Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne; a father of the Anglican Church

St. Aidan by the Church of St. Mary on Lindisfarne; the site of his abbey.
St. Aidan of Lindisfarne can be treated equally as a father of the Church in England with Augustine of Canterbury and likewise of the whole Anglican Church. It was Aidan, who in A. D. 635 brought the light of Christ into the Kingdom of Northumbria, which then extended from the firth of Forth to the river Humber, and established the monastery of Lindisfarne as his episcopal seat. Aidan came on invitation of Oswald from the church of Iona, which was not under the bishop of Rome until the eleventh century, and evangelized in England as far south as London often travelling by foot. 
Bede later recorded of him "He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was giver to him by kings or rich men of this world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Whenever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works."
St. Aidan died on August 31 in 651 and the Church in Bamburgh is built over the site of his death. He was buried on Lindisfarne but his bones were taken with the body of St. Cuthbert to Durham were they remain to this day. The altar in the center of the chapel of the nine altar is dedicated to his memory.
Aidan, as bishop, proved  wholly dedicated to Christ in his work as a missionary and in his effort to give to the poor. He is important to the Anglican Church not only as a father but also as model for bishops today and for what the church should look for in choosing bishops. Our codes of conduct in modern society has changed since the seventh century, but poverty has not gone away and not everyone has been fairly invited to "embrace the mystery of the faith." Words are powerful tools, but as Aidan shows us it is more than just preaching that Christians must do to follow in Jesus' footsteps. Aidan, his episcopal colleges and successors dedicated their lives to give Christ to the Father's children, it is our duty, as Christians, whether we are lay-people, priests or bishops, to make sure that the Anglican Church gives the faith of Christ, preserved and unviolated, to our own brothers, sisters and children. 

Heavenly Father, we thank you for your holy servant Aidan and his strength and commitment to bringing the light of your son to the Northumbrians and we pray that that we may muster the same strength and commitment to extend his mission, his kindness and our faith to all corners of the Earth. Amen

Icon of St. Aidan presenting the gospel to King Oswald at the Church of St. Aidan, Bamburgh. 

St. Aidan altar at Durham Cathedral.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Deaconess Byllesby; a Saint in Georgia: the Church's need for local Saints.

Declaring Deaconess Byllesby a Saint of Georgia

I recently read from the website of Christ Church Augusta, Georgia that on April 15, 2012 the Episcopal Bishop of Georgia came to Christ Church to declare Ruth Byllesby, a deaconess of the Episcopal Church, a saint. Ruth served that very parish during the Great Depression and World War II.
In my recent post The Church is in Need of Her Saints I talked about the need of the church to carry on the cult of saints as a focus of community devotion by honoring both ancient and modern local 'saints.' So when I came across Christ Church's website for her I was delighted to find an example of such a saint and her parish which has chosen a feast day for her (April 25), written a collect and painted an icon to commemorate their local saint.
Deaconess Byllesby grew up in Meadville, PA, daughter to the rector of Christ Church (Meadville), but moved to Augusta, her family's winter town, because she wanted to work in a neighborhood whose resident relied largely on textile mills. During the Depression she opened rectory to the public, caring for the sick and homeless and providing food to children. This is only a very short summary of her life, more about her can be found here Deaconess Byllesby.
The point is that in many communities there have been, and are today, saintly people weather they are priests, bishops or lay people. Their lives, dedicated to Christ may help their own communities to grow towards Christ even after death.

Almighty God, who chose your servant Ruth Ellis Byllesby to serve the poor, feed the hungry, and clothe your children: give us the grace to pattern our lives after the shining example of Blessed Ruth, that we may spread the Gospel by helping those in need, with humility and the heart of a servant, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Feast of St. Herman of Alaska, 9 August.

St. Herman of Alaska icon.
St. Herman was born in 1756 in the town of Serpukhov, outside of Moscow, Russia. He joined a monastery in St. Petersburg where he experienced healing visions of St. Mary the Virgin and was later professed monk at the great monastery of Valaam. He was never ordained, but monks have a higher status and more involvement in most of the Orthodox Churches. In 1794, Herman traveled with seven other monks as missionaries with Grigory Shelikhov, a prominent Russian merchant, to Kodiak Island Alaska.

Herman converted many of the native Aleuts to the Orthodox Church and  became their patron and protector as he produced many miracles and defended them from the oppressive colonial government. Eventually he became the only remaining one of the monks as the others were arrested and martyred for speaking against the colonial government on behalf of the native peoples. Among his miracle he is said to have stopped a tidal wave from flooding one of the Aleut towns by placing an Icon of the the Theotokos (Greek for the Mother of God) on the beach which the waters did not pass. Herman built a hermitage on Spruce Island from which he often consoled the local community and many others who traveled to see him. He also built a chapel, a school and a garden which he maintained with the help of several orphans. Herman died on 15 November, 1837 and was made a saint on August 9 by the Orthodox Church in America. Many of Alaska's Native Americans are practicing Orthodox Christians as a result of the work of St. Herman and others.

Herman is important to the Church today for several reasons. He protected an oppressed people and persisted to preach the untainted faith even when threatened by oppressors who contradicted the faith. And also very relevant to the Church: He dedicated his life to bringing the good news of the risen Christ to thousands. Herman is an example to the Church were people are oppressed, to the Church that needs to reveal the extended hand of Christ, and to the Church where it struggles to maintain its faith. Our greatest want is to be with Christ...we must give other people the chance to love him also.

Prayer of St. Herman of Alaska:

Holy God, we bless thy Name for Herman, joyful north star of Christ's Church, who came from Russia to bring the Good News of Christ's love to thy native people of Alaska, to defend them from oppressors and to proclaim the Gospel of peace; and we pray that we may follow his example in proclaiming the Gospel; through the same Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Veneration of St. Herman of Alaska.

-Episcopal Calendar of Saints.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Pilgrimage for St. Cuthbert and the Northumbrian Saints.

St. Cuthbert window at Durham Cathedral.

     The lands north of the Humber river have always had a rich association with its ancient Anglo-Saxon saints. The cathedrals at Durham, Ripon and Carlisle a long with many parish churches best express Northumberland's and County Durham's love for bishops, abbesses, and monks who first brought the light of Christ to Northern England. Holy wells where the sick where healed pocketed at the edges of villages, Holy islands where hermits lived scattered along the coast, and battlefields where Holy martyrs died scar the countryside: only Jerusalem is home to more hallowed sites...
     I was able to visit many of these places on a recent trip to Northern England and was happy to find that these saints are not mere historical artifacts but remembered and venerated as ancient mothers and fathers of a living Church.

Durham Cathedral.
      Durham Cathedral, which was the first "Northumbrian" Church I visited maintained an aura of holiness that no other Cathedral in Europe can compete with. There were three offices during the day: morning prayer, noon mass, and evensong. The bells in the towers that dominated the whole city and country for miles around rang for each service. The church houses the tomb of St. Cuthbert, who is strongly appreciated in Durham Cathedral simultaneously known as "The Shrine of St. Cuthbert" a name which fully marks the cathedral as a lasting monument to the most beloved saint of the northern Church. The cathedral is architecturally remarkable as the only completely Norman cathedral in England made of a dark reddish stone and the interior pillars, clerestory and vaulted arches can only be described as massive. All around the cathedral are memorials and altars dedicated to the Northumbrian saints: the tomb and altar of St. Bede in the Galilee Chapel, altars, altarpieces and icons of St. Hilda, St. Aidan, and St. Margret and behind the high altar the simple marble slab that reads "Cuthbertus" surrounded by candles and flowers left by the countless modern pilgrims and banners and icons depicting the exemplary bishop and christian who dedicated his life to Christ.

^ Church of St. Mary the Virgin with  reredos of Lindisfarne saints and carpet from gospels.
< The Pilgrims way across the sands. 
    From Durham I went to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne which lies just north of Bamburgh and south of Berwick. The island is accessible only part of the day as the tide covers the causeway that is built on the sand on the bottom of the tidal bay. Holy Island is home to a population of only 162 people who live mainly off of sheep farming, fishing, lobstering, and tourism. The parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, which stands on just off of the town cross near the beach, was built in the 13th century and incorporates Saxon elements. It is packed with beautiful memorials to St. Cuthbert and St. Aidan, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the viking raids and St. Olaf, and the local fishing industry. Stained glass windows, carved sculptures, paintings, and textiles all conjure up the holiness of this tiny church. The church stands on the site of St. Aidan's abbey, built in A.D. 635, and embodies St. Cuthbert's life of faith and simplicity. Like Durham, there is morning prayer, mass, and evening prayer each day. Pilgrimage groups come to the island every week and often these pilgrims have come from Cuthbert's first abbey, Melrose, in the lowlands of Scotland and cross the pilgrims way across the Lindisfarne sands barefooted. I spent much of my time on the island searching for the "St. Cuthbert's beads" which are tiny fossils found on the beach in between St. Cuthbert's isle and the church that are said to be forged by St. Cuthbert on his hermitage at night and were made into rosaries by medieval pilgrims.

Ruined chapel on St. Cuthbert's Isle off of Lindisfarne.

Shrine on the spot where St. Aidan died.

     After Lindisfarne I journeyed to the parish church of St. Aidan in Bamburgh. St. Aidan first came to Bamburgh when King Oswald sent to Iona for a bishop to bring Christianity. The castle there remains associated with St. Oswald and a stone crucifix has been erected below its walls to commemorate the wooden cross the Oswald erected when Christianity first came to Northumbria. The church itself marks the spot where St. Aidan died and retains the timber which he leaned on as he took his last breaths. The timber remains suspended over the font. The church is rather large and has a reredos that incorporates many of Northumbria's saints into the witnesses of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

St. Aidan and St. Oswald
icon at Bamburgh.
Altarpiece at Ripon with the Northumbrian  Saints.
     Finally I stopped at Ripon Cathedral established by St. Wilfrid in 672. The stone choir screen features saints and kings associated with Ripon and the pulpit and Ninian Comper altarpiece features the most famous saints of Northumbria. The church also retains a crypts from the first building that was built here.
     The Church in Northern England maintains the holiness of her ancient saints to this day: they are examples to all Christians of how we can find a role in the Church to dedicate our own lives to Christ, for, as St. Julian of Norwich puts it, "all the help that we receive from the blessed saints, is by Christ's goodness."
    The holiness of St. Cuthbert, the Northumbrian saints and all the saints is help to us to find Christ's love and likewise spread it to the rest of the world.