The 2003 Pilgrimage took place on the island of Iona from Monday 22nd September until Monday 29th September.
It was situated at Bishop's House which is the Episcopalian Church and retreat centre on the holy isle. A report by FOI's Secretary Bruce Clark
This year’s stay on Iona was a time of extraordinary and unexpected gifts. When plans were first laid for our 2003 pilgrimage, the emphasis was on simplicity. We hoped to reconnect with Iona’s numinous landscape by praying there and above all, by celebrating the Divine Liturgy. We also wanted to meditate on the nature of Christian worship, with the Eucharist at its heart, both in our own times and in the age of Saint Columba. There was a tinge of sadness over the passing away, during the previous year, of two faithful FOI supporters, Niki Tait and Michael Hill; there was also a sense of gratitude that a number of Friends had overcome adversity (such as their own illness, or the illness of loved ones) in ways that defied human expectations.
With all those things in mind, we planned a relatively modest programme of talks and worship, with plenty of time for reflection and fellowship. But from the very start of the pilgrimage, there were powerful, and humbling, intimations of the Holy Spirit at work. Lectures, discussions, presentations and prayers which had seemed separate and discrete when we scheduled them somehow fused into a well-integrated whole; and a palpable bond developed between a group of 30 or so people (rising to 34 at times) with a remarkable range of spiritual and cultural experience.
For many pilgrims, the high point of their Scottish sojourn was the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which fell (in the old calendar) on Saturday, September 27 – in other words, the penultimate full day of our week-long stay. This is an ancient and profoundly beautiful ceremony, marking the transformation of the Cross from an instrument of torture and death into an agency of healing and salvation. The chief celebrant was Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, the FOI chairman, who led this elaborate and demanding act of worship – and indeed the whole pilgrimage – with great dignity and warmth.
He was assisted by Father John Nankivell who served the 2003 pilgrims as a dedicated and much-loved chaplain, and by Father Athanasios Ledwich another popular and familiar figure among the Orthodox Christians of the English West Midlands. Reader Gregory Gascoigne from Edinburgh led the singing, and the servers were Cyril McAtominey and 13-year-old Paul Kushiner.
As Father John Nankivell reminded us in a preparatory talk, the central message of Feast lies in the transforming power of the Crucifixion: all our sufferings are transformed by our sharing ın the Cross of Christ. In several different ways, Christians are called on to carry the Cross all day long, we wear baptismal crosses around our necks, and make the sign of the Cross in our prayers and at every ‘crucial’ moment in our lives. In a broader sense, Christians understand that in life there will be heavy loads to bear and pain to endure, but thanks to Christ’s victory over death, the yoke becomes light and the burden easier.
The Feast of the Holy Cross also commemorates specific events in the history of the Church: the victory of Emperor Constantine, inspired by a vision of the Cross, ın 312 AD, and the discovery of the True Cross ın Jerusalem by Saint Constantine and his mother and its exaltation for veneration by the people, in 326. Also remembered are the foundation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ın 335 and the recovery of the Cross, in 629, after its capture by the Persians. Father John’s talk was explicitly designed as a preparation for the Festal Liturgy. But in a remarkable way, all the preceding talks seemed to serve the same purpose: in other words, that of helping us to enter more deeply into the saving mystery of the Cross and the Liturgy. In a talk that was both subtle and crystal-clear, Bishop Kallistos had spoken to us of the many-layered mystery of the Eucharist, which does not merely repeat or recreate the sacrifice at Calvary but makes present or shows forth the self-offering of Christ which happened once and for all.
To the question – what is being offered at the Holy Eucharist – there are at least five answers. We offer bread and wine, the fruits of nature refashioned by human hands, we offer the whole of creation back to God, we offer our lives, ourselves as a ‘living sacrifice’, we offer ‘Christ who has been slaın’, and above Christ offers Himself. Nor does Christ’s self-offering stop on Earth, it continues in Heaven. The sacrifice on the Altar ın Heaven is manifested on the Cross; the same sacrifice is manifested at each Eucharist.
By a happy circumstance, the first full day of the pilgrimage (Tuesday, September 23) was the day of St Adomnan, an abbot of the Iona monastery in the late seventh century and biographer of St Columba. This prompted us to reflect on the Eucharist as it emerges in Adomnan’s Life of Columba. In the book’s eight explicit references to the Divine Liturgy, we could see what a keen sense Columba had of the sacrament’s salvific power – and in the particular, of the importance of commemorating the dead at the Eucharist.
The idea of offering the fruits of nature back to God would have been familiar to the pre-Christian Celts, as it was to the Jews through the rites of the Jerusalem Temple. Columba and his successors were able to build on the pagan understanding of sacrifice and communicate a Truth that was infinitely greater. There is one touching passage in which Adomnan describes an experience of his own: he and his fellow monks are struggling to sail back to Iona after a trip to Ireland, hoping to arrive in time to commemorate Saint Columba on the anniversary of his death, June 9. At the last moment, a fair wind carries them back to the holy island, enabling them to celebrate the Eucharist at the sixth hour.
What was the significance of the sixth hour? The following evening, a talk by Father Athanasios and John Davis helped to provide the answer.
In an impressive double act, Father Athanasios and John, a lay member of the Shrewsbury parish, shared with us their knowledge, and also their personal experience, of the way in which ‘time is sanctified’ by the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of prayer ordained by the Church.
Father Athanasios described an all-night vigil he had attended a few weeks earlier at the small Monastery of Pantokratoroson theHolyMountain of Athos. He spoke of the spirit of expectation in which Orthodox monks pray through the night: they are at once waiting for the dawn, for the coming of Christ into human hearts, and for the second coming of Christ into the world. The scene he described was easier to visualize because of some wonderful slides of the Holy Mountain, highlighting in particular the natural beauty of Athos in every season, which Bishop Kallistos had shown us the previous day.
Then John Davis, who combines a well-trained legal mind with a deep knowledge of liturgies eastern and western, spoke to us of the daily Divine Office, with its eight component parts: Vespers (in which earthly light fades and the ‘gladsome light’ of Christ is first apprehended); Compline; the midnight office; Matins; then the first, third, sixth and ninth hours. Each commemorates a different moment in the Christian experience: in the third hour, for example, we think of Jesus taking up the Cross, and at the sixth we remember the Crucifixion. So St Adomnan’s account of sailing hurriedly to reach Iona in time for the third hour, and then celebrating a Eucharist in memory of the monastery’s beloved founder at the sixth hour, on the anniversary of his death, becomes easier to understand.
Whatever their significance for monastic communities of the past and present, some lay Orthodox Christians may feel that praying the hours is an unrealistic idea for people living busy and demanding lives in the world. But Jim Kushiner, whose job as editor of the Chicago-based magazine Touchstone is certainly demanding, offered a different view. In one of the most remarkable talks ever delivered at an FOI pilgrimage, Jim told us of his experiences during a previous journey to Iona: he had been with us in September 2001, including that day that was burned into our memories by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. As Jim recalled, this was a time in which, as a spiritual exercise, he had set out to pray the daily offices, using a prayer book designed for lay people. On the afternoon of September 11, he had crossed the channel from Iona and Mull and walked with several other pilgrims to a shop selling fine silver crosses. Letting the others go ahead, he began reading the Psalms laid down for third hour, and then the traditional prayer for the sixth hour, the time of the Crucifixion:
"O Christ God, on the sixth day and hour, Thou nailed to the Cross the sin which rebellious Adam committed in Paradise: Tear asunder the bonds of our iniquities and save us. Thou has wrought salvation in the midst of the earth. O Christ God. Thou stretched out Thine all-pure hands upon the Cross; You gathered together all the nations that cry aloud to You; Glory to You."
With the autumn air still and fragrant, and preparations for a local man's funeral in progress at a tiny church near Fionnphort, there were, for Jim and perhaps for other pilgrims, some powerful intimations of the mysteries of life, death and the Cross. A few hours later, when pilgrims heard about the terrorist attacks, the broader meaning of those intimations became clearer. But as Jim recounted, the news from America also gave added poignancy to the singing, a few days later, of the hymns laid down for the elevation of the Holy Cross:
"The Cross is raised on high, and urges all Creation to sing the praise of the undefiled Passion of Him who was lifted high upon it. For there it was that He killed our slayer, and brought the dead to life again: and in his exceeding goodness and compassion, He made us beautiful land counted us worthy to be citizens of heaven."
Carved stone crosses are among the glories of the Celtic Christian lands, including Iona and Donegal which we hope to visit in 2004; and the cross of martyrdom, at the hands of rival tribes or Viking "terrorists", was an ever-present reality for Saint Columba and his successors. But in the cycle of prayers - be they daily, weekly or annual - laid down by the Church,we experience the Cross as a symbol of victory, salvation and healing: a deeper understanding of that mystery was perhaps the greatest of the many blessings bestowed on us during the 2003 pilgrimage to Iona.
We had reached the end of the week together, and we needed to reflect on how we could apply what we had learned to our life in our parishes.
Bishop Kallistos had talked about the way in which ‘the Body of Christ’ had so many meanings. It was Christ Himself in the Eucharist; it was the whole creation and our whole selves, which had been transfigured by Christ in the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Eucharist. It was the community of the Church of which we were a part. In order to experience this mystery in our communities, we needed to ask searching questions about how we do the Liturgy together, and how we live out this mystery in the life of the community during the week.
One of the great blessings of an FOI pilgrimage is that it brings together Orthodox Christians with a huge range of spiritual and cultural experience.With us in 2003 were pilgrims from the United States, Russia, Greece and Romania as wellevery region of the British Isles. Some worship in large cathedrals, others in small rural parishes. This gave FOI treasurer Costas Berecos anidea for a new feature in our programme: a discussion on the nature of the Christian parish to which all pilgrims, including the clergy and monastics, could contribute from their widely differing perspectives. Costas gave examples from his own experience. He had been brought up in a huge parish in Athens. The church to which he was taken as a child, and of which his parents were still part, had many thousands of people, and an enormous staff of clergy to care for them. It was almost impossible in a parish like that to have a real experience of belonging or sharing, or of knowing other people. People came and went to church in great crowds, but you could not get to know more than a tiny number of them.
He then came to England as a student, and was drawn into the life of convert parishes, as opposed to big Cypriot parishes (which did not appeal to him). These convert parishes were tiny communities in comparison both to the parishes in Athens and to the Cypriot communities in England, but very fervent and committed, and had a real sense of community. Even here, however, there were often problems. Often the communities met for coffee (or lunch) after the Liturgy and chatted, but little happened for the rest of the week. There was often conflict in the parish, too, which might be thought to put some strain on the life and mutual love of the community. By comparing notes, pilgrims were able to gain understanding of how conflicts could be resolved and parish life renewed.