Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A journey together through Holy Week

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus down from the Cross

Patrick Comerford

Throughout this week, in the chapel each morning we are reading dramatised versions of the Passion Narratives in each of the Four Gospels, concluding with the Passion Narrative in Saint John’s Gospel with my tutorial group tomorrow morning, Maundy Thursday [1 April].

As we journey together through Holy Week, the week before Easter, you will have noticed how there is a gradual build-up from Palm Sunday, through the Passion Narratives each morning, the Community Eucharist this evening, the Service of Tenebrae tonight, and the Maundy Eucharist tomorrow evening, so that we can mark Good Friday prayerfully and appropriately and be prepared to celebrate the Resurrection on Easter morning.

That stepping up of the tempo is reflected in the Book of Common Prayer, for example, by providing the same Post-Communion prayer for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then providing another Post-Communion Prayer and a choice of collects on Maundy Thursday.

[The Revd Dr] Maurice [Elliott] spoke on Monday morning about the origins of Holy Week in the Church calendar. The earliest reference to the custom of marking this week as a whole with special observances is found in the Apostolic Constitutions (v. 18, 19), dating from the late third century and early fourth century. It tells us abstinence from meat was expected for all the days of week, and in addition, on the Friday and Saturday, an absolute fast was commanded. Holy Week became an established custom and tradition in the Church, and The Pilgrimage of Egeria is an early text describing the traditions of the Early Church, with complete details of the observance of Holy Week when she went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 381 to 384.

Sunday of Holy Week (Palm Sunday):

Holy Week begins with the Sixth and last Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday, which recalls Christ’s Triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Christ on the Sunday before his Passion and death (see Matthew 21: 1-11; Mark 11: 1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; John 12: 12-19).

In many churches, Palm Sunday is marked by the distribution of palm leaves, often tied in the shape of crosses, and by dramatised readings of the Passion Narrative in one of the Four Gospels. In Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Sunday morning, we began with the Blessing of the Palms in the Cloister Garth, along with the Gospel reading (Luke 19: 28-40). Then, back inside the cathedral, instead of a sermon we had and a dramatised reading of the Passion Narrative (Luke 22: 14 - 23: 56) from the pulpit.

The Gospels tell us that, before entering Jerusalem, Christ was staying at Bethany and Bethphage. The Gospel according to Saint John adds that he had dinner with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.

While he was there, he sent two disciples to the neighbouring village to retrieve a donkey that was tied up but had never been ridden. Christ then rode the donkey into Jerusalem. As he rode into Jerusalem, the people lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down the small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118: 26; Matthew 21: 9; Mark 11: 9; Luke 19: 38; John 12: 13).

On Palm Sunday, in many Anglican churches, palm fronds and palm substitutes – or sometimes substitutes, such as yew cuttings – are blessed outside the church, and the blessing is followed by a procession into the church. In some churches, children are given palms and then walk in procession around the inside of the church while the adults remain seated.

The palm leaves or palm crosses are often saved to be burned the following year to use as ashes used on Ash Wednesday.

The liturgical colour has changed from violet to red, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering into as he entered the city of his Passion and Resurrection.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Monday of Holy Week:

The days between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday are known as Holy Monday (Fig Monday), Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday, sometimes called Spy Wednesday. The Gospels of these days recount events not all of which occurred on the corresponding days between Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper. For instance, the Monday Gospel tells of the Anointing at Bethany (John 12: 1-11), which occurred before the Palm Sunday event described in John 12: 12-19.

Yesterday, we begin a series of readings of dramatised versions of the Passion Narrative, beginning with the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.

In the Western Church, the Monday in Holy Week is not a major feast. But traditionally, the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem is said to have taken place on this Monday. This was when Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, saying to them: ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers’ (Matthew 21: 13).

An icon of Christ the Bridegroom

In the Orthodox tradition, the service of Matins on these first three days of Holy Week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – is known popularly as “The Bridegroom Service,” and includes the “Bridegroom Prayer.” An icon of Christ the Bridegroom is displayed in the centre of the Church, showing Christ wearing the robe of mockery and crowned with the crown of thorns. The theme of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church is extended by drawing on the parable of the ten bridesmaids.

But, alongside the suffering of Christ, three other themes mark Orthodox services on the Monday:

● The story of Joseph (Genesis chapters 37 and 39-40), whose innocent suffering and his persecution by Potiphar’s wife prefigures the suffering of the innocent Christ.

● The cursing of the barren fig tree by Christ on his way into Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 18-22). This serves as an image of the judgment that befalls all of us if we do not produce the fruits of repentance and holy living.

● The demand by the mother of Zebedee’s sons for a place of privilege in the Kingdom for James and John (Matthew 20: 20-28). James and John are seeking pride of place in the Kingdom, in sharp contrast to the humility of Christ, who renounces his status as Creator in order to suffer with and for those he has created.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy,
but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified:
Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of his cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Tuesday of Holy Week:

The Gospel reading for Tuesday in Holy Week (John 12: 20-36), when Christ tells his disciples that the hour for him to be glorified has come – the hour when he will be lifted up from the earth. Yesterday we read the Passion Narrative in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, and in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, the clergy of the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough renewed our ordination vows at the Chrism Eucharist.

Traditionally, the Tuesday in Holy Week is also associated with the encounter between Christ and Pharisees, when they try to trap him into making a blasphemous remark, and with his discourse with his disciples on the Mount of Olives about the destruction of Jerusalem and the signs of the last day. The theme for Orthodox services on Tuesday is found in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25: 1-13), and the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30).

These are understood as parables of vigilance and judgment, emphasising our need to accept responsibility for our own lives. They also develop and elaborate the note of judgment found in the Bridegroom motif on these first three days of Holy Week: when the bridegroom comes at Easter, we must be prepared.

Collect of the Day:

O God,
who by the passion of your blessed Son made
an instrument of shameful death
to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ,
that we may gladly suffer pain and loss
for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Wednesday in Holy Week, Spy Wednesday

Today is popularly known in Ireland and in other countries as Spy Wednesday, because, as in today’s Gospel reading (John 3: 21-32), this day is thought of as the day Judas Iscariot agreed to show the chief priests where they could easily capture Christ, betraying him for thirty pieces of silver (see Matthew 26: 14-16; Mark 14: 10-12; Luke 22: 3-6).

The tempo of Holy Week is stepped up today. In the chapel this morning, we continued our dramatised readings of the Passion Narrative, with Saint Luke. At the Community Eucharist at 5 p.m. this evening, the visiting preacher is Archbishop Alan Harper. Then at 9 p.m., we end the day with Tenebrae, a traditional Holy Week service.

The word tenebrae comes from the Latin meaning darkness. In this service, the candles and the lights are gradually extinguished until the whole church is in complete darkness. At the moment of darkness, a loud clash occurs symbolising the death of Jesus. This strepitus also symbolises the earthquake that followed his death: “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27: 50-51).

In Orthodox tradition, this Wednesday is associated with the dinner Christ had in the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. There he was anointed on the head by Mary with very expensive ointment. Some of the disciples were indignant at this apparently wasteful extravagance, claiming the myrrh could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Christ told them that the woman’s actions would be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26: 13), for she had anointed him in preparation for his burial (Matthew 26: 12).

Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on, Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Peter Paul Rubens, the Feast of Simon the Pharisee

In the Orthodox Liturgy today, the hymns of the Bridegroom Service remind us of the woman who poured precious ointment on Christ’s head at the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26: 7).

Those two principle themes are interwoven in the texts of the Orthodox liturgy today: the betrayal of Christ by Judas, and the anointing of Christ by the woman in the house of Simon in Bethany (Matthew 26: 6-16).

The woman figuratively draws a sharp contrast with Judas. She is a repentant sinner, and as she prepares for the death and burial of Christ she is reconciled with God. Judas, who has been given everything by Christ, shows no gratitude and turns his back on salvation.

The theme of anointing is continued in most Orthodox parishes this evening, when the principle service is the Anointing of the Sick.

Collect of the Day:

Lord God,
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters,
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings
of this present time,
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Maundy Thursday

The Last Supper, known in Orthodoxy as the Mystical Supper

Among Anglicans, Maundy Thursday is the normal name for tomorrow, and is used in the Book of Common Prayer; among Roman Catholics, it is normally known as Holy Thursday; in the Orthodox Church, it is usually Great and Holy Thursday.

In all traditions, this day is associated with the Last Supper. This is the day before the Crucifixion, and on this day Christ had his last meal with his disciples. As the Gospel according to Saint Matthew tells us:

“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins ...” (Matthew 26: 26-29).

Tomorrow morning, we are reading a dramatised version of the Passion Narrative according to Saint John. In the evening, the celebration of the Maundy Eucharist includes the Washing of Feet.

The name Maundy for this day is said to be derived through Middle English and the Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase Jesus uses to explain to his disciples why he is washing their feet: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13: 34). This new commandment is part of the Lectionary reading for the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday (John 13: 1-17, 31b-35).

Until the reign of James II, the monarch washed the feet of poor people on Maundy Thursday. These days, the Maundy Thursday celebrations in the United Kingdom involve the monarch giving alms in the form of “Maundy Money” in red and white purses to selected senior citizens – one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign’s age.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates Christ’s Last Supper with the Twelve, along with the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the new commandment to love one another. This is the only Mass on this day, and inaugurates the period of the three days known as the Easter Triduum, including Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day. Any private celebration of Mass is forbidden on this day. Although the Chrism Mass is celebrated in some dioceses this morning, with the bishop as celebrant, it is an increasing practice that the Chrism Mass is celebrated on another day earlier in Holy Week.

All the bells of the church, including the altar bells, may be rung during the Gloria at the Mass, but the bells and the organ then fall silent until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. It is recommended that immediately after the homily the priest should celebrate the rite of washing the feet, usually of twelve people.

At the end of the Mass, the consecrated Communion hosts may be carried in procession to a place away from the main part of the church, often called an “altar of repose.” Later, the main altar is stripped bare and crosses are removed from the church or are veiled.

You will notice how tomorrow, for the Maundy Eucharist, the liturgical colours change to white. In the Orthodox Church tomorrow, the Lenten character of the services is for the most part set aside, and the liturgical colours change from sombre Lenten hues to more festive colours, such as red.

The primary Orthodox service today is Vespers, at which there are three Old Testament readings:

● Exodus 19: 10-19. God’s descent from Mount Sinai to his people as the image of God’s coming in the Eucharist.

● Job 38: 1-23, 42: 1-5. God’s conversation with Job and Job’s answer: “Who I this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand not, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” These great and wonderful things are fulfilled in the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood.

● Isaiah 50: 4-11. The beginning of the prophecies on the suffering servant of God.

The Epistle reading (I Corinthians 11: 23-32) is the Apostle Paul’s account of the Last Supper and the meaning of communion. The Gospel reading – the longest of the year – is from all four Gospels and is the full story of the Last Supper, the betrayal of Judas and Christ’s arrest in the garden. This Passion Gospel (John 13: 31 to 18: 1) is known as the “Gospel of the Testament.”

The ceremony of the Washing of Feet is performed in some monasteries and cathedrals, but is not part of normal worship today in Orthodox parish churches. Then, after the Liturgy, all of the hangings and vestments are changed to black or another Lenten colour, to signify the beginning of the Passion.

The Collect of the Day:

God our Father,
you have invited us to share in the supper
which your Son gave to his Church
to proclaim his death until he comes:
May he nourish us by his presence,
and unite us in his love;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or

Almighty God,
at the Last Supper your Son Jesus Christ
washed the disciples’ feet
and commanded them to love one another.
Give us humility and obedience to be servants of others
as he was the servant of all;
who gave up his life and died for us,
yet is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
in this wonderful sacrament
you have given us a memorial of your passion.
Grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries
of your body and blood
that we may know within ourselves
the fruits of your redemption,
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or

O God,
your Son Jesus Christ has left us this meal of bread and wine
in which we share his body and his blood.
May we who celebrate this sign of his great love
show in our lives the fruits of his redemption;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Good Friday

On the Friday of Holy Week, Good Friday, we remember the day on which Christ was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, on the Hill of Calvary, and in most traditions this day is marked by solemn observances in memory of the crucifixion.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer did not specify a particular way to observe Good Friday. And so, local custom came to expect an assortment of services, including the Seven Last Words from the Cross and a three-hour service consisting of Matins, the Ante-Communion (using the Reserved Sacrament in some parishes) and Evensong.

The Seven Last Words have been identified in tradition as:

● “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23: 34).

● “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23: 43).

● “Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother” (John 19: 26-27).

● “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46, Mark 15: 34).

● “I am thirsty” (John 19: 28)

● “It is finished” (John 19: 30)

● “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23: 46).

Recent revisions of the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship in the Church of England have introduced forms for observing Good Friday. However, the Church of Ireland’s Book of Common Prayer (2004), although it introduced provisions for Ash Wednesday, makes no provisions for Good Friday, apart from the Collects, and leaves it to local tradition to decide how to observe this day.

But as you read the notes on the calendar, and notice that no Post-Communion prayer or liturgical colour for Good Friday, you see that it is implicit that there must be no celebration of the Eucharist on Good Friday in the Church of Ireland.

Roman Catholics usually observe Good Friday with fast and abstinence, which is understood as eating only one full meal and two repasts that together ought not to equal a full meal. There is no Mass from the Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday evening to the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, and the only sacraments on Good Friday are Baptism occasionally, Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick. Holy Communion is distributed only in the Service of the Passion of the Lord.

In churches, the altar remains completely bare, without a cross, candles or altar cloths. It is customary to empty the holy water fonts in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil. Traditionally, no bells are rung on Good Friday or Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil.

The Commemoration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, usually at 3 p.m., although for pastoral reasons a later hour may be chosen. The vestments are red, although traditionalists sometimes use black. This liturgy consists of three parts: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.

For the Veneration of the Cross, a crucifix is solemnly displayed and venerated while special chants are sung. The Eucharist, consecrated at the Mass of Holy Thursday is distributed at this service. The priest and people then leave in silence, and the altar cloth is removed, leaving the altar bare except for the cross and two or four candlesticks.

In addition, the Stations of the Cross are often prayed either in the church or outside, and a prayer service, known as the Three Hours’ Agony, may take place between mid-day and 3 p.m.

The Roman Catholic tradition includes specific prayers and devotions as acts of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Christ suffered during his Passion on Good Friday. These Acts of Reparation do not involve prayers for the living or the dead, but seek to repair the sins against Christ. Pope Pius XI described these Acts of Reparation as a duty for Catholics and referred to them as “some sort of compensation to be rendered for the injury” and sufferings of Christ. Pope John Paul II referred to them as the “unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified.”

In the Orthodox Church, Good Friday is known as Holy and Great Friday, or simply as Great Friday. Because of the penitence and sorrow associated with the Crucifixion, the Divine Liturgy is never celebrated on Great Friday. On Great Friday, the Orthodox clergy no longer wear the purple or red that is customary throughout Great Lent, and instead wear black vestments. All the church hangings are changed to black, and they remain so until the Divine Liturgy tomorrow, on Great Saturday. The day is observed as a strict fast, with Orthodox adults expected to abstain from all food and drink throughout the day if their health allows.

Just before the sixth Gospel reading, which recounts Christ being nailed to the cross, a large cross, with an image of the body of Christ, is carried out of the sanctuary by the priest, accompanied by incense and candles, and is placed in the centre of the nave. During the service, everyone comes forward to kiss the feet of Christ on the cross. Later, a brief, moving hymn, The Wise Thief, is chanted by singers who stand at the foot of the cross in the centre of the nave.

In the afternoon, around the 3 p.m. all gather for the Vespers of the Taking-Down from the Cross, recalling Christ’s Deposition from the Cross. The Gospel reading is from all four Gospels. During the service, the image of the body of Christ is removed from the cross, wrapped in a linen shroud, and taken to the altar. Near the end of the service, an Epitaphios or “winding sheet” – a cloth embroidered with the image of Christ prepared for burial – is carried in solemn procession from the sanctuary to a low table in the nave that represents the Tomb of Christ. This is often scattered with and decorated with flowers.

The Epitaphios itself represents the body of Christ wrapped in a burial shroud, and looks like a full-size cloth icon of the body of Christ.

Later on Friday evening, there is a unique service that takes place around a representation of the tomb of Christ in the centre of the church, with the chanting of the Lamentations or Praises, interspersed with the verses of Psalm 119. At one point, the priest sprinkles the tomb with rose petals and rose water.

Then, at the end of the Great Doxology, while the Trisagion is sung, the Epitaphios is taken in procession around the outside the church, and is then returned to the tomb. In some churches, the Epitaphios is held above waist level at the door so people must bow under it as they re-enter the church, symbolising their entering into the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
Look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As I pointed out, no Post Communion is provided for Good Friday.

The entombment of Christ

Easter Eve or Holy Saturday

Saturday is known as Easter Eve in the Anglican tradition, is known to our neighbours as Holy Saturday and in the Orthodox Church is Great and Holy Saturday or the Great Sabbath.

This is traditionally a day of silence and prayer, a time for thinking about the dead Christ lying in the tomb. No Holy Communion is distributed, no Mass is celebrated.

In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, there is a provision for a simple liturgy of the word with readings commemorating the burial of Christ. Once again, there is no liturgical colour and no Post-Communion Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, which is an implicit understanding that there is no celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland before the Easter Vigil.

In Roman Catholic churches, the tabernacle is left empty and open, the lamp or candle usually lit next to the tabernacle has been extinguished, and the remaining Eucharistic hosts, consecrated on Maundy Thursday, have been removed, perhaps to the sacristy. In the Orthodox tradition, Holy and Great Saturday or the Great Sabbath is the day on which Christ “rested” physically in the tomb, but it is also the day on which he performed the Harrowing of Hell, raising up those who had been held captive there.

During the day, the hangings, the altar cloths, and the vestments are changed from black to white, and the deacon censes the church. The clergy scatter laurel leaves and flower petals throughout the church, symbolising the shattered gates and broken chains of hell after Christ’s victory over death. But, while the liturgical atmosphere is changing from sorrow to joy, the Paschal greeting, “Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!” (Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!) is not yet exchanged, and the people continue to fast.

Collect of the Day:

Grant, Lord,
that we who are baptized into the death
of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
may continually put to death our evil desires
and be buried with him;
and that through the grave and gate of death
we may pass to our joyful resurrection;
through his merits, who died and was buried
and rose again for us,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Once again, no Post-Communion prayer is provided for Easter Eve.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on the Year III BTh course, ‘Spirituality for Today,’ on 31 March 2010.

Wednesday in Holy Week, Spy Wednesday

Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ in the Garden (1598), the National Gallery of Ireland ... the betrayal of Christ is a major theme for the Wednesday of Holy Week

Patrick Comerford

This week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Day, is the last week of Lent. This week is known in the Western Church as Holy Week, and in the Orthodox Church as Great and Holy Week.

The dates of Lent, Holy Week and Easter fall on the same days this year for the Western Church and the Orthodox Church. In the Western Church, this week lasts from Palm Sunday until but not including Easter Day. In the Orthodox Church, Great Week lasts from Lazarus until but not including Easter Day.

On this week, we recall the last week of Christ’s earthly life culminating in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Day. Then today, which is popularly known in Ireland and many other countries as Spy Wednesday, the tempo of Holy Week is stepped up.

In the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this morning, we continue our series of readings of dramatised versions of the Passion Narrative, reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke. At the Community Eucharist at 5 p.m. this evening, the visiting preacher is Archbishop Alan Harper. Choral Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at 6 p.m. is sung by the Cathedral Girls’ Choir. Then at 9 p.m. this evening, we end the day with Tenebrae, a traditional Holy Week service.

The word tenebrae comes from the Latin word meaning darkness. In this service, all of the candles on the altar and in the church are gradually extinguished until the whole church is in complete darkness. At the moment of darkness, a loud clash occurs symbolising the death of Jesus. The strepitus, as it is known, may also symbolise the earthquake that followed his death: “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27: 50-51).

The Betrayal by Judas, Giotto, ca 1304-1306

This Wednesday is traditionally known as Spy Wednesday because it is said that on this day Judas Iscariot agreed to show the chief priests where they could easily capture Christ, betraying him for thirty pieces of silver (see Matthew 26: 14-16; Mark 14: 10-12; Luke 22: 3-6).

Jesus was in Bethany, visiting the house of Simon the Leper. There he was anointed on the head by Mary with very expensive ointment. Some of the disciples were indignant about this apparently wasteful extravagance, claiming the myrrh could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

But Christ told them that the woman’s actions would be remembered wherever the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26: 13), for she had anointed him in preparation for his burial (Matthew 26: 12).

Judas went to the Sanhedrin and offered them his support in exchange for money. From this moment on Judas was looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus. Because that betrayal took place on Wednesday, many Orthodox Christians fast on most Wednesdays during the year.

In the Orthodox Liturgy today, Great and Holy Wednesday, the hymns of the Bridegroom Service remind us of the woman who poured precious ointment on Christ’s head at the home of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26: 7).

The story of the woman who washed Christ’s feet in the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany is recalled in the Hymn of Kassiani

The Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros) for Great and Holy Wednesday was served towards the end of the Bridegroom service yesterday [Tuesday] evening. The troprarion, ‘See the Bridegroom comes at midnight,’ was sung last night, as on Monday and Tuesday evening, and the Hymn of Kassiani was sung too. This hymn, which was written in the ninth century by Kassiani the Nun, tells the story of the woman who washed Christ’s feet in the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany.

The two principle themes of the day in Orthodox liturgy are interwoven in the texts: the betrayal of Christ by Judas, and the anointing of Christ by the nameless woman in the house of Simon in Bethany (Matthew 26: 6-16), which is read at Vespers.

The hymns sung at Vespers are drawn from those of Matins and – as on Monday and Tuesday – the service is part of the Liturgy of the Presanctified which, in practice, is celebrated this morning.

Much of the Hymn of Kassiani is written from the perspective of the sinful woman:

O Lord,
the woman who had fallen into many sins,
sensing your Divinity,
takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer.

With lamentations
she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment.
“Woe to me!” she cries,
“for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness,
a dark and moonless love of sin.

“Receive the fountain of my tears,
O you who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea.
Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart,
O you who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension.

“I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses
and dry them again with the tresses of my hair;
those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from you in fear
when she heard you walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day.

“As for the multitude of my sins
and the depths of your judgments,
who can search them out, O Saviour of souls, my Saviour?

“Do not disdain me your handmaiden,
O you who are boundless in mercy.”


The Byzantine musical composition expresses the poetry so strongly that it leaves many people in a state of prayerful tears. The hymn can last for 25 minutes or more and liturgically and musically it is one of the high points of the year.

The woman figuratively draws a sharp contrast with Judas. She is a repentant sinner, and as she prepares for the death and burial of Christ she is reconciled with God. Judas, who has been given everything by Christ, shows no gratitude and turns his back on salvation.

The theme of anointing is continued in most Orthodox parishes this evening, when the principle service is the Anointing of the Sick. Although these services are not canonically liturgical, they attract large numbers of people, who ask for anointing for both spiritual and physical healing.

Collect of the Day:

Lord God,
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters,
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings
of this present time,
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.


Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tuesday in Holy Week

One of the themes for Orthodox services today is found in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25: 1-13)

Patrick Comerford

This week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Day, is the last week of Lent. This week is known in the Western Church as Holy Week, and in the Orthodox Church as Great and Holy Week.

The dates of Lent, Holy Week and Easter fall on the same days this year in both the Western Church and the Orthodox Church. In the Western Church, this week lasts from Palm Sunday until but not including Easter Day. In the Orthodox Church, Great and Holy Week lasts from the Saturday of Lazarus until, but not including, Easter Day.

On this week, we recall the last week of Christ’s earthly life culminating in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Day.

This day, the Tuesday in Holy Week, is traditionally associated with the encounter between Christ and Pharisees, when they try to trap him into making a blasphemous remark, and with Christ’s discourse with his disciples on the Mount of Olives about the destruction of Jerusalem and the signs of the last day.

In the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this morning [Tuesday], we continue our series of Holy Week readings of dramatised versions of the Passion Narrative, with the Gospel according to Saint Mark. In Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at noon, the clergy of the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough renew our ordination vows at the Chrism Eucharist with Archbishop John Neill. The setting is William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, and we shall also hear T.L. de Victoria’s Veni Creator Spiritus

In Orthodox churches, the Matins (ὄρθρος, Orthros) for today was served last [Monday] night, with the Bridegroom troparion. Vespers is then served this morning and the rest of the Liturgy of the Presanctified is celebrated.

The theme for Orthodox services today is found in two Gospel parables: the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25: 1-13), and the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30), which are also included in the lengthy Gospel reading at Vespers (Matthew 24: 23 to Matthew 26: 2).

These two parables are understood as parables of vigilance and judgment, with their emphasis on our need to accept responsibility for our own lives. They also develop and elaborate the note of judgment we find in the Bridegroom troparion on each of these first three days of Great and Holy Week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The bridegroom will come on Easter night, and we must be prepared for his coming.

The theme of the betrayal of Christ by Judas also makes an appearance today, although this theme becomes more prominent tomorrow [Wednesday] and on the following day [Maundy Thursday].

At Great Compline, we are introduced to one of the principle themes we meet tomorrow, the story of the woman who anoints Christ with fragrant ointment.

Collect of the Day:

O God,
who by the passion of your blessed Son made
an instrument of shameful death
to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ,
that we may gladly suffer pain and loss
for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen
.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Monday in Holy Week

Jesus Christ the Bridegroom ... the theme for the Monday in Holy Week in the Orthodox tradition

Patrick Comerford

This week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Day, is the last week of Lent. This week is known in the Western Church as Holy Week, and in the Orthodox Church as Great and Holy Week.

The dates of Lent, Holy Week and Easter fall on the same days this year for the Western Church and the Orthodox Church. In the Western Church, this week lasts from Palm Sunday until but not including Easter Day. In the Orthodox Church, Great Week lasts from Lazarus until but not including Easter Day.

On this week, we recall the last week of Christ’s earthly life culminating in his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Day. The earliest reference to the custom of marking this week as a whole with special observances is found in the Apostolic Constitutions (v. 18, 19), dating from the late third century and early fourth century. Abstinence from meat is expected for all the days of week, and in addition, on the Friday and Saturday, an absolute fast is commanded.

In his canonical epistle (AD 260), Dionysius Alexandrinus refers to the 91 fasting days. This probably implies that their observance had already become an established usage in his time. The Codex Theodosianus suspended all legal and court actions at this time, shutting the doors of all courts of law during the week before and the week after Easter Day (1. ii. tit. viii.).

The Pilgrimage of Egeria is an early text describing the traditions of the Early Church, with complete details of the observance of Holy Week during the time of her pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 381 to 384.

The Cleansing of the Temple, Giotto, the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the days between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday are known as Holy Monday (Fig Monday), Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday, sometimes called Spy Wednesday. The Gospels of these days recount events not all of which occurred on the corresponding days between Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper. For instance, the Monday Gospel tells of the Anointing at Bethany (John 12: 1-9), which occurred before the Palm Sunday event described in John 12: 12-19.

This morning, in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, we begin a series of readings of dramatised versions of the Passion Narrative, beginning with the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.

In the Western Church, the Monday in Holy Week is not a major feast. Traditionally, the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem is thought to have taken place on this Monday. This was when Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers, saying to them: ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers’ (Matthew 21: 13).

In the Orthodox Church, Holy Week is known as “Great and Holy Week,” or simply as Great Week (Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα). Fasting during Great and Holy Week is very strict for the Orthodox: dairy products and meat products are strictly forbidden, on most days, no alcohol drinks are allowed and no oil is used in the cooking. Friday and Saturday are observed as strict fast days, so that nothing should be eaten on those days. However, fasting is always adjusted to the needs of the individual, and those who are very young, ill or elderly are not expected to fast so strictly.

The entire Psalter is chanted on the first three days of Holy Week. And the pattern of the services is the same for these three days.

As the day begins at sunset in Orthodoxy, Matins (ὄρθρος Orthros) is usually anticipated the previous evening, with Matins services for each day on the preceding evening. And so, the Matins service of today, Great Monday, was sung yesterday evening, on the evening of Palm Sunday evening, and so on.

Matins on these first three days of Holy Week – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – are known popularly as “The Bridegroom Service.” Its name comes from the Troparion: “Look! The bridegroom comes at midnight.”

This theme is drawn from the parable of the ten bridesmaids, which forms part of the Gospel reading at Vespers tomorrow [Tuesday] evening. The Orthros services these days include the “Bridegroom Prayer” with the theme of Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, a theme expressed in the troparion that is chanted solemnly these days. This same theme is repeated in the exapostilarion, a hymn sung near the end of the service.

Christ the Bridegroom, a modern icon by Sally Thayer of Toronto

On these days, an icon of Christ the Bridegroom is placed on an analogion in the centre of the Church, showing Christ wearing the robe of mockery and crowned with the crown of thorns.

Early in the morning, before Vespers, the Hours are celebrated, one after the other, and over the three days of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of these days, all four Gospels are read, spread over the Third, Sixth and Ninth Hours.

The first service of each day is then Vespers, at which the stichera are chanted commemorating the theme of the day.

On Great and Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts is then celebrated, and those present receive Holy Communion from the Holy Mysteries reserved from the Divine Liturgy yesterday, Palm Sunday.

Each of these services has a reading from the Gospel which sets out the theme for the day. But, alongside the suffering of Christ, three other themes mark Orthodox services on this Monday:

● The story of Joseph (Genesis chapters 37 and 39-40), whose innocent suffering and his persecution by Potiphar’s wife prefigures the suffering of the innocent Christ.

● The cursing of the barren fig tree by Jesus on his way into Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 18-22). This serves as an image of the judgment that befalls all of us if we do not produce the fruits of repentance and holy living. Those fruits including turning our backs on the pride that seeks rank and privilege for ourselves.

● The demand by the mother of Zebedee’s sons for a place of privilege in the Kingdom for James and John (Matthew 20: 20-28). James and John are seeking pride of place in the Kingdom, which is in sharp contrast to the humility of Christ, who renounces his status as Creator in order to suffer with and for those he has created.

Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose most dear Son went not up to joy,
but first he suffered pain,
and entered not into glory before he was crucified:
Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of his cross,
may find it none other than the way of life and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday ... the Triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem

Patrick Comerford

Today, the Sixth and last Sunday in Lent, is popularly known as Palm Sunday, recalling the Triumphant entry into Jerusalem of Christ on the Sunday before his Passion and death (see Matthew 21: 1-11; Mark 11: 1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; John 12: 12-19).

In many churches, Palm Sunday is marked by the distribution of palm leaves, often tied in the shape of crosses, and by dramatised readings of the Passion Narrative in one of the Four Gospels. At the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning, we are having the Liturgy of the Palms and a dramatised reading of the Passion Narrative (Luke 22: 14 - 23: 56). Throughout the weekday mornings of Holy Week, each tutorial group in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute is reading these passion narratives in sequence, concluding with the Passion Narrative in Saint John’s Gospel with my tutorial group on Maundy Thursday [1 April].

The Gospels tell us that, before entering Jerusalem, Christ was staying at Bethany and Bethphage. The Gospel according to Saint John adds that he had dinner with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.

While he was there, Christ sent two disciples to the neighbouring village to retrieve a donkey that was tied up but had never been ridden. Christ then rode the donkey into Jerusalem. As he rode into Jerusalem, the people lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down the small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118: 26; Matthew 21: 9; Mark 11: 9; Luke 19: 38; John 12: 13).

On Palm Sunday, in Roman Catholic churches, and in many Anglican and Lutheran churches, palm fronds – or, in colder climates, some kind of substitutes – are blessed outside the church, and the blessing is followed by a procession into the church. In some churches, children are given palms and then walk in procession around the inside of the church while the adults remain seated.

The palm leaves or palm crosses are often saved in Anglican churches to be burned the following year to use as ashes used on Ash Wednesday. However, many Roman Catholic churches in Ireland use cuttings from yew trees.

The liturgical colour of the day is deep scarlet red, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering into as he entered the city of his Passion and Resurrection.

In the Orthodox Church, Palm Sunday is often called the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, and is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Liturgical Year. Unlike the West, however, the Orthodox Church does not consider Palm Sunday as part of Great Lent – the Eastern Orthodox Great Fast ended on Friday, and yesterday (Lazarus Saturday), Palm Sunday and Holy Week are seen as a separate fasting period.

The theme of Orthodox services on this Sunday is primarily Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem.” It is customary in many churches to bless for the worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. In some places however, where this has been impractical, substitutes have been used traditionally.

These palms are blessed at Matins after the Gospel reading, and everyone then stands holding their branches and lit candles. People later take these branches and candles home and keep them in their icon corner as an ευλογία (blessing).

Toparion (Tone 4)

O Christ, Our God,
we have been buried with you through Baptism,
and by your Resurrection made worthy of life immortal.
Praising you, we sing,
“Hosanna in the highest,
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”


Kontakion (Tone 6):

In heaven,
you are seated on a throne
and on earth you ride upon a foal.
O Christ our God,
accept the praise of angels
and the hymn of the children who sing:
“Blessed are you who comes to recall Adam.”


Troparion (Tone 1):

By raising Lazarus from the dead before your passion,
you confirmed the universal resurrection.
O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory,
we cry out to you, O vanquisher of death;
Hosanna in the Highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!


The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Canon Patrick Comerford is Director Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Saturday of Lazarus

The Raising of Lazarus from the dead

Patrick Comerford

This year, the dates for Lent, Holy Week and Easter fall on the same days in both the Western Church and the Orthodox Church. However, today, the day before Palm Sunday, has no traditional name in the Western Church. On the other hand, in the Orthodox Church, this day is traditionally known as the Saturday of Lazarus.

In the Gospel According to Saint John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the last and the greatest of the Signs performed by Christ. But this sign is also the immediate cause of his death, for this is the sign that convinces the religious leaders in Jerusalem that they must get rid of Jesus. And so, on this day, the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Christ is both historically and theologically an appropriate Sign to recall as a prelude to the death and resurrection of Christ.

According to an ancient tradition, Lazarus was 30 years old when he was raised from the dead. He then lived another 30 years on Cyprus until he died – again. Tradition also says that after he was raised from the dead, he never laughed again until the end of his life, except on one occasion when he saw someone stealing a clay vessel, smiled and said: “Clay stealing clay.”

His (second) grave is in the city of Kition, with the inscription: “Lazarus the four days dead and friend of Christ.” In 890, his relics were transferred to Constantinople by the Emperor Leo the Wise, when the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, “Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus …”

In monastic life in fifth and sixth century Palestine, monks went out in ones and twos into the desert to spend Lent in solitude. They returned to their monasteries in time for the Vigil on the night of Lazarus Saturday ahead of Palm Sunday so they could keep Holy Week together.

In Greece, it is a custom on Lazarus Saturday to make elaborate crosses out of palm leaves that will be used tomorrow, Palm Sunday. On Lazarus Saturday, people often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. In some Orthodox churches, the custom developed of using pussy willow branches instead of palm fronds where palm fronds are not readily available. There is no canonical requirement regarding the branches that may be used, so some Orthodox people use olive branches. These branches are blessed and distributed together with candles either during the All-Night Vigil on Saturday night, or before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning.

Although the forty days of Great Lent ended yesterday [Friday], the day before Lazarus Saturday, today is still observed as a fast day, with many Orthodox people abstaining from meat and dairy products, although wine and oil are allowed. In Greece, spice breads called Lazarakia are made and eaten on this day.

By the end of the fourth century, in the fully-developed pattern of Holy Week services in Jerusalem, this Saturday immediately before to Palm Sunday was dedicated to commemorating Lazarus, and included a procession to his tomb. The antiquity of this commemoration is attested to in the homilies of Saint John Chrysostom (349-407), Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), and in the seventh and eighth century hymns and canons written for this day Saint Andrew of Crete, Saint Cosmas of Maium and Saint John of Damascus.

The appointed Gospel reading for this day in the Orthodox tradition is John 11: 1-45, and the theme of the raising of Lazarus dominates all Orthodox services today, while at the same time looking forward to the resurrection of Christ on Easter Day.

In the Orthodox calendar, this combination of days has continued, linking the 40 days of Great Lent with Holy Week, with the commemorations of the suffering and death of Christ, and the celebration of his resurrection on Easter Day.

For the Orthodox Church, today and tomorrow, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, together hold a unique position in the church calendar as days of joy and triumph coming between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.

During the past week, which for the Orthodox has been the last week of Great Lent, the hymns in the Lenten Triodion have followed the sickness and then the death of Lazarus, and Christ’s journey from beyond the River Jordan to Bethany. And so this week is popularly known as the “Week of Palms” or as the “Flowery Week.”

The canon on the Resurrection of Lazarus by Saint Andrew of Crete was read last night (Friday) at Compline. This is a full canon, including all nine canticles, whereas most canons omit the Second Canticle.

The position of Lazarus Saturday is perfectly summed up in the first sticheron that was chanted at Vespers last night (Friday):

We have completed the forty days
that bring profit to our soul.
Now we ask you in your love for us:
Grant us also to behold the Holy Week
of your suffering and death,
so that in it we may glorify your mighty acts
and your purpose for us,
too great for words.
May sing with one accord:
O Lord, glory be to you
.

The scripture readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the raising of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ and as a promise of the General Resurrection.

The Gospel story is interpreted in the hymns as illustrating the two natures of Christ: his humanity in weeping for Lazarus and in asking: “Where have you laid him?” (John 11: 34); and his divinity by commanding Lazarus to come out from the dead (John 11: 43).

A number of the hymns, written in the first or second person, symbolically relate the death, burial and shroud of Lazarus to one’s own sinful state. Many of the hymns with Resurrection themes in a normal Sunday service are omitted tomorrow on Palm Sunday but are chanted today on Lazarus Saturday.

During the Divine Liturgy, the baptismal hymn, “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Romans 6: 3) is sung in place of the Trisagion. This may indicate that this was at one time a day traditionally for baptisms.

Troparion (Tone 1)

O Christ our God,
before Your Passion, you raised Lazarus from the dead
to confirm the resurrection of all.
Therefore, like children,
we carry the palms of victory,
and we cry out to you, the victor over death,
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
.

Kontakion (Tone 2)

Christ, everyone’s joy, the truth, the light,
the life and the resurrection of the world,
has by his goodness appeared to those on earth.
He is the image of our resurrection,
granting divine forgiveness to all
.

Come out, Lazar

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca 1260-1318), Kimbell Art Museum

Come out, Lazar is the tile track on a recording last year of the shorter choral works of the English choral conductor, Paul Spicer, by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, directed by Sarah MacDonald, with Claire Innes-Hopkins on the organ (Regent records, 2009, total playing time: 63:59).

Paul Spicer began his musical training as a chorister at New College, Oxford.

He studied with Herbert Howells and Richard Popplewell (organ) at the Royal College of Music in London, winning the Walford Davies Organ Prize in his final year.

He now conducts the Chamber Choirs at the Royal College of Music in London, and the Birmingham Conservatoire, and is Professor of Choral Conducting at both institutions.

I first came across his work in Lichfield where he has lived in The Close since 1990 and he was Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival for 11 years. His Easter Oratorio was commissioned for performance in Lichfield Cathedral in 2000, and the libretto was written by his close friend, the then Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, Tom Wright, now Bishop of Durham, to mark the 1300th anniversary of Lichfield Cathedral. It was described by The Independent as “almost operatic in its inherent drama” and as being “a major contribution to the choral society repertoire.” He remains a member of the Council of Lichfield Cathedral.

The anthem Come out, Lazar is the most substantial work on last year’s recording by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College. It is a dramatic, and almost apocalyptic setting for mediaeval poetry, in this case an anonymous 14th century English text. It was commissioned by Ralph Allwood in 1984 for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast by the Uppingham Choral Course. Spicer says he has always loved mediaeval poetry, and found a natural appeal in the poem Come out, Lazar (Lazarus). “It had everything I wanted for this commission.”

The anthem is basically in an ABACA form, with the B and C sections being reflective. It takes every opportunity to use the words descriptively. The final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

The words of this anonymous mediaeval poem are:

Come out, Lazar!
Come out, Lazaro, what so befall.
Then might not the fiend of hell
Longer make that soule to dwell.
So dreadful was that ilke cry
To that feloun, our enemy.
The kinges trumpet blew a blast;
Come out! it said, be not aghast.
With that voice the fiend gan quake,
As doth the leaf when windes wake.
Come out is now a wonder soun,
It hath o’er come that foul feloun
And all his careful [wretched] company.
For dread thereof they gunne cry;
Yet is come out a wonder song,
For it has broken the prison strong.
Fetters, chains, and bondes mo [besides]
That wroughten wretched soules woe.
That kinges voice so free
It maketh the devil and death to flee.
Say me now thou serpent sly,
Is not ‘Come out!’ an asper cry?
‘Come out’ is a word of battle,
For it gan helle soon [at once] t’assail.
Why stoppest thou not, fiend, thine ear?
That this word enter not there?
He that said that word of might,
Shop him felly to the fight. [Advanced valiantly to battle.]
For with that word he won the field
Withouten spear, withouten shield,
And brought them out of prison strong,
That were enholden there with wrong.
Tell now, tyrant, where is thy might?
‘Come out!’ hath felled it all with fight.

Notes produced last year by the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge for Choral Evensong on 12 May 2009 helpfully explain some of the more difficult or obscure vocabulary in this poem:

1 feloun: traitor
2 gan quake: quaked
3 wonder: wonderful
4 careful: wretched
5 gunne cry: cried
6 mo: besides
7 free: noble
8 asper: harsh
9 soon: at once
10 shop him felly to the fight: advanced valiantly to battle.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Byron’s interest in Greece and the Irish connection

Lord Byron ... persuaded to take part in the Greek War of Independence by an Irish sea captain

Today [25 March] marks Greek Independence Day. To mark the occasion, I am posting a paper delivered five years ago

Patrick Comerford

Members of the Byron Society, I’m sure, are aware of many of Byron’s Irish connections, including those he acquired through Lady Caroline Lamb, who was born Lady Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bessborough, of Piltown, Co Kilkenny. Perhaps too you are familiar with his school-day friendship with John FitzGibbon, 2nd Earl of Clare. Doubtless, you know of his friendships with Tom Moore and with the Countess of Blessington and her husband, the former Lord Mountjoy. On the other hand, members of the Irish-Hellenic Society will be aware of Byron’s Greek connections, and that he gave his life for Greece at Messilonghi. But few people in Ireland realise that:

● Byron would never have given his life for Greece but for an adventurous Dublin seafarer;
● Byron was enticed back to Greece by the offer of an introduction to a poet who had a sister-in-law from the Irish Midlands;
● Byron found hospitality on Kephallonia with a colonel from Celbridge who was a cousin of Lord Edward FitzGerald;
● in Metaxata, Byron forged friendships with two Irish Kennedys, one who wanted to convert him to evangelical Christianity;
● Byron command of the Greek army eventually passed to an Irish general who had direct connections with Byron’s family;
● and, finally, Byron’s body was brought back to England against his wishes because of the political cunning of an Irishman.

Recruiting Byron to the cause of Greece

The Blacquiere or Blaquiere family – whose name is pronounced popularly in Dublin as “Black-wire” – were descended from Huguenot refugees who fled to Ireland in the 17th century. They gave their name to both a bridge over the Royal Canal in north Dublin and to a Church of Ireland national school in Phibsborough. Both the bridge and the school were demolished in the mid-20th century. But the name Blaquiere should also still evoke Irish associations with the Greek War of Independence, for Edward Blaquiere from Merrion Square, Dublin, persuaded Byron to return to Greece and join the struggle for independence, and was one of the most energetic Irish Philhellenes. It is to this Dubliner that the historian Dakin traces the origins of English support for the Greek cause, for he was the man who was responsible for Byron's last journey.

Although Edward Blaquiere has sometimes been described as an English Philhellene, we must insist on his Irish identity. A man of very pronounced conviction, energy and obvious sincerity, he did not follow his brothers into Trinity College Dublin; instead, he began his career in the Mediterranean with the British navy, and later moved to Spain, where he became involved in the Spanish revolution. From there, he moved to London, where he became involved in raising funds for the Greek cause as the agent of the London Greek Committee.

As Blaquiere was joining the Spanish Revolution, John Louriottis was being sent to Spain and Portugal in the hope of raising a loan that had been sanctioned by the Greek National Assembly. In Madrid in February 1823, he met Blaquiere, who promptly advised him that London was the best capital for raising funds. In London, Blaquiere introduced Loutriottis to a small group of Philhellenes. That meeting promoted the formation of the London Greek Committee, whose Irish members would include the poet Thomas Moore. The new committee encouraged Blaquiere and Louriottis to go back to Greece to report on the state of the country and to persuade the Greek Government to send official agents to London to handle the negotiations for a loan.

Persuading Byron

Blaquiere and Louriottis left for Greece on 4 March 1823. Five weeks later, they arrived in Genoa, and on 5 April, a few days after Lady Blessington’s famous visit, they called on Lord Byron at the Casa Saluzzo. Byron had already visited Greece, where he met Ali Pasha, who inspired Childe Harold. At the suggestion of the raffish Lord Altamont from Westport House, Co Mayo – later Marquess of Sligo – Byron had also travelled through the Peloponnese, and the two conspired together in claims about the poet’s rescue of a Turkish damsel in distress. Once, in a conversation with Altamont in Athens, he imagined his future death with swooning women around his bedside saying: “See that Byron – how interesting he looks in dying!”

By the time Blaquiere visited him, we could say that in terms of visiting Greece, Byron had been there, done all that and bought the T-shirt. And so, when Blaquiere arrived at the Casa Saluzzo, Byron had no intention of taking another package holiday in a Greek resort. Instead, he was contemplating travelling with his friend, Edward John Trelawney, to fight in South America.

However, it was just a year after the outrageous massacre on Chios, in which the Turks had slaughtered 25,000 of the 100,000 islanders. Blaquiere persuaded Byron instead to return to Greece to represent the interests of the London Greek Committee and to act as one of the three commissioners to administer the loan being raised – the other commissioners were to be Charles James Napier from Celbridge, Co. Kildare, by then the British resident on Kephallonia, and Leicester Stanhope, an English Philhellene. At first Byron was uncertain about Blaquiere's proposal, but as the weeks dragged on his new Irish friend became more persuasive.

On 28 April, Blaquiere told Byron: “Your presence will operate as a talisman and the field is too glorious, too closely associated with all that you hold dear to be any longer abandoned ... The cause is in a most flourishing state.” Later, Blaquiere wrote: “I well remember with what enthusiasm he spoke of his intended visit, and how much he regretted not having joined the standard of freedom long before.” Byron quickly wrote to Trelawney, asking him to join him: “I am at last determined to go to Greece; it is the only place I was ever contented in ... They all say I can be of use in Greece. I do not know how, nor do they; but at all events, let’s go.”"

While Byron waited for Trelawney to pack his bags in Rome, Blaquiere headed off to Greece. He arrived with Louriottis at Tripolis on 3 May 1823. He spent about two months in the Morea, taking great pains, as only an Irishman could, to impress on Greeks of all parties not only that he was not a British agent but also of the need to raise money in England and to commit English financial interests to the cause of Greek independence.

Meanwhile, Byron set sail for Greece, leaving Leghorn on board the Hercules on 23 July 1823. Blaquiere had advised Byron to go first to Zakynthos, but during the voyage Byron was persuaded to head instead for Kephallonia, which had been captured during the Napoleonic Wars by an Irishman, Richard Church from Cork, and where Charles James Napier from Celbridge was by then the resident or governor of the island.

Guest of a Celbridge colonel

General Sir Charles James Napier, as he later became, is often remembered as the officer who refused to fire on the protesting Chartists and as the conqueror of Sind in India, for his announcement: Pecavi Sind. However, it is said that his time as British governor of Kephallonia “was probably the happiest period of Napier’s life.” Napier was raised in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, and was a first cousin of the United Irish revolutionary, Lord Edward FitzGerald. This may have captivated Byron, who once wrote in his journal, recalling the 1798 Rising during his youth: “If I had been a man, I would have made an English Lord Edward FitzGerald.”

On his arrival in Kephallonia, Byron was surprised to find that Blaquiere was not there but was in Corfu, on his way back to London, having persuaded the Greek executive to send Louriottis and Orlandos ahead of him as their representatives. Back in London, Blaquiere would present the London Greek Committee with his Report on the Present State of the Greek Confederation. In this report, he gave a glowing account of the economic potential of Greece, claiming an independent Greek state would be as opulent as any in Europe.

The Hercules anchored in Argostoli, the capital of Kephallonia, 3 August 1823. Not only was Byron disappointed that Blaquiere, but he was indignant that Napier was absent from the island too. Byron felt insulted and incensed, and was disappointed too by the fact that he was missing the opportunity to meet the Greek national poet, Dionysios Solomos, who lived on neighbouring Zakynthos. Blaquiere appears to have promised Byron that he would arrange for “a distinguished young poet of the Ionian islands” to receive and entertain him. The meeting never took place, but the fault may not have been Blaquiere’s: Solomos was known for his petulance and Robin Fletcher, in his study of ‘Byron in Nineteenth-century Greek literature,’ says that Solomos must have been aware of Byron’s presence in Kephallonia, and suggests that the Greek poet may have been indulging in one of his moods of retreat.

Byron’s feeling of indignity may have been eased by the fact that Napier’s deputy, John Pitt Kennedy from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, came on board the Hercules to welcome him to the island we know now as Captain Corelli’s Island. Napier returned to Kephallonia two days later, and he and Byron quickly became fast friends. Byron spent his first few weeks on board the Hercules, but eventually accepted Napier’s offer of hospitality. Napier wrote to his mother: “Lord Byron is here and I like him very much.” Amused rather than shocked by Byron's scepticism, the quietly religious Napier addressed the poet as “your athiestship.” Defending his faith in the course of those arguments, Napier told his guest he “never feared a parson, except when expecting long sermons in a cold church.” The two had lengthy discussions on the Greek situation and it was characteristic of Napier to think big and talk tough: he wrote to Byron saying: “A foreign force is the only thing which can give a speedy and decisive turn to the war.”

The Kennedy friends

Byron also became friendly with two Irish members of Napier’s staff, John Pitt Kennedy, who is credited with paving the roads of Kephallonia, and the devout and pious army doctor, James Kennedy. (Fiona MacCarthy claims Dr Kennedy for Scotland, but Woodhouse presumes he was Irish.)The poet distinguished between these two Kennedys on Kephallonia by referring to them as the Saint and the Sinner, although Woodhouse points out that John Pitt Kennedy “was certainly no sinner.”

The Aghios Theodoros Lighthouse in Kephallonia ... designed by John Pitt Kennedy

John Pitt Kennedy was born in Co Donegal in 1796, the fourth son of the Rev John Pitt Kennedy, Rector of Carndonagh. On Kephallonia, he was the island secretary and director of public works, and over eight years built the Vardiani and Aghios Theodoros lighthouses at the entrance to the harbours of Argostoli and Lixouri, erected public buildings, and criss-crossed the island with roads. His contemporary, the devout Dr James Kennedy, had lengthy discussions with Byron on the Christian religion, and even persuaded him on one occasion to go to church, for twelve hours. Dr Kennedy had no doubts about Byron's sincerity, and later wrote his Conversations on Religion with Lord Byron to clear the poet of “that obloquy which is attached to his name in the minds of most Christians.” Later, Kennedy sent Byron a Greek Bible printed in Malta on a printing press established by the Revd James Connor, who had been sent to Constantinople and Malta as the first missionary of the agency I once worked for, now known as the Church Mission Society Ireland.

On 6 September Napier helped Byron to move into a villa at Metaxata on the coast south of Argostoli. Byron’s simple house was small and poor but was set in an enchantingly beautiful landscape. From the balcony, he could see Zakynthos to the south and in the distance he could see the outline of the Peloponnese. There he found a relative degree of reflective tranquillity, and spent his time listening and doing nothing. He wrote:

“... standing at the window of my apartment in this beautiful village – the calm though cool serenity of a beautiful and transparent Moonlight – showing the islands – the Mountains – the Sea – with a distant outline of the Morea traced between the double Azure of the waves and skies – have quieted me enough to be able to write ... which (however difficult it may seem for one who has written so much publicly – to refrain) is and always has been – a task and a painful one.

Later, Henry Napier visited the house his brother Charles had found for Byron in Metaxata and described the scene:

“To Lord Byron’s admirers this village is classic ground, for he resided there for three months previous to his going to Missolonghi and his death. In consequence of not speaking Greek I had some difficulty to find the house because, as I afterwards discovered, the inhabitants knew him by no other name than ‘Milordo.’ It is small but situated on one of the most retired corners of this beautiful village with a fine view of the rich plain on one side and on the other the Castle of St George and Mount Aenos.”

At Lakithra nearby, a marble plaque marking one of Byron’s favourite spots bears an inscription in Greek that translates: “If I am a poet, I owe it to the air of Greece” – Byron.

Byron’s final adventure

Meanwhile, Byron was having doubts about the intentions of our friend, the Irish sea captain. He was convinced that Blaquiere and the London Greek Committee merely wished him to act as their agent and to take delivery of their funds, but were not interested in his joining the military struggle. On the other hand, during the remaining months of 1823, a stream of emissaries from Greece arrived at Metaxata bringing letters to Byron pleading the cause of different parties and factions. But Byron wisely refused to commit himself to any one faction.

Among the foreign Philhellenes who visited him at Metaxata were George Finlay, later the historian of Greece, and Leicester Stanhope, later fifth Earl of Harrington. Stanhope’s aristocratic arrogance irritated both Byron and Napier. Byron later wrote: “He came up (as they all do who have not been in this country before) with some high-flown notions of the sixth form at Harrow or Eton, but Colonel Napier and I soon set him right ... I can assure you that Colonel Napier and myself are as decided for the cause of Greece as any German student of them all; but like men who have seen the country and human life, there and elsewhere, we must be permitted to view it in its truth, with its defects as well as its beauties.”

Sir Frederick Adam, who was in charge of British affairs on Corfu, let Napier know that he was unhappy with Byron’s presence. “Let me know what Lord Byron's instructions are – and what he is about,” he wrote. Later he complained to Napier: “You don’t tell me a word of Lord Byron or what his intentions are.” Perhaps Adam was unaware of Napier’s intentions too: he was hoping to obtain the command of the Greek army, and Byron agreed to provide him with an introduction to the London Greek Committee. Byron admitted he “would like to linger because I feel more satisfied and time passes more pleasantly than ever long before.” But by now Napier was worried that Byron's presence was turning Kephallonia into a headquarters for the Philhellenes and a transit camp for volunteers.

Byron lingered on in Kephallonia for a little longer. When Napier was invited to become one of the three trustees – along with Byron and Stanhope – for the loans raised by Blaquiere and the London Committee, he declined the invitation, and his refusal was partly responsible for the bankers Barff and Partners delaying the release the funds when Blaquiere later arrived back in Zakynthos.

Stanhope arrived in Missolonghi on 12 December 1823, hoping that he would soon be joined by Napier as generalissimo of the Greek army. He began writing to Byron, almost daily, imploring him to cross over from Kephallonia to join the struggle. Byron finally left Kephallonia on 30 December 1823 for neighbouring Ithaki and after an eventual journey arrived at Missolonghi on 5 January 1824.

Meanwhile, Napier, tired of his quarrels with Adam and more deeply committed than ever to the cause of Greek liberation, left his two young Greek-born daughters in the care of John Pitt Kennedy, and taking Byron’s letter of introduction headed to England to meet the London Greek Committee. Byron recommended that Napier should be appointed to the command of a Greek army, saying: “... a better or braver man is not easily to be found. He is our man to lead a regular force or to organise a national one for the Greeks. Ask the Army? Ask anybody?” Byron’s biographer, Sir Harold Nicholson, concludes: “There can be very little doubt that had Napier’s services been accepted by the Greek Committee, the protracted misery of the Greek War of Independence would have been curtailed by several years.”

In London, Napier tried to raise £40,000 towards raising a Greek force. But much to his disgust he found that the Greek Committee was more interested in the cultural regeneration of the Greeks than in his own military genius. Byron – who had no illusions about his own military skills – continued to hope that Napier would return to take command of the Greek army. During his final days in Missolonghi, he confided to Dr James Kennedy, the devout Irish doctor, that he sensed his approaching end. And as he lay dying in Missolonghi on Easter Sunday, 19 April 1824, one of Byron’s last wishes was that Napier was there: “I wish that Napier and Hobhouse were here,” he said, “we would soon settle this business.” Byron died the following day, and the melancholy news was conveyed to Napier by James Pitt Kennedy.

A few days before his death, Byron had expressed those memorable words, “My wealth, my abilities, I devoted to the cause of Greece – well, here is my life to her!” His death was not in vain, and Blaquiere’s prediction that his presence would operate as a talisman proved true: the news reverberated across northern Europe, helped to keep interest in the Greek cause alive, and arguably changed the course of the war.

Lord Byron on His Deathbed, by Joseph-Denis Odevaere, c 1826

Raising funds

Meanwhile, what had happened to that adventurous Irish sea captain? Well, while Byron had been tarrying on Kephallonia, Blaquiere was touring England and Ireland, seeking the support for the Greek cause. The Greek loan was floated on the London Stock Exchange in February 1824, and Napier, Byron and Stanhope were nominated as commissioners for the loan. However, Napier declined the honour, while Stanhope was about to be recalled to the British army. And so, Napier and Stanhope were replaced as trustees, which played havoc with the bankers back in Zakynthos, while the contractors for the loan in London, Loughman, Son, and O’Brien – a very Irish partnership, by all accounts – made an excessive profit from the floatation of the loan.

Blaquiere sailed from London on the Florida at the end of March with the first instalment of that loan. By now, not only had Byron given up any hopes of meeting Blaquiere – he had died at Missolonghi on 19 April 1824. Two days later, Blaquiere arrived back in Zakynthos on board the Florida with the promised first instalment, totalling £40,000 sterling, and banked the money with Barff and Partners. By now, however, Byron was dead, Stanhope was back in Zakynthos, making his return to London, and Blaquiere had an acute problem in administering the funds. He found to his distress that Stanhope had ordered Barff and Partners not to release the funds, in the hope of having the London loan released to his own faction within the Greek leadership, and while Blaquiere tried to insist that in the new circumstances he was empowered to act alone, the bankers refused to release the money.

Blaquiere wanted the funds to be released so military preparations could begin immediately; he was anxious too to return on the Florida so that he could continue raising funds. And then, Byron’s body arrived on Zakynthos. There was a major debate on what to do with the body: Byron’s own wishes were to be buried in Greece, and the day before he died he declared: “One request let me make to you. Let not my body be hacked or be sent to England. Here let my bones moulder – Lay me in the first corner without pomp or nonsense.”

Despite those dying wishes, Count Pietro Gamba wanted to send Byron back to England for burial; Stanhope prevaricated; while Lord Sydney Osborne, to Blaquiere’s shock and dismay, thought “the body ought to be burned in Zante!!!!!!” – there are six exclamation marks in Blaquiere’s note. Blaquiere realised the propaganda advantages of a full funeral in London and so on 24 May 1824, the coffin was placed on the Florida, the same ship on which Blaquiere had arrived on the island just over a month earlier. The Florida set sail a day later, and so despite his dying wishes, Byron’s body was hacked: his heart was buried in Westminster Abbey, and his body was buried in a small parish churchyard. But what happened to his Irish friends in the struggle for a Greek nation?

A Cork commander

Well, Napier never accepted the command of the Greek army. It passed instead to another Irish Philhellene, Sir Richard Church (1784-1873). Church was born in Cork, into a distinguished family of Quaker merchants. His parents were shocked when he enlisted as a boy soldier; they bought him a commission, which led to their prompt excommunication or “disowning” by the Society of Friends.

Church took on Byron’s mantle among the Philhellenes when he became commander-in-chief of the Greek army following successful lobbying by Blaquiere and the banker Barff. Church has been hailed as “the liege lord of all the true Philhellenes.” But it is often forgotten that Church too had a family connection with Byron. He was married on 17 August 1826 to Elizabeth Augusta Wilmot; she was a sister-in-law of the 2nd Earl of Kenmare, Valentine Browne (1788-1853) of Killarney, Co Kerry, and her father, Sir Robert Wilmot, had been married to Byron’s sister, Juliana Elizabeth.

In March 1827, seven months after their marriage and less than three year’s after Byron’s death, Church arrived in Greece to accept to the command of the army. Later in 1830, he conspired with his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton (1784-1841), Byron’s nephew, to block an allied plan that would have severely limited the borders of the new Greek state. When he publicised Church’s opposition to the plans, a humiliated Prince Leopold decided not to accept the allies’ offer of the Greek throne – instead he would become King of the Belgians.

Sir Richard Church’s grave in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Church remained in Greece for the rest of his life, becoming a life senator, a councillor of state, and inspector general of the Greek army. He was involved in the coup of 1843 and the turmoil that eventually led to Greece acquiring a democratic constitution, and in the popular revolt that led to Otho’s abdication in 1862. He is commemorated by windows and plaques in Saint Paul’s Anglican Church in Athens; the monument over his grave in the First Cemetery in Athens bears the epitaph: “Richard Church General who having given himself and all that he had to rescue a Christian race from oppression and to make Greece a nation lived for her service and died amongst her people rests here is peace and faith”

Napier’s later career

Napier never became commander-in-chief of the Greek army. After the massacre at Missolonghi in 1826, he left Kephallonia, broken-hearted that his official position had left him unable to intervene. He left behind his Greek partner Anastasia and their two Greek-born daughters, and a plot of land in the hope that he could one day retire again to the island where Byron had been his guest and that had become his home. But this was not to happen. On his deathbed, he was attended by Lord Edward FitzGerald’s daughter, Pamela, who may have been the one true love in his life. His family later bequeathed his small piece of land in Argostoli to the people of Kephallonia and it is now a public park.

Back in Ireland, John Pitt Kennedy became increasingly critical of British government policies, and published a book with the revealing title of Instruct; Employ; Don’t Hang Them: or Ireland Tranquilized Without soldier and Enriched without English Capital. In 1838, he established a model farm and teacher-training school in Glasnevin, the first beginnings of Dublin City University. There he was visited by Napier, and they never lost the bonds of friendship forged in Kephallonia in the 1820s while Byron was their guest. He died in 1879 and is buried in London.

The Solomos connection

As for Blaquiere’s failure to make good the promise to introduce Byron to Solomos, there is one obscure connection between the Solomos family and the Irish Philhellenes, through Eliza Tuite, the daughter of a minor aristocrat, Sir George Tuite (1778-1841) of Kilruane House, near Nenagh, Co Tipperary. At the end of the 18th century, Count Nicholaos Solomos of Zakynthos became known as Count Tabakieris or “the tobacco count,” as he amassed a fortune through the tobacco trade. In the 1790s, the count had a secret affair with a young beautiful but poor Greek maid, Angeliki Niklis. Their two sons, Dionysios and Demetrios, were only legitimised in 1807 when the elderly count married her on his deathbed the day before he died. In the Spring of 1823, while Blaquiere was persuading Byron to go to Greece, one of those sons, Dionysios Solomos, wrote his Hymn to Liberty, which later became the Greek anthem.

Following Church’s capture of Zakynthos, the Solomos villa became the residence of the British High Commissioners during their visits to the island. In 1828, the poet Solomos moved from Zakynthos to Corfu. He returned frequently to Zakynthos for family visits, but became estranged from them in a lengthy legal battle with his brother Demetrios and their half-brother Ioannis Leondarakis over the remaining family property. In 1838, Eliza Tuite married Ioannis, by now Count Giovanni Salomos or Solomos, who had continued to live in Zakynthos and in Patras on the neighbouring Peloponnese shore. She died in Athens on 19 May 1861, her funeral was held in Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, and she was buried in Athens on 21 May 1861. Her husband, Count Ioannis Solomos, died two months later and was buried in Piraeus.

Blaquiere’s fate

But, finally, what happened to Blaquiere?

Blaquiere valiantly kept up his efforts and his struggles to ensure that the British loan was released by the bankers in Zakynthos so that it could be used to fund the Greek struggle for independence. While he remained in Zakynthos, he sailed with local Greek dignitaries and took part in a moving ceremony in the lagoons near Anatoliko on 18 June 1824, when Point Protopanistos was renamed Fort Byron.

He continued to play an active role in the struggle for independence. While some Greeks were still trying to persuade Napier to accept the command of the armed forces, Blaquiere and his banking friend in Zakynthos, Barff, along with others, had turned in hope to Sir Richard Church. He was still on Zakynthos when he drafted the Greek government’s invitation sent to Church in September 1826, and waited on Zakynthos expecting Church's arrival. Suspecting Church was unhappy with the terms of the invitation, Blaquiere returned from Zakynthos to the Greek mainland to seek a general invitation for Church.

When Church eventually arrived in Greece, Blaquiere was at Kastri to greet the Irish general upon his arrival on 9 March 1827. Blaquiere was still at Church’s side during the disastrous attempt to relieve the besieged garrison in the Acropolis of Athens, and when the surrender of the Acropolis on 5 June became the subject of controversy in the European press, Blaquiere rushed to defend the reputation of his fellow Irishman, Richard Church. Back in London, Blaquiere remained an active spokesman on behalf of Greece. He maintained his enthusiasm for radical causes, and was drowned some years later in 1832 in a leaky ship on a characteristic mission to promote the liberal cause in Portugal. It was a sad and lonely end for this heroic Irish adventurer, who was buried at sea rather than in Greece or close to his family in Saint Mark’s Churchyard in Dublin.

Byron, against his wishes, was buried in England and has his monument in Westminster Abbey. But none of his Irish Philhellene friends was buried in Ireland, nor, to our shame, is there a lasting memorial or monument to even one these Irish Philhellenes on their native soil.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This lecture was first delivered to a joint meeting of the The Irish-Hellenic Society and the Byron Society in the United Arts Club, 3 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin, on 9 February 2005.