Orthodox America

From the Bookshelf - Lives of British Saints

Lives of the English Saints by S. Baring-Gould; Llanerch Enterprises, 1990; 118 pps., illus.; paper, 4.95*

Lives of the Northumbrian Saints by S. Baring-Gould; Llanerch Enterprises, 1990; 119 pps., illus,; paper, 4.95*

Lives of the Scottish Saints, W.M. Metcalfe, D.D., translator; Llanerch Enterprises, 1990; 113 pps.; paper, 4.95*

(all Available from S.G.O.I.S., 64 Prebend Grdns. London, W6 0XU)

In Geneva in September of 1952 the great twentieth century "Apostle to the West," Blessed Archbishop John Maximovitch (1966), initiated a discussion in the Russian Church Abroad concerning the veneration of pre-schism Western saints. On that occasion, Archbishop John presented the specific case of St. Anschar, Enlightener of Denmark and Sweden. After hearing about the saint's miracles and apostolic labors, the Synod of Bishops agreed that "there are no reasons to doubt the sanctity of his life." Furthermore:

"If the Lord Himself has glorified him, it would be brazenness on our part not to revere him as a saint...glorified by the Orthodox Church in the West before its falling away [from the Universal Church]."

At that time the Synod also decided to enter the names of fifteen other pre-schism Western saints in the church calendar, including St. Genevieve of Paris, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Patrick, Enlightener of Ireland. The bishops called "upon pastors and flock to revere these saints and hasten to their intercession [through] prayer."

Thus, Archbishop John and the Synod Abroad were ground-breaking pioneers in the movement to once again "connect" with the authentic Orthodox saints of the West-a movement which has continued to this day and is now also generally recognized by other Orthodox jurisdictions as well. As Fr. Seraphim Rose (1982) wrote in his "Prologue of the Orthodox Saints of the West" (in Vita Patrum):

"From the beginning, the Church has treasured the written Lives of these her saints and has celebrated their memory in her Divine services." Fr. Seraphim continued:

"The lands of the West, from Italy to Britain, knew both the preaching of the Apostles and the deeds of martyrs; here the Christian seed was planted so firmly that the West responded immediately and enthusiastically....For the Orthodox Christian [these Lives] are fascinating reading...[and] most instructive for our spiritual struggle today; the spirit is entirely Orthodox, and the Orthodox practices described [in these Lives] have remained the inheritance of Orthodox Christians (but not of Roman Catholics) today."

Accordingly, a growing number of Western Orthodox Saints are appearing both in article and book form as these ancient but nourishing sources of piety continue to be rediscovered. The latest in this effort is a splendid selection of Lives of British saints.

The first in this series, the Lives of the English Saints, contains accounts of eighteen saints, newly selected from S. Baring-Gould's classic sixteen-volume work of massive scholarship. Profusely illustrated (some drawings come from the enamelled mortuary chest of King Ethelbert [616]), the book begins with the Life of the Protomartyr, St. Alban (304) and includes the Life of King Edward the Martyr (978), whose miracle-working relics today are enshrined by a monastic brotherhood of the Church Abroad near London.

The second book, Lives of the Northumbrian Saints, is also from Baring-Gould, and contains sixteen Lives, including the famous St. Cuthbert and the fascinating royal abbess, Hilda, who governed both a monastery of monks as well as one of nuns in seventh century Whitby. As with the first volume, Baring-Gould uses only the best ancient sources, among them St. Bede, various martyrologies and menologies, and other authentic chronicles. The third in this series, Lives of the Scottish Saints, contains four Lives, including that of the well-known St. Columba; each Life abounds in rich and authentic detail concerning the practice of religion in pre-schism Scotland. Taken from W.M. Metcalfe's 1895 translations, only the most reliable ancient sources (mostly Latin or Icelandic sermons) were used. Of these four Lives, Queen Margaret of Scotland died after the Schism, in 1093 AD, and so is not "technically" an Orthodox saint. However, her life of evident Orthodox piety, "with vigils, prayers, shedding of tears, and prostration"-she was, after all, born and raised before the Schism-and the likelihood that the errors of the Western Church had not yet consciously penetrated to Scotland, make her worthy of study.

All of these Lives have much to say to us today in this, the most pampered, shallow, and self-satisfied generation of Christians. These saints form part of the Orthodox birthright of the West itself, and until present-day Orthodox (both converts and "cradle Orthodox") in the diaspora begin to recover the spiritual and psychological reality of these true Western saints, it is unlikely that Orthodoxy will ever send out deep and abiding roots in the West.

Fr. Alexey Young