At times, Christ finds a soul who so loves Him and so gives herself to Him that He fully unites Himself with her, and the human soul becomes Christ-like even in this life. For such souls, though, earthly life is usually not long anyway. They either bury themselves in a cave of the earth, of the world buries them in a grave.
The lives of Saints Kilian, Colonat and Totnan were unknown to me until a lovely lady from Germany commissioned the Monastery to write an icon of their martyrdom. These three Celtic Saints – a bishop, a priest and a deacon – brought Christ to the very people who eventually killed them. As is so often the case, their message of love was fought back with hatred. Their offer of the Gift of Eternal Life was rewarded with suffering and death.
In some way, though, the hatred of the world is almost irrelevant for these souls. It is irrelevant because whoever gives himself fully to Christ knows deep down from the very beginning that love will make him One with Christ. And, because they are One, they will share both Life Eternal and death on the Cross.
When they came to kill Saints Kilian, Colonat and Totnan, the saints fought back the only way Love allows one to fight back. Rather than reach for a gun, rather than respond to violence with violence, to hatred with even more hatred, they did the only thing a Christian heart knows. They loved their murderers to the end, and they died the way they lived – offering Christ to the world.
The three saints knelt. They lifted together a Scripture above their heads. They put nothing between them and their murderer except Christ. This Scripture, stained with the blood of the three Martyrs, is preserved to this day, as are their holy relics.
When we wrote this icon, as we were praying for a composition, the recurring image that came back to me was the Face of Christ, and I understood that this icon is not an icon of the three Celtic Martyrs. Because of the way they lived, because of the way they died, and because of the way they loved Christ and His creation, they had become one with Christ. Christ’s Light embraced and transformed them to the point where they became one with Christ. Their icon had become an icon of Christ.
We wrote this icon in such a way that is says something of their martyrdom, but this is essentially an icon of Christ and those who love Him enough to follow Him on the Cross. The faces of the three martyrs are reduced to the essential lines of their humanity, while everything else in them is melted in Christ’s Light. If you look closely, you will note the subtle lines of a bishop’s vestments, or those of a priest’s vestments. They are hidden deep in their flesh, as if to say that their priesthood has become part of their humanity.
The face of the murderer is the only one painted in profile, to signify that his murder condemned him to losing his personhood. While the love of his victims makes them One with Christ, the hatred of his heart condemns him to never become a full person. Judas is similarly depicted in icons of the Last Supper – the only one among the Apostles who is shown in a profile.
Christ’s Holy Face shows sorrow but this is not sorrow for His beloved ones. They are already His, and in Him they have found Eternal Life – the three crowns in His hand await them. This is the sorrow of the Son of God for those who – from Adam until the last day of His creation – choose hatred over Love, the sword over the Cross, death over Life.
Holy Martyrs Kilian, Colonat and Totnan bless us to love Christ with your love, and pray to Him for us.
Biographical details concerning the Saints and more images can be seen here: https://www.shop.mullmonastery.com/product/saints-kilian-colonat-and-totnan/