Christmas Kindness Icon

Every year, the weeks before Christmas you pour your love and kindness towards the Monastery. Your support for the vision of this Monastery is always so humbling, your generosity so inspiring – I always struggle to find a blessed and meaningful way to thank you all.

I want to encourage you to keep believing in this dream and to keep helping me in my work on Mull, but I also want to offer you something in return, as a sign of my gratitude. You already have my prayer (weak as it is) and you already have the blessing of the Celtic Saints.

This Advent, I want to also offer you something more tangible, so we have commissioned two Icons of the Mother of God which will enter and bless the homes of two of our Friends.

Out of all the donations over 60 pounds we shall receive between NOW and CHRISTMAS (Old Calendar, to accommodate all of us), we shall randomly select the names of two Friends. Each of these two will receive an icon of the Mother of God, blessed by me at the Monastery of All Celtic Saints on the Isle of Mull, with water from the ancient Well of St Ninian.

60 pounds is only half of the Deposit for a commissioned icon, and a sixth of the full price of an icon. I wish I could send you all an icon, but the fact that I cannot afford to do that should not stop me from doing the little that we can afford. It is not as much as I would like, but the little we offer comes of love and with deep prayer that these icons will truly bless your homes and your lives.

To make a standard 60 pounds donation, simply purchase a ‘Christmas Kindness Icon’ from our online bookstore.

Mother of God 2

Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel

This is just a thought about the Holy Archangels that came to me a few days ago, as I was praying for something to write to you on their Feast Day. I remembered something that happened in my first year in my Monastery in Moldavia, and that memory triggered this thought.

In our monastery, among other things, a novice was expected to do one hundred prostrations and three hundred bows (crossing oneself, then bowing down to the ground) each day. I soon realised that I am a physically weak young man, and that I am very easily prone to cut short the number of my daily prostrations and bows. I asked my Abbot about it, and he advised me to do them in church, rather than in my own cell. His thought was that since I was both lazy and proud, I should fight one temptation through the other. He was perfectly right, and I soon discovered that I could push through my pain and finish my prostrations just because I didn’t want the other brothers to see me giving up. I later found the same advice in St John’s Ladder.

In a corner of the church, I found an icon of Christ that spoke to me in a personal way, and I did all my prostrations and bows before that icon. Day by day, month after month, for at least one year, I poured my heart before Christ in front of that icon. About a year later, a team of restorers came to our Monastery to clean the walls of our church and uncover the original frescoes. One day, I asked them if they could also clean the soot that had almost covered the Face of Christ. They did, and this is how I found out that – for over one year – I had been prostrating, bowing and praying to Christ before an icon of the Holy Archangel Michael.

There is a connection between the Holy Archangels and Christ. There is a connection between Christ’s Person, and the unity of St Michael’s sword and St Gabriel’s lily. There is a balance, a spiritual oneness between what the sword symbolises and the joy of St Gabriel’s good-news.

Perhaps that is best expressed in the image of the Christ of Sinai – the oldest version of the icon of Christ Pantocrator, kept in the Monastery of St Catherine since the sixth century. One eye of the icon expresses Christ’s Judgement, while the other overflows with His Love. That unity, that balance between Christ-the-Judge and Christ-the-Saviour is also expressed through the Holy Archangels and their different ‘works’: one calls us to fight for the salvation of our soul, while the other confirms that our salvation is of the Lord. One speaks about our responsibility for our salvation, the other speaks about Him Who made our salvation possible.

One reminds us that we need to act, we need to change, we need to DO something (inside and outside) to become Christ-like, while the other takes away our fears by re-inforcing the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation. This is the balance to which we must hold on, this is the Truth of Christ – our salvation depends on us, as much as it depends on Christ. We are not automatically saved because of His Sacrifice, just as we cannot be saved exclusively through our acts, without His Sacrifice.

To lose this balance is to lose one’s way to the Kingdom. Christ asks us to get up and change our ways, He expects us to get better, He wants us to look at ourselves in the mirror of His commandments, and do what we can to become more like Him. In this world, and in a time when words have lost their depth and meaning, to say that Christ want us to love the world and sacrifice ourselves ‘for the life and salvation of the world’ can mean the exact opposite of what He asks us to do. In this world, to speak of love is dangerous, for love has either been romanticised to the point of losing all connection to Christ’s Death on the Cross, or has been openly transformed into another word for sex.

To remember that we are all brothers and that the only enemy is the devil, to forgive and turn the other cheek, to die for the world, to fight one’s demons so that we become sacrificial lambs and not sacrificing wolves, to let go of our idols (our culture, our heritage, our history, our logical arguments – anything that stays between us and Christ) – all of these things have become stumbling blocks for the vast majority of us, Christians.

These ideals are now seen as silly dreams of stupid people – not relevant to this world, not useful to this world, not of this world.

But then, I know One Who was also not of this world. And This One, hated by the world to His death, has prophesied that the time will come when His disciples will also be hated by the world, because they also are not of this world.

May the Holy Archangels protect us all – from the enemies outside, and from the enemy within. May they remind us the balance that is in Christ – the Good News of His Love goes hand in hand with the Judgement of His Cross. For this reason, Christ’s eyes Love and Judge from the beginning of the world to its end.

Happy Feast Day, everyone!

Beyond our Sin

The father of a young man who was (and still is, unfortunately) addicted to drug use once told me that the only way he could deal with his son’s situation was to look beyond the self-destructive human being in front of him. I know the young man personally. He lived with us for about a year in our monastery in Moldavia, trying to stay far away from the environment that had kept him paralysed in this addiction. Then, one day, without telling anyone, he left the monastery and went back to the city. He felt strong enough to face his old demons.

He wasn’t, and he ended up injecting again. After that, it all went downhill very fast. To hide the signs of his drug use from his family, he started to inject in his legs. Because he didn’t do that properly, his right leg got infected and he didn’t tell anyone until he ended up in hospital. They had to amputate his leg to save his life. He was then in his twenties.

I saw him in hospital a few days after the amputation, and I felt helpless and useless. It was after that meeting that his father told me that the only way he could hold on to his love and faith in his son was to look beyond his present self, to the boy he had once held in his arms. He had to learn to look through this self-destructive young man and focus on the beautiful being his son could have been, had he not been lost to drugs. This helped him carry on, it gave him the strength to care for this grown son as if he were a five-year old. This preserved his sanity, and kept his love burning.

If we are open, we can learn a lot from the people God sends our way. They may come radiating love or they may approach us in hatred. Regardless of that, if we keep ourselves open to them, we may lead each other to Christ. This family taught me how to look through the fallen person before me. They taught me not to focus on the anger of the world, on its bitterness and demonic need for violence. There is good in everyone. There is good in the world, no matter how deep it has fallen. Our calling as Christians is to look beyond the evil, to see through the darkness, to let go and not deposit this poison in our hearts, and to keep asking God to send us love for everyone.

Father Sophrony Sakharov writes somewhere that one cannot hope to live a Christian life; one can only learn how to die a Christian death. As I grow old, this idea, once foreign and strange to me, becomes self-evident, because one only becomes a Christian as one approaches the Cross. Each step, one is tempted with the choice to turn away and ‘live’. Each step we take forward, each step that takes us closer to the Cross is a step further from this life, but a step closer to Christ. Once we are finally on the Cross, we have lost our lives, but we have finally become Christians. A Christian knows only how to die, because to die for the life and salvation of the world is the Life of Christ, offered to us all in eternity.

I pray we may look beyond the fallenness of the world. I pray we may look beyond the fallenness of our neighbour. I pray we may also look beyond our own fallenness, so we may approach everyone – ourselves included – with hope, forgiveness and love. We are all one. We are lost or we are saved through one another.

Facing a new America

There is more to Orthodox Christianity than a set of dogmas and canons, and there is more to an Orthodox Christian than a simple believer in these dogmas. There must be a heart, and a certain quality of that heart. There must be love, and that love must be self-sacrificial. True Christianity always leads to the Cross – and that Cross must be ours, for the life and salvation of the world; not the other way around.

As I am preparing my next trip to the US, I struggle to find a place of balance in my heart. I never had this problem before – I instantly fell in love with the US, and that love communicated itself naturally to everyone I met. Never before have I felt this need to prepare beforehand for my talks and retreats. I used to simply withdraw to a silent room for an hour or so before each event and pray. I would always pray for the same thing – to be given love for the people I meet. My spiritual father told me once that all I need to do is love the people in front of me, and so I have always asked to be given this love. They may forget my words, they may not understand or not pay attention to them, but people will always feel straight into their hearts the love I have for them. And love is never forgotten.

This time, I struggle. My love for America, and my gratitude for its people is perhaps greater than ever before, and yet I struggle. I struggle to see the beauty that was once so bright, so clear to me. I struggle to perceive that openness and welcome that made me fall in love with this nation.

I struggle, because I see people – lay people and clergy alike – who think of themselves as Orthodox Christians, yet they accept, justify and even promote use of guns against other human beings. What do I do when I meet these people? Do I smile and keep silent in the name of love? Or do I tell them the Truth in the name of Love? I struggle, because I see people who honestly believe in their hearts that they are the disciples of Christ, yet they deny health care to other human beings, and feel comfortable with the knowledge that people die as a result. Do I keep silent in the name of love, or do I tell them the Truth in the name of Love?

I struggle, because I see abuse, I see lack of love, I see racism, I see selfishness, I see rejection, I see xenophobia, I see all the things Christ has taught us to overcome. And this nation is deep in my heart, and so I struggle. What shall I say? How do you talk about Love without losing their love? What does my prayer to be given love mean anymore? How do you love one who is spiritually self-destructing?

It has been over one year since I have stopped recording my podcasts precisely because of my inability to find this place of balance in my heart. I know what the Fathers would do. I am aware that my struggle would be foreign to them, because they knew that the Love of God is greater than the love of human beings. They also knew that to love means to heal, and that healing requires sometime the harshness of Truth. They knew that the ultimate act of love for one’s brother is to sacrifice his love for you in order to save his soul.

But I am endlessly far away from the spiritual strength of the Fathers. And – because of this – I struggle.

To speak out

It is important to speak out against abuse. It is important to stand up and overcome this monstrosity. But it is vital that you only do so when you feel safe and ready. I am posting this because I know people who have been abused and who feel deep shame right now for not gathering the strength to join the voices of those who are now speaking with such courage against this crime.

In an ideal world, we should all should speak out and fight, and the world should support us. But this is not an ideal world, as proven by the very experience of your abuse. If you feel weak, if you still feel vulnerable, if you are not ready to face the horror again, if the society around you or your personal context do not allow you to speak out right now, please do not feel any pressure. There is no timeline, no deadline for this. Please allow yourself to grow. Allow yourself to be safe. Allow yourself to grown out of the unfortunate context in which you are trapped.

We all know that some of you are caught in countries where to speak could mean to lose your family, your friends or your job. We all know and understand that some of you are caught in abusive situations and relationships which are difficult to break right now. We all trust your instinct, we all support your decision, and we are all waiting with you for the right time to speak out. This has to be the right time for you, not for anyone else.

For some, courage means to speak out and fight. For others, it takes courage merely to survive, to push through one’s depression and fears for one more day. Whatever you do, do so because it helps you, because it heals you, because it makes you a better person. There is no pressure, there is no guilt. You are not betraying anyone, you are not letting anyone down. When the time is right for you to speak, your experience will be just as relevant and useful because, unfortunately, what we see now is merely a crack in the foundation of this evil.

Please seek support, seek help, fight first for your safety – this is essential, and we all understand and support you in this.

I know abuse. I know there is no safe place once it happens. You have my love. You have my prayers.

St Ninian’s Feast Day

Happy Feast Day, dear friends! Today we celebrate St Ninian, the wonderful protector of our Church and the spiritual founder of our Monastery. I think this is the perfect day to let you know about two very recent and extremely important developments concerning the Monastery.
First, we have finally bought the land surrounding Kilninian! A few days ago, while I was at Diveyevo (in Russia), praying to St Seraphim, all the documentation was completed and signed. The Monastery is now the legal owner of five acres of land around Kilninian and the ancient cemetery.
The second announcement is the side-effect of the first. Because we paid for the land in cash (that is, with no mortgage or credit) the Monastery is now in the financial position of a five year old. We can buy some candy with the money we have left, but not much else 🙂
But (like a five year old in possession of good candy) I am happy and I do not worry. I know we are doing God’s work. I know we act under the blessing and protection of the Celtic Saints. This Monastery is the fruit of their prayer before Christ, and I know that prayer will help us carry on until God’s work is fulfilled.
Today, let us be happy. It is the Feast Day of an extraordinary Saint. In 397, St Ninian founded the first documented monastery in Scotland. Spiritually, it feels perfectly natural that the history of our Monastery should also start with Kilninian, St Ninian’s Church, and his Holy Well.
St Ninian started his work in Scotland in 397, and he is still working in 2017! Once a founder, always a founder! As for all of us, who have worked and prayed and sacrificed for all of this to become possible, I think of us as St Ninian’s little helpers.
Be blessed, little helpers. Be happy.



The Hermit Cell in the Russian North

The Solovetsky Archipelago is less than 200 miles from the North Circle. To the North-East of the main Solovetsky island, silent and beaten by rabid winds, is Anzer – the isle of the Solovets hermits. Here, on a small peninsula, merely a few metres narrow and completely open to the sea is the small Cell of St Kirill of the New Lake. The storms have wiped all trees from this strip of land – nothing survives here, except small tundra bushes, mushrooms and wild berries. And one hermit, who is not even a monk, because he does not think himself worthy to wear the monastic habit.

I don’t know why I am beginning this series of posts from my current pilgrimage to Russia with this small Cell, almost entirely unknown even to the experienced Russian pilgrims. This has been a difficult year for me, consumed with finishing the repairs to our church, buying the monastery house and six weeks of leading pilgrimages to the Isles of Scotland. Slowly but visibly, as the summer lost its strength, so did I – forgive me for disappearing for a while, but this is the only way to keep going.

We met Anatoly, the hermit fisherman, at the end of a long day hiking on Anzer. It took close to twelve hours to cross the isle and pray in some of its sketes and hermit cells. There is nothing here, at the Cell – no golden domes, no beautiful lakes, no trees to shelter and soothe. Bare earth, bare sea, bare sky – the skeleton of God’s creation, the naked bones against which all else seem un-necesary details.

In fact, the Solovetsly Archipelago is very much like the Celtic Isles. They share the same rough nakedness of nature that almost forces one to see one’s own spiritual ‘skeleton’. The bones of one’s spiritual life become perfectly visible in these places, as do the un-necesary details.

Anatoly lives here alone. He welcomes us with hardly any words and lets us go and pray in the small wooden chapel of the Cell. By the time we get back to his hut, there is tea and cloud-berry jam on the table, but he does not stay with us as we eat. When we leave, he brings us gifts: fresh fish for Mother Nikona, our guide from the Monastery, and wild mushrooms for the rest of us. There is love in Anatoly’s heart, and there is also deep silence. I understand his fight to balance the two. I know that they feed one from the other: love feeds silence, and silence feeds love, because they both spring from the same source: a human heart’s longing for Christ.

Survival in these places is carried on a thin edge between Life and Death. All things – material and spiritual – are clearly divided between those which have real substance (those which are vital, alive, life-giving) and those which exist only to hide our compromises. There can be no grey area if one is to survive – physically and spiritually – in such a place. There can be no compromise, no game to play with one’s conscience. Life is Life, and Death is Death. There is nothing in between. This becomes painfully obvious here – if there seems to be something in between, it is only a delusion, a temptation, a void.

Survival in these places is carried on a thin edge between Life and Death, but my heart craves to stay put on this thin edge because here all things are simple. Here, all things are crystal clear. Here, Christ is as close to me as the skin of my own heart.

The Feast Day of the Saints we were called to become

Happy Feast Day, everyone!

This is a brief note, to wish all of you the strength and the faith to open up to God’s presence in our lives, so we may be transformed into the holy beings He has called us to become.

This Sunday is the Feast Day of the Monastery and we are purposely running a pilgrimage this week each year, so we may celebrate the Divine Liturgy on the island. Every year, we face temptations at the beginning of this particular pilgrimage. Last year, I was involved in an accident driving to Mull, so I ended up not being able to cross to the island that evening. The group made it to Mull, but not me. We had to wait and fast until 2 pm that Sunday in order to be reunited, but we did eventually celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

This year, just before the pilgrimage, I was struck with a few days of back pain and a series of horrid migraines that have not yet gone away. Five of our pilgrims joining us from the US had their flights cancelled and arrived very late, only a few hours before we started driving towards the Isles. The drivers were so tired we made it to Mull only through God’s mercy and loving care. But we are here. And we have celebrated once again.

Every year, we face temptations, but temptations are only reminders that what we are doing actually matters. Struggle and pain, loneliness and abandonment – all difficulties and dangers, visible to all or deeply personal, are the clear sign that what we are doing matters, that we are approaching something valuable, that we are getting close to the line beyond which Christ is waiting for us.

This Sunday is the Feast Day of All Local Saints – local to all corners of the world, known and unknown. This Sunday is the Feast Day of the Saints we can become ourselves – here and now, in the humble place and time of our own lives, surrounded by our small worries, sunk in our personal stories. This Feast Day we celebrate the fullness of Christ’s presence, the fullness of the grace of the Holy Spirit everywhere, in all places and all hearts.

May we all open up to His presence, so we may all grow into the Saints He created us to be.

A day of cleaning at Kilninian

Well, that’s the way life is. After a day filled with puffins, cormorants and seals (plus a gorgeous sea-eagle watching over its vast territory from high up in the skies), there comes a day of cleaning, washing and scrubbing!

It is amazing what three people can achieve in a bit over two hours of work. I wish there were more opportunities (and more helpers) to do this sort of things for the church. Kilninian is such a lovely old building, one falls in love with it the more time one spends inside. 

Besides, there are things one only discovers doing things like this – the wooden frames of the windows, for instance, are badly damaged by the rain and we shall have to replace them very soon. I only saw this today, when I climbed on the ladder and got to see the high windows from very close.

I think we need one more day of hard work like today, then we can focus on replacing the windows, repairing the doors, polishing the floors and so on.

We started the day with the Divine Liturgy, did some serious cleaning, now it’s time for a long walk on one of the beaches on the coast. A blessed day to everyone


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The Mother of God and Athos in my life – obeying to the voice of my spirit

I have not posted here since before Christmas. To answer the obvious question: no, I have not decided to stay on Athos – although, to tell you the entire truth, the real question in MY mind is not why I keep going to Athos, but why I keep leaving the Holy Mountain. The answer is simple, really. There is an ongoing, long-lasting battle in my heart, between what my heart wants and what my hearts knows. My heart wants to stay on Athos, because there, in the desert of the Mountain, it finds the peace and seclusion it longs for. But my heart also knows that God’s will for it is to return to the Isles.

And so, day by day, my heart has to make a choice between what it wants and what it knows to be God’s will. Like everyone, I am always tempted to chose the path my heart loves. It is especially difficult not to go down that path when there is nothing visibly wrong with it. What could be wrong in a monk’s choice to follow his desire for silence and solitude? What could be wrong in a monk’s choice to put himself under obedience to an Elder who has more years of experience than I have years of life? What can be wrong in a monk’s choice to abandon all and entrust Himself to God’s will?

Nothing. There is nothing visibly wrong in that, except that God’s will for me (at least for now) is to do something else, somewhere else. Athos seems to have this role in my life, to remind me always that to follow my heart can be just as dangerous as to follow my logic. God speaks to one’s spirit, not one’s heart and not one’s brains. Don’t ask me what the spirit is, or where it is ‘located’ – I have no idea; read the Fathers if that is important to you, they write at length about it. All I know is that there are at least three voices in myself: my brain (which I have learnt early on in my life not to entrust with spiritual questions), my heart (which I find the most difficult to fight) and a strange, third voice that feeds on my prayer, Communion and love.

This third voice – if I allow myself to listen to it – guides me in a way that is above my brain and my heart. In my life, I feel that the Mother of God has been using the Holy Mountain to remind me of this third voice. This is the voice I must obey, not my logic, not my feelings. When I finally received a blessing to enter a monastery to become a novice, I wanted to go to Athos, despite the fact that my spiritual father had directed me towards Bucovine. I told him I felt called to the Holy Mountain, and I was not telling a lie. I told him my heart was on fire when I thought of the Holy Mountain – and again, I was not telling a lie.

Eventually, my monastic brother and I bought two one-way train tickets to Thessaloniki and started the journey on the path our hearts encouraged us to follow. But we kept praying for God’s will (I remember praying every minute of that train journey) and I have no doubt that my spiritual father prayed with us. We travelled South through Romania, we crossed Bulgaria, and all was amazing. My heart was indeed on fire, my prayer poured out of me almost by itself. Then, we reached the borders with Greece and it all collapsed on us. For absolutely no reason, both of us were taken off the train. We had all the necessary documents, we had no other luggage except our clothes and some books – and yet, we desperately watched the train depart and continue its way to Thessaloniki, while we were forced to walk over the border and find our way back to our spiritual father. My heart had wanted Athos. God’s will for me at that moment was Bucovine.

That was the first time the Mother of God used her Mountain to teach me that what is pleasant to one’s heart is not always God’s will for us. It is a painful lesson. Incomparably more difficult for me than bypassing my brain and its will. The heart is a dangerous thing, as it becomes intimately close to one’s being, almost one with it. To let go of my heart’s vision for my life and entrust that vision to God’s will is by far the most difficult thing I’ve had to do. Ever since that train ride, from my very first steps into the monastic life, Athos has been my teacher in this painful lesson: salvation is found in God’s will for me, not in the will of my mind, nor in the will of my heart.

Athos – the desert of the Holy Mountain – is the first love of my heart. Yet, once again, the Mother of God reminds me that Christ’s will is above the will of my heart. I have returned to the Isles. I have a mission here. The vision of this Monastery is not mine; I know that now. The vision belongs to Christ and the Celtic Saints. Like all of us, I also walk in darkness, I walk in hope, I walk in obedience. Slowly, in time, this vision reveals itself to me. I am grateful beyond words to the Mother of God for teaching me this difficult lesson. Only She, in Her motherly love and care, could have such patience with someone like me. I have left Athos having been reminded of a most valuable lesson, but also having been revealed a bit more of Her vision for our Monastery.

I’ll tell you more tomorrow, this is already way too long…