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The Practice of Cross Vigil

I'm often asked about the meaning of this term.

The tribes to which the chiefs belonged sent to Abban to come and help them. He betook himself to 'cross-vigil' to God with a view to this...

  - Anonymous, Life of Abban (Irish, 17th century, from an earlier ms.)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake...

  - Philippians 1.29

The practice of the "cross-vigil" - crosfigell - has ancient roots in Celtic Christianity. Abban was a priest working in Ireland perhaps even before Patrick arrived. Patrick shows up in the Life of Abban, but he in no way overwhelms Abban as the central figure of the story.

Cross vigil involved praying - lying or standing, mostly the latter - with one's arms extended in the shape of a cross, palms upwards. The discipline does not seem to have been part of the normal spiritual regimen, such as praying, singing, and reading Scripture. Cross vigil shows up at special seasons of the year, in cases of urgency (as in this story of Abban's intercession for warring tribes), or as part of a practice of penance. The most famous crosfigell episode in the literature has Kevin of Glendalough praying so long in crosfigell that a blackbird built a nest in his palm, laid eggs, and fledged the hatchlings.

Yeah, that's a long time to pray. And that, not the historicity of the details, is the point of the story.

The idea behind cross vigil is to enter into the sufferings of Christ and, by so doing, to draw His mercy to the sufferer and those he intends to serve. If you have never tried this discipline, let me encourage you to do so. If you make it past 5 or 10 minutes, drop me a line and let me know.

Crosfigell symbolizes much that I love about Celtic Christianity: rigorous spiritual discipline, self-denial leading to suffering for the wellbeing of others, the use of the body in the worship of God, the seriousness which the life of faith demands. I'm often asked about the meaning of this term, which adorns the banner of our thrice-weekly newsletter, and now you know.

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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