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…

We are all One

In a few hours, I’m flying to Thessaloniki, from where I’ll get the bus to Ouranopolis, the port to Mount Athos. I’ll be away until January 4th, so have a blessed Feast of the Nativity and a happy New Year.

This has been a tough year, in ways that I cannot even begin to express, and I’m only now starting to feel the effects. Tiredness, hopelessness and fear, sadness to the point of despair – all of these have haunted me relentlessly during the last twelve months. To say that 2016 has not been my favourite year would be too kind, even for my standards. To say that 2016 has been even remotely a good year would be beyond insincerity and would approach hypocrisy.

We have achieved many things for the Monastery, and for that I must thank you. I have tried to let you know, to the best of my ability, how much I appreciate your support. All my hard work, all my best intentions, all my sacrifice would amount to nothing without you and your hard work, your best intentions, your sacrifice. Together, we have done incredible things this year, and I trust that, by the grace of God, we shall do even more in 2017. For all of this, I thank you. You are in my prayer always, where ever life takes me.

That being said, the Monastery exists in this world and cannot ignore the world. Monasteries are doors between this fallen world and the Kingdom, calling our fallen nature to its true prototype, encouraging us on the way, guiding us step by step, as we fight to let go of our fallenness and we learn to see ourselves through the eyes of God. This is why monasteries exist, this is their purpose.

And this is where I’ve fallen mostly in 2016. Although I’ve kept far from the political fights that consumed the world, I have allowed their noise to disturb me, I have allowed them to distract me from the things that truly matter. I have kept silence over the outpouring of hatred that drowned the world over the Council, Brexit or the US elections, but I have not succeeded to hold on to the silence in my heart.

As a monastic, I have no responsibility to get involved in these fights. Monastics are dead to the world, and to get involved is a failure towards one’s calling. When people accused the Abbas of the Desert for refusing to get involved and judge various people or causes, they sent their accusers to the cemetery and told them to ask the dead buried there to judge them. As a monastic, my responsibility is to stand among you, silent and dressed in my black vestment, as a reminder that our true Calling, our true Identity and our true Home are somewhere else.

As the world rages consumed with passion for one cause or the other, a monk’s calling is to silently remind those who have the eyes to see that we are all mortal and that the real fight, the real cause, the real passion should be for something entirely different: the salvation of our souls. All else is dust.

It is my responsibility, therefore, to tell you all that no one won in 2016. There are no winners. We have all lost. We have all allowed hatred and doubt and fear to enter our hearts. We have all judged, we have all looked at Christ’s image, our brother, and saw in him the enemy. We have all built walls: some have built walls against those who are different from them, others have built walls against those who build walls. There is no difference between walls: regardless of what motivates them, they are all expressions of a void in our hearts. That empty void where Love should have been.

I’m going to Mount Athos for two weeks with this in mind. I’m not looking for rest, physical or emotional. I’m going to regain my perspective of the world and myself. I need to taste silence to be reminded of the things that matter. I need to touch holiness so I may redirect my steps toward it. I need to see sparkles of the Kingdom, so I may turn my back to this empty noise and start walking towards Life again.

I leave behind 2016 with a void in my heart. I pray, I pray with all my strength that Love Incarnate will return once more and fill it. I pray for me, I pray for you – the same prayer, for we are all One. We are ALL One.

Icons of the Celtic Saints

Over the last few years, I have received a great number of emails and messages from people who feel a closeness to the Celtic Saints and who would like to own a hand-painted icon for their private life of prayer. Most of the options I found were either too expensive (for me, at least), or they were mass-produced generic icons. That is not wrong in itself, but it does take away from the unique character each icon should have.  it also means that it becomes very difficult to personalise the icon, so that elements of Celtic Christianity, as well as specific details from the life of each saint are difficult to include.

As it usually happens, I looked in all the wrong directions until the obvious solution simply presented itself to me. One evening, as I was praying before my own icon of St Seraphim, I realised I could simply get back in touch with the iconographer who painted my own icon. He was the right choice for my personal icons, so he should be good enough for anyone else. He is not a famous master, he does not run a workshop employing other people. He is a simple man whom I have met while he was working in our monastery in Moldavia. He was involved in the restoration of the fifteenth century iconography in our main church. I grew to like him, as he was a quiet and faithful man, and so I eventually asked him to paint an icon of St Seraphim for me to use in my cell.

So I’ve got back in touch with him to ask if he is still painting (he is an older gentleman), and I’ve asked him to paint a series of twelve Celtic Saints for us. These are the first three: St Columba, St Brendan and St Patrick. Because he does not mass-produce, he had the time to work with me on the composition of each icon. We selected specific details relevant to the life of each saint and we replaced some of the Byzantine elements with Celtic ones (such as using Celtic Crosses, the Celtic symbol of the Trinity, the Celtic style of monastic tonsure etc).

So here they are: each of them unique and unrepeatable, each of them carefully thought about and prayed for. We only have one copy of each, and they are available from our online bookstore. Subsequent orders will incorporate all specifically Celtic and personal details, but will not be identical to these ones. Original hand-painted icons are always unique. In style and quality, they are exactly what I own and what most monastics in Moldavia use in their cells. They are all hand-painted on wood, with golden leaf; the wood is enforced on the back for a longer life; on the back of each icon there is a small painting of a Celtic Cross, and the words: ‘Monastery of All Celtic Saints, Isle of Mull, Scotland’. All icons have already been blessed by me, but you may take them to your church for a blessing, too.

For more details, see these links:

Icon of St Patrick of Ireland

Icon of St Brendan the Navigator

Icon of St Columba of Iona

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First, I’m grateful for the ride. Grateful for the journey. Grateful for everything that made me who I am. Good and bad, virtuous and sinful, it all hardly matters before the extraordinary, unbelievable, totally-beyond-logic fact that I exist. I am grateful for just being, for breathing, for sparkling with life for a moment. Regardless where I’m coming from, regardless where I’m going, having existed is an unthinkable gift. Regardless what I do with it, this life – this day, this very moment – remains a gift for which I’d need another life just to express my gratitude and awe.

I’m grateful for God’s endless patience with me. I’m grateful that He waits for me to grow, that He doesn’t interrupt this growth, that He allows all this time for my search for meaning. I’m grateful He remained close to me through my moments of sin and through my moments of virtue. I’m grateful He worked virtue in my being, so I may experience even but a shade of His presence. I’m grateful He allowed my sins to happen and didn’t force virtue upon me when He foresaw me walking towards sin. I’m grateful for the complete freedom He allows me, His creature, and for the ultimate respect and trust He shows me by granting me this freedom.

I am grateful for being where I am today, for doing what I do today, for having been found worthy to work in His world even for a moment.

Finally, I am grateful for the mystery I perceive hidden in my flesh. I am grateful I can look at myself and see a mystery waiting to be fulfilled in the age to come. This flesh and its sins, this mind and its limits, this heart and its ugliness, all of myself here and now: I am grateful for it all, for out of this death, out of this nothingness a new I, an I which is now but a mystery to myself, an I ‘in His image and likeness’ will be revealed in the Kingdom, according to His promise.

Above all, I am grateful for this promise and for the Cross on which He died out of Love: mad, unjustified, unnecessary, completely free and Self-sacrificial Divine Love  for me, and for you, and for this whole world.

Two days of silence with St Seraphim

‘Silence is the mystery of the Life to come’, St Seraphim used to say. Silence is a mystery, a sacrament of the Life to come (in the sense in which Confession and Baptism are sacraments of this life) for many of the holy men and women of Christianity. At the end of a lifetime of ascetical struggles, at the end of a lifetime of prayer, fasting and vigil, at the end of an interrupted line of temptations collapsing over them from all sides, these holy people speak of silence.

I was recently blessed to spend two days at St Seraphim’s Monastery in Diveyevo, Russia. Diveyevo literally means ‘of the virgins’, as this is a monastery for women founded by St Seraphim while he lived in the monastery for men in Sarov. Everything in this monastery was built according to St Seraphim’s personal instructions, as he received them from the Mother of God. The number of churches, their feast days, their position within the monastery, the great ditch which surrounds the monastery (the kanafka) – every detail was determined by St Seraphim’s visions. Every day, all the nuns still walk around the monastery, following the kanafka and praying with a rule of prayer passed down to us from the Mother of God Herself.

It is an extraordinary feeling to stand at the centre of the Monastery and to think that you are surrounded by earthly churches built strictly according to a heavenly vision. These are silent buildings. They have nothing to do with the world around. They belong somewhere else. They speak a different language, one that does not distract one from prayer. Despite their size, they possess a sort of transparence which encourages one to pray and remain silent. There are people everywhere, at all times. I was in the Monastery at 5 am, I was in the Monastery at midday, I was in the Monastery at midnight. There are always services somewhere, there is always someone praying in a corner, someone with their arms up towards the sky, someone silently using their prayer rope by a wall. And yet, there is constant, deep silence.

Then, there are the sisters. Most of them live the common life of the Monastery; they work together, they pray and eat together. Yet in Diveyevo there still are recluse nuns, living alone in the houses nearby; there still are fools for Christ, roaming the place dressed like mad women; there still are hermits, living a life of complete solitude and silence in the forests around. St Seraphim himself experienced most of these monastic ways of life, and his spirit lives on; his grace still protects and inspires the Monastery.

I spent most of my time in Diveyevo simply standing in front of St Seraphim’s relics. At times, I prayed. At other times, I just looked on. I watched as other people approached his relics. I watched as they prayed, as they cried, as they rejoiced to be there, so close to his gentle giant of Christ’s Kingdom. It was a humbling experience to just stand and wait. I waited until all my prayer dried out, until all the discussions in my head dried out, until all my feelings got tired, until I saw all I could see. I waited until all the noise in my head and my eyes and my heart was consumed, and then I felt a spark of silence of a different kind.

From time to time, when there were fewer people around, the sisters invited me to approach the relics. They waited for me to prostrate three times, then quickly uncovered the relics so I could venerate them. Then, just as quickly as I’d approached, I went back to my corner and waited some more: for yet another spark of that silence, and another invitation to approach. One can spend a whole life doing just that. Silence is addictive; at least, this sort of silence is addictive. Once you taste it, everything else seems wasteful and bitter.

I attach a few photos for you. I prayed for everyone there – I prayed for those who pray for us, for those who support us financially, for those who help us with advice. Nothing, absolutely nothing we have done so far would be possible without you. I prayed for those who love this Monastery and for those who hate it. I did my best (which was not much) to pray for everyone. We all need prayer these days. The entire world needs prayer these days. May St Seraphim pour his grace and deep joy upon all of us.

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