Posts Tagged ‘Western Orthodoxy’

I just learned of the demise last year of the Milan Synod’s St. Hilarion Monastery in Texas, and of their website,  This group was not in communion with the Orthodox Church, but the Wayback Machine seems to have stored at least their images of Western Saints icons, which I have always found edifying.

Last year I found a brief discussion of how it could’ve gone if Norse Orthodox visitors and settlers here from the 10th to 15th centuries, and rumored Irish Orthodox monk-visitors, had evangelized (more?).  A few years ago I saw this somewhat more detailed discussion of the history from Fr. Andrew Phillips of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), in Britain.  Eye-opening, perspective-improving stuff!

Also a remark in the paragraph immediately above this anchor tag, suggests how slowly some who maybe could have some idea of the matter, thought it could’ve taken for Church change – such as the West’s decline from o/Orthodoxy – to reach Old North American Norse:

Not knowing whether the old Norse civilization remained in Greenland or not—and worried that if it did, it would still be Catholic 200 years after the Scandinavian homelands had experienced the Reformation—a joint merchant-clerical expedition led by the Norwegian missionary Hans Egede was sent to Greenland in 1721. Though this expedition found no surviving Europeans, it marked the beginning of Denmark’s assertion of sovereignty over the island….  {Emphasis added.}

This was after the Medieval Warm Period in the Upper North Atlantic had yielded to the “Little Ice Age,” making communication between Greenland and Scandinavia extremely difficult.

Weird coincidence: The other day my aunt wrote her nephews and nieces that she’d read about St. Bertha of Blangy-sur-Ternoise, Artois, France, a 7th-8th-century Anglo-Saxon (Kentish) and Frankish princess, wife, mother, widow, and abbess, because her mother’s, my paternal grandmother’s, name was Bertha Rider Filon (God be good to her).*  Today happens to be St. Bertha’s feast day (she’s the third personage covered by this old Catholic Encyclopedia roundup article).  And Atlantic Tropical Storm Bertha was born just yesterday.  Not knowing either fact a few hours ago, I started looking for some information about Blangy for my aunt at her request.  This appears to be the website of the village’s historical society, all in French, but I note dramatic improvements in Google’s machine translations, with only minor improvements and interjections from myself (additional ones exceed my capabilities) in this piece about Bertha and the town:

Blangy-sur-Ternoise is a small village in the valley of the Ternoise in the department of Pas de Calais (62).

Blangy-sur-Ternoise, nestled at the bottom of its valley, a little pass unnoticed from an historical perspective, it was the seat of the imposing abbey Saint-Berthe. However, we know that the Romans were probably occupied the site to 50 BC-AD, and that, according to historian Malbrancq, the village was the scene of bitter fighting between the Huns and the Franks. It is in the plain of Blangy, indeed, that Wilbert, Count of Boulogne and {of the town of} Saint-Pol, surrounded by most of the lords of the country, would have cut into pieces. Rigobert, Count of Ponthieu, who had pointed out during the battle, was then appointed Count of Blangy, a village which was at that time an important post, Clovis II having built a fortress on the banks of the Ternoise, to resist the invasion of northern tribes.

From the union of Rigobert and Ursane, daughter of the King of Kent, was born, circa 644, Bertha (first name meaning clear and bright). After her childhood spent at the castle of Blangy, at age 18, Berthe married Siegfried, Baron of Auxi-le-Chateau. After the death of her husband, in 680, and after the death of two of his daughters, Bertha decided to build a monastery on the banks of the Ternoise. Of this abbey founded under the {monastic} “Rule of St. Benedict,” Berthe became the first abbess in 682, while the king Thierry III gave it the status of royal abbey. The monastery was so vast that sixty nuns there were installed there. Died in 723, July 4, at age 79 years (which was exceptional for its time), Berthe was buried within the abbey, in a sandstone tomb.

Soon, if we are to believe the sacred writers and historians, miracles occurred around the tomb: “The blind were returned to sight, paralyzed hands became active, the lame walked aright, the violence of fevers was dissipated and every class of infirmity healed.” So many miracles that they resulted in the canonization of Saint Berthe.

Over the centuries, the abbey has, however, experienced many problems. While the holy relics were transported to Alsace for protection, Normans looted and destroyed the monastery in 892. It was not until 1032 that the relics were returned, and a new monastery was built, then occupied by the Benedictines of Fécamps. During the XIV, XV and XVI centuries, Blangy and its monastery suffered from wars, new buildings being damaged and the relics again had to be removed for safekeeping, in Saint-Omer this time. Sold as a national asset in 1791 {ie, as a result of the French Revolution}, the abbey was destroyed in the nineteenth century, except the farm (1771) and the mill (1777) that served as a secular school, then hospice, before being donated in 1956 to the institute Notre-Dame de Vie {“Our Lady of Life”?}, which has restored it into a spiritual center and retreat.

The website also says that relics are still venerated at a shrine there each year during her novena, July 4-12.

(*–Grandmom, too, was of English background, and spent most of her life as an Episcopalian – things I never knew – converting to her late husband’s and her children’s Catholicism before she died.)

Italy’s former Orthodoxy is attested by the ancient icons and Greek icon-style murals and mosaics to be found in many old Latin churches there to this day.  Rome itself has at least one icon said to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist (like a few in Orthodox hands, or rather, graced to Orthodox churches and/or persons), called the Hodegetria style meaning the Mother of God holds and points to the Child Jesus, in the famous St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore in Italian*) basilica, to which ancient miracles are attributed like many icons in Orthodoxy.  Its traditional account is here, but none of the images on that webpage are it.  This page of a scandalized Protestant seems to bear a copy of the icon, as well as a couple links to the University of Dayton (a Catholic school despite the name!).  The icon is nicknamed in Latin Salus Populi Romani, literally “Health of the Roman People” – that’s people in the singular, aka nation or populace – although often rendered “Salvation of the Roman People,” even more scandalously!  Don’t tell him that the icon itself may be what is called that, not just Mary!

In his diocesan newspaper column this week, Philadelphia Catholic Cardinal Justin Rigali notes that after Rome was spared heavy World War 2 damage, this icon was brought out and processed around the streets in thanksgiving.  (Rigali served 24 years in the Vatican curia in Rome. NB: He’s Italian [and Irish] American, not Italian-born.)

As noted on the linked pages, she and it are also called “Our Lady of the Snows,” for the miracle – a 4th century August snowfall – that inspired the construction of the original church on St. Mary Major’s site.

Despite the quote from a very old and prejudiced (iconoclastic) Protestant source, I’m pretty sure most Latin Rite Catholics don’t think of Mary, angels, saints, statues, or icons the same way they think of God, and certainly Orthodox don’t, even if sometimes flowery, devout, theologically imprecise, nonpedantic language is used.

As for iconography itself, Orthodox traditionally have preferred painted icons to statues because statues are incapable of representing the person or scene ‘in Glory,’ that is, radiating God’s Uncreated Energies or Divine Light, like icons do in rays (which is what haloes are, and why they properly surround the head or body, not float above it like the mystical bowl of oatmeal in that old TV commercial!).  If you tried to have a three-dimensional statue with rays, they’d obscure the image itself.

I’m not aware that iconostases – the icon screens that separate the altar area from the rest of an Orthodox church – were ever used in most of Western Europe, though older Episcopal churches at least (speaking of here in the U.S.) preserve the traditional “rood screen” enclosing the altar, from which was sometimes hung the cross (the “rood”) and possibly one or two other things.

Finally, traditional Orthodox icons are heavy in gold coloring, covering not just haloes but also the space surrounding the holy persons depicted.  Some Slavic traditions have incorporated Western influences different from this, including some icons indistinguishable from Western “naturalistic” paintings of holy persons and scenes, with little of the traditional Eastern indication of Uncreated Light.  But the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, a California convert revered by some Orthodox but who is not uncontroversial, counseled against what might be called neo-iconoclasm:

“There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new {ie, Western} style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, paper icon prints in perfect Byzantine style. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. They removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries.”

At the same time, Greek / Byzantine-style iconography is starting to be seen more among Latins and even Protestants, in what some Orthodox consider a mixed blessing – though I can’t remember why, and can’t find it again on the WWW.

(*–“Major” refers to the church; it’s dedicated to the Theotokos, not to some saint named Mary Major.)

6th-century hermitess and foster-mother of saints,* Ita (Ida) of Killeedy in Southwest Ireland, was born into the ruling clan of the regional kingdom of Decies in Munster Province (Irish Deise Mumhan), which at its height covered roughly County Waterford and much surrounding territory. (Killeedy is actually in County Limerick, well northwest of The Decies.)

Weirder yet, I stumbled across the icon depicted at the OCA link, at the bookstore at St. Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary in Pennsylvania, while visiting there once. Never know what you’ll find … or what will find you! [“In Russia, Party find you!” Sorry, I couldn’t resist!]

(*–Most prominent, St. Brendan the Navigator, leader of the first known / recorded / semi-legendary voyage from Europe/Africa/Asia to the Americas, half a millennium before the Vikings and a millennium before Columbus, who researched Brendan’s voyage in Ireland before “sailing the ocean blue” himself.)

Yes, Rome, not Russia. I don’t know why her name is exclusively associated with the latter today!