Our last Divine Liturgy at St Oran’s this summer

A few photos from our latest Divine Liturgy in St Oran’s, on Iona. We take a very early ferry from Mull to Iona, so we have time to stop at the Martyrs’ Bay and pray before the Divine Liturgy. We then make our way to the ancient monastic graveyard and St Oran’s Chapel.

This is one of my favourite places in the isles, and I am immensely grateful to all our pilgrims this summer for being so kind and supportive to me.

We need to bring everything with us from Mull, so each of us ends up carrying some of the things we need for the Divine Liturgy: the Chalice, the Diskos, the vestments, the icons, the coverings, the wine, hot water, prosphoras, Bible, candles etc etc. We all become a mobile church for a day, and we all depend on each other to be able to celebrate.

Many thanks to Justin for taking these photos.

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Thin Places, where Heaven reveals its violence

People are right, Iona truly is ‘a thin place’, a great Celtic expression, describing special places where Heaven and earth are drawn together. What I didn’t know before I came for this week (and perhaps, what many of us do not feel) is how dreadfully frightening Heaven is. Perhaps frightening is not the right word: awe-some, full of awe, entirely alien to us and frightening because of its alien nature – these are all weak descriptions, but they are as good as I’m able to make.

Iona is a thin place, but through the thin veil one can see a frightening revelation. It is precisely because these are thin places that they are frightening, too. What we see through them, what we see through their transparence is the real Face of God: not a tame God, a domesticated God; not a God taken to pieces and rebuilt to fit our sinfulness and weakness; not a God shaped against our emotions and cheap piety; not a God of human traditions and cult; not a God of political correctness or incorrectness – but the LIVING God. The Being beyond being, the Uncreated Creator of everything that is, the untouchable One, indescribable by any of our created words, philosophies and concepts. The frightening God, the crushing God, the God Who utters His voice and the earth melts; the God Who commands: Be still, and know that I am God.

To be in a thin place like Iona is frightening because of the Frightening Being Who suddenly becomes visible and Whom you must now face. I’ve learnt that to face God is frightening, because every meeting with God is a moment of total exposure and Judgement: exposure and judgement of ourselves, of our carefully assembled idols and our horrid manipulations of the Divine realities. God is an alien Being to us, because we have turned ourselves in alien beings to Him. Thin places are dangerous places; approach them with fear, as you approach the Face of God. You are in a moment of Judgement.

Taken from ‘Iona. Where Heaven Reveals Its Violence‘, available from the Monastery online Book Store.

St Columba’s Bay. Impossible Bay.

I don’t know what to write today. It is all too immediate, too close to me still, and I lack any sense of perspective.

It’s been a beautiful, sunny day. I finally got to St Columba’s Bay – all by myself, after a few hours of wandering about, losing my way every five minutes, then finding it again. I had a lot of time to think about St Columba, about St Cuthbert and St Ninian – all the saints who have taken over my life. I had time to pray, and time ask the questions that grew in me as I walked these sacred hills.

There is a lot in them that speaks to me. Their need to always leave behind what one has built, the fear to allow anything of this world embrace you, and encapsulate you, their obsession with pilgrimages with no destination. I thought, what can constitute a destination? When are we home? What does it mean to be home?

Their home was Christ, and everything else was an idol. Getting home meant overcoming death, entering the life which is Christ, and becoming one with Him. Home meant a transformation of the person who arrived there – not a place of rest, not a place of comfort; in fact, not a place at all. Home is Christ Himself, and they denied everything, everyone and their own earthly selves in order to get to Him and become one with Him.

How is that love for Christ even possible? These saints were made of the same flesh and blood, the same bones and skin, feelings and emotions as I am. What made their love so unearthly? What gave them this holy, wonderful madness? What sort of fire melted their hearts? If only I could light it myself, if only I had the love to at least begin this pilgrimage…

Taken from ‘Iona. Where Heaven Reveals Its Violence‘, available from the Monastery online Book Store.

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