There are few things better for deepening parish spiritual life and the bonds of spiritual kinship than pilgrimages, with their shared journeys, common prayer and Liturgy, eating together and making one another cups of tea, chatting, discussing spiritual matters, sharing life’s challenges, helping one another, motivating one another, and even enduring one another – snoring, funny little mannerisms, and sometimes irritating habits: all making for deepening human relationships, as well as the divine-human relationship in a powerful and palpable way.

The tangible blessings, shared joy, common strength and developing shared spiritual-identity, all eclipse the plethora of virtual Orthodox projects that characterise an internet-Orthodoxy, which, in some cases, is becoming a dangerous and deceptive surrogate for the experiential reality of the Church – with physical contact with people in the flesh; shared spiritual experience in the same place; and the physical and localised reality of the Holy Mysteries celebrated in a real setting, at arms’ length from one another in the physically manifest sobornost of the Church.

The act of pilgrimage, as an expression of the solidarity and shared Faith of a community requires the investment of time, effort, and resources.

It demands arrangements with destinations, planning services, pilgrim activities and meals, journey routes, possibly accommodation, and coordinating the pilgrims.

It requires packing cars with the multitude of things needed for Liturgy, possibly sleeping bags and tents with the whole paraphernalia of camping, changes of clothes, groceries, bug-spray and first aid kits… and so much more.

It has a cost that necessitates going out of our comfort zone, and is no quick and easy or tick-box exercise. And… through all of this, working together, we receive such blessings from God.

Over the last five months, our parish pilgrimages – to Llandaff, on our doorstep, Llanthony and Capel-y-ffin, Mathern and Tintern, Glastonbury and Pennant Melangell have spiritually strengthened our parish, as well as uniting us with friends who travel from afar.

This weekend’s pilgrimage brought friends from Poole and Cambridge – people willing to make long and tiring journeys to worship God and honour the saints. Even some regular parishioners had to travel from Wiltshire and Somerset to honour St Melangell, whose feast fell on Friday according to the Patristic Calendar, and which we celebrated a day late, on Saturday.

Our Deacon, constantly reminds the community that spiritual life is never meant to be easy or convenient, but that it demands effort, sacrifice and the endurance of inconvenience and hardship. We are never in doubt that our Cardiff ROCOR parishioners accept this, given the number travelling from the Forest of Dean, Mid-Gloucestershire, Bath and Wiltshire, but the wonderful experience of the weekend made this even clearer – with nineteen pilgrims travelling from South Wales and Wessex on a long and winding journey into the depths of Montgomery, in order to honour St Melangell in her ancient sanctuary and to celebrate her feast.

What a wonderful celebration it was, though our Liturgy was very simple, compared to our usual rather more imposing Liturgies: only one priest, one oltarnik, one singer and one reader – but, all supported by the prayers of the other pilgrims.

Most of those present had prepared to receive the Holy Mysteries and made their confessions before and during the Hours.

It was a joy to chant the hymns to St Melangell and celebrate the Liturgy in the once-wild place of her God-centred life, where the labours of eremitical reclusion and its spiritual fruits made her an earthly angel and a heavenly woman.

Our celebration and joyful fellowship spilled out into the churchyard, where our sisters arranged a table for a picnic lunch, with warm conversation (chilled wine and hot tea!) and we were well-aware of the growing bond between regular pilgrims, who want to be together and enjoy being together – to share lives, Faith, time, labours and energy within the context of the spiritual family of our parish.

This will no doubt continue, month after month, as we make further pilgrimages to holy places, whether on our doorstep or further away, bringing us closer to one another, closer to the saints, and – above all – closer to God, whose Presence makes the holy places of His saints His sanctuaries: places of encounter, where the foretaste of His Kingdom calls us to follow in the footsteps of the saints: to live in a way that challenges the world, and to be holy to the Lord.


Arriving in Pennant Melangell at dusk on Friday, it was a joy to be greeted by the shrine church in its ancient llan, with yew trees possibly older than the Christian presence in the valley – knowing that at any hour during the night, I could walk down the lane from the pilgrim shepherd’s hut, push open the great door and pray in the chancel of the church, beside the imposing arcaded-shrine containing St Melangell’s relics.

After supper in the beudy bach *, I did so, heading down the lane in the long, late midsummer twilight, to pray beside the shrine, casting light on the high gabled-canopy with a single candle. The owls in the wooded valley sides were the only audible sound apart from the chanting of night prayers. Even as I returned along the lane, the sky was still not dark, though the last light over the mountains was to fade within minutes – the owls continuing, with the breeze gently stirring the grass in the neighbouring meadow, and the sound of the river beyond the boundary of trees.

There are few places where we can experience such peace, free from the encroaching noise and disruption of the world: a place where the chink of a teacup on a saucer, or the bang of a closing window seems not only loud, but intrusive; places that make us tread softly and carefully, not wishing to assault the gentle quietness which envelopes us with the mundane noises of the world; places in which to turn the pages of a book slowly, pray softly, and wash the supper things noiselessly.

In this enclosure of peace, it was wonderful to wake to the gentle buzzing of bees, frantically tumbling from yellow poppy to yellow poppy, and oddly amplified in the enclosed tube of fox-glove flowers. Such was the number of bumble bees that the borders hummed with their industrious presence.

Of course, the ascetical fathers likened monastics to honey-bees, collecting the sweet nectar of divine grace through their spiritual labours, and this image can be used for the monastics who laboured at Pennant Melangell in lives of constant spiritual industry for the sake of the Kingdom of God, so much so that the sweetness of God’s Grace still touches the constant stream of pilgrims who come to honour St Melangell and to seek her intercessions and merciful care.

Our great blessing was to do this by celebrating her feast – albeit a day late – by offering the sacrifice of the Holy and Divine Mysteries no more than an arm’s length from the raised stone chest containing her sacred relics.

In this sacred celebration, we entered not only into communion with the Saviour, through His Body and Blood, but in the offering of the Eternal Sacred Banquet, we entered more deeply into fellowship and communion with St Melangell, herself, and all of the saints from ages past.

Seeking her intercessions, we joined our prayers with hers, as a common and shared offering of prayer and praise to the Great High-Priest, honouring her memory in our hymns and commemoration, as one who offered herself as a sacrifice of prayer and praise to the Lord.

It was a great honour and blessing to be able to celebrate the Liturgy, and we were touched and humbled by the great warmth and hospitality afforded to our pilgrims who had travelled from Wilstshire, Dorset and Cambridge, as well as our South Wakes parishioners.

My prayer is that St Melangell’s example, and the reality of her intercessions, will touch each and every one of our pilgrims, affording them strength and courage, so that like her and the wise-virgins of the Gospel for her feast, we may all be ever-vigilant and watchful in lives dedicated to Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church. 

Glory to God, for affording us such a great blessing, and thanks to Him for the saints, as our guides and exemplars.

* ‘little cow house’ – converted for use by pilgrims

May, June and July Parish Pilgrimage

Dear brothers and sisters: Christ is Risen!

This Saturday – 20th May –  will see a band of pilgrims head to Glastonbury, meeting at Bride’s Mount in Beckery, on the edge of the town, at 10:00, celebrating a moleben to St Brigid.

Before the drainage of the Somerset Levels, Beckery – this area on the edge of Glastonbury – was an island in the tidal marshes along the River Brue, and Bride’s Mound was crowned with a monastic house. This monastic dwelling, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene,  was associated with Irish monastics travelling to Glastonbury – the primary monastery of ancient Britain – and Glastonbury lore and tradition, lists St Brigid as one of the Irish saints who visited and stayed here.

After the moleben at Bride’s Mound, we will head into town to the abbey, with the ruins of the once great religious foundation in its green acres of gardens. This will be an excellent place to refresh ourselves physically as well as spiritually, and the visitors’ centre has excellent educational resources.

The abbey grounds once contained the women’s alms-houses that were associated with St Patrick’s Chapel, and St Margaret’s Hospital with its men’s alms-houses nearby in Magdalen St, is another place for pilgrims to visit.

Our parish’s seasoned Glastonbury pilgrims enjoy visiting the Rose Garden – a wonderful little shop next to the parish church – from which we usually emerge with books, icons and Orthodox supplies.

As we head towards Chalice Well and the Tor, we can visit the fine neighbouring medieval church, which has been decluttered and restored over the last few years, so that we can now appreciate the beauty of the building, without the Victorian clutter that once made it difficult to see.

Chalice Well is very much a product of romance and legend, with its very creative association between St Joseph of Arimathea and the medieval well from which the iron-rich waters flow. Regardless of the new-age and alternative activities that happen within its environs, it remains a place of peace, relaxation, beauty and tranquillity – with a spring with beneficial waters.

Chalice Hill, from which the well flows is nestled next to Glastonbury Tor, the dramatic conical hill on which an ancient monastery stood – in whose excavation Fr Luke was involved in its excavation in the late 1960’s. In the middle-ages, the church of St Michael was built, with its surviving tower crowning the Tor.

The rural-life museum in the abbey barn is close by, and pilgrims may also wish to make a visit.

We look forward to our day in Avalon!

Looking forward to June, we shall be making a pilgrimage to Pennant Melangell on June 10th (the day after the feast of St Melangell). Given its distance from Cardiff, several parishioners having arranged to camp nearby. On the night of Friday June 9th.

The church in Pennant Melangell is built on the ancient site of the ancient monastery over which St Melangell presided as abbess, and houses her relics in the shrine where we will celebrate our pilgrim Liturgy.

This will be a very special pilgrimage, given the shrine and relics of St Melangell at the heart of the church, and we look forward to it.

Any potential pilgrims should contact Tracy:

From July 24-27th, group of ROCOR parishioners will be travelling to Walsingham, ‘England’s Nazareth’, enjoying the hospitality of  the South Wales Anglican Pilgrimage, after Fr Dean’s invitation to join the pilgrimage once more.

The accommodation cost is £225, and the cost for those wishing to travel on the coach is £370. Any more interested parties should contact me, Norman or Georgina as soon as possible

On a non-pilgrimage note, please remember that our Ascension Day Liturgy will be celebrated in Nazareth House at 11:00 on Thursday May 25th.

In Christ – Fr Mark