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St. Martin's Cross (foreground) and St. John's Cross (background), two high crosses near Iona Abbey

Iona, population 175, is a small island (1 mile wide, 3.5 miles long) of the Inner Hebrides, Scotland.


In 563 St. Columba of Iona, exiled from his native Ireland, founded a monastery here, and from here Orthodox Christianity spread to the rest of Scotland. Numerous martyrs and other saints were produced from Iona, including not only St. Columba but also St. Aidan of Lindisfarne and others. Many believe that the Book of Kells was produced on Iona at this time. The monastery survived until the Protestant Reformation.

Iona also became the burial site for the kings of Dalriada and their successors, the early kings of Scotland.

The Modern Era

St. Columba's Bay, where the saint first landed on Iona

In 1938 the Church of Scotland Minister George MacLeod founded the Iona Community, an "ecumenical" Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church that is committed to seeking new ways of living the gospel of Jesus Christ in today's world. The Community, which has care of the abbey, despite its ecumenical scope, is primarily affiliated to the [Church of Scotland, to whose General Assembly it reports annually.

The community is doctrinally liberal, strongly committed to working for social justice and produces much contemporary Celtic Christian material through its Wild Goose arm. Such material, however, is at wide variance with Orthodox Christianity (e.g. in its frequent avoidance of the Trinitarian name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and its replacement with economic descriptions of divine action, such as 'Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier'). This said, the community is not tied up with any form of neo-pagan Celtic religion.

Iona Abbey is of particular historical and religious interest to pilgrims, and also of note is Iona Nunnery, a site of 13th century ruins and a colourful garden. Iona is popular among visitors for its tranquility and natural beauty. It is often described by Iona community members as a 'thin' place, at which God is less hidden than in the city. Its geographical features include the Bay at the Back of the Ocean and the Hill with His Back to Ireland, said to be adjacent to the beach where St. Columba landed.

Orthodoxy and Iona Today

Martyrs Bay, where 68 monks were massacred by Vikings in 806 A.D.

In 1997, Friends of Orthodoxy on Iona was founded, being the 1400th anniversary of the repose of St. Columba of Iona. They are an informal group (mainly composed of Orthodox Christians but also welcoming Christians of other traditions) which organizes pilgrimages to Iona and related holy sites in the British Isles.

Their chairman is Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who often leads the pilgrimages, and they have counted among their patrons Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh until his repose in 2003.

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