On Thin Places and Thin Persons

Sustained fasting allows prayer to descend to the depth of the heart and burn out the roots of our passions. I stumbled across this quotation by St Paisius Velichkovsky while I was on Athos, recording the new series of our podcasts. Something about this quote made me think of the ‘thin places’ of the Celtic Isles, and how any human being – each and every one of us – can become a ‘thin place’, a transparent being breathing between this fallen world and the Kingdom of God.

Each of us can reach down to the depth of our soul, each of us can become a ‘thin person’, so the Light of Christ can burn all roots of evil and all the bad seeds we have been gathering since we were young, even in our mother’s womb. The fruit of all our mistakes, all our bad choices, all our bad behaviour – once we open to Christ, once we make ourselves transparent to Him, it can all be healed, it can all be turned into ground for good seeds, bringing good fruit into the world.

But this is a difficult process. It can be raw and painful, and often very confusing. It can feel almost like losing your identity in the process, because the deeper His Light reaches, the more it burns and cleanses the soul. Things that were embedded in us – feelings, behaviour, thoughts and instincts – elements that were part of ‘ourselves’ are burned and lost, and this is perceived as loss of self, loss of identity.

Unfortunately, we live at a time when we learn to define ourselves through our sins and passions. We learn to see our true self in the image of the bad seeds that were planted in us, with or without our knowledge. So it is natural that the process of burning these seeds and their fruit should be painful. 

To most of us, this does not feel like finding ourselves, but losing ourselves; this does not feel like finding a new Life, but like losing our life; this does not feel like being saved, but like being suffocated.

But hold on to your faith, for these are Christ’s words being fulfilled in us. This is His word foretelling us that to die to this world is to find Life in the Kingdom. This is His word foretelling us that to lose oneself for His sake and the sake of the Kingdom is to find one’s true self, one’s true identity.

This entry into eternal Life by crucifying this fallen life is opened to us by Christ Himself and His death on the Cross for each and every one of us. But to see this true Life, to find this true Identity, we must become spiritually transparent, we must become ‘this persons’ through whom the realities of the Kingdom become visible even for eyes and bodies made of flesh. Eyes and bodies like yours, and like mine.


The full podcast ‘On thin places and thin persons’ is available here:


A day of rest at St Columba’s Bay

On Saturday, we went on a day pilgrimage to St Columba’s Bay on Iona. The entire weekend was a small miracle for us. After the winds we had on Friday, we did not expect the bright sunny days God had in store for us.

We started with the Celtic prayers of blessing at the Martyrs’ Bay, then we hiked to St Columba’s Bay. They wanted to go through the desert part of Iona, and of course that I (horrible monk that I am) jumped at the opportunity. We do not usually go that way with our summer pilgrims because the area is difficult to hike, entirely exposed to the winds and very boggy at places (all of which I decided were irrelevant details, so I did not mention them).

By the grace of God, it was a fun and blessed day. We were so relieved that we made such good progress on the Chapel, we all felt like a mountain was lifted off our shoulders. At the Bay, we prayed together the Canon of St Columba, then we separated for private prayer.

We had a quick, packed lunch, then we returned via the Iona Machair to the village. We prayed again in St Oran’s Chapel (the only building on Iona dating back to the Celtic millennium) and the Celtic museum, before the amazing High Crosses and the tomb stones of the monks martyred during the Viking attacks.

The entire day felt like a gift from God, at the end of a week of difficult, hard work. Please continue to support the Chapel through prayer and by sending us a Founding Brick – I shall post a new update on the building work tomorrow. May we all be blessed.

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The Royal Doors are ready

The iconostasis has a very humble, but functional structure: just the central Royal Doors and one narrow Deacon’s Door to the side. This basic structure is used in most Athonite hermitages, including St Paisios’ Kellia or Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s Chapel.

Our amazing group of volunteers (may God bless them!) had to cut through the concrete wall between the workshop and the green-house to create the Royal Doors and a Deacon’s Door. At the end, they dressed the new wall in beautiful wood, just ready for our icons.

Also today, they are finishing the Altar, building Proskomedia table, a small basin to wash my hands for the Divine Liturgy, and some shelves for our service books.

Do keep them in your prayers and do help us cover the expenses for all of this. Our ‘Founding Bricks’ (link below) may be virtual, but the work they support and the faith they express are Real. Be generous! I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I know for certain that Christ (who sees the secret things of the heart, let alone these exterior things) will return it all to you, a hundred-fold, when you need Him the most.


PS: For some reason (most probably the internet on Mull), I cannot add photos to these posts. I shall keep trying.

The Altar Table at the Chapel of St Sisoes and St Brendan

The simple structure of the Chapel comes from the small hermit churches I saw in the Desert of the Holy Mountain. Have a look at these photos of various Altar Tables (some from Athos, some from our new Altar) to see what I mean.

To build the Chapel of St Sisoes and Brendan we are using the workshop shed and the greenhouse behind the Nuns’ House. The old workshop will be the nave, and the greenhouse will become the new Altar.

When we finish, the windows of the Altar will be covered entirely with large icons painted on both sides, so that you can see the icons from the outside, as you walk by. This is a loving reference to my Monastery in Moldavia, which is one of the 15th-16th century monasteries covered with icons both inside and out.

At the very end, we shall place two great stones under the Altar Table – one from Kilninian, the other from Iona – and we shall cover the outside structure with rose bushes.

Please be generous in your support to found this Chapel. We need it for our daily prayers and you will be remembered at every service. Buy a ‘Founding Brick’ for the Chapel and become one of its Founders.



Starting work on the Chapel of St Sisoes and St Brendan

Our group of volunteers has arrived, and so the story of this little Chapel has began! The Chapel is dedicated to St SISOES the Great, one of the most loved hermits of the Egyptian Desert, and St BRENDAN the Navigator, the founder of the first Monastery in the Hebrides. We offer this double dedication to celebrate the historical and spiritual connection between the heritage of the Desert Fathers and early Celtic Christianity.

May God bless the work of their hands, and those among you who are supporting us from afar. I have created three virtual Founding Bricks in our bookstore. When you purchase them, you will not receive actual bricks. Instead, you will be added unto our prayer-list and will become one of the Founders of this temple.

Each of these spiritual bricks is dedicated to one Saint we love and feel loved by, and they all come with great powers – the power to travel from your home to our small island; the power to support a remote Monastery you may never visit, but where prayers will be offered on your behalf and on behalf of the world; most importantly, the amazing power to express Love by building a nest of prayer to the world.

I know you live far away from our island. This is a way for you to help our Monastery and become the Founders of this Chapel. Although you are offering us virtual bricks, we shall turn them into real building materials.

Note to our US FRIENDS: If you would like to support us by offering a more substantial donation (for which we would be very grateful at this moment!), please do so by sending a cheque to our US organisation (American Friends of the Celtic Saints) at the address below. This way, we can offer you a tax-receipt for your donation. For whatever you can send, may God bless you a hundred-fold.


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Restarting our podcasts & Thank you

I need your help to restart recording ‘Through a Monk’s Eye’ – our series of podcasts for AFRadio. I have not recorded any new material for over two years, but I am now determined to start again. My work at the University of Oxford is finished and I shall move permanently to the Isle of Mull in a week, so – hopefully – I shall have more time avaialable for it.

I would like the new podcasts to be shorter and more interactive, so please send me questions, ideas, topics etc either in a private FB message or at my email – fatherseraphim@mullmonastery.com Please send me practical questions that impact you personally, in a real way (in other words, stay away from theoretical ones).

This morning I am flying back to Europe, after three months of travelling through Canada and the USA. I want to thank you all for evrything – for your kindness, for your hospitality, for bringing me into your lives, your homes and yours churches. Thank you for listening to me, speaking to me, praying with me. Thank you for offering your support, your advice and your love for the foundation of the Monastery of All Celtic Saints on the Isle of Mull – it all counts, every single drop of it, and I pray Christ blesses you for it.

I am flying back and I shall face new challenges, new difficulties, new moments of panic and dispair. I wish I were above it all, but I am not. Each new chapter of the life of the Monastery opens with temptation and pain. But I leave encouraged by the amazing support and enthusiam I have found in you all. By the grace of God and through your prayers, I shall try to work more and to keep going. Step by step, I shall keep you updated on the progress of the Monastery – we started this journey together, God will grant us to see its fulfillment, too.

That is all. On behalf of the Monastery, thank you all for everything, and may we all be blessed.

Christ is risen!

St Cuthbert’s Feast Day: Obedience to Christ

The one thing that sets the Saints apart from the rest of us is their struggle to remain entirely obedient to Christ. There is no bargaining in their mind, no negotiating Christ’s teaching, no diluting His words to the point where they lose the strength to open for us the path of salvation.

Most of us receive the word of God with caution, and we immediately start turning it on all sides until we reach a compromise that works for us. Most of us fear the word of God. All we truly want is something that looks like His word enough to make us feel good about ourselves, enough to make us have the appearance of Christians, but not to the extent that we could lose control over our lives.

One can go through life either in obedience to Christ or in obedience to one’s own will. The challenges and choices of this world are simple and clear if we obey Christ’s word – we need to love, we need to forgive, we need to help. Ultimately, we need to allow the world to crucify us for His name and become true followers of the Crucified One. These are His words, and this is the way of the Saints.

Things only seem complicated when our brain gets in the way. Things only seen unclear when we begin negotiating Christ’s word, looking for a human version of it which does not lead to the Cross. Unfortunately, we always succeed. Unfortunately, we have the frightening ability to reduce Christ’s teaching to something that excludes the Cross. The danger, though, is that without the Cross there can be no Resurrection either.

The Saints are not like that. The Saints do not build an idol of their earthly lives. They have no vision of a perfect life here, no vision of a perfect self in this world. They remain faithful to Christ and His word, and allow nothing of this world to come between them and their God.

Look at St Cuthbert. Look at his faith, the faith of a young man who spent his nights into the cold waters of the North Sea, so he may control his mind and his body in prayer. Look at his obedience to his true calling – a hermit at heart, he left everything behind to be obedient to Christ. A man alone on his island, but carrying the world and its Creator in his heart.

Through his prayers, may we also be given the faith to obey Christ’s naked word, not our own tamed version of it.

Moments of the Cross

The week of the Cross marks an essential change in Lent. This is the moment when we turn from descriptors of faith to faith itself; when we move from things which are about our faith to things which can only exist through faith.

Faith is a tool for life eternal, and to use it for anything else is a deadly waste. We are Christians for this reason only: so that we may survive death. All else is secondary and of no importance by comparison. The Cross – in Lent and in our lives – marks the moment when we see our faith for what it really is: either a Divine tool for life eternal, or a human tool to create nice, moral citizens of this world. There is nothing wrong with being nice and moral, but history has known billions of nice and moral citizens whom death has eaten alive. It is a deadly corruption of a Divine gift to reduce our faith in Christ to anything else except a sure hope in the Resurrection. It is deadly, because it corrupts the only chance we have to survive death.

A moment of crisis, a death, a disease, abandonment – when these come, life is cut in half: life as it used to be before them, and life as it is revealed to us now. Facing the Cross has this effect on us because we train ourselves well to reduce our faith to things which are not of the faith. When we reduce our faith to a set of customs, those customs will not carry us through a moment of the Cross. When we reduce our faith to any human value – social, political or moral; a philosophy or idea; anything created by our brain – when our faith is diluted to things of this world, the Cross will crush everything in its way.

And thank God that it is so! Thank God for the gift of the Cross, for this chance to see how we corrupt our own faith, so that we may start anew while we still can, and approach faith as a means to walk on water, not on the pavement. This is no longer about us looking at Christ walking on water – this has now become about us stepping outside the boat and walking alongside Him. The Cross marks this moment in Lent, just as it marks it in our lives – those moments when we can no longer function on logic, on the things we have been taught; those moments when things get real and the theory of it all is no longer sufficient to help us survive.

For the life and salvation of this paralysed world

This story of a paralysed man it hard to talk about. I’ve wanted to write something about it since last Sunday, when we read it in Church, but I keep postponing. Like always, I suppose it is difficult because it is so personal and it reflects so well my own spiritual life.

And yet, this is not a pessimistic story. If anything, this is one of the most inspiring moments in the Scripture. Despite the pain it hides, the story of this paralysed man is ultimately proof of Christ’s endless love for mankind, and that love is the foundation for all our hope.

That man could say no words. He could make no movement. No gesture. He could not express his faith in Christ, he could not reach out and touch Him. His body did not allow him to throw himself at Christ’s feet, as we see others do. His arms could not pour oil over Christ’s head.

This man is me (and most probably, you) – a metaphor for our own spiritual death, for the paralysis that makes our voices silent and our bodies inert. And yet, we need not despair, because – like the paralysed man – we have the Saints, we have our holy friends who found their way to Christ before us and who constantly pray for us.

Even more, we have reason to hold on to our hope concerning the entire world. Weak and sinful as the world may be, entirely paralysed by sin, unable to see the Light, unable to walk to the Light, unable to utter a word of repentance – even so, there is hope. Because we can join the Saints in their prayers and we can bring this world before Christ. And Christ never changes – He will do today what He did then, for His love never changes; He will forgive the sins of this paralysed world for the faith of those who hold on to their hope and pray for the world.

The world may be silent, but the prayers of the Church for the world should never grow silent. Because of its sins, the world may be unable to walk towards Christ, but the Church should never stop bringing it before Christ in its prayer. That is who we are, this is what we do, this is what makes us Christ-like: to die to ourselves (to the limits of our tribalism, our culture and selfishness) so we may offer ourselves for the life and salvation of the world.

Asking for forgiveness

We are failing the homeless on our streets. We are failing the hungry and the thirsty in our cities. We are failing those whom we scandalise through our falseness and our hypocrisy. We are failing those to feel the need to separate from the Church because of the ways in which we deform it. We are failing those who fear the Church and fear Christ because we suffocate the life-giving depths of our Tradition and we promote a God of fear, a God of authority and punishment, only to mask our own fears and lack of love. Every single day, we are failing the world for which Christ has died on the Cross.

Why are we not on the streets, asking forgiveness from the world we constantly fail? This is our chance, our opportunity to ask for forgiveness in a way that may (God willing) just have the power to change our lives. This is our chance to literally touch the world and be touched by Christ’s love for the world.

We, who are supposed to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world in the image of Christ; we, who should love so intensly, so sacrificially, so selflessly that the name of the Father should be glorified in us before the eyes of the world – we, the followers of Christ, we are failing the world.

Who asks forgiveness from those who sleep on the street? Who asks forgiveness from those who go hungry, unwashed and consumed by sickness and disease? Who asks forgiveness from those who are left prey to abuse, violence and inhuman humilities? Who asks forgiveness for our indiference, hypocrisy and ready-made answers for the real pain of the world?

Why do we look at the world and see an enemy, instead of our brothers and sisters who suffer and are lost? Why do we allow the devil to break our unity? What shall we answer when Christ will ask us about the suffering to which we closed our hearts? Has Christ not died for all of us? Is Christ not the maker of all of us? Has He not created us all out of the same Burning Love, in the hope of the same Salvation?

Please forgive me. This is about you just as much as it is about me. I just worry. I worry and I wonder what is happening to our hearts.