Recommended Books For Your Spiritual Edification
1. Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works. http://www.stherman.com/Catalog/Writings_of_Father_Seraphim/fsr_book.htm
2. Orthodox Christian Parenting: Cultivating God's Creation. http://zoepress.us/New_Publication.html
3. Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, by Andrew Stephen Damick. http://store.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxy-and-heterodoxy/
4. Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life. by Anthony M. Coniaris. http://www.amazon.com/Introducing-Orthodox-Church-Faith-Life/dp/0937032255
5. For the Life of the World, by Alexander Schmemann. http://www.svspress.com/for-the-life-of-the-world/
1. The Brother's Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. http://www.amazon.com/Brothers-Karamazov-Everymans-Library/dp/0679410031/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1388767633
|7:00pm||- Deacon's Mass/Silent Prayer|
How often, in the history of the Christian Church, have great things resulted from unlikely beginnings? Since the Resurrection, when the instrument of death – the Cross – became the symbol of our salvation, there have been many times when a humble beginning or an apparent failure has brought about a major development or advancement in the work of the Church. The Irish monk, St. Gall, provides us with an example of one whose simple, faithful life was the catalyst for a great flourishing of the faith and the conversion of many.
Born around the middle of the 6th century, Gall’s devout Christian parents dedicated him to God at an early age and entrusted his education and spiritual direction to St. Columbanus of the monastery of Bangor.
When Columbanus embarked on a mission to convert the Frankish pagans on the continent, he took twelve disciples with him, among them the monk Gall, who was skilled as a linguist. The missionaries established their first monastic settlement at Luxeuil in Gaul, where they were well received and made progress in spreading the good news of Christ’s love to the local people.
Columbanus continued to travel, accompanied by Gall and other monks, following the path of the Rhine River. Their work of preaching and teaching was often fruitful, but they were sometimes forced to leave an area suddenly. Columbanus condemned King Theodoric’s lustful relationships and, when the king reacted against this criticism, the monks took refuge in Arbon near Lake Constance in what is now Switzerland. Here they built cells for themselves, intending to live as hermits and preach to the pagans whenever possible.
But Columbanus decided to travel on to Italy, expecting Gall to come with him. However, St. Gall, suffering from some temporary illness and desiring to remain in his hermitage, declined to accompany his abbot. This evidently created a rift between the two monks. When St. Columbanus died five years later in his monastery in Italy, his monks sent his abbot’s staff to Gall as a sign of his forgiveness for the ill will that had existed between the two men.
The hermit Gall learned the language of the local Alemanni tribe and gradually won them over. His humility and kindness were admired and his miracles were persuasive. He exorcized a demon which had possessed the daughter of a local ruler and – as is so often true of the saints – even wild animals (including a bear in his case) became tame in his presence.
St. Gall continued to live the quiet life of prayer and service which he felt God had called him to, but others wished for him to serve in more prominent ways. The religious and secular leaders of the area urged him to accept the office of bishop for Constance, but he recommended his deacon, John, and persuaded them to elect him instead. The monks of Luxeuil, the first monastery that he had helped found, urged him to become their abbot, but he declined to return to what had become a large and prominent community.
St. Gall fell asleep in the Lord on October 16 around the year 646, having spent his long life in what would appear to some to be of small significance. But, beloved as he was by those around him, a church was built over the burial place of his relics and the small group of monastics began to grow.
About sixty years later, a Benedictine abbey was formally established there by the monk Othmar. Through the years and under the leadership of successive abbots, the monastery of St. Gall grew and flourished. The monastery became noted for its Scriptorium and the library acquired many important manuscripts. The abbey became a center for Christian learning and special attention was given to the study of Gregorian chant. The connection with St. Gall’s homeland was maintained, as many Irish and Anglo-Saxon monks came here to study.
Several early accounts of the life and work of St. Gall were written by his followers and monks from the St. Gall monastery. The most widely-read Life was written by Wiliford Strabo, a 9th century monk and one by St. Notker Balbulus (who was famous as a chanter despite a speech impediment) was written in verse. Although he had never actually been an abbot of a monastery, he was given that title for the influence that his life had on those who followed in the monastery founded in his honor.
Unfortunately, in later centuries, the Abbey of St. Gall suffered from much turmoil. Threatened by fire and attacks by pagan Magyars and then by Protestants, the monastery also became embroiled in political controversy. It was secularized at the end of the 18th century.
But the great contributions to Christian history for which this abbey was famous have not been lost. In 1983, the Abbey of St. Gall was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its library still contains more than 160,000 books, including 1200 handwritten manuscripts which are currently being digitalized. At least 400 of these are over 1000 years old.
May we, like the humble Irish monk, St. Gall, seek to show others the love of Christ in our lives. May we, like the monks of the Abbey of St. Gall, seek to know more about the faith through study and prayer. We ask for the intercessions of holy Gall, and we pray that our humble offerings may be used by God for the increase of his Church.
On the Western Rite calendar, we observe the Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham on October 15, celebrating a vision of our Lady to a widow, Lady Richeldis de Faverches in the year 1061. (While this date is past the year 1054, which technically serves as the date for the “Great Schism,” the actions of the clergy in Constantinople were as yet unknown in Norfolk, England and were obviously being ignored by our Lady!) In the vision, St. Mary showed Richeldis the house in Nazareth where she had grown up and had received the visit of the Angel Gabriel, announcing her conception of the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. She instructed Richeldis to build a similar house there in England to serve as a place where any who sought her could come to pray. So Lady Richeldis built a house for prayer near the town of Walsingham. She had a statue carved of our Lady as she appeared in the vision and set it up in the holy house. A spring with healing water was found there and soon, people began to make pilgrimages to ask for the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A church was built around the holy house and for 500 years, devout Christians traveled to this remote corner of the world to light candles and say prayers for loved ones and to drink of the healing water. But the divisions which had begun at the time of the “Great Schism” eventually led to more divisions, and the period of terrible iconoclasm which accompanied the English Reformation resulted in the destruction of the shrine and the burning of the statue (King Henry VIII had made 3 pilgrimages to Walsingham before he opened the floodgates which led to such destruction!)
The shrine lay in ruins until early in the 20th century, when an Anglican priest began the work of restoration. Walsingham has once again become a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Christians. A small Orthodox chapel was established near the rebuilt holy house during the 1930’s and there is an Orthodox Church in the town of Walsingham. Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God hears the prayers of all who seek her intercessions.
Prayers of Christians in every age have been offered for peace and tranquility, for life free from strife and danger. But when Christians have been faced with danger or oppression, the faithful have remembered Christ’s promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” and the Church has flourished.
Following the day of Pentecost when the Apostles preached the Gospel and met martyrdom or exile, the number of believers who were baptized into the Church increased daily. In the next generations, as the Roman state persecuted Christians, a great body of saints – a “cloud of witnesses” – was formed to pray for those who were still in the struggle and to give inspiration to those in years to come.
After peace was established between the Empire and the church by St. Constantine, monasticism provided a new kind of martyrdom for those who sacrificed life in the world and subdued the passions. Once again, the Church flourished – this time in the creative offerings of poets and musicians who adorned our liturgies with songs of praise and thanksgiving. This creative flowering continued as the Church again experienced attack from without (by Muslim or pagan invaders) and within (by heretical movements). On October 14, we remember one of the poet-saints who has given us many beautiful hymns, St. Cosmas, the “Melodist.”
Born around the year 700 in the holy city of Jerusalem, Cosmas was orphaned at an early age, and had to resort to begging in the streets in order to survive. Through the great providence of God, Cosmas was rescued from this fragile existence by a high government official named Sergius. The man took him into his home, introduced him to his own son, John, and decided to formally adopt the orphan boy. Cosmas’ life was forever changed.
Sergius’ family lived in Damascus and, although that city was under Muslim rule and they were devout Christians, Sergius was allowed to maintain his position of authority and respect.
Cosmas and John were provided with a tutor, a monk also named Cosmas, who had been captured in Sicily and brought to Damascus to be sold as a slave. Sergius paid for his freedom and engaged him to teach the two boys. The monk gave them not only the basics of mathematics and literature, but also stirred their hearts to serve God as monastics.
Upon the death of his father, John worked for a while in government, as his father had, but soon both he and Cosmas entered the Monastery of St. Saba outside Jerusalem. Here the talent of each for poetry found expression in hymns for the services of the Church. These hymns began to be sung by the monks and eventually became known and sung in other churches as well.
Patriarch Meletos ordained the monk John to the priesthood first and later also ordained Cosmas and sent him to serve the Christians in Gaza.
St. John of Damascus remained at the Monastery of St. Saba for the remainder of his life, writing theological treatises and hymns, but his adopted brother was made Bishop of Maiuma in Gaza in 743. Even with the busy life of a hierarch serving his flock, Bishop Cosmas continued to write hymns, perhaps inspired by living so near to the events of our Lord’s life. He may have seen the shepherds’ field outside Bethlehem when he wrote:
The shepherds keep their flocks by night, the heaven glows out with wondrous light; the glory of the Lord is there, the Angel bands their King declare; the watchers of the night confessed, “God of our Fathers! Thou art blest.” [#58, St. Ambrose Hymnal]
Perhaps he had traveled as far north as Nazareth and climbed to the top of Mt. Tabor when he composed these words:
In days of old on Sinai the Lord almighty came in majesty and terror, in thunder cloud and flame: on Tabor, with the glory of sunniest light for vest, the excellence of beauty in Jesus was expressed. [#213, St. Ambrose Hymnal]
And he must have venerated the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem and wrote these words in celebration of the Resurrection:
The clouds of night are past away; Mary, rejoice, rejoice to day; the offspring of thy Virgin womb is risen from the Virgin tomb! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! [#118, St. Ambrose Hymnal]
These hymns and many others continue to be used in Byzantine services, even after 1300 years, and we are grateful to those who have provided translations for use in our Western Rite services.
St. Cosmas died on October 14 in the year 750 and now sings with the heavenly choir, interceding for us before the throne of God. We give thanks for St. Cosmas as we sing his hymns, and we pray that, in times of strife and persecution, the Church will continue to flourish through the witness of her saints.