ST CUTHBERT is one of the great Orthodox saints of England, who lived in the 7th century. Born in 634 or the following year, he entered the monastic life in 651 after a vision of the falling asleep of St Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne in the then powerful British kingdom of Northumbria.
Cuthbert was a monk at Melrose Abbey under St. Eata from 651 to 661. He moved briefly to Ripon, and then back to Melrose. He fell ill with the plague, and though he recovered his health was permanently undermined. All this affliction, of course, was making him a better servant of the Lord.
HE was affable and pleasant in his character; and when he was relating to the fathers the acts of their predecessors, as an incentive to piety, he would introduce also, in the meekest way, the spiritual benefits which the love of God had conferred upon himself. And this he took care to do in a covert manner, as if it had happened to another person.
Bede, “Life of St Cuthbert”, Chapter 7.
The Synod of Whitby in 664 saw the British Church harmonised with the Patriarchate in Rome and the rest of the Byzantine world, e.g. on the celebration of the date of Easter (all of this under the old Calendar, of course). While some monks refused to agree and departed for Ireland, Cuthbert remained in Britain, moving with St. Eata to Lindisfarne, where Cuthbert became prior and later abbot.
Lindisfarne is among a collection of small islands called the Farne Islands, and as St Cuthbert was more and more strongly drawn to the ascetic life (of a kind we now associate with the monasteries of Mount Athos), he moved to the isolation of Inner Farne in 676. It was here that he drew close to nature, befriending birds and wild animals, and standing in the sea to pray.
As others have found since, such was his fame that despite his desire for solitude, he was still constantly sought after. Great pressure was put on him by the King Ecgfrith of the Northumbrians to accept the See of Hexham. His tears of protest were unavailing, and he was elected in 684.
Happily, it was later agreed that St Eata would move to Hexham, and Cuthbert would take his mentor’s place on Lindisfarne instead. Cuthbert was consecrated Bishop on Easter Day (March 26) in 685 by the Greek St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury and six other bishops, in York.
For two years, the much-travelled Cuthbert served his diocese with energy and great spiritual power, combining generosity to the poor with a special ministry to the sick. His kindly character simply deepened.
SO devout and zealous was he in his desire after heavenly things, that, whilst officiating in the solemnity of the mass, he never could come to the conclusion thereof without a plentiful shedding of tears. But whilst he duly discharged the mysteries of our Lord’s passion, he would, in himself, illustrate that in which he was officiating; in contrition of heart he would sacrifice himself to the Lord; and whilst he exhorted the standers-by to lift up their hearts and to give thanks unto the Lord, his own heart was lifted up rather than his voice, and it was the spirit which groaned within him rather than the note of singing.
In his zeal for righteousness he was fervid to correct sinners, he was gentle in the spirit of mildness to forgive the penitent, so that he would often shed tears over those who confessed their sins, pitying their weaknesses, and would himself point out by his own righteous example what course the sinner should pursue. He used vestments of the ordinary description, neither noticeable for their too great neatness, nor yet too slovenly.
Bede, “Life of St Cuthbert”, Chapter 16.
Over time, he was able to become more reclusive in his hermitage among the Farne Islands in Northumbria. He practised an ascetic life little different to that of the great Elders of Mount Athos.
St Cuthbert came to be known as the Wonder-worker of Britain, and in later centuries, until displaced by the cult of St Thomas Becket of Canterbury, he was probably the country’s most beloved saint.
During the Christmas season of 686, declining health led him to resign his See, and Cuthbert withdrew to his quiet cell on Inner Farne, where he reposed on March 20, 687.
His shrine is to be found today in Durham Cathedral, which was built in his honour.
ST CUTHBERT is a fully-recognised saint of the Orthodox Churches. You can find a Biography of St Cuthbert on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and another at OrthodoxWiki. On the account of his life and significance on the Orthodox England website, he is styled “The English Seraphim of Sarov”.
A biography of the saint by his near-contemporary, the Benedictine monk of Jarrow St Bede (672/3-735), can be read at Mediaeval Sourcebook.
Apolytikion in the Third Tone
WHILE still in thy youth thou didst lay aside all worldly care and didst take up the sweet yoke of Christ, O godly-minded Cuthbert, and thou wast shown forth in truth to be nobly radiant in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore, God established thee as a rule of faith and shepherd of His rational flock, O converser with Angels and intercessor for men.
From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Kontakion in the First Tone
HAVING surpassed thy brethren in prayers, fasting, and vigils, thou wast found worthy to entertain a pilgrim-angel; and having shone forth with humility as a bright lamp set on high, thou didst receive the gift of wonderworking. And now as thou dwellest in the heavenly Kingdom, O our righteous Father Cuthbert, intercede with Christ God that our souls be saved.
From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
An Akathist to St Cuthbert
The Orthodox England website has a new-composed Akathist to St Cuthbert. This is a substantial and very clever liturgical commemoration of St Cuthbert in traditional “church” English, based on the biography by his near-contemporary, St Bede. The following prayer is taken from it:
WHOLLY present in the counsel of the saints is the grace of the Holy Spirit, while in no way absent from their ascetic struggle, for these labours bring forth holiness of life, whose fruit is sweetness for all who taste of it, thereby yearning all the more to know the sweetness of Him Who was born of the Virgin, and to sing such words as these:
Rejoice, thou who by Divine providence pourest forth abundant healings.
Rejoice, thou whose miracles draw the faithful to Christ.
Rejoice, thou who in thy life didst heal thy sister by the touch of thy relic.
Rejoice, thou whose relics are given by God for veneration in the present age.
Rejoice, thou earthly Cherub.
Rejoice, thou flesh-bearing Seraph.
Rejoice, thou who dost restore broken flesh to completeness.
Rejoice, thou who yokest together dust of earth and godliness.
Rejoice, thou who by prayer healest the sickness of transgressions.
Rejoice, thou who by supplications grantest the taste of Paradise.
Rejoice, cincture, binding the wounds of the lovers of Christ.
Rejoice, thou hope in eternal healings.
Rejoice, O Holy Wonderworker Cuthbert!
Below is an image of the pectoral cross worn by the Bishop, which can still be seen today in the Treasury at Durham Cathedral.