30 May 2009

A.M. 'Donald' Allchin

In yesterday's post on St Melangell of Wales I had occasion to quote from the English scholar, A.M. ‘Donald’ Allchin, thus reminding me that I’ve been meaning to post about him for some time. I did not until recently know much about Allchin at all, but he is one of those people whose name seems to have popped up in various contexts, and it was this, more than anything that he’s written specifically, that prompted this post. That is, I'm afraid I don't have much of substance to offer here, just an overview of my encounters with Allchin.

The first place I definitely recall hearing of him was in the festschrift for Bishop Kallistos (Ware), Abba: The Tradition of Orthodoxy in the West, ed. Fr John Behr, et al. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 2003). First, in Fr Andrew Louth’s brief biography of Bishop Kallistos, we read the following anecdote:

A story told by A.M. (‘Donald’) Allchin, who was several years senior to Timothy at Westminster [a public school attached to the Abbey] and was to become one of his longest-standing friends, relates how, when Donald was supervising prep. one evening, Timothy’s hand shot up and he requested that, having finished his prep., he might be given permission to read. ‘What are you reading?’ asked the prefect. ‘Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason,’ came the reply. (pp. 13-4)

Second, there is the fascinating article that Allchin contributed to this volume: ‘“The Heir of Resurrection”: Creation, Cross and Resurrection in Early Welsh Poetry’ (pp. 317-33), to which I have already referred here. As a reference to the occasion he mentions in this article his friendship with Bishop Kallistos, and how, despite the fact that he has not joined the latter in becoming Orthodox, he has still been immensely influenced by Orthodoxy since even before university (pp. 317-8). Finally, towards the end of a fascinating study, Allchin writes:

It will not have escaped the notice of the Orthodox reader that many of the poems we have quoted date from after 1054 and one or two from after 1204. But the vision of Christian faith which they express is, I would maintain, the vision of first-millennium Christianity, the vision of a Christian world in which communion between East and West has not been broken . . . (p. 332)

Since first reading this enlightening piece, the only other work of Allchin’s I’ve had the opportunity to read is his brief but stirring introduction to Daily Readings with St Isaac of Syria, ed. A.M. Allchin, trans. Sebastian Brock (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1989). I thought one particularly well-written passage was the following:

But is it possible that his work will be able to speak across the chasms which divide East from West, the seventh from the twentieth century? It will be for the reader to decide.

For myself I can only say that there are words here which once heard are never forgotten, words which speak with the clarity and vigour which we find in the Gospels themselves: ‘Like a handful of dust thrown into the sea are the sins of all mankind compared with the mercy and providence of God’ (63). ‘Blessed is he who has eaten of the bread of love, which is Jesus’ (25). (pp. 11-2)

Finally, while I did not find a great deal about Allchin on the internet, I did come across this quite helpful bio and bibliography here:

Born in London in 1930. Educated in London and Oxford. Spent many years in Oxford as a mixture of Student Pastor and a University Lecturer. For fourteen years 1973–87 he was Canon in Canterbury Cathedral:

'…I was converted to the existence of Wales in the early summer of 1961 or 1962. Until then, like almost all English people, I knew nothing about the place and nothing about its history, language and culture…' (Canon Allchin, 2007)

Since then, his writing has continued to be centred on the nature of the Christian tradition including his major study of the great Danish preacher poet, polymath, politician and hymn writer N.F.S. Grundtvig (see Saunders Lewis’ play Excelsior). More and more, as the years have gone by, Welsh material has become central to Canon Allchin’s work and there he has written at least four or five books devoted to Welsh topics and a variety of reviews and articles.

In 1994 Canon Allchin came to live in Bangor and became an Honorary Professor in the Theology and Religious Studies Department of the University there. He has written guides to two holy places, Ynys Enlli and Pennant Melangell, and is currently enlarging and revising them. Canon Allchin has written various reviews and articles about several Welsh poets in English including R.S. Thomas and Ruth Bidgood. He is currently planning an introduction to the work of the fourteenth-century Ynys Mon poet Gruffudd ap Maredydd ap Dafydd.

Selected Publications:

Christian Tradition as a Whole:

The Silent Rebellion: Anglican Religious Communities 1845-1900 (Graduate Thesis, SCM Press, 1958)
N.F.S. Grundtvig: an Introduction to his Life and Work (Darton Longman &
Todd, 1997)

Studies in Christian Unity, particularly Eastern Orthodoxy:

The World is a Wedding (Darton Longman & Todd, 1978)
The Kingdom of Love and Knowledge (Darton Longman & Todd, 1979)
The Dynamic of Tradition (Darton Longman & Todd, 1981)
The Joy of All Creation (Darton Longman & Todd First ed. 1984, Second, enlarged ed. 1993)
Participation in God (Darton Longman & Todd, 1988)

Introduction to the Welsh tradition:

Ann Griffiths (Writers of Wales Series) (University of Wales Press, 1976)
Praise Above All (University of Wales Press, 1991)
The Furnace and the Fountain (Revised version of Ann Griffiths) (University of Wales Press, 1992)
God’s Presence Makes the World (Darton Longman & Todd, 1997)
Resurrection’s Children (Canterbury Press, 1998)
The Gift of Theology: Ann Griffiths and Elizabeth of Dijon (Canterbury Press, 2005)

Contributed to:

Particular Welsh Poets:

Euros Bowen: Priest and Poet (co-writer) (Church in Wales Publications, 1993)
Gwenallt: Sensuous Glory (co-writer) (Canterbury Press, 2000)
Waldo Williams (co-writer) (forthcoming)

'The Virgin Hermitess of Wales'—St Melangell

According to the Holy Trinity (Baltimore) calendar, today, 30 May on the Church’s calendar, is the feast day of St Melangell ('Monacella', † c. 641), virgin hermitess of Wales. Although the other sources I’ve found online indicate her feast as 27 May, I shall go ahead and post on her today since I didn’t notice this discrepancy until it was too late, and I didn’t want to miss posting on her entirely.

The Life of St Melangell, as Oliver Davies notes, dates ‘in surviving form from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century although based on earlier written and oral sources that are no longer extant’ (Celtic Spirituality, trans. Oliver Davies and Thomas O’Loughlin [NY: Paulist, 1999], p. 37). Indeed, A.M. Allchin goes further (qtd. here):

The Latin [version] comes to us from a manuscript copied in the seventeenth century, a hundred years or so after the Reformation. The story of course goes back long before that. There is no reason to doubt that in its essentials it goes back long before the conquest of Wales in 1282, back into the seventh century of which it speaks.

One can find brief overviews of St Melangell’s life here and here, but as short as the actual Vita is, and as little material as I’ve been able to find about her online, I’m afraid I shall simply have to post the thing in full:

In Powys there was once a certain most illustrious prince by the name of Brychwel Ysgithrog, who was the Earl of Chester and who at that time lived in the town of Pengwern Powys, which means in Latin the head of Powys marsh and is now known as Salop, and whose home or abode stood in that place where the college of St Chad is now situated. Now that very same noble prince gave his aforesaid home or mansion for the use of God as an act of almsgiving both by his own free well and from a sense of religious duty, making a perpetual grant of it for his own sake and for the sake of his heirs. When one day in the year of our Lord 604, the said prince had gone hunting to a certain placei n Britain called Pennant, in the said principality of Powys, and when the hunting dogs of the same prince had started a hare, the dogs pursued the hare and he too gave chase until he came to a certain thicket of brambles, which was large and full of thorns. In this thicket he found a girl of beautiful appearance who, given up to divine contemplation, was praying with the greatest devotion, with the said hare lying boldly and fearlessly under the hem or fold of her garments, its face toward the dogs.

Then the prince cried ‘Get it, hounds, get it!’ but the more he shouted, urging them on, the further the dogs retreated and, howling, fled from the little animal. Finally, the prince, altogether astonished, asked the girl how long she had lived on her own on his lands, in such a lonely spot. In reply the girl said that she had not seen a human face for these fifteen years. Then he asked who the girl was, her place of birth and origins, and in all humility she replied that she was the youngest daughter of King Jowchel of Ireland and that ‘because my father had intended me to be the wife of a certain great and generous Irishman, I fled from my native soil and with God leading me came here in order that I might serve God and the immaculate Virgin with my heart and pure body until my dying day.’ Then the prince asked the girl her name. She replied that her name was Melangell. Then the prince, considering in his innermost heart the flourishing though solitary state of the girl, said: ‘O most worthy virgin Melangell, I find that you are a handmaid of the true God and a most sincere follower of Christ. Therefore, because it has pleased the highest and all-powerful God to give refuge, for your merits, to this little wild hare with safe conduct and proteciton from the attack and pursuit of these savage and violent dogs, I give and present to you most willingly these my lands for the service of God, that they may be a perpetual asylum, refuge, and defense, in honor of your name, excellent girl. Let neither king nor prince seek to be so rash or bold toward God that they presume to drag away any man or woman who has escaped here, desiring to enjoy protection in these your lands, as long as they in no way contaminate or pollute your sanctuary or asylum. But, on the other hand, if any wrongdoer who enjoys the protection of your sanctuary shall set out in any direction to do harm, then the independent abbots of your sanctuary, who alone know of their crimes, shall, if they find them in that place, ensure that he culprits be released and handed over to the Powys authorities in order to be punished.’

The virgin Melangell, who was so very pleasing to God, led her solitary life, as stated above, for thirty-seven years in this very same place. And the hares, which are little wild creatures, surrounded her every day of her life just as if they had been tame of domesticated animals. Nor, by the aid of divine mercy, were miracles and various other signs lacking for those who called upon her help and the grace of her favor with an inner motion of the heart.

After the death of the said most illustrious prince Brochwel, his son Tyssilio held the principality of Powys, followed by Conan, the brother of Tyssilio, Tambryd, Gurmylk, and Durres the lame, all of whom sanctioned the said place of Pennant Melangell to be a perpetual sanctuary, refuge, or safe haven for the oppressed (thereby confirming the acts of the said prince). The same virgin Melangell applied herself to establish and instruct certain virgins with all concern and care in the same region in order that they might preserve and live in a holy and modest manner in the love of God, and should dedicate their lives to divine duties, doing nothing else by day or by night. After this, as soon as Melangell herself had departed this life, a certain man called Elissa came to Pennant Melangell and wishing to debauch, violate, and dishonor the same virgins, suddenly perished and died there in the most pitiful manner. Whoever has violated the above-mentioned liberty and sanctity of the said virgin has been rarely seen to escape divine vengeance on this account, as may be seen every day. Praises be to the most high God and to Melangell, his virgin. (Davies, pp. 221-3)

Now when this story is recounted, as it infrequently is, in our day, the tenderness of the Saint towards the hare is typically emphasised, usually as an illustration of some sort of ‘Celtic ecology’. Christopher Bamford, for instance, tries to claim that ‘everywhere in Celtic Ireland we will find a holy intimacy of human, natural and divine’ (‘Ecology and holiness: The heritage of Celtic Christianity’, Celtic Christianity: Ecology and Holiness, ed. William Parker Marsh and Christopher Bamford [West Stockbridge, MA: Lindisfarne, 1987], p. 19).

Fortunately, there are voices of reason to be found, though they are more obscure. Thomas Owen Clancy and Gilbert Márkus advocate allowing the Celtic monks ‘to speak to us in their own voices, rather than simply projecting our needs on to them’ (Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery [Edinburgh: Edinburgh U, 1995], p. 89). Thus they point out, ‘Donnchadh Ó Corráin has shown that the modern image of nature-loving hermits dwelling quietly and peacefully in intimacy with their surroundings is constructed largely on the basis of only fourteen poems written between the ninth and eleventh centuries’, poems, furthermore, written not by hermits but by ‘urban nature-lovers’ (p. 90). The ‘view of nature’ more commonly reflected in the Celtic sources they find to be ‘ambivalent’—where the natural environment of the monks is often a threatening force or even a specific instrument of ascetic suffering (pp. 90-1).

St Melangell is an excellent example of this phenomenon. One site, to which I won’t link, actually goes to far as to suggest that the whole story was essentially made up in order to provide a convenient justification for pagan veneration of the ‘sacred hare’, with the prince representing, in the mind of the modern author, the cruel Romanised, European man committing acts of violence against peaceful animals, and the female Celtic hippy-type protecting the sanctity of nature against him. But when we read the story, we notice that St Melangell does not do or say anything to protect the hare, and in fact seems to take no notice of it. It is the prince who notes how the hare seems to be protected by her presence, and furthermore he reveres the area as sacred not because of anything St Melangell has done or said but ‘because it has pleased the highest and all-powerful God to give refuge, for your merits, to this little wild hare with safe conduct and protection’ (Davies, p. 222).

Furthermore, remember that St Melangell was found ‘praying with the greatest devotion’ in the middle of ‘a certain thicket of brambles, which was large and full of thorns’ (p. 221). This specifically recalls one of the ‘“negative” aspects of nature’ that Clancy and Márkus find in Celtic monastic writings (p. 91). They cite, for example, the Buile Suibne, where we read ‘a shower of thorns off the hawthorn would stick into him, so that they were piercing and rending his side and wounding his skin’, and later:

Grey branches have wounded me,
they have torn my hands;
the briars have not left
the making of a girdle for my feet. (p. 91)

The Life of St Melangell is not an anti-hunting tract (for more on hunting, see this wonderful article by Charles Coulombe), but a story of God’s manifestation of the holiness of one of His Saints. He simply uses the hare, just as He uses the thicket of thorns and the piety of the prince, to perform this manifestation.

Thus, the shrine of St Melangell in Pennant Melangell, Llangynog, Powys, North Wales, is even to this day a place of pilgrimage, and in her honour the hunters of Cwm Pennant never shoot the local hares. For, according to the church registers of 1723 (qtd. here)—

Mil engyl a Melangell
Trechant lu fyddin y fall.

Melangell with a thousand angels
Triumphs over all the powers of evil.

Here is a Troparion for St Melangell in Tone 8, taken hence:

Preferring the rigours of monasticism to worldly
status and marriage, O pious Melangell,
though wast fifteen years on a rock,
emulating the example of the Syrian Stylites.
Wherefore, O Saint, pray to God that He will give
us strength to serve Him as He wills,
that we may be found worthy of His great mercy.

29 May 2009

St Brendan & the Contemporary Novel

Now for the promised post on Frederick Buechner’s Brendan: A Novel (SF: HarperOne, 1988). Unfortunately, it has been some time since I read it, and I do not currently possess a copy. But I did write down some thoughts at one point at least a little bit closer in time to my reading. I have also found on Google books a passage that I would like to post here.

First of all, although I understand and to a great extent appreciate the objections to novels about Saints’ lives (which were recently discussed in the combox on this post at Orrologion), I nevertheless find that when I want to read a novel, I’d just as soon read one about a Saint. Buechner’s novel, Brendan, is not only a creative telling of the story of St Brendan the Navigator of Ireland, but a true work of literature, not just another entry in the ‘historical fiction’ genre. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Buechner’s work is the beauty of the dialect in which the narrator, one of St Brendan’s fellow monks and friends, tells the story. Buechner clearly has a gift for language per se, not just for telling a story.

Orthodox may be wondering about how the author, as a Presbyterian, treats the miraculous and almost fantastical elements in St Brendan’s life, particularly the famous Voyage. Rest assured, these aspects of the story are definitely present in the novel, in other words, Buechner doesn’t omit, psychologise, or explain these away in some clever manner. Indeed, he tells them in an interesting juxtaposition of the directness of the Irish mentality and dialect through which the entire story is presented and an almost surreal otherworldliness which permeates the text, bending reality into an almost iconographic perspective around the holiness and spirituality of the Saint. ‘Magical realism’ may be the first words to occur to many readers, but whatever one calls it, the result is spiritually sensitive and insightful as well as æsthetically brilliant. This is one of my top-ten favourite novels.

The passage I wanted to post depicts an event that takes place after St Brendan’s return from his voyage. He is, as one might expect, being mobbed by adoring disciples, all of them anxious to venerate him and to hear about his voyage. Buechner has, at this point, given a rather dark turn to his portrayal of this period of St Brendan’s life, one which contrasts with the traditional accounts but, to me at least, is not entirely incompatible with the characteristics of sanctity in general. That is to say, I think Buechner’s version of St Brendan’s life is not wholly implausible from a spiritual perspective, as poetically licentious as it may appear to be. I do, however, recommend that Orthodox who wish to really enjoy Buechner’s story read it before rather than after thoroughly familiarising themselves with the traditional accounts. At any rate, here is the passage in question:

They was all of them calling to Brendan at once and knocking each other about to get close enough to touch him for luck. He was flattened against the wall wild-eyed as a stag set on by hounds. It was all he could do to keep them from tearing the clothes off his back for scraps to ward off the evil eye or heal warts. Some of the monks tried to drag them away but it was plain they’d never leave till Brendan spoke of his voyages to them. It was the shortest I ever heard him do it.

‘I’ll tell you about my voyages then,’ he said. ‘They never did anybody a bit of good least of all Christ.’ The wet was pelting his face.

‘There’s only one true port,’ he said. ‘That’s Heaven. God grant we never shipwreck on our voyage thither. God grant we never put our souls in danger of sin, for sin is the only death in the world worth fearing.’

The jaws of the herders hung agape. The king’s fur hat was sodden and his bullies dripping. They listened like he was telling them the secret truth of life itself.

‘Pray for yourselves and your kindred,’ he said. ‘If you’ve any breath left in you pray for me then for there’s no worse sinner in the land nor a greater fool.’

They parted then without a murmur to let him pass through them. In silence they watched as he went splashing off. It was that very day he fixed on going to dwell on the island in the Shannon.

. . .

He was sailing the seas inside himself. His prayers was his craft. Rue and shame was the winds that drove him. (pp. 206, 207)

Incidentally, I know of at least two other references to St Brendan in contemporary literature, both in Umberto Eco. In The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (NY: Harcourt, 1983), when William is speaking to Adso about the monks of Ireland, we read, ‘They were great men. Saint Brendan reached the Isles of the Blest and sailed along the coasts of hell, where he saw Judas chained to a rock, and one day he landed on an island and went ashore there and found a sea monster. Naturally they were all mad’ (p. 313).

Then, in Baudolino, trans. William Weaver (NY: Harcourt, 2000), during the course of a discussion about the idea of the Earthly Paradise, Abdul says:

That virtuous man who came from my island, Saint Brendan, sailed the seas to the farthest confines of the earth, and discovered an island all covered with ripe grapes, some blue, some purple, others white, with seven miraculous fountains and seven churches, one of crystal, another of garnet, the third of sapphire, the fourth of topaz, the fifth of ruby, the sixth of emerald, the seventh of coral, each with seven altars and seven lamps. And before the church, in the middle of the square, rose a column of chalcydon with, at its top, a turning well covered with rattles. (p. 98)

If I had time, I’d try to track down these passages’ analogies in the Voyage. Maybe another day!

'Rejoice, Sun Which Does Not Set on the Land of Ireland'—St Brendan the Navigator

Today, 16 May on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Brendan the Navigator (c. 484-c. 577), Abbot of Clonfert. According to the famous Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot, ‘St Brendan, son of Findlug, descendant of Alta of the line of Eogan, was born in the marshy region of Munster. He was a very ascetical man, famed for his miracles and spiritual father to almost three thousand monks’ (Celtic Spirituality, trans. Oliver Davies and Thomas O’Loughlin [NY: Paulist, 1999], p. 155). Dennis O’Donoghue’s 1893 translation of the second sentence is more faithful to the Latin—‘He was famed for his great abstinence and his many virtues, and was the patriarch of nearly three thousand monks’ (here).

St Brendan was baptised by St Erc, taught for five years by St Ita, ‘the Brighid of Munster’, and, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia

he completed his studies under St. Erc, who ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St. Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, at the foot of Brandon Hill. It was from here that he set out on his famous voyage for the Land of Delight.

This voyage is of course the primary subject of what is perhaps the most famous hagiographic narrative in the Western world: the above-mentioned Voyage of St Brendan the Abbot. Davies describes the Voyage as follows:

In its combination of ancient Irish motifs, Christian apocalyptic vision, biblical reminiscences, early medieval zoological and geographical lore, all combined with exact descriptions of the monastic regimen and ascetical ideals, The Voyage of Brendan can be regarded as a compendium, or even classical narrative, of the early Irish Church. (p. 34)

But although it certainly has unique features, St Brendan’s story is also an example of the classic Irish tale of voyages, the immram, of which the Voyage of St Maeldune is another example (one used to great effect by Lord Tennyson—‘The Voyage of Maeldune’, Poems of Tennyson, ed. Jerome H. Buckley [Boston: Hough Mifflin, 1958], pp. 479-83).

According to the Voyage, while St Brendan ‘was engaged in spiritual warfare in a place which is called Brendan’s “Meadow of Miracles” [identified by Davies as, most likely, Clonfert—p. 508, n. 4]’ (Davies, p. 155), a relative, St Barinthus, told him about how he had been to visit his son, who was the elder at a skete on an isolated island, and how the latter had taken him to ‘the island which is called the Promised Land of the Saints, that land which God will give us and our successors on the last day’ (p. 156). It is, apparently, a foretaste of Paradise on earth. They stay there a year without noticing the passage of time or requiring food or drink, there is unwaning day, and when they return to the skete they say, ‘Can you not tell from the fragrance of our clothes that we have been in Paradise?’ (Davies, p. 157). (This makes me think of Coleridge—

And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.)

At any rate, it is this testimony that inspires St Brendan to undertake his voyage. According to the narrative:

St Brendan selected seven monks from his community, shut himself in an oratory with them, and said to them: ‘My most beloved fellow-warriors, I look to you for advice and help, for my heart and all my thoughts are united in a single desire. I have resolved in my heart, if only it be God’s will, to seek that Promised Land of the Saints, of which St Barinthus has spoken. How does this seem to you, and what advice do you wish to give me?’

As soon as they knew their holy father’s intention, they said with one voice: ‘Father, your will is our will. Have we not left our families, have we not set aside our inheritance and put ourselves in your hands? And so we are ready to follow you to either death or life. We seek one thing only: the will of God.’ (pp. 157-8)

St Brendan and 17 of his monks set sail from St Brendan’s Mountain (on the Dingle Peninsular, Kerry—Davies, p. 508, n. 9), and spent seven years at sea in a wooden coracle covered in cowhide, searching for the Promised Land and encountering various marvels. The most well-known of those, though certainly not the most important, is the story of the ‘island’ that turns out to be the sea monster, often believed to be a whale, Jasconius (told in Davies’s translation on p. 163). In an interesting lecture on St Brendan, John Patrick Crichton Stuart Bute, 3rd Marquess of Bute, makes the following comments:

This is the only incident in the whole romance which is actually grotesque. But from the solemnity with which it is narrated, it is evident that it did not appear to be grotesque to the author. It seems to have taken the fancy of the early and mediæval public, and even of the iconographic public in a special degree. The word whale has commonly been applied to the beast, and as the same episode occurs in the story of Sinbad the Sailor, Jubinal has set himself to speculate how that story, or the Arabian Nights in which it is incorporated, came to be known in Ireland. I confess I do not agree with him. In the first place, the notion is not particularly recondite, and it has at least this possible foundation in fact, that, as I have been told by sailors, the back of a whale of advanced years, when asleep at the surface, may be and has been mistaken from some distance, greatly owing to the accretions upon it, for the top of a reef. [In a fascinating post, Brendan Macodrum points out that a description of this occurrence is found in the 2nd- to 4th-century Physiologus, likely to have been known by the author of the Voyage.] Again, a somewhat similar notion occurs in Lucian's Traveller's Tale, which was much more likely to be known to the Irish fabulist. Lastly, I must observe that all this is gloss. The word whale (cete) is never applied to the animal but always fish (piscis) or monster (bellua) or beast (bestie), and the whole thing, with the notion of its vast size, and the attempt to join the tail to the mouth, which brings it into connection with the emblem of eternity, which is due, I believe, to the Phoenicians, but which we ourselves so often use upon coffins and grave-stones, seems to bring it into connection rather with the idea of the Midgard-Worm, the great under-lying world-serpent which figures so largely in the mythic cosmogony of the Scandinavians. I suggest that this is the notion, of which the romancer may have heard from Scandinavian sources; and there is even a kind of indication that it was associated in his mind with the idea of paganism, as Brendan is made to speak elsewhere of God having made the most terrible (immanissimam) of beasts subject unto them [Davies, p. 173—‘My dear sons, watch and pray in case you should enter into temptation. Remember how God tamed that terrible beast beneath us without any difficulty’].

At last, St Brendan and his surviving companions were guided to the island they sought. According to the Voyage, they ate and drank of the blessed fruit and spring-water, discovered a river they could not cross (St Barinthus also mentioned this river), and finally encountered a ‘young man’, who kissed them and called them each by name, saying, ‘Blessed are they that dwell in your house, O Lord. They shall praise you forever and ever’ (Ps. 83:5).

Then he said to St Brendan: ‘This is the land which you have sought for so long. You were not able to find it immediately because God wished to show you his many wonders in the great ocean. Return now to the land of your birth, taking with you fruit from this land and as many gems as your boat can carry. The day of your final journey is approaching, when you shall sleep with your fathers. After the passage of many years, this land will be revealed to your successors when Christians will be suffering persecution. This river which you see divides the island into two halves, and you can see nothing but ripened fruit, which is how it remains all the year round, with no shadow of night, for Christ himself is our light. (pp. 189-90)

The end of the Voyage tells how St Brendan and his companions returned to his monastery in Ireland and told the story of their journeys and the wonders they experienced. The abbot also informed his spiritual children of the prophecy the young man made concerning his imminent repose. According to the narrative, ‘Events proved him right for when he had put all his affairs in order and had been strengthened by the sacraments of God, he soon gave up his spirit as he lay in his disciples’ arms, and passed over to the Lord, to whom be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen’ (Davies, p. 190).

Of course, there must have been some not entirely insignificant lapse of time between St Brendan’s return to Ireland and his repose, since, as Brendan Lehane (in his typically cynical tone) points out, ‘He was still to travel, to risk his life in restless searchings [he visited many places throughout the British Isles], and to play the autocrat among his erring monks’ (Early Celtic Christianity [London: Constable, 1996], p. 90). Among others, he founded a convent in Galway, ‘Annaghdown by the shore of Lough Corrib’, where he made his sister Brig the abbess (Lehane, p. 91). He met St Columba of Iona in Scotland, and St Gildas the Wise and St David in Wales. Finally, he returned to his sister’s monastery at Annaghdown, where he died in her arms in 577. According to Lehane, ‘On his instructions his body was taken for interment to Clonfert, where he was buried in the presence of many mourners’ (p. 99).

There have been many speculations that the Voyage of St Brendan contains a genuine account of Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact, i.e., that St Brendan and his companions may have visited the New World 300 years before Leif Ericson and over 900 years before Columbus. Apparently, it was doubted at one time that such a feat could have been accomplished in a coracle of the type described by the Voyage, but in 1976, someone did precisely that. I recall once hearing a recorded lecture by Hieromonk Ambrose (Young) at Holy Cross Hermitage about some markings in a cave in West Virginia that were believed to have been made by Irish monks, but unfortunately a little internet digging reveals that this interpretation of the markings is believed by most archaeologists to be ludicrously doubtful (alas, see this article). Do, however, read this article about the general idea of the Irish visiting the New World, maybe even Florida! (HT to Orthodox Okie, to whom I am grateful as well for the icon above.)

I highly recommend some of the posts on Brendan Macodrum’s blog, Wick Lit, though I should warn readers that this blog also features quite a number of images of nude women, most of them, however, somewhat tastefully done. Macodrum, a resident of Skellig Michael, the famous monastic island off the coast of Ireland, also has two other blogs, Cape Blue and Immrama (here he has posted the account of the end of St Brendan’s voyage from the Book of Lismore). He no longer posts on any of them, but if he happens to read this, many years on his Old Calendar Orthodox nameday!

There is also an Akathist to St Brendan here, but sadly it is in the barbarous French tongue, which I have not yet condescended to learn. I was, however, able to translate the title of this post from the first Ikos. Finally, for those who have been waiting all along for me to mention Frederick Buechner's novel, Brendan, I'm afraid it will have to wait for a separate post. This one has already ballooned to mammoth proportions.

28 May 2009

'Around Him, the Monks Swarm'—St Pachomius the Great

Today, 15 May on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of our Holy Father Pachomius the Great (292-346), founder of Egyptian coenobitism. According to William Harmless, ‘His Coptic name, “Pachom” [Παϧωμ], means “king’s falcon”’ (Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism [Oxford: Oxford U, 2004], p. 118). Born to pagan parents, the stories of his youth make it clear that he was feared by the demons even before he became a Christian. St Pachomius explained this to his disciples later, saying (Armand Veilleux, trans., Pachomian Koinonia, Vol. I: The Life of St Pachomius and His Disciples [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1996], p. 26):

Do not think that the demons, who do not know the good, had me driven out of that place because they knew beforehand that I was later going to receive mercy by the true faith. Rather they saw that I hated evil even then—for God made man upright. And it was for this reason that they moved their servants to chase me out of that place. Just as anyone will say about a field that has been cleared, ‘Probably the field that has been cleared of all darnel is going to be sown with good seed.’

When he was twenty, St Pachomius was conscripted and taken down the Nile. He was detained in a prison at Luxor, according to Derwas Chitty, ‘somewhere, we may suppose, in the legionary camp which enveloped a large portion of the ancient Egyptian temple’ (The Desert a City: An Introduction to the Study of Eygptian and Palestinian Monasticism under the Christian Empire [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 1995], p. 7). There, we are told:

In the evening some merciful Christians, hearing about them, brought them something to eat and rink and other necessities, because they were in distress. When the young man asked about this, he was told that Christians were merciful to everyone, including strangers. Again he asked what a Christian was. They told him, ‘They are men who bear the name of Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and they do good to everyone, putting their hope in Him who made heaven and earth and us men.’

Hearing of this great grace, his heart was set on fire with the fear of God and with joy. Withdrawing alone in the prison, he raised his hands to heaven in prayer and said, ‘O God, maker of heaven and earth, if you will look upon me in my lowliness, because I do not know you, the only true God, and if you will deliver me from this affliction, I will serve your will all the days of my life and, loving all men, I will be their servant according to your command.’ (Veilleux, p. 300)

Thus, as soon as the young man was discharged, he went to a church in the Upper Thebaid and received catechesis and holy Baptism. Eventually, he decided to become a monk, and spent seven years in strict asceticism as the disciple of an elder named Palamon. Aside from the physical ascesis, he practiced reciting the Scriptures for long periods of time, endeavouring ‘to cleanse his conscience perfectly to fulfil the law of God, looking to the great hope in heaven’ (p. 304). It is said, ‘When he began to read or to write by heart the words of God, he did not do this in a loose way or as many do, but worked over each thing to assimilate it all with a humble mind in gentleness and in truth’ (p. 304). In this way, the Saint was gradually prepared for the tremendous task that lay ahead of him.

While he was still young, St Pachomius was ‘led by the Spirit’ to a deserted village near the river called ‘Tabennisi’. As he prayed there, he heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Pachomius, Pachomius, struggle, dwell in this place and build a monastery; for many will come to you to become monks with you, and they will profit their souls’ (p. 39). According to the Life of St Pachomius, he returned ‘at once’ to his elder and told him about the voice. Elder Palamon heeded the words as the will of God and went to the place with St Pachomius to help him build a cell there.

Not long afterwards, Elder Palamon fell asleep in the Lord and St Pachomius was joined at his hermitage by his brother John. Then, one day, when he was gathering rushes, ‘an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him three times, “Pachomius, Pachomius, the Lord’s will is to minister to the race of men and to unite them to himself”’ (p. 45). According to tradition, the angel also gave him two very important things (St Nicholas [Velimirović], The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. I: April, May, June, trans. Mother Maria [Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986], p. 182; see the Sebastian Press trans. here):

Then an angel appeared to him in the robes of a monk of the Great Habit [Schema] at the place called Tabennisi and gave him a tablet on which was written the rule of a cenobitic monastery, commanding him to found such a monastery in that place and prophesying to him that many monks would come to it seeking the salvation of their souls.

Furthermore, according to Ivan Kontzevitch (The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit: Orthodox Ascetic Theology, Vol. I [Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996], p. 96):

Tradition has it that the Lord’s Angel who gave St Pachomius his monastery’s Rule said: ‘The Rule is for those whose mind is not yet mature, so that remembering the Rule of common life, in fear before the Lord, they might attain freedom of spirit, be they even unruly slaves.’ [I have found something quite close to this statement in the Lausiac History, 32.7, here and in Veilleux, Pachomian Koinonia, Vol. II: Pachomian Chronicles and Rules [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1981], p. 127.]

It was then that St Pachomius began to build more cells and the disciples began to pour in. According to Harmless, ‘By 345, the year before Pachomius died, there were nine monasteries for men and two for women’ (p. 122). Palladius tells us that St Pachomius was ‘archimandrite of three thousand men’ in his lifetime (Veilleux, V.II, p. 123; here, at 7.6), and that the communities numbered 7,000 by Palladius’s own day (Veilleux, V.II, p. 127; here, at 32.7). In his Foreword to the Pachomian Koinonia, the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé writes, ‘Before the end of the century, the pachomian Koinonia had sister-houses in Pontus and Cappadocia, in Syria and Palestine, in Italy, Africa, and Gaul—to mention only those which are best known to us through their literary remains’ (Veilleux, V.I, p. vii). According to Peter Brown, ‘The great Pachomian monasteries were vast, impersonal places’ (The Making of Late Antiquity [NY: Barnes & Noble, 1998], p. 96).

But as Brown notes, all of these enormous communities were tightly organised around a very personal figure, the apa, St Pachomius himself, and his successors as elder, such as St Theodore. In de Vogüé’s words, ‘[T]he pachomian Koinonia had a father capable of binding it together, one who radiated the grace of fatherhood to the superiors of each monastery and each house’ (Veilleux, V.I, p. xi). Harmless calls him ‘a charismatic, Spirit-charged’ (p. 133). Peter Brown writes:

Pachomius and his successor Theodore were held to have been able to achieve, in the exemplary conditions of a great monastery, what the . . . other religious leaders of the third century had failed to achieve. They had founded and maintained an institution on a gift to search hearts. . . .

The gift, to dioratikon, was held to be the secret of Pachomius’ ability to organize and to control a landslide of conversions to the ascetic life in Upper Egypt. He was the kind of leader the monks needed: the identity of each one was transparent to him. . . . Over two thousand monks might come together, squatting on the ground at a great festival. Yet Abba Theodore would go round that crowd, stepping from one monk to another, and telling to each what each had on his mind [Epistula Ammonis 21; Veilleux, V.II, pp. 89-90]. (Brown, p. 96)

Of course, as de Vogüé has noted, ‘An abbot is nothing without a rule’ (The Rule of St Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary, trans. John Baptist Hasbrouck [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1983], p. 73). Accordingly, we find among the Pachomian documents highly detailed legislation for organising the coenobia—here for example are two sections from the ‘Precepts’ of St Pachomius:

139. Whoever enters the monastery uninstructed shall be taught first what he must observe; and when, so taught, he has consented to it all, they shall give him twenty psalms or two of the Apostle’s epistles, or some other part of the Scripture.

And if he is illiterate, he shall go at the first, third, and sixth hours to someone who can teach and has been appointed for him. He shall stand before him and learn very studiously with all gratitude. Then the fundamentals of a syllable, the verbs, and nouns shall be written for him, and even if he does not want to, he shall be compelled to read.

140. There shall be no one whatever in the monastery who does not learn to read and does not memorize something of the Scriptures. (One should learn by heart) at least the New Testament and the Psalter.

Clearly, St Pachomius had a keen interest in detail, and the extent of his achievement was great. His monasteries attained such a unity of will that he borrowed the New Testament word κοινωνία to describe them. As St Pachomius himself is reported to have said:

In Egypt now in our generation, I see three principal things flourishing with the favor of God and man. The first is the blessed athlete, the holy Apa Athanasius, the archbishop of Alexandria who struggles for the faith even to the point of death. The second is our holy father Antony, who is the perfect model of the anchoritic life. The third is this Koinonia, which is the pattern for everyone who wants to gather souls together according to God in order to help them achieve perfection. (Veilleux, V.I, p. 192)

Peter Brown assigns the Koinonia a secular significance as well for its rôle in ‘the making of Late Antiquity’, one ‘more enduring than that of Constantine’ (p. 80). But as de Vogüé concludes his Foreword:

The rules and traditions, organization and hierarchy, monasteries and congregation all disappeared, and the faint literary or institutional traces of Pachomianism left to the monastic world—particularly in the latin West—would of themselves constitute only a pitiable survival. But in truth, the Koinonia of the sons of Pachomius has not ceased to exist. It is found wherever brothers gather together in the love of Christ to live in total sharing, perfect charity, and the renunciation of self-will ‘under a rule and a father’. (Veilleux, V.I, p. xxiii)

I myself have previously discussed some of the Pachomian materials in this post; and although there is only a passing reference to St Pachomius by name, I recommend this post at Sr Macrina's A vow of conversation where she discusses some issues in de Vogüé that are relevant to my observations here about the Koinonia, and which in fact inspired some of the emphases of this post. In conclusion, I offer two more things. First, a brief, edifying excerpt from the writings of St Pachomius himself (Pach. Instr. I; Armand Veilleux, trans., Pachomian Koinonia, Vol. III: Instructions, Letters, and Other Writings of St Pachomius and His Disciples [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1982], pp. 20-1):

21. My son, be merciful in all things, for it is written, Strive to be presented to God as having come through trial, like a workman who fears no shame (2 Tm 2:15). Approach God as one who sows and reaps, and into your granary you will gather God’s goods. Do not pray with much show, in the manner of hypocrites, but give up your whims and do what you do for God, acting thus for your own salvation. If a passion arouses you, whether it is love of money, jealousy, or hatred and the other passions, watch out, have the heart of a lion (2 S 17:10), a strong heart. Fight against them, make them disappear like Sihon, Og, and all the kings of the Amorites. May the beloved Son, the Only-begotten, Jesus the king, fight for you, and may you inherit enemy towns. Still, toss all pride far from your side, and be valiant. Look: when Joshua (son) of Nun was valiant, God delivered his enemies into his hands. If you are fainthearted, you become a stranger to the law of God. Faintheartedness fills you with pretexts for laziness, mistrust, and negligence, until you are destroyed. Be lion-hearted and shout, you as well, Who can separate us from the love of God (Rm 8:35)? And say, Though my outer self may dissolve, still my inner self is renewed from day to day (2 Co 4:16).

Second, the first four lines of the ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St Pachomius found in the Prologue:

With the Spirit of God, Pachomius burns,
With the angels, Pachomius speaks.
Around him, the monks swarm
All like candles, they stand before God.

27 May 2009

'His Mouth Never Once Ceased Uttering the Scriptures'—St Serapion the Sindonite

Today, 14 May, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Serapion the Sindonite, one of the Desert Fathers of Egypt. It seems there are a number of Serapions mentioned in the early monastic literature—see, e.g., St Cassian's 5th Conference, in his introduction to which Boniface Ramsey mentions references to Serapions, who may or may not be identical with today's, in four other authors (St John Cassian, The Conferences, trans. Boniface Ramsey [NY: Newman, 1997], p. 177)—but from the Prologue we can get a basic picture of the St Serapion whom we commemorate today. I shall quote in full from the translation by Mother Maria (St Nicholas [Velimirović], The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 2: April, May, June, trans. Mother Maria [Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986], pp. 178-9; here is the Sebastian Press trans.):

‘Sindon’ means ‘linen cloth’ [the Sebastian Press trans. adds that it was this cloth ‘in which the bodies of the dead were wrapped’], and this saint was called ‘the Sindonite’ because he covered his naked body only with a linen cloth. He carried the Gospels in his hand. Serapion lived like the birds, with no roof and no cares, moving from one place to another. He gave his linen cloth to a poor wretch who was shivering with cold, and himself remained completely naked. When someone asked him: ‘Serapion, who made you naked?’, he indicated the Gospels and said: ‘This!’ But, after that, he gave away the Gospels also for the money needed by a man who was being hounded to prison by a creditor for a debt. At one time in Athens, he did not eat for four days, having nothing, and began to cry out with hunger. When the Athenian philosophers asked him what he was shouting about, he replied: ‘There were three to whom I was in debt: two have quietened down, but the third is still tormenting me. The first creditor is carnal lust, which has tormented me from my youth; the second is love of money, and the third is the stomach. The first two have left me alone, but the third one still torments me.’ The philosophers gave him some gold to buy bread. He went to a baker, bought a single loaf, put down all the gold and went out. He went peacefully to the Lord in old age, in the 5th century.

The point made here about St Serapion’s Gospel-book is one that is found in some of the early sources on this Saint as well, and not only in this particular story. Douglas Burton-Christie cites a story from the Greek anonymous collection of apophthegmata edited by F. Nau concerning a brother who ‘owned only a book of the Gospels’ (The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism [NY: Oxford U, 1993], p. 115). In Helen Waddell’s translation of materials from the Latin translation of this collection, this ‘brother’ is named as Abba Serapion (The Desert Fathers, trans. Helen Waddell [NY: Vintage, 1998], p. 145):

lxx. A certain monk Serapion owned a Gospel: and he sold it and gave to the hungry, following the memorable saying: for, said he, ‘I sold that same word that ever used to say to me “Sell that thou hast and give to the poor” [Matt. 19:21].’

Of course, in the Syriac recension of Palladius’s Lausiac History (I can’t tell if the material on St Serapion is found in any of the main recensions, but there is also a brief account of St Serapion at the bottom of this page of Lausiac History material), we are told that St Serapion ‘could repeat all the Scriptures by heart’ (Ernest A. Wallis Budge, trans., The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, Vol. 1 [Blanco, TX: New Sarov, 1994], p. 188). Indeed:

And by reason of the greatness of his self-denial and the repetition of the Scriptures he was unable to live in a cell, because he could not make use of anything which belonged to (this) world; but he went round about at all seasons and taught the multitudes, and he sold himself voluntarily, and he preached, and taught, and turned many people unto God. . . . And he never ate anything except dry bread and water, and his mouth never once ceased uttering (the words of) the Scriptures [see my previous comments on this practice here]. (p. 188)

This is taken even further in a couple of sources when St Serapion deigns to correct others who have not been so free with their copies of the Scriptures. For instance, here is the second saying about St Serapion in the alphabetical collection of apophthegmata: ‘A brother said to Abba Serapion, “Give me a word.” The old man said to him, “What shall I say to you? You have taken the living of the widows and orphans and put it on your shelves.” For he saw them full of books’ (Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, rev. ed. [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1984], p. 227; this is also found in Waddell, p. 90).

Fortunately, lest we become too alarmed, Burton-Christie has pointed out that even St Serapion found good uses for books. Just before the saying above, in Serapion 1, we read the following story:

1. One day Abba Serapion passed through an Egyptian village and there he saw a courtesan who stayed in her own cell. The old man said to her, ‘Expect me this evening, for I should like to come and spend the night with you.’ She replied, ‘Very well, abba.’ She got ready and made the bed. When evening came, the old man came to see her and entered her cell and said to her, ‘Have you got the bed ready?’ She said, ‘Yes, abba.’ Then he closed the door and said to her, ‘Wait a bit, for we have a rule of prayer and I must filfill that first.’ So the old man began his prayers. He took the psalter and at each psalm he said a prayer for the courtesan, begging God that she might be converted and saved, and God heard him. The woman stood trembling and praying beside the old man. When he had completed the whole psalter the woman fell to the ground. Then the old man, beginning the Epistle, read a great deal from the apostle and completed his prayers. The woman was filled with compunction and understood that he had not come to see her to commit sin but to save her soul and she fell at his feet, saying, ‘Abba, do me this kindness and take we [sic] where I can please God.’ So the old man took her to a monastery of virgins and entrusted her to the amma and he said, ‘Take this sister and do not put any yoke or commandment on her as on the other sisters, but if she wants something, give it her and allow her to walk as she wishes.’ After some days the courtesan said, ‘I am a sinner; I wish to eat every second day.’ A little later she said, ‘I have committed many sins and I wish to eat every fourth day.’ A few days later she besought the amma saying, ‘Since I have grieved God greatly by my sins, do me the kindness of putting me in a cell and shutting it completely and giving me a little bread and some work through the window.’ The amma did so and the woman pleased God all the rest of her life. (Ward, pp. 126-7)

Harmonising this with St Serapion’s negative attitude towards books in the other passage, Burton-Christie concludes:

Serapion is certainly not implying . . . that possessing books is in itself immoral, for he himself made good use of books on occasion. What he appears to be criticizing is rather the desire among some monks merely to collect and accumulate books, allowing them to become useless objects. As he perceptively noted, such practice could lead the monks to turn the Word from a command to be fulfilled to a thing to be stored. . . . The process of reification of the Word is described this way: ‘The prophets wrote books. Then came our Fathers who put them into practice. Those who came after them learnt them by heart. Then came the present generation, who have written them out and put them into their window seats without using them [from the Greek anonymous collection].’ (p. 116)

Let this be a lesson to us bibliophiles!

26 May 2009

The Hexaemeron of St Anastasius of Sinai

Okay, I think the time has finally come to start posting the excerpts I promised. To take the books in the order in which I mentioned them, and also to begin by making use of the one book that was given to me, I’ll start with the Hexaemeron (St Anastasius of Sinai, Hexaemeron, ed. and trans. Clement A. Kuehn and John D. Baggarly, SJ, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 278 [Rome: Pontifical Oriental Institute, 2007]). First, here is the opening paragraph of the Introduction, in which the significance of this book is explained:

The Hexaemeron, traditionally ascribed to Anastasius of Sinai [Kuehn and Baggarly make it clear that the authorship is an extremely difficult question], may be one of the most important works of Christian mysticism from the Byzantine era; it is certainly one of the most controversial. Three factors make it especially significant. 1) It is one of the longest and most detailed surviving examples of Christian mystical exegesis as practiced in the Byzantine period. In its deeply spiritual vision, it serves as a counterpoint to the more literal interpretation of Genesis found in Basil’s popular Hexaemeron. Although the date of composition is still in question, it reflects a seventh-century vision. 2) The Hexaemeron is an extensive and unified exposition of the theology of an important Church writer. If Anastasius of Sinai did not compose it, the author made every effort to be in harmony with several Anastasian sermons on the creation of man, the Viae Dux, and other related works. 3) The Hexaemeron is not only steeped in biblical literature, but also contains a large reservoir of quotes and paraphrases of the early Church Fathers on the first three chapters of Genesis. (p. xiii)

Second, here is an interesting passage from St Anastasius’s preface to the work:

2. . . . The occasion demands that I speak poetically. And if I sing to those that understand, then you that are profane, shut the doors on your ears! [Ed. note—‘This line was borrowed (directly or indirectly) from an Orphic verse.’] . . .

3. There are those who perform sacred and secret rituals that cleanse blemishes from the soul. When these celebrants have all joined together in full assembly and are about to bring forth into open view, as from the silent innermost shrines, the objects of the divine and most sanctifying rites—secret, mystical, belonging to the Godhead—they would never perform such a revelation in front of the general crowd, where the unitiated are mingling about. There would be the chosen one of the ministry—who is just beneath God’s higher and intimate choir—standing like an incense-bearer outside the sacred gates of the most sacrosanct. And with a great command he separates from the chaste objects those for whom it is the custom to mock such things. He himself is in fear of him by whom the dirty attendant was cast away as far as possible from the joy of the wedding reception, because he had not put on clothes appropriate for the divine banquet.

Since this is so, when we come responding to his invitation, we do not hang our hopes on eloquence, sweet stories, the idle chatter of philosophical discussions, or rhetorical devices. And we do not come arrayed in wild iambic verses, which do no one any good. For along with Christ, we have a fellow traveler who says that the wisdom of the Greeks makes nonsense of the cross, but is itself stupidity. We are discussing divine Scripture, which was presented by a man with a weak voice and sluggish tongue yet which has been universally confirmed and cherished by country folk, farmers, fishermen, cobblers, and the illiterate. It has embarrassed the clever. It has shown them to be morons and useless.

Finally, here is a passage from the commentary itself—Book 1, VI.3, where St Anastasius continues to discuss the very first verse of Genesis:

It says the following: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. It uses the name heaven collectively for all the heavenly and spiritual arrangements: both of the holy forces and of the spiritual order. Thus, you must consider first the cosmos above. This was created—as the theologian says—in the following way: ‘First he takes thought of the angelic and heavenly forces; and the thought was a done feat.’ Then it uses the name earth for this perceptible and visible world, collectively with its own heaven, and all the things upon the earth along with man that have come into being and exist, both animate and inanimate. So by saying In the beginning God made the heaven, it raised your mind up to the creation of the whole arrangement above. Then by introducing and the earth, it brought your mind down to the establishment of the fulfillment below. And through a part—I mean the earth—it presented to you the whole compass. It used synecdoche, so that you recognize not only the earth, but also its surrounding heaven. Thus in two phrases, in one definition, it encompassed the act of creating and the creation itself of both the spiritual world and the visible world. And God did his creating in the beginning: that is, in his paternal beginning, which is the Word. For all things came into being through him and in him.

25 May 2009

'As a Thunderer, Heresies He Destroys'—St Epiphanius of Salamis

Today, 12 May on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Epiphanius (c. 315-403), Bishop of Salamis, Cyprus. According to Tradition, this holy hierarch was born into a Palestinian Jewish family, but was baptised after his parents’ death through the influence of an anchorite named Lucian (see Bulgakov). He was tonsured a monk by St Hilarion and lived for some time as his disciple. According to Benedicta Ward, St Epiphanius founded a monastery ‘at Besanduk near Eleutheropolis, between Jerusalem and Gaza’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, rev. ed., trans. Benedicta Ward [Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1984], p. 56). Fr Georges Florovsky points out that he spoke five languages—‘Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic, and some Latin’ (The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century, trans. Catherine Edmunds, Vol. 7 of The Collected Works [Vaduz: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1987], p. 236).

According to Fr Florovsky, ‘He was a well-known figure far beyond the borders of Palestine, and in 367 he was elected bishop of Constantia (Salamis) in Cyprus. There he became renowned as an ascetic, thaumaturge, and defender of orthodoxy’ (p. 236). This last activity dominates the latter part of St Epiphanius’s life. Fr Florovsky writes, ‘Epiphanius displayed a zealous interest in the detection and denunciation of heresy. He considered that the uncovering of false teachings was his main task and calling in life, and his chief compositions are dedicated to the dissection of heretical doctrines’ (pp. 236-7). The author of my second favourite patristic homily, St Epiphanius is also one of the few hierarchs to be featured in the Gerontikon. Here are a few of the sayings associated with him:

3. The blessed Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus, was told this by the abbot of a monastery which he had in Palestine, ‘By your prayers we do not neglect our appointed round of psalmody, but we are very careful to recite Terce, Sext and None.’ Then Epiphanius corrected them with the following comment, ‘It is clear that you do not trouble about the other hours of the day, if you cease from prayer. The true monk should have prayer and psalmody continually in his heart.

4. One day St Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, ‘Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body.’ When he came, they rejoiced in each other’s company. During their meal, they were brought a fowl; Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. Then the old man said to him, ‘Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed.’ Then the bishop answered, ‘Since I took the habit, I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.’ The old man replied, ‘Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine.’ (Ward, p. 57)

8. He also said, ‘The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. For the mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin, and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.’

9. He also said, ‘Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin.’

10. He also said, ‘It is a great treachery to salvation to know nothing of the divine law.’

11. He also said, ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.’ (Ward, p. 58)

Here is the lovely ‘Hymn of Praise’ for St Epiphanius in the Prologue:

Epiphanius, follower of Christ
By bread is fed and water drinks,
By the power of Christ, miracles he performs,
As a thunderer, heresies he destroys,
Soldier of Truth, pillar of Orthodoxy.
At death, such a testament, he leaves:
Vile thirst for money, you extinguish,
The rich man, do not ever envy,
Do not hate and do not slander,
And every heresy you avoid,
All foul thoughts, as serpents, drive away
They, from believers, make unbelievers.
A sober mind you keep, tied to God,
Booty of the devil, a sober man is not.
For me a sinner, you pray to God,
With your whole life, glorify God!

Update: Be sure to check out Biblicalia for Kevin Edgecomb's wonderful and very helpful post on the newest edition of an English translation of Book I St Epiphanius's Panarion. Also, one can find a translation of St Epiphanius's treatise on biblical 'Weights & Measures'—in which, as Fr Florovsky tells us, he 'discusses the canon of the Old Testament, its various translations, the geography of Palestine, and deals with "measures and weights" in passing' (p. 238)—here, at Roger Pearse's marvellous site.

St Methodius Thinks of Homer & the Prophet Elijah

It seems a great deal more has been said here about St Cyril than about his brother St Methodius. I have already mentioned an older post containing two stanzas of a canon likely written by the latter, the leader of the mission to Moravia who, according to the Life of St Naum, ‘organized everything there well and . . . taught’ (Thomas Butler, trans., Monumenta Bulgarica: A Bilingual Anthology of Bulgarian Texts from the 9th to the 19th Centuries [Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic, 2004], p. 105), and who likely endured more physical suffering on behalf of the mission than his brother.

But while I can’t vouch for its historicity, there is a fascinating passage in the entry on St Methodius in Milorad Pavić’s Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel, male ed., trans. Christina Pribićević-Zorić (NY: Vintage, 1989), pp. 88-9:

When he returned to Moravia in the summer of 870 AD, Methodius was imprisoned by the German bishops and locked up for two years, during which he could hear nothing but the sound of the Danube. He was brought to trial before a synod in Regensburg, then tortured and exposed naked to the frost. While they whipped him, his body bent over so low that his beard touched the snow, Methodius thought of how Homer and the holy prophet Elijah had been contemporaries, how Homer’s poetic state had been larger than the state of Alexander of Macedonia, because it had stretched from Pontus to beyond Gibraltar. He thought of how Homer could not have known all that moved through and was to be found in the seas and cities of his state, just as Alexander the Great could not have known all that was to be found in his own state. He also thought of how Homer had at some point written into his work the name of Sidon and with it, unknowingly, that of the prophet Elijah, fed by birds according to God’s will. He thought of how Homer had had seas and towns in his vast poetic state, not knowing that in one of them, in Sidon, sat the prophet Elijah, who was to become an inhabitant of another poetic state, one as vast, eternal, and powerful as Homer’s own—an inhabitant of the Holy Scriptures. And finally he wondered whether the two contemporaries had ever met, Homer and St Elijah, the settler of Galaad—both immortal, both armed only with words, one blind and gazing at the past, the other clairvoyant and obsessed with the future, one a Greek who sang of water and fire better than any poet, the other a Jew who rewarded with water and punished with fire, using his cloak as a bridge. There is a tight pass on earth—thought Methodius finally—one no wider than ten camel deaths, where two men missed each other. This space between their strides is narrower than any gorge in the world. Never had two greater things been so near each other. Or are we mistaken, like all those whose sight serves the memory rather than the ground beneath us? . . .

Of course, it seems that in III Kings 17:5 (LXX), the Prophet Elijah sits ‘by the brook of Chorrath before Jordan’, and only afterwards, in 17:9-10, does he go to Sidon. As for Homer, I don’t know if there are other references, but in Iliad VI, ll. 341-6 in Fagles’s translation (Robert Fagles, trans., The Iliad, by Homer [NY: Penguin, 1998], p. 205), we read:

Hecuba went down to a storeroom filled with scent
and there they were, brocaded, beautiful robes . . .
the work of Sidonian women. Magnificent Paris
brought those women back himself from Sidon,
sailing the open seas on the same long voyage
he swept Helen off, her famous Father’s child.

St Cyril on 'Knowledge of Things Human & Divine'

There is an article which I have planned to track down for some time now: Ihor Ševčenko’s contribution to a festschrift for Roman Jakobson, ‘The Definition of Philosophy in the Life of Saint Constantine [Cyril]’, For Roman Jakobson: Essays on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday, 11 October, 1956, comp. Morris Halle, Horace G. Lunt, Hugh McLean, and Cornelis H. Van Schooneveld (The Hague, 1956), pp. 449-57. Anthony-Emil Tachiaos has cited it in a footnote to a passage in his biography of Ss Cyril and Methodius where he discusses St Cyril’s ‘viva voce examination’ upon completing philosophical studies in Constantinople (Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica: The Acculturation of the Slavs [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 2001], pp. 27-8):

Cyril’s completion of university-level studies opened up the way to a brilliant career either in the state or Church administration or in the educational field. One day Logothete Theoctistus asked him, ‘“Philosopher, I should like to know what philosophy is.” And without hesitation Cyril replied, “Knowledge of things human and divine, insofar as Man is able to approach God, for it teaches Man by his actions to become the image and likeness of his Creator.” This eminent and venerable man loved Cyril all the more for his reply, and plied him with questions. The latter, giving him this philosophy lesson, revealed a great mind in a few words’ (Vita Constantini 4). It is beyond doubt that in holding this philosophical discussion with Cyril the great Logothete was setting the young Thessalonian a kind of viva voce examination. Having concluded his studies, specializing in philosophy, Cyril immediately acquired the title of ‘Philosopher’, by which Theoctistus always addressed him thereafter (J. Schütz, ‘Konstantins Philosophie und seine Bestellungsurkunde als Philosoph’, Wiener slavistiches Jahrbuch, vol. 31 [1985], pp. 89-98). The examination was on the subject-matter of his philosophical studies and was in that sense a sort of state examination. The first part of Cyril’s reply encompassed the notion of philosophy as taught by the Stoics and Plato, while the second part supplemented it with a Christian conception of the term ‘wisdom’. At all events, Cyril’s words corresponded precisely with what was taught by the philosophy manuals in use in ninth-century Byzantium (Ševčenko, pp. 449-557).

I’m quite curious to see what Ševčenko has to say about this. Although I don’t know much about 9th-c. Byzantine philosophy manuals, St Cyril’s reply sounds to me exactly like some of the statements concerning philosophy made by St John of Damascus in his Fount of Knowledge (Writings, trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr. [Washington, DC: Catholic U of America, 1999], p. 11):

And again, philosophy is knowledge of both divine and human things, that is to say, of things both visible and invisible. . . . Still again, philosophy is the making of one’s self like God [ὁμοίωσις Θεῷ]. Now, we become like God in wisdom, which is to say, in the true knowledge of good; and in justice, which is a fairness in judgment without respect to persons; and in holiness, which is to say, in goodness, which is superior to justice, being that by which we do good to them that wrong us.

24 May 2009

'Listen All Slavs'—Ss Cyril & Methodius, Equals-to-the-Apostles

This morning, 11 May on the Church’s calendar, we celebrated the memory of Ss Cyril and Methodius, Equals-to-the-Apostles and Enlighteners of the Slavs. One can find accounts of their lives in the Prologue, as well as Bulgakov’s Handbook (although there seems to be no evidence for Bulgakov’s bald assertion that the Saints’ father was a ‘Bulgarian Slav Voivode’), and another account here, at the website of Bishop Alexander (Mileant) of blessed memory, though the English translation of this last is a little shoddy. Furthermore, I have posted previously on St Cyril here, and on one of the brothers’ disciples, St Naum, here.

Those of us in the various Slavic Churches owe a tremendous debt to Ss Cyril and Methodius. In his wonderful biography of these Saints, the Emeritus Professor of Slavic Ecclesiastical History and Literature at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Anthony-Emil Tachiaos, has written (Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica: The Acculturation of the Slavs [Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary, 2001], p. x):

In the realization of this process [the bringing of the Slavs ‘into the Greek Empire’s cultural and spiritual sphere’], which was to have decisive consequences and amifications throughout European history, two brothers were summoned to play the leading role. Hailing from the celebrated city of Thessalonica [Thessaloniki], their names were Constantine-Cyril and Methodius. The acculturation of the Slavs, which was probably the most important event of the ninth century, was inseparably bound up with the creation of the Slavonic script and transmission to the Slavs of the cultural values of Greek education and spiritual life. This achievement was exclusively due to the two Thessalonian brothers, who have therefore acquired a well-deserved place in the consciousness of the Slav peoples as their apostles and teachers.

Tachiaos notes that even the Western churches have begun to acknowledge the tremendous achievements of the Saints, their contributions to universal Christianity as well as to European culture. He points out that John Paul II declared them 'co-patrons' of Europe, a 'friendly and welcome gesture' about which Tachiaos nevertheless notes, '[I]n the Orthodox Church the ecclesiastical authority does not confer titles and attributes upon the saints: it simply ratifies and codifies what the people already feel' (p. 143).

To give a little taste of the Saints themselves, I shall post a verse Prologue to the Slavonic translation of the Gospels that is attributed to St Cyril, known during his lifetime as 'Constantine the Philosopher' (as for St Methodius, see two stanzas of his canon to St Demetrius here). From good old Thomas Bulter, ed. and trans., Monumenta Serbocroatica: A Bilingual Anthology of Serbian and Croatian Texts from the 12th to the 19th Century (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Slavic, 1980), pp. 7-15:

A Homily by our Blessed Teacher
Constantine the Philosopher

This is a Prologue to the Holy Gospels.
Just as the Prophets had foretold before,
Christ is coming to gather the nations,
For He is a Light to the whole world.
Now they said: the blind will see,
And the deaf will hear the written word;
They will know God as they should.
Therefore, listen all Slavs:
For this gift is given by God,
A divine gift for the right side,
A divine gift for souls, never decaying,
For those souls that accept it.
And this is the gift: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
They teach all the people, saying:
Those of you who see the beauty of your souls
Love one another and rejoice.
And those of you who wish to cast off the darkness of sin
And to put aside the corruption of this world,
And who wish to attain life in paradise
And to escape the burning fire,
Pay attention now with all your minds!
Hear, all you Slavic people,
Hear the Word, for it comes from God,
The Word which nourishes men’s souls,
The Word which strengthens hearts and minds,
The Word which prepares all to know God.
For just as there can be no joy without light
For the eye seeing all God’s creation,
But instead everything is neither beautiful nor visible,
So, likewise, every soul without letters
Does not see God’s law well,
The sacred law of the Scriptures,
The law revealing Paradise.
For how can hearing that has not heard the thunder’s roll
Be afraid of God?
And nostrils that haven’t smelled a flower—
How can they sense God’s wonder?
And a mouth that has no taste for sweetness
Makes a man like a stone.
Even more does the unlettered soul
Appear dead in men.
And we, brethren, reflecting on all this,
Give you the proper advice,
Which will free all men from the life of cattle and from lustful desire;
Lest having an unenlightened mind,
And listening to the Word in foreign tongue,
You hear it like the voice of a copper bell.
For Saint Paul, in teaching, said this:
‘In offering my prayer up to God
I would rather speak five words
That all my brethren understand,
Than a multitude of incomprehensible words.’
Now what man doesn’t understand this?
Who will not make use of wise parables
Telling us right counsel?
For just as corruption awaits the flesh,
Everything decaying and putrefying worse than pus,
When it doesn’t have its nourishment,
So, too, does every soul perish
When it doesn’t have divine life,
When it doesn’t hear the Word of God.
But let us relate another parable, a very wise one,
O men loving one another
And wishing to grow in God!
For who does not know this true faith?
Like the seed falling on the fertile ground
It falls in the same way on the hearts of men
Which need the rain of God’s letters
So that the divine fruit may grow.
Who can tell all the stories
Which expose nations without books,
Speaking in an unintelligible voice?
Even if one knows all languages
One cannot express their powerlessness.
But let me add my own parable,
Imparting much wisdom in a few words:
Naked are all nations without Scriptures,
Weaponless, unable to fight
With the adversary of our souls,
Ready for the prison of eternal torment.
But you nations that don’t love the enemy,
And truly intend to fight against him,
Open diligently the doors to your minds,
Having received now the sturdy weapons
Forged by the Scriptures of the Lord,
Which irritate the devil’s head very much.
For whoever accepts these Scriptures—
To you Christ speaks His wisdom
And strengthens your souls,
Together with the Apostles and all the Prophets.
And whoever says their words
Will be capable of killing the enemy,
Bringing to God a fine victory,
And fleeing the stinking decay of the flesh,
Of the flesh whose life is like a dream.
Not falling, but standing firm,
They will appear before God as courageous men,
Standing at the right side of God’s throne,
When with fire He will judge nations,
Rejoicing with the angels through all ages,
Eternally praising the merciful God,
Always in Psalms from the Scriptures,
Singing to God Who is merciful toward man:
Because to Him is proper every kind of glory,
Honor and divine praise always,
Together with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
Through all ages, and from all creation.

Fr Placide on the Liturgy, East & West

In light of an ongoing discussion on the Western Rite in the combox at Words, Words, Words, I have finally decided it was time to post some remarks by the learned Archimandrite Placide (Deseille), an eminent Roman Catholic convert to Orthodoxy. As a member of a parish where the WR ‘Liturgy of St Gregory’ is celebrated every Saturday morning, in addition to the weekly round of Byzantine services, I have a certain sympathy toward both sides of this debate. Certainly, I do not wish to initiate a controversy here at Logismoi. But I think Fr Placide is in a unique position to offer some wisdom on the relative merits of the two rites, and that whatever direction we as individuals decide to go, we would do well to take his thoughts into consideration. Personally, I prefer the ER precisely for the reasons that he states, and also since my own liturgical experience has been almost entirely in the ER until recently. But I also appreciate the WR for the qualities that Fr Placide mentions below.

Both passages are from Fr Placide’s autobiographical ‘Stages of a Pilgrimage’ (The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mount Athos, trans. and ed. Hieromonk Alexander [Golitzin] [South Canaan, PA: St Tikhon’s Seminary, 1994], pp. 63-93), far and away one of the most fascinating and instructive ‘Journey to Orthodoxy’ stories I’ve ever read.

First, here are Fr Placide’s comments on his relationship with the Latin liturgy as a Trappist at the Abbey of Bellefontaine:

I loved the Latin liturgy deeply. Knowledge of the Orthodox liturgy, which I had just discovered with amazement at Saint Sergius [the Orthodox theological institute in Paris], made me the more sharply aware of the analogous wealth, albeit more hidden, concealed in the traditional Latin liturgy, and stirred me to live in it more intensely. The liturgy of the Trappists was at that time, in spite of some later additions that were easily discernable and did not detract from the whole, identical with the liturgy which the West had been celebrating in the era before it had broken communion with the East. In contrast to the Byzantine liturgy, it was composed almost exclusively of biblical texts, which could seem initially very dry, but these texts had been very skillfully chosen. The unfolding of the liturgical year was perfectly harmonious and the rites, in spite of their sobriety, were charged with a great wealth of meaning. If one took the trouble, outside of the services, during the hours of that lectio divina so characteristic of the earlier monastic spirituality of the West, to take to heart a knowledge of the Bible and the interpretations that the Fathers had give it, the celebration of the divine office took on, with God’s grace, a wonderful sweetness. (p. 69)

After the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (concerning which see an interesting interview here), Fr Placide founded a monastery, really a sort of skete, at Aubazine, still under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Here is his explanation of what led him to adopt the Byzantine Rite for the liturgical gatherings of that community:

What therefore prompted me to turn towards the Byzantine tradition had nothing to do with its ‘oriental’ character. I have never felt myself to be an ‘oriental’, nor wanted to become so. But, given the state of things, the practice of the Byzantine liturgy seemed to me to be the most suitable means for entering into the fullness of the patristic tradition in a way that would be neither scholarly nor intellectual, but living and concrete. The Byzantine liturgy has always appeared to me much less as an ‘eastern’ liturgy than as the sole existing liturgical tradition concerning which one could say: ‘It has done nothing more nor less than closely incorporate into liturgical life all the great theology elaborated by the Fathers and Councils before the ninth century. In it the Church, triumphant over heresies, sings her thanksgiving, the great doxology of the Trinitarian and Christological theology of St Athanasius, the Cappadocians, St John Chrysostom, St Cyril of Alexandria, and St Maximus the Confessor. Through it shines the spirituality of the great monastic movements, from the Desert Fathers, from Evagrius, Cassian, and the monks of Sinai, to those of Studion and, later, of Mt Athos . . . In it, in a word, the whole world, transfigured by the presence of divine glory, reveals itself in a truly eschatological dimension’ (M.-J. Le Guillou, L’esprit de l’Orthodoxie grecque et russe [The Spirit of Greek and Russian Orthodoxy] [Paris, 1961], p. 47). (Fr Placide, p. 75)

This second passage reminds me of the New Hieromartyr Hilarion’s words about the services of the Church (trans. Felix Culpa, in this post):

Listening to the Church’s hymns, one grows increasingly convinced of what rich treasures of ideas they are, of how important they are for an authentic Orthodox understanding of life. Our school courses on dogmatics, taught from the cathedras of seminaries and academies, stand much lower in relation to that theology that our readers and singers teach the faithful from the church kliros.