6 / 19 November
When the blessed Patriarch Alexander was lying on his deathbed, the lamenting faithful asked him whom he would leave to follow him as chief pastor of the flock of Christ. Then the sick Patriarch said to them: 'If you want to have a shepherd who will teach you and whose virtues will illumine you, choose Paul; but, if you want a suitable man as a figurehead, choose Macedonius.' The people chose Paul. This was not acceptable to the Arian heretics, nor to the Emperor Constantius, who was at that time in Antioch, and so Paul was quickly deposed and fled to Rome together with St Athanasius the Great. There, both Pope Julian and the Emperor Constans gave them a warm welcome and upheld them in their Orthodoxy. The Emperor and the Pope sent letters which restored Paul to his episcopal throne, but, after the death of Constans, the Arians raised their heads again and drove the Orthodox Patriarch off to Cucusus in Armenia. While Paul was celebrating the Liturgy one day in exile, he was set on by the Arians and strangled with his pallium. This was in the year 351 . In the time of the Emperor Theodosius, in 381, his relics were translated to Constantinople, and, in 1236, to Venice, where they still lie. (A small piece of their relics is kept at the Russian Cathedral in London). Our Holy Father Varlaam of Chutinsk, the Wonderworker.
This day's feast is not only a celebration of the great multitude of Irish and Celtic Saints, many of whom were missionaries throughout Europe, but is also a celebration of the many contributions of Celtic culture to the world. A number of centuries ago, a family from a Central European tribe met with a tribe from the Carpathian mountains. The result was the beginning of Celtic civilization, especially with respect to the La Tene and Hallstadt cultures. The "Keltoi" as the Greeks called them were described vividly by Julius Caesar in Gaul. The Iberian Peninsula was once called "Celtiberia." Macbeth, High King of Scots, on his way to Rome by ship, visited these people and could carry on a conversation with them, no problem! The Celtic language of these people, "Galiz" from Galizia, has survived and they are one of the seven nations of the Celts (the others being: Irish, Highland Scots, Manx, Cornish, Breton and Welsh). Paris was named for the Celtic tribe that settled there, the "Parisii." Notre Dame Cathedral with its hanging heads calls to mind the way in which Celtic warriors would celebrate a military victory . . . Everything that had the prefix "Wal" in front of it was of Celtic origin. "Wales" and "Cornwall" and even "Wallachia" in Roumania. Sevastopil in Crimea was originally built by the Celts who settled there very early. "Walnuts" are also named for the Celts who developed them. St Peter Mohyla, Metropolitan of Kyiv, is also of Wallachian and therefore Celtic, descent. The Celtic Christian missionaries were intrepid travelers. They would cross vast areas in their little boats known as "birinns." Even Christopher Columbus visited Ireland to read the log books of St Brendan the Navigator who was said to have crossed over to the Eastern Coast of what is now Canada. There is evidence of early Christian settlements in Newfoundland and also in Baffin Island! Celtic missionaries came down through the Baltic Sea into Kyivan Rus'Ukraine and St Olha the Great greeted Celtic men of God at her court. The Celtic Rite is actually one of the most "Eastern" of those in the West. The Celts had strong ties with Coptic Egypt and its tradition of the Thebaid through the Ukrainian Saint, John Cassian. There are still mentioned in Celtic liturgical sources a veneration for "Seven Coptic Monks" buried in Ireland. The Irish Rite has many connections to the Egyptian liturgy. For example, following the Rule of St Pachomios, the Irish Celtic Office has groups of 12 Psalms. So, depending on the Feast, the Morning Office will have 12, 24, 36, 60 or 72 Psalms. In many cases, the entire Psalter is read in a single day. Prostrations to the ground, familiar in the East, were also practiced by the Celts. It was the Celts who invented the tradition of saying 150 Our Fathers and Hail Mary's for the Psalms. They devised strands of beads and knotted cords as prayer counters, the Celtic Rosary. The great asceticism of the Celtic saints is patterned after that of the Eastern Church Fathers. Saying the Psalter while standing in cold running water, among other things, required a hardy sort of person . . . The Celts had their own tonsure, the tonsure of Simon Magus, which was in front of the head, rather than on top in the Roman fashion. The Abbot, rather than the Bishop, was the administrator of the Celtic communities, built around the monasteries or "cashels" as they were. Their calculaton of Easter was their own and varied from that of the rest of the Church at the time. The Celts inherited much from their druidic ancestors. Like the Eastern Slavs, they worshipped the Sun. After becoming Christian, the Sun symbol still figured prominently in their Christian faith. St Ninian of Galloway in Scotland and St Colum mac Felim O'Neill of Isle of Hy (Iona) and their missionary companions worshipped within stone circles and adapted other Sun imagery in their Christianized traditions. The haloed Celtic Cross is also popular in Ukraine. There is one marking the grave of Taras Shevchenko, the national poet and bard. It refers to the fact that Christ is our "Sun." It is also said to be a Celtic form of the "Chi Rho" or "XP" Greek symbol for the first two letters of Christ's Name, also called the "Cross of St Constantine." The term "Celtic," as some have argued, may be connected to "Chaldea." It is also a play on the monastic notion of "cell." Another explanation is that it refers to the monastic Order of the Celi De or the "Friends of God." Celtic spirituality is very popular these days. Those who should probably know better are presenting it within a type of "New Age" context. Closeness to animals and nature are also stimulants to interest in this version of "Celtic spirituality." In fact, while Celtic monks and nuns lived very simply, their asceticism runs in the face of modern, easy-going spiritual orientations. Their lives were rather exhausting. In addition to daily Divine Liturgy and their Horologion, they recited the full 150 Psalms of David. One could always rest in the after-life, the old Irish spiritual teachers said . . . During the Irish Penal Times when it was against the law to be Catholic and a priest, Irish priests would roam the countryside incognito, just like during the Roman times of persecution. Irish families would like candles in their windows as a sign that this was where the priests could receive a meal and shelter for the night. When Cromwell's Puritan soldiers asked the people what the candles signified, the people said they were "lighting the way of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem." This interpretation has remained and is why, today, so many homes are decorated with Christmas lights! .The Celtic Thebaid was a school for Saints and it is this great Choir that we celebrate today. We are heirs to the rich Celtic Christian culture they produced. The Celtic missionaries were experts at spreading the Gospel and inculturating it with local traditions which they "baptized" as they said. This is why Celtic Christianity became so deeply rooted among the Celtic peoples. Presbyterianism, although Protestant, sees itself as an heir to this tradition as well. Certainly, the Celtic nations had long harboured resentment towards Rome for imposing its Rite on their ancient ways. There is renewed interest in the Celtic Rite today among Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Anglicans. What characterizes the Celtic Rite is its focus on the worship of the Holy Trinity, its spirit of simplicity and asceticism, devotion to the Psalms, the Horologion and the reading of the Gospel, a positive relationship to God's creation in nature, and community in monastic life. The ancient Celtic Rite exemplifies the spiritual richness of the undivided Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. A missionary Church, the Celtic Rite was practiced throughout Western Europe at one time, reaching out to the shores of North America itself. The Saints of Eire and all Celtic Saints remind us of our calling to preach Christ to all nations, while inculturating the Gospel in every national tradition. All ye Holy Saints of Eire and the Celtic nations, pray unto God for us!.