On Sunday, September 11, the Divine Liturgy was celebrated in St Oran's Chapel, a beautiful, 1,000-year-old building on Iona. In the afternoon, it Bishop Kallistos led us in a prayerful meditation and walk around the stone crosses and other monuments near Iona Abbey.
On Monday, September 12, there was a fascinating lecture by the distinguished Byzantinologist and art historian Dr David Winfield, who lives on Mull. He showed us slides of the work he did 45 years ago to restore some of the finest frescoes in the eastern Christian world, in the church of Hagia Sofia church in the city of Trebizond. In the afternoon some pilgrims took the boat to Staffa island.
On Tuesday, September 13, we joined the Iona community in their weekly walk around the holy island. In the evening there was a vigil service ahead of the (new-calendar) feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, with a homily on the meaning of this solemn and beautiful moment in the Orthodox calendar.
On Wednesday, September 14, there was a second Divine Liturgy, again in St Oran’s, for the Holy Cross feast. Thursday, September 15 provided an opportunity for excursions – including to the small island of Inchkenneth which has some fascinating early Christian ruins but can only be visited by arrangement with local boatmen.
One of the themes running through our talks and reflections, whether we were focusing on St Columba and his Celtic community, or on the great monastic empire of Trebizond, was that of “the monastery as fortress”: not just a well-protected and strategically important place but also a bastion and powerhouse of prayer which can transform any “desert” and make it bloom.