St. Mary’s Hermitage is a religious order within the Holy Celtic Church (HCCI). HCCI is a traditional Liberal Catholic church in the Celtic tradition and a member jurisdiction of the Guild of the Holy Apostles. We are also affiliated to the World Council of Churches through our membership of the International Council of Community Churches. Our Primus is the Rt. Revd. Dom Alistair Bate OSBA (csr), MA Div. who was raised in Ireland and is now based at St Gall’s Retreat Switzerland. Dom Alistair has been a teacher of Celtic spirituality for many years.
So what is Celtic Christianity? It is easier to say perhaps what it is not. It is not proto-Protestantism as some neo-Celtic communities would have us believe; neither is it Roman Catholicism as we now know it, for in the days of the great Celtic saints the Bishop of Rome was merely primus inter pares and Patriarch of the West and was not considered infallible. Neither can Celtic Christianity be equated with Eastern Orthodoxy on the model of Constantinople or even Alexandria, for despite its slight variations in usage, it is certainly a product of the Western Church, as St Patrick himself said, “The Church of the Irish, which is indeed that of the Romans, if you would be Christians, then be as the Romans. …” (Dicta 3). True Celtic Christianity is best described then as Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox, for it preserves the Apostolic Succession, honours and accepts the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils and reached its fully developed form in the first millennium, prior to the separation of Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Whilst some forms of Celtic spirituality are very Hiberno-centric the Holy Celtic Church casts the net of Celtdom far and wide, not only throughout the ancestral Celtic lands but we also honour the Old English saints and heritage. As our membership is drawn from the Anglo-Catholic as well as Roman Catholic traditions we also have an Anglo-Catholic fellowship within the church and honour the Anglican patrimony as well as that of the Roman and Old Catholic Churches.
ST. MARY’S HERMITAGE
HCCI embraces several forms of monastic life. At St. Mary’s Hermitage we practice Idiorrhythmic monasticism, idiorrhythmia is one form of monastic life within Christianity. Our motivating charism is that of Saint Bruno. Idiorrhythmia was the original form of monastic life in Christianity, as exemplified by St. Anthony of Egypt and is the opposite of cenobitic monasticism in that instead of communal ownership, the monk lives alone, often in isolation. Philosophically it consists of a total withdrawal from society, normally in the desert, and the constant practice of mental prayer. The word Idiorrhythmic comes from two Greek words idios, “particular” and ῥυθμός rhuthmós, “rule” meaning “following one’s own devices.” It was first developed by St. Anthony of Egypt (c. 250–355) and today is only known to be practised in Mount Athos, Greece, and at other locations throughout the world.
Our Eremitic life in which we seek divine quietness (ἡσυχία hēsychia) through the contemplation of God in uninterrupted prayer. Such prayer, involving the entire human being—soul, mind, and body—is often called “pure,” or “intellectual,” prayer or the Jesus prayer. St. John Climacus, one of the greatest writers of the Hesychast tradition, wrote, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath, and then you will know the value of the hēsychia.” It is generally accepted that monasticism began in Egypt towards the end of the Third Century, though its origins may have been older. Indeed, some form of monasticism may have existed almost from the birth of the Church. As the word monastic implies in Greek monos- alone, the Monk was one who went into the desert to live alone with God, were also called hermits or anchorites, which also means solitaries. The first recorded hermitic Orthodox Christian literature was St. Paul of Thebes ( 341) who lived over sixty years in a cave in the Egyptian desert. But the greatest of these hermits, often called the Father of Monasticism, was St. Anthony the Great ( 356). Yet, even in the life of this father of monasticism, the desert solitude was gradually modified by the appearance of disciples. These men wished to pursue the monastic life under the guidance of one who was already experienced. A soldier marching into battle would much rather be commanded by an experienced officer than an inexperienced one, no matter how educated the latter may be. Nor, if he himself is inexperienced, would he wish to enter the battle alone. Thus, after struggling many years as a solitary, St. Anthony gathered to himself a community of Monks who lived in separate huts, each working out his own salvation in his own particular way, but under Anthony’s supervision, guided by his great experience in spiritual life.