A Festival of Celtic Orthodoxy

brendanwhaleMy parish is having its first festival this Saturday (May 14). It was decided that since it fell on St. Brendan’s Day, we would make the festival a celebration of Celtic Christianity. It has given the parish an opportunity to study and think about the wonderful Orthodox history of the British Isles and to think about Orthodoxy in a context beyond Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. One of the great champions of the Orthodox saints in Britain, Ireland and Western Europe, was the great saint, John of Shanghai and San Francisco (Maximovitch). I offer some thoughts on the Celts. If you’re in the area, join us on Saturday anytime from 11 am-7 pm.


My “inside minor” when I was doing doctoral studies in theology at Duke, was the history of the Church in the British Isles, particularly during what is now termed “Late Antiquity.” That period was formerly known as the “Dark Ages,” but this was a title invented by moderns in order to create a narrative of history in which all things were wondrously evolving towards modernity. Most of the narrative surrounding the Dark Ages is false. It shows up in movies in strange ways as well. Film makers seem to think that everything should be dirty, poorly lit, and foggy. A few choice scenes in Monty Python films do a wonderful send up of such nonsense.

When you begin reading primary materials from the period, they seem strangely familiar, particularly if you happen to be an Orthodox Christian. The Venerable Bede’s History of the English People is, doubtless, the best place to start. Although his work is not primarily concerned with the Celts, they do play an important part.

What is seen is not some alternative version of Christianity (as many moderns would like to pretend), but a thoroughly Orthodox incarnation of the Church with proper attention to its native culture. This is a hallmark of the Orthodox – we love cultures! Many people today like to point to the Orthodox and our ethnic groups (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, etc.), and mock such divisions as being an ethnic captivity of the Church. It is nothing of the sort. From the beginning, the early Church carried the gospel into various lands and immediately began the task of translation and enculturation. One and the same faith was planted everywhere, but was everywhere unique and appropriate to its people.

It was only later that Latin became a “Church language” in the West, suppressing other cultures. The mission to the English (Angles) had a decidedly Latin flavor (it was initiated by St. Gregory the Great of Rome). But even this early work had a very Orthodox take. The missionary Bishop, Augustine of Canterbury, wrote letters to St. Gregory asking for guidance. He noticed that there were different customs and practices in place among the Celtic Christians (as well as in the Church in Gaul). St. Gregory’s answer reveals the Orthodox approach:

Augustine’s Second Question. ­ Whereas the faith is one and the same, why are there different customs in different churches? and why is one custom of masses observed in the holy Roman church, and another in the Gailican church?

Pope Gregory answers. ­ You know, my brother, the custom of the Roman church in which you remember you were bred up. But it pleases me, that if you have found anything, either in the Roman, or the Gallican, or any other church, which may be more acceptable to Almighty God, you carefully make choice of the same, and sedulously teach the church of the English, which as yet is new ln the faith, whatsoever you can gather from the several churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Choose, therefore, from every church those things that are pious, religious, and upright, and when you have, as it were, made them up into one body, let the minds of the English be accustomed thereto.

The regularization of all things was a much later development in the West (as well as in the East to a certain degree). But, to this day, there remain many different practices among various Orthodox Churches.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Celtic Christianity was the role of monasticism. The missions to the Celts occurred mostly after the rise of desert monasticism, indeed, they were pretty much coincident. For whatever reason, monastic Christianity and all that accompanies it took deep root among the Celts and the English as well. Some historians seem to exaggerate monastic authority among the Celts and suggest that even bishops were subject to them. Lately that claim has been largely refuted.

But the monastics in the British Isles, like the monastics across the Christian world of Late Antiquity, became a primary force within the whole of Church life. They were missionaries. They were librarians. They were copyists. They were authors. They were hymnographers. They were a hedge against the power of the state. They were protectors of Orthodox teaching.

The notion popularized in the eponymous book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, does not exaggerate the importance and the role played by monastics. Today’s conversations surrounding the “Benedict Option,” are referring to an essential part of this monastic role. Frankly, I do not think anything less than a radical renewal and growth of monasticism within Orthodoxy will meet the crisis of the coming deluge.

It is exciting to me that people want to study and understand this part of Orthodoxy, whether among the Celts, the Brits, the Russians, Greeks or whomever. The suburbanized consumer Church of contemporary Christianity is a vanguard of failure and apostasy. Civilization needs saving yet again.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



, , ,



53 responses to “A Festival of Celtic Orthodoxy”

  1. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    If find the thing that marked the Church in the British Isles as uniquely Orthodox despite the differences between Celts and Saxons is their utter commitment to the Faith, either through monasticism, mission or the establishment of parishes. They took enormous risks and often suffered martyrdom for the Faith. Unlike our consumer churches of today, those who were Orthodox back then were not motivated by serving the self, but serving the Lord.

  2. Joshua Duncan Avatar

    Bless, Father.

    You mentioned that the claim that bishops were subject to abbots has been refuted. Is there anywhere I could read about this? I ask because I recently heard an Anglican priest use this as a part of his argument for the ordination of women.

    Specifically, he said that St. Brigid had spiritual authority equal to or greater than a bishop, and that when she was consecrated as abbess it was done using the formula for a bishop. According to the story it was accidentally done, but it was not changed because they judged it as something that had been guided by the Spirit. Thanks.

  3. Sunny Avatar

    I did my senior seminar paper on Celtic Christianity. Unfortunately, there were very little extant primary sources. Even the Venerable Bede says very little on Christianity in those Isles before the time of Augustine of Canterbury’s mission. My professor graciously accepted my paper, even though I felt like the whole thing was rather a stretch. Like Fr Seraphim Aldea said in his podcast, it seems like there are just enough pieces here and there for each person, more or less, to construct their own fiction about it. Which is neither a good or a bad thing per se, but it can give you a headache in an academic setting!

    It’s funny remembering the first time I encountered the Venerable Bede as a history major in a protestant university. It kind of drove me nuts how he unapologetically put a providential interpretation on “the facts.” That was right before I discovered and began to explore Orthodoxy. Finding Orthodoxy at the same time as studying history in a Protestant university… talk about cognitive dissonance!

    I am a Heinz 57 American with no traditional, cultural inheritance. During my journey into Orthodoxy, I wanted badly to find that link between the historic Church and my own soul, and Celtic Christianity seemed like the best bet, as I know that I have some Celtic ancestors.

    One Orthodox mission we went to was Greek but all the hymns were in English and there was a variety of tones from all traditions. It was so beautiful to me that within 3 weeks I knew the whole liturgy by heart. My husband was then stationed where we are now, and we started attending another Greek church where most the hymns are in traditional Byzantine tones and Greek language. It’s been a year since we’ve been here and I still don’t know the hymns.

    In the AG church I grew up in, I used to play piano and sing. I have never felt so much like myself as I did then. I gave up pretty much everything in order to become Orthodox. Some days I still grieve over it. Though any Orthodox liturgy is incomparably richer than the Evangelicalism I grew up with, the one we have been attending for a year still feels foreign and strange to me.

    As a historian, the stories of St Patrick, Sts Cyril and Methodius, and St Herman of Alaska really spoke to me. I loved how there were uniquely Greek, Ethiopian, Celtic, Gallic, Slavic and other ethnic expressions of the holy, catholic, and apostolic faith throughout the ages. To me those stories embodied Pentecost, the Gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth in every tongue and nation. The Church felt so alive to me in those stories.

    I am struggling to hold onto this vision right now. I believe too much in the heart of Orthodoxy to give up, but it is very hard right now.

  4. Meg Photini Avatar
    Meg Photini

    Father, would you say more about the “radical renewal and growth of monasticism within Orthodoxy” that you envision? (this is not a challenge, just a request for information)

  5. P. Antonio Arganda Avatar
    P. Antonio Arganda

    We should be aware that several descendants of Harald Godwinson the last legitimate Orthodox king of England were considered saints by the Russian Church which gave them shelter from Norman persecution.

  6. Dean Avatar

    Stick with it! You are I’m sure where God wants you to be. I too grew up AG. Then in another evang. denomination for 20 more years. We’ve been attending a Greek monastery for the last 13 years. It’s all Greek and I’d like to hear more English. But I now know enough Greek to sing many hymns and at least know where we are in the liturgy! 🙂 Since many folks from around the globe visit it, we hear many foreign accents and tongues…yes does remind me too of Pentecost. Wonderful to know the same liturgy is celebrated ’round the world in so many languages and with their own cultural adaptations. So, hang in there remembering that here we are sojourners with no settled land…yet.

  7. Sunny Avatar


    Thank you for reading my comment and thoughtfully responding. I’m sure my outlook will be much different after I have been Orthodox for as long as you have. I am only 22!

    The foreignness of the Byzantine hymns wouldn’t get me down so much if I had the connectedness with others that I long for in our parish. Our parish is very old but after having been there for a year, I still don’t feel that there is very strong bond of love and koinonia between the people there or a spirit of hospitality to newcomers, of which I still feel that I am one. I do not believe this is something that is wrong with Orthodoxy, but rather that it is modern fragmentation that is assailing the Church. I endure with the faith that such loneliness and existential pain that modernity brings is fertile ground for the joy of Christ’s Pascha to grow in my own heart and in the hell of our modern existence. To refuse this cup would be to deny Christ and my own self.

    It is good to be able to talk about these things openly. Thank you for listening.

    Christ is risen!

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll dig around. I ran across some stuff as I was researching my talk for the festival. The reason such distortions were picked up were precisely their usefulness of political shenanigans.

  9. Agata Avatar

    Father, would you say some more about St. John of San Francisco and his connection to Celtic Saints, please?

  10. Matt Avatar


    Can you give us the names of these descendants by any chance? All I could find was the Orthodox Wiki page for King Harold himself which mentions nothing of the sort.

  11. Terry Cowan Avatar

    This is timely. I leave on Monday for the U.K., where I plan a 11-day road trip looping through England and Wales. specifically (and almost totally) devoted to visiting the old Celtic and Saxon churches, stone crosses, holy wells and other sites (anything pre-Norman). I guess you could say it is my latest historical obsession.

  12. Alan Avatar

    Father, I will humbly second Meg’s request.

  13. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Try this site. It takes a lot of clicking but you can run a genealogy for centuries of people of note: https://www.geni.com/people/Harold-Godwinsson-King-of-England/6000000001156149953. I don;t know quite how accurate it is but I used this site to trace my mother’s mother’s family back to 780 in Norway. It does jive with facts that are known already in her family history so I cautiously suggest this might help.

  14. ELM Avatar


    I am also 22, a recent convert from Protestantism. I, too, attend a Greek parish, one seemingly split between Greeks and converts, with something of an age gap between the two. I am one of two people my age, and the only really active female young adult. While I was more open to the Greek-ness and Byzantine hymns being a lover of languages and Eastern cultures, yes, it is a struggle to be so alone in your parish. But, like you, I felt that it would be absurd to let these things keep me from meeting Christ as I encountered Him in the Orthodox Church. Sometimes I have to remind myself (and others, when they offer well-meaning comments about my conversion and “finding a community that works for you”) that I did not make this leap for the people. My job is to love whoever God gives me, and that challenge will be present wherever I go. Greeks and other “ethnics” seem to take longer to open up to newcomers, which I actually appreciated while I was in the process of converting. None of that superficial welcoming and enthusiasm I experienced oftentimes in my Evangelical upbringing. But once I showed that I was committed to the parish and open to getting to know everyone, helping out with this and that, people opened up a bit more. And that was more meaningful- I knew that I had really become a part of the community.
    I can whole-heartedly agree, too, with your comments about enduring the loneliness and letting that be fertile ground for Christ’s Pascha and that “To refuse this cup would be to deny Christ and my own self.” The victory will be greater because of the struggle, and I hope that our witness can be greater because we chose to accept the hard path instead of converting in fairer weather (more young people, more camaraderie, more English, whatever). I wish I had something else deep and thoughtful to add, but I don’t. Many blessings to you, Sunny!

    I have just been discovering the Celtic saints recently after listening to some of Fr. Seraphim’s talks on an Orthodox Monastery being established in the Hebrides. And Father Stephan’s mention of St. Cuthbert really intrigued me. It is a recent discovery even though my senior roommate also did her senior thesis about Bede and I (we) discovered the connections between Christianity in the medieval British Isles and Orthodoxy. I really wish I could come to the festival! I am going to a wedding several hours in the opposite direction :(.

  15. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    Long ago my spiritual father told me an anecdote about a dispute which arose between a bishop and the rector of a church. Both agreed to go to a local monastery and speak to the elder. In the end, the elder decided in favor of the priest and the bishop relented. The story serves to illustrate that seeking advice from the elder who was no doubt wiser and impartial was a characteristically Orthodox thing to do. Moreover, in those days, if you asked an elder or starets for advice you were obliged to obey him. To disobey him because you didn’t like what he had to say was considered foolish and could end up poorly for the supplicant. An illustrative example is related in “Everyday Saints and Other Stories” about a woman who did not live to regret disobeying Fr. John Krestiankin’s stern pleading to not have eye surgery.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think I may give it an article…

  17. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Terry @ 6:01 pm,

    Please do post your impressions etc. on your blog – you’re a good writer, and I’ve missed not being able to read your travelogues.


    Christ is risen!


  18. Subdeacon John Kennick Avatar
    Subdeacon John Kennick

    Terry Cowan, be sure to go to Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales and look up Fr. Deniol. He is an Orthodox monk and rector of the parish there. This is the parish my wife and I attend while we are living in the village of Harlech. You will greatly enjoy him as he can guide you to many of the ancient Orthodox sites in north Wales.

  19. Corinne Avatar

    My husband, Dn James Elliott and I live in Memphis, TN. We have been on 2 pilgrimages with the Friends of Iona, led by Metro. Kallistos Ware to learn and pray at historical Celtic holy sites in Wales and Ireland. This is a wonderful way to meet British Orthodox people, although we have met priests from as far away as Siberia and Australia. From information from these people we have explored many holy sites. You can look up this organization easily on the Internet.

  20. Alex Volkov Avatar
    Alex Volkov

    Terry Cowan,

    If you have a chance, try to find and attend St. John of Shanghai Orthodox Church (Military Road, Colchester, Essex CO1 2AN, ENGLAND. Tel: 01394 273820
    Vigil Service, every Saturday at 5:30 pm – Hours and Liturgy, every Sunday at 10am)


    The church’s rector is Fr Andrew Phillips, the author of “Orthodox Christianity and the Old English Church”. This booklet provides an insightful overview of Christian history in England.


  21. Eleftheria Avatar

    There is a website that has a page on British and Celtic Orthodoxy:

    Fr. Stephen, if the link is not amenable, please delete this.

  22. Alex Volkov Avatar
    Alex Volkov

    Eleftheria, thank you! What a great recourse!

    The page on British and Celtic Orthodoxy:


  23. Sunny Avatar

    Dear ELM,

    It is so encouraging to connect even a little with people my age who are serious about their Orthodox faith!

    It is true what you said, “My job is to love whoever God gives me, and that challenge will be present wherever I go.” I certainly don’t believe my problem would be solved by going elsewhere. I think I am struggling mainly because my expectations of Orthodoxy came first from books separate from actual parish life among Orthodox Christians who are sinners just like everyone else.

    I wasn’t chrismated on the spot, but almost. I can see now why it is traditional for people to be catechumens for a long time. I think it would have softened the blow of conversion a lot for me. There’s no denying that conversion to Orthodoxy is kind of a traumatic thing, and as beautiful as it is traumatic, just like when a woman gives birth to a child.

    Like you, I also am the only active young woman in the parish, and I too try to give as much of myself as I can in helping, attending services and studies, reaching out to people outside Sunday morning, etc. I don’t expect to be served but to serve! I am greatly limited in this since I have a two year old 🙂

    I know it will be okay. Somehow your words have given me a new strength. God bless you and your journey as well.


  24. Katherine Nikolaou Avatar
    Katherine Nikolaou

    I have found this site to be quite informative on Celtic Orthodoxy, especially the Chart with Icons (and links) on Orthodox Saints:

  25. Dino Avatar

    Fatherr Stephen,
    I couldn’t agree more with you that nothing “less than a radical renewal and growth of monasticism within Orthodoxy will meet the crisis of the coming deluge”. Also, to make the connection with Celtic Orthodoxy, in modern Britain -where godlessness has almost become a religion of sorts-, it is only such a renewal that could act as the “yeast” that would fulfil the prophesy of St. Arsenios of Cappadocia (St Paisios the Athonite’s Godfather) that ‘the Church in the British Isles will only begin to truly grow again when it begins to venerate once more its own saints.’

  26. Dino Avatar

    “The Church in The British Isles will only begin to grow when she begins to venerate her own Saints”, has also been attributed to Saint Arsenios of Paros”

  27. Agnikan Avatar

    Is that “Celtic” with a “k” or an “s”?

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    With a “k”. My neighboring Greek priest observed our parish’s sign for “Celtic Orthodoxy” and marveled that Larry Bird was so popular down here.

  29. Jeremias Avatar

    Fr. Seraphim Aldea has been charged to establish a monastery in the Hebrides, where Celtic monasticism was once prolific. He visited our parish last week.

    All, please visit the website and support the endeavor!


  30. John in Denver (not John Denver) Avatar
    John in Denver (not John Denver)

    I do not think Fr. Ambrose would mind, so I’ll post this link here to a talk he gave about Celtic Christianity/Monasticism. Perhaps it can help the discussion and dialogue.


  31. Isidora Avatar

    Hah, I live in Massachusetts so it is especially hard to remember whether to say “Seltic” or “Keltic.” ☺

    Sunny, while I am not in your age group, I too have just come to Orthodoxy. Thanks be to God: I was chrismated this past Great and Holy Saturday! I’m still in the honeymoon stage, though my catechumenate was almost a year. Like you, much of my preparation came from books and most especially from Father Stephen’s blog posts. My parish is an unusual mix of Russian immigrants and American converts and one Greek who likes it better than the neighboring Greek Church. While I have been a American Protestant for more than half my life, my ethnic background is Jewish and my grandparents came from Russia and Poland, so I feel a connection with the Russianness of the church. (I love kasha!). My problem is that my husband (an actual British subject, though more American than apple pie) does not. Well, maybe someday we too can go see those ancient Celtic sites and he can start to see that I have not become an alien life form.

  32. Agata Avatar

    For those who may be interested, two spots have opened up for the August 13-20 pilgrimage. Please contact Fr. Serafim for details.

    And please consider helping the Monastery with your donations!

  33. albert Avatar

    Sunny, ELP, and all,

    Your comments helped me also. I am going to ask Fr Stephen someday about the role of the internet in traditional Christian communities. I might feel a bit awkward if I were to say that his blog (including the comment section) and certain sites like it inspire, instruct, support, and encourage me more than what I experience at my church – – except of course for the Divine Liturgy itself (and Vespers, and other services when I am able to attend them). He will probably remind me about St Paul ‘s letters, but they didn’t allow for responses or comments (or maybe they did, I don’t know) and the instant access and interaction is so amazing to me. I believe in this kind of shared inspiration but I also worry that it might keep me from seeking it out and maybe sharing it in person. And that immediate satisfaction is not the goal anyway. On the other hand it’s a fairly long drive to the closest Orthodox church. We come together from all parts of the area and don’t see each other until the next liturgy or service. Most don’t have time to remain afterwards. But I’m not complaining because the liturgy is everything for me. For everyone, right.? I’ll try to put this into a succinct question soon. Maybe Fr. Stephen has already written about it. Or maybe I should just be thankful, and keep going (to church, that is).

  34. Emmie Avatar

    I belong to a small mission parish with a priest that drives from 3 hours away. We share space with another organization so we “take down” church items after each Liturgy and often folks don’t have time to visit. It seems difficult and lonely at times but I have stuck with it and been so glad. I know it can be hard but you will be glad that you are making the effort. One friend from another very small mission told me that for years it was just 3 folks in their parish and it is finally starting to grow. Many blessings!

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Quick thoughts on the internet. It is very much like the printing press. It all depends on what you read. There is nothing “modern” (for example) about the internet, it’s just another amazingly fast means of communication. Modernity is a set of ideas, not a period of time nor the advent of technology. So, I’m an advocate of a responsible use of the internet, and work at setting an example. My articles, again for example, are frequently reprinted in newsletters, occasionally translated and published in print form, etc. All of which delights me.

    It is pure accident that I write, and that I stumbled into the blog thing (actually a friend invited me to begin writing and later suggested that I create a blog). The community of comments has come as a very wonderful accident. Once in a while, I’ve actually managed to meet someone whom I’ve known very well now for years, because they comment, but have never met in person. I’m probably as surprised by those occasions, as I’ve heard others are when they actually meet me. 🙂

    The internet affords an interesting experience, but it cannot give us the Body and Blood of God. If I were told tomorrow that I could no longer blog, I would grieve, and get on with my life. If I were told I could no longer go to Church, I would die.

  36. Renewal Avatar

    I’m glad to read this, being a Celt myself, well, at least half. And I admit to knowing almost nothing about the history of British Christianity, which is awful.

    I also had another question – I’ve been pondering & reading since you answered my question the other day. I’ve decided to start over, as well as I am able, by accepting the early church/orthodox theology/creeds as the theological base of the faith, & work slowly from there. I can’t come up with a better solution.

    As I do that, & act accordingly, am I to understand that this will help me know the truth of it, so I will be better able to leave behind old ideas of God? I’m not sure how well I’m phrasing this. It’s hard for me to explain, I’m just aware that as I try to draw near to God anew, my head gets filled with old thoughts & fears & I don’t want to have to back off to make them go away.

    You really believe God is a good & loving God, who loves me…& I’d like to believe that too. I feel in need of a Doctor of the soul, & I wish you were nearer than an ocean away. Pray for me to find one hereabouts.

    I hope your festival has gone really well.

  37. Agata Avatar


    It seems we always want what we don’t have… 🙂

    Those of us on this side of the ocean would like to be on the other side, close to the actual sites of the Celtic Saints, but also to the sources of amazing spiritual wealth, such as the Monastery in Essex (and the fathers there who inherited the spiritual wisdom of the contemporary Saints, such as St Silouan the Athonite, who was given “the word” for our generation…

    Not to mention that Fr. Serafim, who is establishing the Orthodox Monastery of Celtic Saints is also there, on your side of the ocean…

    You already have everything you need to draw closer to God: you have your room where you can pray (especially the Jesus Prayer). You have the Holy Scriptures to read to encounter God in His Word. And hopefully you have your Orthodox parish, where you can participate in the Liturgy…. Without the participation in the Body of Christ (His Church), all of it will be only a mental exercise, not true participation.

    May God help you and guide you….

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think the path you’ve described is one of wisdom. It has been trod by very great saints. Slowly is a very good word. Our culture seems to want to suggest that everything can be had quickly. But wisdom and the knowledge of God have a long history of being slow. The Tradition values old age for a very good reason. It just takes a long time to know some things. A blessed life is one in which we are given enough years in which to find wisdom. And it becomes a blessing to others if the wise are then given enough years more in which to share what they’ve learned.

    I pay attention to those whom time and wisdom have judged to be saints. They tell me that God is good and loving. I trust them. They have healed my soul of so much already.

    BTW, the festival was amazing. I had not expected such a day. We were blessed. It felt like a second Easter!

  39. Renewal Avatar

    Thank you Father. Any road to God is hard for me as I am assailed by unreasonable fears. So your words mean a lot.
    When you say that those judged saints have told you who God is, do you mean the Apostles & early church Fathers? Is it because they believe the scriptures say these things? I still have my protestant roots, although I was brought up Catholic, that tell me to judge all by scripture? I need to hold the earliest church interpretations as authoritative right, & weigh all against them?

    Many thanks for your help, & to Agatha.

  40. Onesimus Avatar


    You are in my prayers as you journey.


  41. Renewal Avatar

    Onesimus, I’m really touched by that. Thank you.

  42. Lou. Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    What a wonderful blog post! How wide the response, and in so many directions!

    And now, for a slightly different direction . . .

    You have mentioned that, in your youth, you spent time on a “Jesus People”-type commune. It was of course not Orthodox nor even very orthodox. But in my recollection that movement or perhaps just impulse was quasi-monastic in nature.

    Certain times seem to call people out from the world. Do you regard that sort of calling as a sign for an age or time? And is the strength of the call or longing a sign of a felt need for healing, even for us who know not that way?

    I cannot imagine a cultural healing without a monastic leading, but I see very little in the American landscape now that embodies that call. Even the “spiritual but not religious” seem to have traded their individuality for a mass culture. 🙁

  43. city hermit Avatar

    Dear all, reading all these comments has deeply enriched me. I am particularly sensitive to the experience of “conversion”. I am a cradle orthodox, so in a sense I have been “spared” such “traumatic” experiences, but I have also always held that in order to be truly Christian, you have to be personally converted one way or the other, and born by the Holy Spirit. In that sense, I have not been spared either… Interestingly enough, the Holy Spirit has decided that I move to England and aid in any way I can with monasticism and missionary work. I have the blessing of my spiritual father, but this does not mean that I do not feel daunted by the mission ahead. So, you see, there is this “reverse” process too, where a cradle Orthodox has to be transplanted in a “foreign” country. It is not just that an Englishman or an American has to be transplanted in an Orthodox “foreign” church. So, it seems that we are all, catechumens, converts and cradle Orthodox, in some kind of journey, all. All my love and poor prayers. Christ is Risen!

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No. I don’t see any signs of it in the culture. We are, slowly, adding monasteries across America, though the 50 or so we have (and most are quite small – even the largest is small by the standards of other lands) is hardly a movement. But foundations are important. What is significant, I think, is that Orthodoxy in the US is becoming more normalized, i.e., not just parochial, but also with a viable monastic presence. There is far more potential, I think, than is being seen at present. Our closest men’s monastery that is primarily English-speaking, is about 5 hours away. It will sound silly to say this, but the more monasteries we have, the more we will have. You have to be exposed to monasticism in order to develop a vocation, most of the time. There are plenty of vocations out there.

  45. Byron Avatar

    CityHermit, God bless you in your journey. Pray always and I will pray for/with you.

  46. city hermit Avatar

    Thank you, Byron, so much for your encouragement and prayers. I read the comments here and realise how overwhelming a conversion experience can be, but I can assure you I feel similarly overwhelmed and vulnerable in my journey too.

  47. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Hi Renewal,

    I noticed that you mentioned the Scriptures.

    Please consider getting a copy of The Orthodox Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson if you do not already have one.

    The footnotes are exceptional.

  48. Joshua Duncan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    I am not Orthodox myself (for a couple of particular reasons), but I also long for a flourishing of Orthodox monasteries in the US. I live about a half hour from an English speaking Orthodox monastery–The Hermitage of the Holy Cross. I went for the first time last summer and I’ve found excuses to go back as often as possible. I’m going next Friday, in fact.

    Other than prayer, how can such a movement be encouraged?

  49. Agata Avatar


    What we all could do for all of these monasteries (especially the existing ones, as they help in forming new monastics, who may later start new ones), besides of course praying for them, is support them financially. Most now have web sites where one can automatically donate a small amount of money every month. It helps them very much, and it especially shows them that we care… Yes, nice big donations are wonderful (for those who can), but just imagine how encouraged and supported they would feel if suddenly a 100 (or a thousand!) people signed up to donate just $5 a month…

    We can also support them by buying what they produce (books, candles, honey, coffee, icons, CDs [BTW, The Hermitage of the Holy Cross has produced a CD of morning and evening prayers, 17 min of Morning Prayers and 15 min of Evening Prayers, the most wonderful listening material for commute to and from work]).

    And, finally, it’s best to visit. Most monasteries that I know of in the US have beautiful guest accommodations, and welcome pilgrims almost any time. You get to live a different life for a few days, pray with them, maybe meet a spiritual father/mother or a friend. I have taken my 10 year old son for a week in a California mountain monastery and it was one of the best trips we ever did together…

    And the best thing is that once they meet us, they pray for us, all the time…. That’s a blessing beyond description….

    May God bless and enrich you through your contacts with the monastery… half an hour away, you are so lucky…. 🙂

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    More prayer.

  51. Agata Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I really appreciate the way this conversation moved towards the subject of pilgrimage and monasteries…. (as you know :-))

    I hope you don’t mind if I share this quote from Archimandrite Sergius, abbot of St. Tikhon’s Monastery delivered an address to the annual Women’s Retreat sponsored by the Department of Curriculum and Education of the Diocese of Philadelphia and Eastern PA, held at St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary in Waymart, PA, on the topic of “Orthodox Living in the Modern World: Steps to Spiritual Transformation.”

    (this is only as small section of the transcript, the part on Pilgrimage…)

    On the Importance of Pilgrimage

    I’d like to welcome you to the monastery and seminary. It’s always a blessing to have you come to visit us here on pilgrimage. We’ve really lost sight in our society as a whole of this idea of pilgrimage. It almost sounds medieval and conjures up images of people on their knees going to some holy site. The idea of pilgrimage is sometimes strange to us and yet it’s extremely important for us to encounter and experience the Lord. Our faith is so experiential.

    Christ Himself, when the apostles asked him, Where do You live, says, Come and see. And then when the disciples are telling other potential disciples about the Lord they simply say Come and see. That’s the most important part of our faith, that it’s so real and tangible. Pilgrimage is part of that experience. It’s about being able to encounter God in a very immediate and a very close way that’s very transformative and inspires us and renews us, giving us hope and life.

    I was just in St. Nicholas Church in Bari, Italy where St. Nicholas of Myra in Lycia is. Sometimes we don’t realize that the saints are so powerful that even in the midst of a society that rejects saints, and the Church, and even the Lord, still the power of St. Nicholas is coming up through the ground and manifesting itself in our society in a very profound and real way. St. Nicholas knows everything we’re thinking, whether it’s naughty or nice and he can see and knows what’s going on, because he is united with God and that means he’s everywhere. He’s able to bestow upon us great gifts of grace, and even material gifts like he did in his life. He’s still working tirelessly.
    Going to encounter that great saint in Bari was such a blessing and it reminded me of the critical place of pilgrimage in our life. I was renewed in that it is very important for us to experience these things and be changed by these things. You can go and touch St. Nicholas. They have myrrh that comes out of his tomb that they collect once a year. It’s a beautifully smelling white myrrh that they mix with water to give to pilgrims.

    (the section after this one talks about encountering relics of Saints …. :-))

  52. Joshua Duncan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    Step one is prayer. Step two is more prayer.

    I’m a little slow sometimes, but I have a feeling I know what step three is….


    Financial support is a good recommendation, I think. I love buying the things the monks have available when I can. I’m not going to launch into a sales pitch here, but I do recommend that people check out their website.


    It is a tremendous blessing to live so close to the monastery. It’s one of those places where the reality of the one-storey universe is made very clear.

  53. Alan Avatar

    Joshua, I’m jealous. I live way out in the western US and visiting Holy Cross Monastery is very high up on my wish list of things to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast