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Holy Hierarch Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, the Wonderworker of All Britain

Holy Hierarch Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne, the Wonderworker of All Britain

Commemorated: 20 March/2 April

“Have faith and wholeheartedly trust God Who will never abandon those who love Him” - these words belong to St Cuthbert, the greatest English saint, who lived more than 1300 years ago. For 53 years of his life he was a simple monk, an abbot, a teacher, a missionary, a recluse, and for a short time - even a bishop. Cuthbert possessed a rare spirit of endless love of God, people and compassion for every single creation of God. For his humility and loving heart the Lord bestowed on Cuthbert the gifts of prayer and working miracles. The saint was born in northern England, in the kingdom of Northumbria, in 634. As a child Cuthbert was raised by a widow and nun called Kenswith.

  Communication with the invisible world of angels ran through his life from early childhood. as a boy of 7 he used to play noisy outdoor games with other kids. Once he got so carried away with an idle game that an angel in the guise of a little boy appeared before him and began to cry loudly. Cuthbert tried to calm him down but the boy replied: “Why are you, holy Cuthbert, giving yourself up to light-hearted games that are improper for a priest and bishop? You will not become yourself, unless you direct your mind to spiritual things. For the Lord has ordained you to teach the virtues even to those who are older than you.” From that moment the little Cuthbert became very serious and began to grow spiritually. When he was a teenager an angel in the guise of a horse rider healed the saint from lameness.    Already as a youth Cuthbert worked his first miracles. Even the elements obeyed him. He once by prayer changed the direction of a wind on the river, and the boats with monks who were carrying timber, scattered all over the river, managed to moor on the land easily. When Cuthbert was 17 he used to tend flocks of sheep high in the hills. Once late in the evening he saw an assembly of angels taking the soul of another great saint to the heavenly dwellings. This was St Aidan who had reposed at that very minute. An unearthly singing of angelic choirs could be heard. Young Cuthbert was so impressed by this vision that he decided to devote all his life to the service of the Lord and become a monk.

  Wild animals loved and served the saint during his life. On the way to his first monastery, Melrose (now in Scotland) Cuthbert spent the night in an old hut, being hungry. That night his horse found hot bread among hay. Cuthbert praised the Creator, ate his half and gave the other half to the horse, his faithful friend. The first obedience of Cuthbert at the monastery was to receive guests. One morning Cuthbert, not knowing about this, received and ministered to an angel who came in the guise of a man. Cuthbert cordially met him, washed his feet, gave him food, but the guest suddenly disappeared, leaving  on the table white and fragrant loaves that were sweeter than honey. Cuthbert’s life was very hard, but God and angels always saved him in a visible way.

  As a monastery abbot Cuthbert not only taught monks the basics of faith, but also often used to leave his monastery and preach to illiterate and pagan inhabitants of settlements on the hills that were difficult of access. He helped them in their needs, consoled and set them such a good example, that absolutely everybody came to love him and turned to God. In his missionary journeys the saint visited such regions as Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham in North England and even the south of Scotland. Cuthbert could stay up three or four nights without sleep for prayer. But he concealed this from others, as he did not want people to venerate him as a saint (he was very meek and avoided fame). However, once a monk followed him at night  and saw how the saint left his cell, descended to the sea, went into the cold water and all night long prayed there with his arms outstretched. As soon as he came back ashore, sea otters approached him and as a token of reverence dried his feet with their fur, and the saint blessed them. Since then Cuthbert has often been depicted with otters near him. Once St Cuthbert with his two novices arrived on a remote island, not bringing any food with them. The weather was fine and quiet, but on their arrival a heavy storm and gale began. The sea had been extremely rough already for three days and the travellers were dying of hunger. Cuthbert encouraged his companions to pray and set all their hopes on God. At once the men found on the shore three pieces of dolphin flesh, as if they had been specially cut and cooked for them, and the weather calmed down. Another time Cuthbert with one youth set out on a long journey, but they lost their way, and the weather became bad. Cuthbert called on the youth to trust the Lord alone completely. And instantly an eagle brought them a huge fish. Cuthbert and his companion divided the fish into two halves: they  gave one to the eagle  and fried and ate the rest in a neighbouring village. On two occasions the holy man put out  fires that could have burned down whole villages.

  The saint fought against the devil and the demons all his life; they troubled him incessantly, cast stones at him, flung him onto the shore and tried to throw him down the cliff. Finally, through his prayer, fasting and humility he drove away all the demons from that area. He explained people the work of the devil, persuading them to love God and their neighbour; otherwise our soul is an easy target for the evil. Cuthbert healed sick people even at distances: once he expelled a demon from the wife of a judge with whom he was talking, even though the judge did not mention his wife’s illness and the latter was very far away.

  Later Cuthbert was appointed abbot on Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, a small island in the North Sea off the north-east coast of England. It is one of the holiest sites of England with an inexpressible atmosphere. It is said that Cuthbert was the first man in history to speak up in defence of wild nature, in his case: eider ducks. It is known that he took care of these birds during his life and they still nest  there in masses. Locals call these eider ducks ‘chicken of Cuddy’ after St Cuthbert!

  For eight years Cuthbert lived in complete solitude On Inner Farne, an isle near Lindisfarne, where  he built himself a little hut and a chapel and constructed a high wall around them. A holy well gushed forth from a dry rock on the isle due to his prayers. When Cuthbert first sowed seeds of barley on Inner Farne, birds started pecking them. The saint reproached them for that and they did not do it again. Two ravens used to steal straw from the guesthouse. Cuthbert ordered them to leave the isle for such behaviour. But the ravens soon returned with their wings prostrated and the heads lifted low as a sign of their remorse. They even brought him lard to atone for their guilt. The saint often remembered that story in conversations with the faithful, pointing out  that we need to hurry to repent and labour for salvation of our souls. Even the sea served the saint, ‘bringing’ overnight as many logs as he needed to the shore. Cuthbert healed the sick not only by prayer, but with prosphora (consecrated bread), holy oil (thus he healed a girl with a sore head and side), and holy water. Once an  abbess along with her novice were cured from headache by St Cuthbert’s belt: the saint delivered it to them through a stranger, having heard their prayer at a great distance. He was also a prophet: he predicted to the queen Elflaed that her brother, the king, would fall in battle with pagans and revealed to her who would be the next king. Cuthbert in spirit observed the whole battle and saw the murder of the king, though he was not present at that event.

  Two years before Cuthbert’s death he against his will was appointed Bishop of Lindisfarne and remained a very zealous bishop till the end of his life. There are touching stories telling how during epidemics of the plague Cuthbert walked to village after village, cared for the infected and the dying, gave them Communion, not fearing to contract the disease - and remained sound himself. On one occasion he brought back to life a youth, who had died of the plague and lay at the roadside. On another occasion Cuthbert returned to life the little son of a woman who came to him all in tears with her dead son in her hands. Cuthbert kissed him and the child came back to life at once. He promised the mother that nobody else would die in their family from the plague; and both the mother and son lived for many years after that.

  Once Cuthbert was visiting the convent of one abbess, and during dinner he suddenly stopped and fell deep into thought, so that even the knife fell from his hand. When asked what happened, he said that he had seen in spirit a monastery worker, strong in faith, accidentally falling to his death from a tree, and angels taking his soul to Paradise. The grace that abode in Cuthbert was so abundant that once in the monastery he tasted water and it obtained the flavour of wine; all the witnesses drank this water after him and said that its taste was that of the best wine one could imagine.

  On an isle of the Derwentwater lake (now situated in the town of Keswick of the Lake District national park) there lived a holy priest and hermit named Herbert. He was a close spiritual friend of St Cuthbert, ‘a soul-friend’ as Celtic saints used to say. Cuthbert often visited him for spiritual conversations. These two saints became so close to each other spiritually due to their life-long friendship that they (through their prayers) passed away in the same day and hour. Before his death Cuthbert suffered from a painful ailment. But even on his deathbed he performed miracles: he healed a novice from a chronic disease by touching the edge of his clothes. Eleven years After St Cuthbert’s repose his absolutely intact relics were uncovered. Even the soil in which his body lay or a mixture of a handful of this earth with water cured people - for example, a demoniac boy. Cuthbert’s boots returned health to a paralytic after the saint’s death. Another ascetic was healed of a skin disease from the calfskin that had hung at St Cuthbert’s cell.

   When the Vikings’ raids began the relics of Cuthbert were translated from Lindisfarne to the city of Durham in north-eastern England which is now considered to be the most visited holy place of the UK. They are kept there to this day. During the Reformation in the sixteenth century, when the country became Protestant, king Henry VIII ordered to close all monasteries and to burn down all saintsrelics and other holy objects. When the king’s authorised representatives came to Durham Cathedral and opened St Cuthbert’s shrine 900 years after his repose they nearly fainted from astonishment: they saw the saint’s body perfectly preserved, safe and sound, as if he were sleeping, in full vestments - as if he had served his last Liturgy the day before. All his limbs were soft and flexible, even warm, and an unearthly fragrance spread in the air around his body. Even the saint’s personal Gospel was intact. Cuthbert’s body was then secretly buried under the floor and in the nineteenth century returned to the cathedral where it rests to this day.

  St Cuthbert continues to help people nowadays. In 1943 he saved Durham and its cathedral from destruction by Luftwaffe bombs by hiding it in thick fog. Over 130 churches and many holy wells in both England and Scotland are dedicated to St Cuthbert. The saint is the patron of shepherds and sailors: he often appeared in the midst of the raging ocean to people seized by disaster; in apparitions he usually uses his episcopal staff as an oar in order to warn sailors of shipwreck.

(c) Dmitry Lapa

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