A Quick Overview of
The beginnings of Christianity in Great
Britain are lost in the mists of history. Tradition says that
St. Joseph of Arimathaea founded the first Christian community
in the latter part of the First Century. One thing is certain
whatever the origins, by the end of the Second Century Christianity
was firmly established among the Celtic peoples of the Roman controlled
portion of the British Isles. However, within a few years the
Christian Celtic populations of Britain and Northwestern Europe
were overrun and in some cases virtually destroyed by succeeding
waves of Germanic tribes and Western Europe descended into the
period of the Dark Ages. Nevertheless, some remarkable men and
women, fired by a love of God and His Holy Church, kept the Christian
faith alive and began the re-Christianization of Western Europe.
Celtic Christianity has always been marked by a close connection with the ancient Church rooted in both Old
Testament and Gospel traditions. Daily services with extensive
readings from Scripture, especially the Psalms marked Celtic worship.
The Bible was so deeply loved that great emphasis was placed on
the copying of Bibles with rich and elaborate illuminations. Contrary
to the Latin tendency to legalism and scholasticism, Celtic Christianity
has been marked by a focus on the enigma of God and the mystical
wonder of seeing His presence within the marvels of His Creation.
The celebration of the goodness of Creation and the "surrender"
to Gods mystical sovereignty makes the Celtic tradition
more amenable to the Apophatic theological tradition (a focus
on the unknowable nature of God) of Orthodox Christianity than
to the Kataphatic (the idea that God is knowable through human
reason) tradition of late medieval Roman Catholicism.
The roots of Celtic monasticism can be found
in the Desert Fathers of the Eastern Church. The lives and writings
of such inspiring figures as St. Anthony (251-356) and their struggling
with the forces of evil in the desert served as inspiration for
the monastic Fathers as they left their homes to teach the Gospel,
spread the Church, and live in "desert exile" among
pagan peoples from the Ukraine to Iceland. For us the most notable
activities were among the Irish and Scottish people. The great
Celtic Saints such as St. Patrick, St. Ninian, and St. Columba
established a Christian tradition among the pagan Celts and later
the Saxons of the British Isles that still resonates with the
energy and spirituality of the early Church. The recovery of the
rich spirituality of Celtic tradition is a vital part of the ethos
of the Western Rite Orthodoxy. It is particularly valued as the
spiritual heritage of St. Columba Orthodox Church.