Friday, 12 August 2011

Thoughts on the Monastic Life; Papa Stronsay 2011 - Muscovy 1650.

                                St Alphonsus de Liguori C.SS.R

We live on Stronsay in Orkney, and our small but growing congregation,  centred on ‘Our Lady’s Chapel’,  is served by the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (F.SS.R) from Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay. We are blessed with daily Mass in the ‘extraordinary form’, with weekly Benediction, Confessions, etc.  On certain major feast-days and special  occasions,  eg. Holy Week, Christmas, clothing of novices, vows, centenary celebrations, etc. we are invited to Papa Stronsay, being conveyed by the monks in their sturdy little boat to and from the  island, and always treated with great hospitality, essentially  as part of the family. These joint experiences, the physical crossing of the sea, short though it may be, followed by participation in the most devout traditional liturgical ceremonies of the Church, sometimes lasting  two or three hours and often into the night, frequently followed by hospitable fare, combine over time, to  create a rather special  spiritual and experiential  bond between the monastic community  and  parishioners. We do not lose sight of the fact that everything  done is for the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, and this is  why we thank God for the presence of our monks here, and pray that their faith and holy perseverance will soon be rewarded by their full canonical erection in the Diocese.

I confess to having a considerable interest  in the history of monastic life. I emphasise that this is purely an aesthetic interest, as in the event of waking up one morning to find that mysteriously I had become a monk overnight, I fear that I wouldn’t even last the day!  We all recognise the admirable qualities that it takes to become a religious, and of course the final invitation is from God. I console myself by remembering that in God’s house there are many kingdoms, and that I would be more than happy to be the least of all the royal servants in the most insignificant of those kingdoms.

I am currently reading, for the second or third time, a book entitled ‘Borderland’ by Anna Reid, described by the author as ‘A journey through the history of Ukraine’; a paperback published in 1998 by Phoenix. I have no intention of reviewing this book except to say that it is a fascinating read, beautifully written, and I thoroughly recommend it. However whilst in monastic mind, I would like to quote a short passage from the book, relating to the year 1650 or thereabouts, in which the author recounts the experiences of an Orthodox cleric, who with his Superior, visited certain monasteries in Moscow and the Ukraine.  The author is writing about Kiev in the Ukraine:-

‘Seven hundred years of provincialism had its advantages. Third city of the empire, Kiev never felt the grip of government in quite the same way as Moscow and St Petersburg.  An early traveller to say so was Paul of Aleppo, an Orthodox cleric who accompanied his father Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch, on a fund-raising mission to the Tsar in the 1650s.  Landing at the mouth of the Dnieper,  this smooth  Mediterranean  pair were initially not much taken with Ukraine.  The mosquitoes  bit, the food was dreadful, and the services went on for ever. ‘We never left church,’ Paul confided to his diary, ‘but tottering on our legs after so much standing’.
Moscow, though, was far worse.  ‘Anyone wishing to shorten his life by five or ten years,’ Paul  wrote, ‘should go to Muscovy.’   In the monasteries ‘mirth and laughter and jokes’ were forbidden, and spies watched through cracks in the doors to see ‘whether the inmates practise devotional humility, fasting and prayer; or whether they get drunk and amuse themselves’.  Drinkers, he was told, were sent to Siberia; smokers were liable for execution – news which put him ‘in great fear’ on his own account.  After all this, as he wrote on his journey home, Ukraine seemed like paradise:
               ‘For during those two years spent in Muscovy ,  a padlock had been set on our hearts, and we were in the extremity of narrowness and compressure of our minds;  for in that country no person can feel anything of freedom or cheerfulness.......... The country of the Kosacks (Ukrainian Cossacks), on the contrary, was like our own country to us, and its inhabitants were to us boon companions and fellows like ourselves’.
           The battered pair were even happier to reach Moldova, where they ‘entered the bath, after twenty-seven months, during the whole of which time we had neither entered a bath nor washed ourselves with water’.


Having read this, I imagine that vocations to the religious life in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century, must have been few and far between! Probably even worse than today in our Church, with some notable exceptions - ‘Deo Gratias’!    By the way I haven’t heard of any of the F.SS.R community being banished to Siberia, and I haven’t heard of any executions – yet!   Only joking, of course, says he nervously, watching three formidable  figures in black walking slowly and deliberately  towards him, each carrying a black, rectangular object in their hand.  Phew, it’s Saturday morning and time for choir practice for sung Mass tomorrow!   It’s Brothers  Magdala,  Martin, and Peter, each carrying their ‘Liber Usualis’ ! Now where did I put my copy?

Some really good and encouraging news for nurses (and the unborn)
Neil Addison, a Liverpool barrister, reports on his Religion Law Blog that he has 'recently successfully represented two Roman Catholic Nurses who were told that they could not refuse to work at a weekly Abortion Clinic run by their Hospital.'           H/T Ben Travato   ‘Countercultural Father’ blog     H/T Neil Addison   ‘Religion Law Blog’

This is truly good news for all pro-life nurses and ultimately for the unborn.  Congratulations to Neil Addison for his dedicated and professional services. It is refreshing and encouraging to find the law on the side of individual conscience in moral matters of such importance.  Spread the good news, especially to all those in the nursing profession.


‘Holy Mary, Queen Assumed into Heaven – pray for our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, and for our Country'