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Sermon on All Saints of Britain and Ireland
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last year when Matushka Ioanna and I were blessed (by you) to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, one of the sites we visited was Mary’s well in Nazareth. It is located at the site where, according to the Church’s tradition, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, the mother of God, and announced that she would bear the Son of God – an event known to us as the Annunciation. On another occasion, Joanie and I were again blessed to visit another holy place, another “Mary’s Well” located in Scotland, the village of Tobermory. Today it is a favourite tourist destination, famous for its quaint, picturesque buildings and its world famous Scotch Whisky distillery. It has some lovely shops and some great places to eat. We love this village and its people, but there is something about it that makes us a little sad. The village’s name, Tobermory, comes from the Scots Gaelic and means “Mary’s Well.” In the days prior to the cataclysmic Protestant so-called “Reformation,” this place was a holy place, a shrine, a place of pilgrimage. The Mother of God had visited this spot and a miraculous spring appeared, a spring that was full of healing and consolation for the faithful of that island of Mull. And where is that spring now? I have no idea. It was so thoroughly demolished and buried by those anti-Catholic zealots, that nobody knows where it is today. It’s so sad that it’s heart-breaking.
St, John of Shanghai and San Francisco loved the saints, their stories, their miracles, and their teachings. Hieromonk Damascene wrote of him: “St. John believed that, in whatever land an Orthodox Christian found himself, it was his responsibility to venerate and pray to its national and local Saints. Wherever St. John went—Russia, Serbia, China, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Tunisia, America—he researched the Lives of the local Orthodox Saints. He went to the churches housing their relics, performed services in their honor, and asked the Orthodox priests there to do likewise. By the end of his life, his knowledge of Orthodox Saints, both Western and Eastern, was seemingly limitless.” There is a wonderful Greek saint from the island of Paros, St Arsenios, who lived in the 19th century. He said this, “when the church of the British Isles begins to venerate her own saints, it is then that the Church will grow there.” But can the British Isles ever again become a land of saints in the same way that she once was? Who is this “church” that St. Arsenios refers to? Is it the Anglicans? Is it the Latins? I think not. The Church is always and only the Orthodox Church. So St. Arsenios must be referring, prophetically, to the growing Orthodox presence there. It is the Orthodox people in England, Scotland and Wales, and yes Ireland, that we pray will become the agents of a great spiritual re-awakening in these Isles. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, as I mentioned, had a deep love for these saints, and I believe that he, too, prays for this renewal. In 2007 the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church did a strange thing, it approved what some might consider an odd new holy day, the commemoration of All Saints of the British Isles and Ireland. I think that this is the reason that it also appears in our OCA Menaion and rubrics for this Sunday, the third Sunday after Pentecost. Russia and North America are pulling for a revival of Orthodoxy in the British Isles! And why not?
How can we not admire the early missionary efforts in Britain of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware,) Dr. Nicholas Zernov, Evgenia Kadloubovsky, Gerald Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and others? And for more recent and perhaps the most profound activity, how can we not celebrate and support, with joy and treasure, the life and labours of a friend to our parish, Hieromonk Seraphim (Aldea), who is re-establishing Orthodox monastic life near Iona in Scotland? We here in North America have some profound historical ties to this region, and hence we join together with them in prayer on this day. Let me name just a few of the saints who we celebrate today:
Alban the protomartyr of Britain, who gave up his own life in order to shelter a priest from Roman persecutors. Aristobulus – one of the Seventy Apostles who eventually became Bishop of Britain. Betti, a priest and ascetic from Northumbria. Brendan the Navigator, a sixth-century Irish Orthodox monk. He was perhaps the first Orthodox Christian to set foot on North American soil, and as such, is the first saint to set foot here as well! Bridget, sixth century abbess and founder of several monasteries. Chad, a seventh century missionary, bishop, healer, and wonderworker who spread the Orthodox Catholic Faith throughout the British Isles.  Columba, considered the Apostle to Scotland.  David of Wales, sixth century bishop, ascetic, monastery builder and wonder-worker. Declan (there’s a familiar name!) a fifth century Irish evangelist and monastery builder. Deiniol the Elder, founder of Bangor Monastery in Wales. Edward the Confessor, was a right-believing English king and martyr. Edwin and Etheldreda, King and Queen of Northumbria.  Helena mother of Constantine the Great. Kenneth evangelizer of the Picts, Kevin of Glendalough, an abbot and miracle-worker. Nectan, was a 6th century Celtic saint who was martyred by a band of robbers. St. Ninian, a celtic bishop and missionary in Scotland. St. Patrick, Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland. Richard, a pious noble from the west of England and father of Ss Willibald, Winebald and Walburga. Samson, bishop, abbot, and missionary from Wales. Werburga an abbess and ascetic from Canterbury in England, who recited the entire Psalter every day, on her knees! St. Winifred was a virgin martyr from Wales in the early seventh century.
These are just a sampling, a tiny taste, of the hundreds and hundreds of wonderful and perfectly Orthodox saints of Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland whom we remember and honor today. By their intercessions, may grace and peace come to their homelands and to us, their spiritual children. Amen.