The piece for this Sunday is from an edition of the 1994 “Pilot” magazine, in which Michael Halliwell, Rector of St Brelade, gave a meditation on the icon of St Brelade, which you can still see if you visit the church today.
This icon is not to be confused with the modern set of paintings of icons done for all the Island’s Parish Churches, and pre-dates it.
On a personal note, I always prefer religious icons to statues. Statues are very static, whereas icons are replete with symbolism, and are not meant to be realistic depictions of the world, but to draw us into exploring the inner world by means of the outer.
The Icon of St Brelade
By Michael Halliwell
Our Church at St Brelade has recently been given an icon of its patron saint.. It is based. on a collage made, after much prayer, by a group of young Christians of our church, and was executed, also. after much prayer, .by Brother Anselm, a monk of Alton Abbey.
Icons are not very familiar to Western Christians; a special kind of Christian art, they perhaps can be likened to a poem. in a visual form, in which the believer writes the words. Inevitably icons will mean different things to different people,, but certain factors will strike the observer right at the outset.
In this icon, firstly we: see Brelade with his head back, looking over his shoulder to the Father, listening to his voice and doubtless affirming his desire to do his will.
Secondly we may note the cross, on his breast, affirming his trust in salvation through Christ.
Thirdly we see that there are steps leading off to the right, perhaps signifying the willingness of the saint to be led by the Spirit.of'God wherever he maybe called in his mission.
Fourthly we may note that he has taken off his shoes and hold them in his hand. Like Moses of old he stands on holy ground, sanctified .by prayers and containing a place of worship where especially, but not exclusively, he meets a holy God.
Who were these Celtic men and women and what motivated them as they travelled the seaways of Western Europe? They went firstly to seek God wherever they might find him. The monastery served -as.a powerhouse for their mission, and there the worship of God was .offered as a top priority. To be allowed to leave the monastery as a "pilgrim" was a very special privilege, and it required the spiritual discernment of the abbot to recognise the call. In this context Brelade, or Branwalader, was the first to bring the faith to these shores
What was their message?
When Patrick, who was actually a Scot, picked a clover leaf to explain to the Irish princesses the mystery of the Holy Trinity, he was not just propounding a formula, but touching on a real and deep mystery. The Celts were firmly trinitarian, holding the threeness and the oneness of the mighty God, thus perhaps enabling themselves to hold together other great truths which others might seek to oppose.
The first leaf stood for THE FATHER.
These people had a very great love and reverence for the Creator and his creation. They discerned his hand in all his handiwork. The hymn "How great thou art ..." echoes these sentiments. These Christians can teach our generation a new respect for the world in all its fragile beauty. They call us to fight pollution of all kinds, the exploitation of lands and people. They can teach us respect for human beings, made, as each one is, in the image of God. When the great monastery was built at Lastingham the brothers spent the 40 days of Lent fasting and praying to cleanse the site from its pagan associations, and. when they came to Jersey to the bay named after Branwalader and his companions, they will have prayed for the cleansing and healing of the land, turning over the standing stones and building a. house, of God on the site. One and possibly two such stones have been identified, buried horizontally under the foundations of the present church.
The second leaf stood for THE SON.
These Christians had a deep love and reverence for Jesus, by whom they knew themselves saved from the darkness of :the paganism which surrounded them.. Their whole lives were given to the establishment and deepening of their relationship with him. They had a constant awareness of the need to go apart, in a world that even then was overwhelmingly busy, to the lonely rocks and islands amongst which they lived, in order to hear him. From this flowed a deep desire to make him known, but this was no aggressive evangelism, no railroading of folk into the kingdom. On his journeys the great northern saint. Aidan would ask those whom he met "Are you a Christian??' If they answered "Yes, he would say "May I help you to become a better one?" If they replied "No;" he would say "May I help you to become one?" We could not find a better way for evangelisation in our day;
The third leaf stands for THE SPIRIT.
These Christians were noteworthy for their constant openness to the Holy Spirit - 'their advocate, guide; and strengthener. This leads to an awareness of God's desire to communicate, with them; which he did through dreams, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge. This alertness to the Spirit was not a special programme for a particular group of people, but the normal way of life of Christians who knew their entire dependence on God and his Holy Spirit. It is often recounted of them: that they would set ail in their tiny coracles and allow themselves to be driven wherever wind and tide may carry them! Perhaps they seem, to have succeeded because they waited for God's prompting before deciding on which tide to sail!:
In this spirit, they engaged in spiritual warfare, which would often mean silent contemplative prayer late into the night or in the early hours of the morning, holding up the world and its lostness to God. The Church badly needs more of such people today.
Because these Christians lived before the two great divisions which rent Christendom asunder, the great division of East and West in the 11th century, and the upheaval of the Reformation in the 16th, they tended to see many of these concerns in another, more primitive light, and perhaps they reveal .some of its agonisings as less relevant to the central thrust of the Gospel message than we are sometimes led to believe.
In many ways they reveal, in their life and mission, a harmony and balance of the catholic, evangelical and charismatic elements in Christianity which our contemporary Church needs badly to recover if it is to speak with relevance to our generation.