In Search of Iona

"Iona is a 'thin' place."

Fr. John Shimchick / THEME ARTICLE / Reprinted from: Jacob's Well, Winter 1997

   During the long flight between New York and London last Fall, on the way to visit my friend Fr. John Jillions living in Cambridge with his family, I read the following: "Iona is a 'thin' place. That is, there is little between God and Iona." An island off the coast of Scotland, inhabited by a monastic community, Iona may be best known by some for the college of the same name in New Rochelle, NY. I would not be going to Iona the island, but from that moment I felt attracted to the notion of searching for "thin" places in England, for "thin" moments, and for those people who knew something about these encounters between God and His creation.

   This issue of Jacob's Well [Winter 1997] offers some personal reflections of encounters and moments in England. Though we may readily acknowledge as "Orthodox," its life and saints during the time before the division of Christianity, and criticize much afterwards, there are still some things today we can respect and admire. For example, in terms of spiritual beauty and peacefulness it is hard to find fault with the service of evensong as celebrated daily in the great cathedrals and college chapels (we visited Ely Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the Kings College Chapel) where architecture, liturgy, and music (some of the best sacred music in the world, in fact) are held together and offered to God.

   Fr. John and I also had encounters with the leaders of the Orthodox Church in England, particularly Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (who was one of Archbishop Peter’s episcopal consecrators) and Bishop Basil Osborne. In our conversation with Metropolitan Anthony late one afternoon in his cathedral before an evening service, Fr. John and I asked him to tell us something about the formation of clergy. He replied that a priest should be a witness of and able to communicate "the love, joy, and wonder of being in God's presence." Who had inspired him in these ways, we wanted to know? There were several priests, none of them famous or renowned. One, when he was a teenager, had simply showed his concern for him and others, not judging them, accepting them for who they were. Another priest, known to suffer from various personal problems, wept over him as he heard his confession, allowing the light of the Gospel to radiate upon both of them.

   The "love, joy, and wonder of being in God's presence" is the message behind Metropolitan Anthony's article, Meeting a Non-Orthodox Society included in this issue. The interview with Bishop Basil Osborne provides what might be the first opportunity for many to learn something about him -- a fellow American -- and the life of the Orthodox Church in England. Finally, the key "thin" moment from the musical Les Miserables, which celebrates its tenth American anniversary this year (having orginally premiered in London in 1985), is examined.

   We highlight the poetry of Mother Raphaela of the Monastery of the Holy Myrrhbearers, and our guest contributor, Fr. Ted Bobosh, (who also presents an approach for beginning a regular study of the Scriptures) and include a number of special features on a variety of subjects.

  As a final challenge, we encourage our readers to explore those times, those encounters between places, moments, and persons -- when, like Iona, there was little between them and God.

The Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex was started in 1959 by Fr. Sophrony, who had been the disciple of the canonized Anthonite monk, St. Silouan. From the beginning the community has attracted members from various backgrounds, thus the appreciation for the use of several liturgical languages. The Jesus Prayer was constituted as a church service and is said in community and in the language of each person. Presently there are approximately 25 nuns and 9 monks.

Fr. John Shimchick is the pastor of Church of the Holy Cross, Medford, NJ
and editor of Jacob's Well, the Newspaper of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, Orthodox Church in America.

Mentioned in this article are:

  • Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate Diocese in England)
  • Archbishop Peter (L'Huillier) of the OCA Diocese of New York and New Jersey
  • Bishop Basil Osborne of Sergievo (who helps administer the Diocese of Sourozh)

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