An Orthodox retreat on Iona



The Iona Orthodox Centre 2009 could not have functioned at all without the presence, the prayers, the financial support, the furniture removals also the cooking and cleaning skills provided by our guests, clergy and lay. Our heartfelt thanks is due to all who made possible Iona 2009.

Here are some of their comments and photos:

Fr. Raphael Pavouris:

Last September from the 23-25th I visited the island of Iona on a retreat organised by Ignatios Bacon, our Reader in the Highland Orthodox Community.

This was my second visit to Iona. The first was about 17 years ago when I was a new student at Glasgow University. My impression of Iona then was not that extraordinary; it was cold, wet, windy and the services at the Abbey felt alien.

This last time was very different. Leaving Fionnphort for Iona felt a little like leaving Ouranoupolis for the Holy Mountain. The island itself felt much more spiritual than the first time and had something more to teach me. This time the island felt holy. Was it the beautiful services at the Chapel – especially when taken by Fr David Gill? Was it the fellowship with such good brothers and sisters, fellow-Christians from whom I learnt and was inspired? Was it the selfless love and movingly tireless care and devotion of Reader Ignatios? Surely it was all of the above together with the loving Grace of Our God through the prayers of St Columba that made this retreat on Iona a time to remember and draw strength from.

Fr. Raphael Pavouris

Marina Lisurenko:

"I was told that the sun always shines when the Orthodox community comes to the island and I certainly was not disappointed! I enjoyed the peaceful landscape, beautiful sunrises and most of all the wonderful, kind people  that made my stay even more special. The island brings together Christians of different denominations to celebrate their faith in unity and that to me is "the magic of Iona"..."

Reader Ignatios outside St. Oran's Chapel

Joanna outside Iona Abbey          Rdr. Ignatios & Marina: Clachanach Prayer Room       

Fr. Marcel Oprisan:

Maybe in no other way can we see, and really find out the meaning of Orthodoxy, as in living this life with, and in the greatest love for, the Saints; that is, "COMMUNION WITH THE CHURCH IN HEAVEN".

As a Romanian   living in Western Europe it is a great thing to discover its saints, who a long time ago in the earliest centuries were tried; all-glorious has been their suffering. The Saints of that time the Orthodox Church considered most worthy   of honour.

We too should do the same; praying and venerating them, like going to the Isle of Iona, where thousands of monks lived and Glorified Our God. Iona is an amazing place, and I want to thank Ignatios and his wife Joanna for the opportunity to go there for the pilgrimage they organised.

May the Lord Our God and all the Saints be with you

St. Columba's Blessing

Matushka Jenny Musther:

In September 2009, Father John Musther, myself and two of our friends from "The Orthodox Community of St Mungo, St Cuthbert and Herbert," Keswick, Cumbria, paid our first visit to Iona. We stayed in "Clachanach", which for three weeks was appointed as an Orthodox retreat house, thanks to our host, Reader Ignatios Bacon, and under the blessing of Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia.

Every visitor to Iona realises very quickly that this is a very special place. We were blessed with fine weather and drank in both the visual delights of the island and then those unseen but deeply experienced ones. We had the privilege of participating in Orthodox worship in the beautiful 12th century chapel of St Oran. One of my special memories is of walking down the coast road from Clachanach, our retreat house, to the chapel, for Matins just as dawn was breaking. God's presence seemed very close.

Prayer of the heart comes easier in such a setting, walking over the hills and exploring the beautiful history-rich coastline. The time passed too quickly, but we all came away blessed and refreshed, and would highly recommend such a retreat to others. The tremendous effort and energy invested into the retreat project by our host was greatly appreciated.

On the last morning, the fine weather broke but somehow it seemed very fitting to walk down to the ferry in sheeting rain. It reminded us of the extreme devotion and stamina of those who trod this way back through the centuries and also of the gift of living water in abundance to the thirsty soul.

Holy Columba, pray for us!


 Jenny in Iona Nunnery Garden              The Hermit's Cell        Fr. John Musther: St. Columba's Shrine

Jonathan Cowley:

"Thank you again to both you and Joanna for your hospitality and kindness during last week of September. I hope to return to Iona, and I pray monastacism will return to the island."

                                 St. Columba's Bay                                             St. Columba in Clachanach

John Butler:

Orthodox Retreat on Iona, Sept. 2009

With the blessing of Metropolitan Kallistos, Reader Ignatios Bacon of the Highland Orthodox Community hired a house in Iona for 3 weeks in September, and invited fellow Orthodox to stay – a week being suggested, more or less. From our parish, Fr David with John and Tatiana, took up the opportunity.

Lying off the western coast of Mull, Iona is not very big, with one small village of not more than 50 houses, but every day, via two ferries and a bus, pilgrims make the three hour journey there from Oban. Historical Christianity first arrived in 563 with St Columba though, in the mystic fairyland, which opens up to all who love the Hebrides, one feels that sanctity is naturally here. Action takes place around the thrice ruined and restored abbey, most recently inspired by George MacLeod, a Glasgow clergyman who, in the depression of the 30’s, sought to make his Church more relevant to people’s daily life. His legacy - the Iona Community, puts on wide ranging programmes of Christian concern and, with admirable open heartedness, welcomed our little Orthodox presence in their midst.

* * *

Beneath the anoraks and woolly caps, it’s wonderful to feel that almost every person one meets shares in the faith that need is best met by turning to God. Long lists of requests for prayer aroused my interest in what it is, and how the practice may improve.

Iona is described as a place where the veil between heaven and earth grows very thin. I remember an old man with shaky legs, feeling his frailty on rocks above the sea; and also the ferry, bringing its daily input of humanity - to disappear again, as temporal as tides.

The search for truth in man is helped by seeing and letting go of what he’s not – the changeable and fallible that lacks and dies. What happens then? The pure, unsullied person comes to light – now free of worldly cares. To some extent, everyone who visits Iona will shed some outer dross, feel cleansed and purified – renewed. Iona helps us lay aside our temporary parts – but feeds us with the Spirit that endures. All this seems part of prayer.

Quiet and attentive before the face of Nature, hearts may open to receive yet more. Then wind and water, earth and sky, angels of every sort recall us to graciousness, our poverty to providence, and transience, in part at least, to everlasting life. Our Holy Mother, Mother Earth readily connects with still, reflective depths (or heights) which, in us too, can bring to birth a realisation of the Lord, I am. Compared with ordinary thought, this lifts us up to thereby see the whole and perfect One, I am, in all.

… which brings us back to prayer. What is the aim of it? A hope of further change on earth, or spiritual salvation of the soul? Human helplessness before those lists compels surrender to Almighty God though, not surprisingly, we cling to form until it’s clear that Spirit is I am. Watching the varied pilgrims in the abbey; thinking of that world-wide need for prayer; somehow in my own heart, too … it seems … that all the prayers of all mankind are channelled through one heart, One heart of all. Iona of my heart, my love, as St Columba is reputed to have said.

* * *

When a great stone Celtic cross stands unmoved for 1,000 years, it brings something more to the eyes. In ancient St Oran’s chapel, last resting place of long forgotten kings, Orthodox have had their turn to pray beside the graves. I hesitate to give our names – our moments of appearance on this island stage. These stones have seen it all. Three billion years of Hebridean granite puts man in proportion. Walking home half sheltered by a rocky ridge from the force of a westerly gale … even Christianity seems but a breath in time.

The Iona Community in the abbey nearby fulfils its mission to encourage souls to God. Beyond … Iona calls. On occasions at night when cloud allows, stars shine amazingly clear. Well washed by pure Atlantic rain, sheep’s wool is bright and clean, as are the frogs, and pristine colours on the autumn moors. Pure places wash us, too. Impurity recedes and God appears. Celtic tradition says that God wrote two books – a great one and a small – Nature and the Bible. The abbey worship book confidently states that God is everything, each stone His word, each item of our food His flesh and blood. Iona really helps us understand it.

We come and go by sea. Surrounded by pure elements, churches rise and fall; words fade into silence; our presence shrinks in absence of a world which makes us more important than we are. Iona does not flatter man but helps him to expand. She opens up to Spirit. Nameless and formless may seem daunting to the unprepared, but when it happens naturally e.g. before great space and beauty, it’s found to be fulfilment, and leads us further into the development and destiny of prayer. Allowing ourselves to transcend limit unifies the separate, while man in sin is rediscovered spiritually free.

In unlit darkness before dawn, a buffeting wind throws me off the path which leads to St Columba’s shrine. Outside, a massive cross … inside, in Spirit … wholeness, as the world can never be.

* * *

We’ve long been looking for a holiday with nature, modest living and spiritual purpose. Communal life can bring a mix of blessings, but there’s always space on Iona to escape. There’s hope of the retreat being repeated next year if sufficient interest is found. Both feeling so enriched by the experience, we would be glad to return.

It rained as we hurried from our last morning office to the pier. I’m sure that many people, saying good-bye, would feel they leave some heart behind and find themselves in tears. It happened so to me.

                               John Butler in St Oran's Chapel                      Tatiana Butler


"The Iona Orthodox House is a beautiful place to gather spiritual and physical strength with its atmosphere of harmony and hospitality. Services in the chapel, prayers, and discussions about the life of the Saints, Iona and Orthodoxy made me “stop” and relax from my everyday routine. Every day we explored and enjoyed the island's beauty. My thanks to Fr. Rapael, Ignatios and Joanna who organised such a beautiful time and “created” for me a very warm memory about Iona." Natalia Chechina 

Maria, Mihaela, Fr. Raphael, Ignatios

It has been more than one year since we came to Iona in April 2010. We stayed only for five days but long enough to stamp the stay in our hearts forever. In the middle of nature with the ocean on the west side with its blue water, and sheep and cows in the green pasture happy to enjoy a rich meal free of chemicals. That was a perfect stay far away from so called “civilized” places.

From a spiritual point of view we came back enriched by the participation for the first time in our life in a unique religious activity offered by the small chapel close to the Iona Abbey. We still remember tourists who popped in to have a look at our small congregation and left their contribution on the plate.

Thanks to Father Raphael’s devoted activity and yours, Ignatios, thanks also to Father Columba who sacrificed an evening for the discussion in Clachanach and other hours to participate in the Liturgy, also to Presbytera Elisabeth for singing in the choir - we were blessed to live such unforgettable days.

Too many words sometimes are useless, so I would like to recommend the place and to encourage other Orthodox Christians to visit Iona. They will have a unique experience in their life.

Thank you again Ignatios and long life! We hope that you will hold the flame alive better than any Olympic Games participant!

Mihaela, Maria, Daniel



 Cairn  on  top  of  Dun  I Fr. Raphael, Daniel, Ignatios, Natalia



Doubly removed from the mainland, Iona is a place where one can truly retreat from worldly distraction and enter the place of the heart. The indelible grace of God has soaked into the earth and stones of this beautiful island from the blessing of the great Saint Columba, from the breath of monastic prayer over many centuries, and from the bones of unknown martyrs and saints which no doubt still lie hidden beneath its soil. It was indeed lovely to participate in Orthodox worship in the setting of St Oran's Chapel, and to enjoy the company of the devout Romanian and Russian pilgrims with whom I travelled to Iona, to be so warmly welcomed by Reader Ignatios and his wife Joanna, who labour tirelessly to restore the Orthodox tradition in Iona, and who deserve every support in their great efforts.

Fr. Dn. Mark Mitchell


May 7 2011, having made a late decision to take a post Pascha vacation 10 days earlier than I had originally intended, I found myself crossing the Sound between Mull and Iona, some 18 or so years after my first visit on a pilgrimage led by the then Bishop Kallistos Ware.

Now, I couldn’t but help noticing how the very light itself seemed to change about half way across the Sound, becoming somehow more intense and yet more ethereal.

I was met by Reader Ignatios Bacon at the quayside and soon made very warmly welcome along with another guest ……at our hermitage overlooking an ever-changing sea (ever sure!) with its deep purple-red hues, and an earth-pink cliffed Mull on the far sometimes ‘rusted’ horizon.

What was it that made the place and time so special? The family we pilgrims, albeit so briefly, constituted? The warmth and friendliness of the other visitors and folk from both near and far whom we encountered? The unfolding days, which were predictable weather wise only in so far that there was a daily round of sun and at times, heavy showers—eagerly anticipated by this particular pilgrim, as I watched with awe, the skyscape and landscape perpetually changing its mantle of light and dark, now opaque and then so deeply transparent—the ‘ordinary’ shot through with, even, what seemed to me, at times, like glimpses of the Numinous…?

Knowing that there was a warm and prayerful home to which to return, I happily ventured out to meet each days’ ‘gifts ’in what appeared as ‘ordinary’ language; seen landscape and its creaturely inhabitants; at times, a sense of an over-arching Presence brooding, shining over , through all; gentle ‘intimations’ of something eternal and forever bright…

Matins and Vespers, faithfully led by our Reader, Ignatios Bacon, each day, whatever the weather, and the noon day prayers in the house, (the latter brief but somehow warm and sweet), saw various visitors taste albeit briefly, the clarity and depth of Orthodox worshipful prayer, as we gathered (privileged to be present in this, the first and original chapel, so imbued with prayer and worship from those early times) with St. Columba, the pilgrims and saints. Till now even, resonant voices beckoning for Christ--- the jewel of their fervour and trust. We, somehow privileged to take part in the day’s worship, as we took turns to sing or assist Ignatius Bacon - listening to the poetic words from the Pentecostarian, for example, their light, wisdom, and healing love, and their evocative imagery imbuing our inner landscapes with wonder and Mystery. Somehow, the veils separating us from the Beyond appear ‘thinner’ here and can allow a finding - deep, still, spaciousness in the very air and climes we breathed, and even in, above, and below/around, the words given each day for us to share and ‘take in’ and ‘break’ (metaphysical) bread (meaning) with, during the set times of communal prayer.

So for me, this time especially was given to exploring some of the depths of the Near and Far - the ‘near’ being very present in the sharings of being in community, however small, and in the near details of the landscape and or its inhabitants about one at any given moment; the ‘far’ came to me at any rate as the Beyond, that ever present but usually only dimly sensed Presence within our deep heart and within the beauty of the created world about us calling to us, calling to be known, and loved - and in what the prayer life in the little chapel could and would stir in the heart - inscapes which were also near and also far.

Ignatios , himself, very alert and present to each moment, whether in the formal worship or in the attention to detail and delicious home-cooked food he prepared and lovingly produced for us, and for the guests who visited during that week together.

Rich fare indeed. Do come and taste, and see for yourselves.

Nina Manston