Little known outside Wales and Great Britain, the secluded Welsh shrine of St. Melangel, deep in the Berwyn Mountains, is dedicated to a sixth-century Irishwoman, an anchorite who lived here for many years, alone and unknown. An early Christian treasure, it is the oldest existing Romanesque shrine in northern Europe.
Twentieth-century readers knew Kerouac’s On the Road and Jack London’s earlier hobo classic, The Road, but how many of us know what the 21st-century counter-culture is up to, their life-styles and aspirations? We see the tattoos, nose-rings, attitudes, but do we hear the cries of the heart from young people searching for truth? In the following interview Rainbow (Xenia) Lundeen and Seth (John) Haskins, both baptized Orthodox after this conversation, share the by-ways they’ve taken in trying to live out the Gospel in their lives.
St. Paul was the ﬁrst Christian missionary to preach in the celebrated intellectual stronghold of the Greco-Roman world. Indeed, Athens still reigned as the university of the Empire; she lived on her reputation as the city of the philosophers, and her streets were ﬁlled with the arguments of Platonists, Stoics, and Epicureans. Other intellectual centers had arisen in Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Tarsus, but Athens remained indisputably the queen.
Today many people reply, “No way, the only permissible system is liberal democracy, which includes every possible view.” But this approach is both right and wrong. I think all Christians agree that people should be equally protected as to their rights and their dignity as human beings, and that there should not be any force or violence. In their community and personal life, people should have the opportunity to follow their chosen religion. But there is still a problem in this approach—the tendency to relativize religion, to say, “Everyone’s way is right, it doesn’t matter what religion they are.” This grows into a sort of indifference, a belief that religious values themselves are only relative.
We know that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine was effected by his long experience of watching how the Christians of his time maintained a high level of morality and conduct. The Roman Empire at that time was in crisis, and many contemporary writers spoke of the degradation of morals–not just bad behavior, but extremely serious corruption in society and in the state bureaucracy. Constantine put Christians into key posts, because he knew their virtue.
At that point I felt that the ghost of Thomas Cromwell was striding rampantly through Wales. Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII’s henchman and operator who closed all the monasteries throughout Britain, wrecked the shrines and relics, and destroyed the altars. I thought, “Well, they are still unwilling to invoke the saints,” and was about to write a fax that evening to say words to this effect, but at the moment I was about to send this letter, another fax arrived saying that the prayer was alright. So this prayer was used and the response was used.
A Christian must fight for freedom for everyone in this world, yet at the same time we must be very strict with our own tradition. This is a tight-rope, and this is what it means to be a Christian. The Moslem-Arab way, the “moderate middle,” is to be always wise and moderate, but we Orthodox can never be proud or sure of our path, because we believe that everything that is done on earth is done through the medium of sinful people.
I grew up in Australia and am an English teacher myself, so I’ve thought quite a lot about Church translation. If you take, for example, the phrase, “The Lord is with us,” in Greek it is O Theos Methimon. It resonates with such grandeur that you feel as if you are offering something beautiful to God, that this language is worthy of the Lord.
“We must avoid addressing ourselves to God in a superficial casual way. For this reason Elder Sophrony goes so far as to say that the language we use in prayer must be different from the ordinary language of everyday usage. That is why he insisted that the language of the liturgy should not be translated into the contemporary spoken vernacular.”
Also, he had a sense of humor. For example, some of the sources say that when he first saw the saunas of the Slavs in what is now Novgorod he wrote letters to friends saying, “These Slavs are such strange people; they torture themselves with birch branches.” He was laughing about it. You cannot imagine him as a master of strictness. He was a humorous man, very humble, very easy. As a Mediterranean person he was surprised by these strange traditions. Of course, he was also a man who had seen many things.
After the dormition of the Mother of God, St. Andrew began his final journey from Jerusalem. The trail of tradition says that he went back to Pontus, then to Georgia, to the Caucuses, and to the Sea of Azov in southern Russia. From there he went to Donets, to the Crimea, up the Dnepr River to Kiev and to the Scythians of the Ukraine. In the Crimea, where he stayed with the Greeks of Sebastopol and Cherson, we know that there were first-century Christian communities organized by St. Andrew himself. From the Crimea and Kiev in the Ukraine, he would have gone north by river to what is now Moscow, to Novgorod and then to Lake Ladoga (Valaam).
The most important thing is that these puzzle pieces – the separate local traditions of Bulgaria, Romania, Ethiopia, of the Aramaic people, the Syrians, the Copts, even the Greek and Roman church traditions all fit together, but you have to follow them step by step to recreate his life. Finally, I had only one piece that I couldn’t fit, even as a possibility: the Declaration of Arbroath, the fourteenth-century Scottish declaration of independence from England which says that the Scots were taught the Christian faith by St. Andrew himself. Historians dismiss this, but I have to point out that his presence there was not physically impossible.