Orthodoxy on the Isles
March 14, 2014 Length: 12:45
Bobby Maddex interviews Fr. Serafim Aldea, a Romanian Orthodox monk who is starting a monastic community on an island off the coast of Scotland. Can you assist him in his efforts to raise the money needed to purchase the land?
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Welcome to Ancient Faith Presents. I’m Bobby Maddex, operations manager of Ancient Faith Radio, and today I will be speaking to Fr. Serafim Aldea, a Romanian Orthodox monk who is starting a monastic community on an island off the coast of Scotland. Fr. Serafim, welcome to the program.
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Thank you so much for inviting me.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Are you cradle Orthodox, are you a convert? How did you end up a monk?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: I’m pretty much both at the same time. I have been baptized, like everyone in a traditional Orthodox country, but I have been baptized in a time when Romania was a Communist country, so my parents don’t really have much to do with the Church. I myself discovered the Church when I was 18 or 19, so in a way I’m a convert as well.
Monasticism was never an option in the sense that when I discovered the Church and I discovered Christianity, I basically wanted it all or not at all. So it basically happened at the same time I entered the Church. I decided to become a monk, and then when my father-confessor finally gave his blessing, I entered a monastery.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: And where have you been serving up to this point?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: I entered a monastery called Râșca, which is in northern Moldavia. It is one of those painted monasteries, if you think of Voroneț or Gura Humorului, one of those that have paintings on the outside; Râșca is one of that group. And I’d been there until 2009, when I got a scholarship to do a PhD with Fr. Andrew Louth, in Durham in England on Fr. Sophrony’s ecclesiology.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: So why did you decide to start this monastery, and why in Scotland of all places?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Now that I look back, it’s very easy to rewrite history. There’s always a temptation. The truth is my history with England at least started in 2003-2004, when I went to there to study for the first time for an MA. I felt this attraction to Scotland and especially the Hebrides, for no reason whatsoever. I just felt, “That is my home, and that is the place I must get back to sometime.” Then I entered the monastery, and then I thought I would live in Moldavia forever. Then I was offered that PhD, and then the first two months in my PhD, someone told me that there is an abandoned church in the Hebrides and would I want to go there? I know, looking back, I want to say I’ve been attracted by the saints there—St. Columba—the truth is that I’ve only discovered all that history afterwards.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Then what are your plans for the monastery? How large would you like to it to be? What will the monks do to help sustain the monastery?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: I don’t plan to have anything large, and in many ways I can’t actually do it. I can’t do it, because, being the UK, you’ve got a million planning permissions and ordinances and applications you have to fill, so I can’t build a very large building, but a small five-to-six monastic community seems excellent to me. What I envisioned is a monastery that is British, 100% dedicated to the Orthodox communities in Britain, and trying to somehow resurrect or reimagine that English or Celtic tradition of the Hebridean island. That is what I would really like to see.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Tell me, Fr. Serafim, about the property you will be using for the monastery. You said it’s abandoned?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Yes, it’s called Kilninian, which simply means “Church of Ninian.” It is a church that used to belong to the Church of Scotland until, I think, the ‘80s, when it was deconsecrated. After that it was bought by a group of Catholic monks who tried to establish a monastery. They couldn’t; they didn’t succeed. They couldn’t find land to buy; after a number of years, they had just given up. When they left, they just donated the church to us. So what we have is an empty, beautiful 1766 building, but unfortunately there’s no land around it, so there’s no other buildings.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: As I understand it, the patron saints of the monastery would be Ss. Ninian and Cuthbert. What can you tell me about those two saints?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: The original, initial patron saint was St. Ninian. I’ve added St. Cuthbert, just because I’ve spent four years in Durham, next to his shrine, and in these four years I really just fell in love with St. Cuthbert. He’s such a warm and loving saint, embracing and just always ready to help. When I ended up at Kilninian, I somehow missed him.
God made it so that I met Sister Marina, a wonderful, wonderful woman who helped us a great deal in getting this church, and she was praying at that time for the unity for the Orthodox in the British Isles, and I thought, “Well, we’ve got St. Ninian who’s specifically Scottish. Why not add St. Cuthbert as well, who’s specifically English?” That way we can actually pray for that unity.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Very good. Now, you mentioned just a short while ago that there’s no room to build any additional buildings on that property, and I understand also that the church building that is currently there is a historical monument and the land around is categorized as an outstanding natural beauty area. So what are the implications for you of all these designations?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: It’s really quite simple. If the church is declared a monument, and a church as old as Kilninian is a monument, you simply cannot change its architecture or its structure in any way. In other words, I can’t have the cells inside the church, for instance. The fact that Kilninian is in an area of outstanding natural beauty—it sounds wonderful; it is wonderful, but in truth again it implies all sorts of limitations. For instance, what we can build should be smaller, at least the perspective from the road should look smaller than Kilninian itself, and the church is quite tiny. It must also be somehow hid behind Kilninian, so it doesn’t affect the scenery. But that’s not really a big problem, because I wasn’t aiming and I’d never trade for a big monastic place. I really want this to be a tiny monastic and also missionary center, so five, six, if God allows, seven monastics living there would be a wonderful thing.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Is there anybody currently residing at the monastery, and if not, when do you plan to move in?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: At the present moment, it’s illegal to live at the monastery. Being the UK, again, with health and safety regulations, although one cannot live in a church or in a building that doesn’t have running water or toilets, the only thing I can do is to run around and present this monastery to people so that, God willing, towards September this coming autumn, I would be able to buy the piece of land surrounding the monastery. Once I have that piece of land, I can use an ancient spring on that territory—it’s actually called the Spring of Ninian—to draw water from it. I can build a septic tank and have a toilet, and then I can move in.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Now you are at St. Vladimir’s Seminary currently. Are you in the States to raise funds? Is that why you’re here?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Yes, that is why I’m here. Unlike the group of Catholic monks, we’ve been a bit luckier, and people on Mull have been extremely, extremely friendly and helpful and open to us, so we’ve found at least the land to buy and have signed the contracts to it, but until September I must fund-raise and I must get, somehow, £65,000 to buy a five-acre land. So, yes, I am at St. Vladimir’s. They’ve been very nice to me, offering accommodation and support, and I travel every weekend to various parishes. I present the monastery, and I receive donations.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Okay, and how has the fund-raising been going so far?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: People are very supportive. People are very, very supportive, but I understand that in many ways, they need a personal relationship to me. Yes, it matters that the monastery is in such a historically important place for Orthodoxy. It does matter that everybody seems to love St. Cuthbert and St. Ninian, and it matters enormously that many people in America have their roots in that Irish-Scottish tradition, but they also need a relationship to me, and that makes things go rather slowly for what we need now, because we need that amount of money until September.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Well, there may be a listener or two out there who, just by listening to your voice and by our conversation here today may want to help out the monastery. How can listeners learn more about you, learn more about the monastery, and then also offer their assistance?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Well, I started this whole thing and I got my bishop’s blessing and my father-confessor’s blessing to try and establish the monastery in [the] Hebrides. I really didn’t know that my first worry was how to introduce myself to people on Mull without scaring them. You know, we look kind of weird with our long beards and being dressed in black, and they are British. So the first thing I did was to establish a website: mullmonastery.com, “Mull” being M-u-double-l. And in time, over months, that website actually grew, and it now contains information about me, a way to contact me, and pretty much everything we’ve discussed so far is there, is on the monastery website.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: And you said again that is Mullmonastery, m-u-l-l-monastery? Is that correct?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Dot-com, yes.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Dot-com. Okay.
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Mullmonastery.com
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Mullmonastery.com, and we’ll be sure to put a link to the website on our description of this particular episode of Ancient Faith Presents. Father, is there anything else you’d like to add before I let you go today?
Fr. Serafim Aldea: People who’ve been there somehow are the biggest supporters. People who have been to Iona, which is like a stone’s throw away from Mull—you actually have to stop on Mull to get to Iona—they are the biggest supporters, and they understand why it’s so important for Mull to take back Western Europe. I feel as if we’re moving towards other countries, other areas, like Africa, South America, and that’s wonderful, but we forget that we have our roots, or a big part of our roots, in Europe, and if we let go of that, that will impact back on us.
The last thing, especially for Americans—it’s striking how many people have their ancestors coming from either Ireland or Scotland or England. It’s as if you are somehow rebaptizing your own roots by supporting this monastery in [the] Hebrides. It’s the first Orthodox monastery in the Hebrides in over a millennium, more or less since the Celtic Church there disappeared.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Wow. Well, Father, I really appreciate you taking some time out of your day today to tell us a little bit about the monastery. It’s just a pleasure to meet you.
Fr. Serafim Aldea: I appreciate so much you giving me the chance to tell everyone about the monastery, and, God willing, you never know: maybe one day we’ll have you as a guest in the monastery.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Ah, that would be wonderful. Like many, I have roots in the UK as well. My family is Welsh, and we’ve never been.
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Well, when you come, just go on the website, get my email, and let me know.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: All right. Sounds very good. Thank you for joining me.
Fr. Serafim Aldea: Thank you.
Mr. Bobby Maddex: Once again, I have been speaking with Fr. Serafim Aldea. I’m Bobby Maddex, and this has been a listener-supported presentation of Ancient Faith Radio, on the web at ancientfaith.com.