By Jim Forest
One of the stories told about St Columba has to do with a custom still familiar to Orthodox Christians. How often we bring an object that has special significance in one’s life, for example an icon, and ask a priest to give it a special blessing. Blessing an entire home, room by room, is common. Columba was so highly regarded that a great many people came to him for such blessings. For Columba this must at times have been a distraction, something done when his thoughts were elsewhere. Thus it isn’t surprising that one day he gave a blessing to a warrior’s sword. In a flash he realized he had made a mistake. The very last thing he wanted to do was bless a deadly weapon. It was because of his complicity in war earlier in his life that he had left Ireland and sought penitential exile on the island of Iona. The question now was what to do with this freshly blessed sword? Columba decided to give a second, more restrictive blessing. He called on God to keep the blade sharp only so long as the sword were used in the kitchen. It would henceforth be a baker’s sword, perfect for slicing bread.
Not all legends told of the saints are true in the sense the word “true” would be used by a contemporary journalist or historian, but this story has the ring of unornamented truth about it.
Having witnessed the horror and fever of war, Columba had renounced swords and warfare. Once he arrived on Iona, he dedicated himself and his small brotherhood to a vocation of conversion and peacemaking. He sought a life modeled on the earthly ministry of Jesus and shaped by his words in the Gospel. Christ is a threat to no one. He blesses neither executions nor war. Instead he says, “I have come to give life and give it more abundantly.”
Christ told Peter to put aside his sword, but Christ’s attitude to enmity and conflict is not simply negative. It involves more than refusing to possess or use deadly weapons. Jesus builds on the commandment not to kill by adding a new commandment, the commandment to love, and to love not only friends but enemies.