Interesting article. Further demonstrating the strong relationship between the Slavic and Celtic peoples.

The Breath of the Spirit from the North:
Celts in Kyiv

Saint Olha the Great was visited by numerous religious groups who contended with one another for the heart and mind of her Realm of Kyivan Rus'-Ukraine. Among those who came to preach before her was what must have appeared to her Court as a rag-tag group of modestly attired missionaries paddling their little boats called "birinns" in the river Dniepro-Slavutych. These were Celtic Christians who entered Kyivan Rus' through the northern waters near Novhorod, as did the Varangians and others. How are the Celts related to Kyivan Christianity and what was their impact on its subsequent development?

Like the Copts and Ethiopians to the south and the Georgians and the Armenians to the East, the Celtic Christians represented another integral amalgam of the Gospel with the local culture of a people whose cultural foot-prints can be found across Europe.

Celtic culture itself first came about somewhere in the Carpathian mountains, according to one view, when someone from the "La Tene" culture came into contact with another from the "Hallstadt" culture.

Celts were a nomadic, warlike people who were called "wild" by all they came into contact with. "Wal" or "wild" therefore became a prefix to many place names associated with them, including "Wales," "Cornwall," "Wallachia" and "Wallonia." Even "Walnuts" were associated with them!

The northern part of the Iberian peninsula was formerly inhabited by Celtic tribes and this area was called "Celtiberia." The King of Scots, Macbeth, stopped by here on his way to Rome and was able to converse freely with the people. Today, the descendants of Celtiberia belong to the seventh Celtic nation of . . . "Galicia" and their language, which can be studied at the Spanish universities, is "Galiz."

Paris, France was founded by the Celtic fishermen called the "Parisii" and the heads that decorate Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral recall an early Celtic war ritual of placing the heads of one's decapitated enemies up on walls. Contemporary hunters still follow this practice . . .

There were Celts in Crimea and Khersonese was built by them.

The Scottish Declaration of Arbroath, which was Scotlands proclamation of independence before the world in the time of Robert the Bruce, stated that the Scots came originally from Scythia! "Scottia" was a play on the word "Scythia" and this was why the patron saint of the Scots was St Andrew, the Apostle of Scythia in what is now Ukraine.

St Ninian of Galloway, St Columcille of Iona and St Patrick of Eire are the names of some of the early Celtic missionaries who welded Celtic culture with Christianity to establish a unique Church and tradition.

The Celtic countries originally had no cities which is why the monastic Abbots had greater administrative power than the bishops, since the bishops were related to urban centres and the Celtic Christian communities were therefore organized with a focus on the monastery.

The Celtic missionaries tended to bless a great deal of the Celtic pre-Christian heritage, a process they called "saining" or "sanctifying."

They borrowed much from the Druidic tradition and numerous Celtic missionaries were former Druids such as St Kenneth.

St Ninian and others established Churches within the familiar stone circles of the Druids where they worshipped or else in sacred groves.

The Celtic Christians even had their own unique form of the "Chi Rho" Cross or the emblem of St Constantine the Great. This was the haloed Celtic Cross which also hearkened to the sun cult of the Druids.

The Celtic Cross as such was also employed by the Church of Kyiv and Christ Himself was likened to "our Sun, our Life and Paradise." The grave of Taras Shevchenko if marked, in fact, with a Celtic style Cross. Both traditions shared a pre-Christian cult of the sun! Another example of this is the round shape of traditional Ukrainian bread.

The Celtic Liturgy also had numerous ritual instances that reflected and represented the circular motion and shape of the sun. The later Roman Christians who opposed Celtic Christianity saw in this a "carry-over" of paganism they felt needed to be expunged . . .

The Celtic monks followed the austerities of the Coptic Desert, whose impact they felt as a result of close contact with that spiritual culture.

The Order of the "Friends of God" or "Celi De" prayed the Psalter daily, sometimes standing in cold water to keep awake and alert. Celtic spirituality was the only one that practiced prostrations and other Eastern Church traditions.

Their austerities included making the supreme sacrifice of their own country for Christ. When the Irish missionary, St Columcille chose the island of Iona at which to station his core army of evangelizers, he was asked why that particular island. He replied that he couldn't see Ireland from there, and so wouldn't be tempted to return home!

The Celts were intrepid travellers over land and sea. St Brendan the Navigator is said to have visited Baffin Island in northern Canada, as well as Newfoundland.

Archaeological excavations today provide at least some support for this legend and Christopher Columbus himself visited Ireland to read Brendan's logbooks before setting out to discover the route to China himself.

Celtic religious and cultural influences on the Church of Kyiv were more indirect than direct, but the similarities are remarkable owing to the similar of their pre-Christian value system and practices.

The pagan reaction against Christianity under St Olha's son, Svyatoslav the Warrior, included, as its object of persecution, the Celtic missionaries that Olha allowed to be stationed at Kyiv.

The view is also advanced that the Celtic missionaries in Kyiv communicated effectively how the local culture can be "sained" within the Christian message to great success.

Again, evidence to support this view is strong.

The Kyivan Church established an early precedent by expanding widely the "Trebnyk" or "Book of Blessings for various Needs."

Two entire volumes were added, in fact, thicker than the first two that included blessings of every known personal, familial and workplace need in the lives of the new Eastern Slavic Christians.

The only other parallel to this would be in the Celtic Christian world.

Both Celtic and Kyivan Christianity experienced a period of time when the pre-Christian and Christian Rites existed side by side until such time as the former were completely reinterpreted within the Christian faith.

Both Celtic and Kyivan Christianity shared the same preoccupation with the role of nature within God's plan. Both were rooted in nature and lived closely to its rhythms and powers. Both developed a mysticism and culture that was nature-based along agricultural and rural lines.

Both traditions developed a strong monastic base and focus.

It was the Kyvian Caves Lavra that was and is the heart of Kyivan Christianity. The Rite of the Kyvian Church was developed there. The great Saints of Ukraine were nurtured and are venerated there.

Its early Metropolitans were either tonsured there or were trained there. Normally, the Metropolitan of Kyiv would also be the Archimandrite of the Kyivan Caves Lavra, as was St Peter Mohila, uniting the monastic and hierarchical offices, as occurred within Celtic Christianity.

Both traditions shared a far-reaching missionary vision. The Kyivan missionaries were likewise trained and tonsured at the Lavra and brought Kyiv's Christian culture throughout the length and breadth of the European and Asian continents.

And both traditions had to struggle to survive against cultural and spiritual predators.

North Americans today are discovering the riches of the Celtic heritage, including a "back to nature" movement.

The genius of Celtic Christianity is one in which we can all share. It is also one that characterizes the Kyivan Church itself.

The Spirit does indeed blow where He wills!

Dr. Alexander Roman