thomas, Logia 3).
This journey of discovery is therefore a journey of self-discovery, and this gradually makes us better men and women, perfects us, and brings us closer to the ideal of Christ. It changes us. And this change is not just for us. A better man or woman makes the world better, because it is in the world that he or she lives, moves and works. It is here that they bear witness. It is here that they bear the fruits of their encounter with Christ and through their work they bring Christ into the world. The Orientals would say that a renewed, enlightened Man (for us such is the man who knows Christ) does not generate new karma. If we think of karma as the universal law of cause and effect, generated by our actions, a man of this nature will never be moved by the will to harm and create negative effects. Simply because there will always be less selfish actions, he will not choose attachment to pleasure, greed and the desire to accumulate at the expense of others. A greater self-awareness, a recognition of Oneness leads to embracing everything and everyone. In Oneness there is no room for separation. In Oneness we are all brothers and sisters. We all share the same life. That is why Jesus tells us: 'as often as you [have helped] one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it to me' (Mt 25:40). Evil deeds, on the other hand, are like a spark, which, however small, is enough to set fire to a pile of straw as high as a palace. This is why we must seek and follow Christ, as he himself invited us to do, stripping ourselves of everything, to come to recognise him as alive within us and equally alive within our brother or sister. United in Christ, we become the image of God reflected in humanity. This is God's project to which we are all called to contribute.
The blessing we are given is a path of transformation of ourselves to transform the world. It echoes the words of God: "go, multiply, bear fruit".
This applies to us as a church and to us as individuals. To us as ministers and believers. To us as Sons of God”.
Praised be Jesus Christ.
A review of "Glastonbury, Avalon of the Heart"
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