Thursday, 31 March 2011

Anglicanism (9.1): Anglicanism, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue

MTh Year II

EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Anglicanism, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue

Patrick Comerford

Thursdays: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 31 March 2011, 2 p.m.:

Anglicanism, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue;

9.2: Post-colonial Biblical exegesis and liberation theology in contemporary global Anglicanism.

9.1: Anglicanism, ecumenical engagement and inter-religious dialogue


Opening discussion: experiences of ecumenism and inter-church dialogue:

Ecumenical dialogue: origins

Father Paul Wattson … while he was an Anglican priest he first proposed the Octave of Christian Unity

Last week, we saw how the search of Christian Unity was one of the priorities on the agendas of Lambeth Conferences from the very beginning. William Reed Huntington was the original thinker behind the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral, which became the touchstone for future Anglican endeavours to promote Christian unity.

After the Church Idea, Huntington published two further books – The Peace of the Church (1891) and A National Church (1898) – in which he commented on and developed his quadrilateral. In this last book, he proposed church unity on national but non-denominational lines, involving an organic union of American churches on the basis of territorial units by state and county. He believed this could be accomplished on the basis of his Quadrilateral rather than the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer, and he wrote that the articles ought “not continue to be considered … one of the essentials of the Anglican position.”

He was the inspiration and principal author of the 1892 revision of Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer. He pursued this revision because he was convinced it would aid the cause of church unity, not only by attention to the patristic sources, but also by the principles of flexibility, adaptability and revisability.

His progressive ideas on the role of women in the Church were far ahead of their time, and it was he who established the order of deaconesses in the Episcopal Church. He also helped found the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, contributing its iconographic plans and serving as a trustee for 22 years.

At the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1907, Huntington’s final agenda was revealed in his two-fold proposal to add the Quadrilateral by way of a preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church but also to remove the 39 Articles from their place in the Book of Common Prayer. In the end, both proposals were defeated, and Huntington died within two years at the age of 71, in 1909.

Despite Huntington’s feelings of failure, the ecumenical movement as we know it, and real Anglican engagement with it, begins in that first decade of the 20th century.

For example, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began as the Octave of Christian Unity over 100 years ago, in 1908 and focused on prayer for church unity. That week owes its origins to one of the earliest and one of the lasting Anglican efforts to promote Christian unity. The concept was first put forward by an Anglican friar, Father Paul Wattson, co-founder of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars.

The Society of the Atonement, also known as the Friars and Sisters of the Atonement or Graymoor Friars and Sisters were founded in the US in 1898 as a Anglican religious community by Lurana (Mother Lurana) White and the Revd Lewis (Father Paul) Wattson, with the aim of re-establishing Franciscan life in the Anglican Communion and working for a corporate reunion between Anglicans and Rome.

A major part of this effort was the Octave of Christian Unity, and although the Graymoor Friars and Sisters were later received as a body into the Roman Catholic Church, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity remains part of the legacy of Anglican ecumenical endeavours.

Irish Methodist missionaries commemorated in a window in a Methodist church in Orlando, Florida (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Dialogue with Irish Churches

The beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement are normally traced to the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910. But even before Edinburgh 1910, the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in Ireland had a joint committee for united efforts from 1904.

In 1910 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church invited other evangelical Churches in Ireland to set up similar joint committees with it. This was difficult for the Presbyterian Church – which still referred to the Church of Ireland as “the Protestant Episcopal Church,” “the former Established Church,” or the “Anglican Church.”

The Church of Ireland accepted and by 1911the first meeting of representatives of both the general Synod and the general Assembly was held in Dublin and the joint committee of the two Churches began to think about how to co-operate in philanthropic and religious work.

The issues addressed by the joint committee included temperance, national insurance, industrial schools and the Ne Temere decree of 1908.

In 1919, the Bishop of Down, Dromore and Connor, Dr D’Arcy, became the first Church of Ireland bishop to attend the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

‘Appeal to all Christian people’

A mission conference drawing together representatives of the Church Mission Society and other evangelical, non-Anglican mission agencies working in Kenya, including Presbyterians, concluded with a joint Communion service in Kikuyu in 1913. It may be difficult to imagine now, but that service stirred controversy, and was condemned, for example, by Bishop Frank Weston (1871-1924) of Zanzibar, who dismissed it as a “Pan-Protestant” communion.

For Anglicans, the Appeal to All Christian People issued by the 1920 Lambeth Conference was a seminal step forward towards Christian unity. Interestingly, Bishop Frank Weston was one of the key bishops involved in drafting this appeal, drafters of This appeal was addressed to all those throughout the world who had received Christian baptism, and it invited the Churches to seek unity together.

The Appeal is significant because it described all those who had undergone Trinitarian baptism as members of the Christian Church. In this statement, we can see Anglicans holding that the unity of the Church is grounded in the one baptism.

Anglicans have been the first to perceive the ecumenical significance of the mutual recognition by the Churches of common baptism.

The Appeal also recognised the authorisation of the Holy Spirit in the ministries of the non-episcopal churches. But it argued that the episcopate is a God-given instrument of unity and continuity that will enable God’s people to meet in the security of one Eucharist.

The 1920 Lambeth Conference also agreed that while maintaining the Book of Common Prayer as the Anglican standard of doctrine and practice, liturgical uniformity should not be required as a necessity throughout the Anglican Communion.

Continuing dialogue in Ireland:

In response to the 1920 Lambeth Conference appeal, the joint committees formed by the Irish Churches developed in 1923 into the United Council of Christian Churches and Religious Communions in Ireland, which later became the Irish Council of Churches (1966).

Throughout the 20th century, the Church of Ireland was a party to a number of bilateral discussions. However, dialogue between the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church become informal in 1923 and eventually petered out due to a number of factors, including the unstable political climate in Ireland and internal debates among Presbyterians about the meaning of subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

In 1931, the General Synod once again approached Presbyterians about a “scheme of union or … co-operation.” The ensuing discussions focussed on intercommunion, communicant membership, baptism, and the shared used of church buildings, but made little progress.

The talks eventually came to an end in 1935, and did not resume officially until 1964. Tripartite discussions began in 1968 between the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of Ireland. In 1973 a plan for unity, ‘Towards a United Church,’ was produced but was not received with much enthusiasm.

Discussions continued and material for confirmation classes and a Communion Service for use on inter-Church occasions were produced.

In 1988, a new Joint Theological Working Party was proposed to replace the Tripartite Consultation. This was accepted by the Methodist Church and Church of Ireland but was rejected by the Presbyterian Church.

In 1989 a joint Methodist/Church of Ireland Theological Working Party was set up. A Covenant was agreed between the two churches in June 2002 and the joint Theological Working Party was replaced by a Covenant Council in 2003.

National and international ecumenical bodies:

Of course, the Anglican Communion is not the only communion or grouping of churches of which the Church of Ireland and other Anglican Churches are now a part. In terms of looser alliances and federations, the Church of Ireland is an active member of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC, 1922), Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI, 1942 as BCC, and 1990), the Conference of European Churches (CEC, 1957), and the World Council of Churches (WCC, 1948).

The Irish Council of Churches:

The Irish Council of Churches began as the United Council of Christian Churches and Religious Communities in Ireland in 1922.

There were seven founding member churches at the council’s first meeting in January 1923: the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Moravian Church, the Congregational Union, and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Today there are 14 member churches, and the current president is Bishop Richard Clarke of Meath and Kildare.

The Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland (CTBI):

The British Council of Churches was founded in 1942 and the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church were foundation members.

In August 1990, the British Council of Churches was replaced by the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (now Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, CTBI) with the full participation of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference in England and Wales, and Scotland. The Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland are full members of CTBI, but the Presbyterian Church in Ireland declined to join when it was being set up.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC):

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) was founded in 1959. The Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church are full members.

The World Council of Churches (WCC):

The modern ecumenical movement traces its origins to the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910

The World Council of Churches (WCC) was founded in Amsterdam 1948 but has a pre-history dating back to the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910.

Throughout the 20th century, Anglicans played a prominent role in trying to establish these international ecumenical bodies.

Bishop George Bell … a key figure in the formation of the World Council of Church in 1948

The WCC brought together the work of two international inter-chruch working groups, ‘Life and Work’ and ‘Faith and Order.’ One of the leading figures in these movements was Bishop George Bell (1881-1958), as Dean of Canterbury (1924-1929) and then as Bishop of Chichester (1929-1958). His international contacts, and his continuing dialogue with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other Germans Lutherans in the Confessing Church, and with Swedish Lutherans, were a contributing factor towards the setting up of the WCC after World War II.

The Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church are members of the WCC. The Presbyterian Church had been a member, but withdrew in 1980.

Dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church:

Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury in conversation

During our Liturgy module, we saw that in the aftermath of Vatican II Pope Paul VI invited a number of outside theologians to meetings of the Commission for the Implementation of the Liturgy Constitution (now the Congregation for Divine Worship), including two influential Anglicans, Ronald Jasper of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission, and Massey Shepherd, a major architect of the revised American Prayer Book.

Saint Peter’s, Rome ... since the 1970s , ecumenical dialogue for Anglicans has often been dominated by the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commissions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is not surprising, then, that throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s, ecumenical dialogue for Anglicans was dominated by the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commissions (ARCIC 1 and 2), especially their discussions on Eucharistic doctrine.

Archbishop Henry McAdoo, Anglican co-chair of ARCIC ... detail from his portrait in the Chapter House of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The Eucharist was the first topic discussed by ARCIC, which was co-chaired by Bishop Henry McAdoo of Ossory, later Archbishop of Dublin. In 1971, ARCIC-1 published its first report, the Agreed Statement, or the Windsor Report on Eucharistic Doctrine. The commission said it had reached substantial agreement as to the nature of Eucharistic belief in the two Communions.

The second ARCIC statement on the priesthood was reached at Canterbury in 1973. ARCIC also produced a statement on Authority at Venice in 1976.

At Salisbury in 1979, ARCIC published elucidations of the first two Agreed Statements in the light of criticisms. An elucidation on the Venice report was published in 1981, and a second statement on Authority was produced at Windsor in 1981.

The level of convergence claimed for these agreements was much less than that alleged to have been achieved in the statements on the Eucharist and Ministry.

Venice ... one of the many venues for ARCIC (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

All the Agreed Statements, together with their Elucidations, were collected together in a Final Report in September 1981, and submitted for approval by the Vatican, Roman Catholic hierarchies and Anglican provinces throughout the world.

In the agreement, there is no categorical assertion that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, neither has this been excluded. In fact, the whole thrust of the reasoning here is that the Eucharist makes present the once-for-all Sacrifice of Christ here and now.

The Vatican’s official response to these ARCIC reports has been wanting in many respects. Nevertheless, there are four areas in which there are mutual influences and even convergences between Roman Catholic reforms and recent Anglican revisions:

● The Sunday Eucharistic lectionary;
● The Eucharistic prayers;
● The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults;
● Liturgical language.

The second phase of ARCIC dialogue was from 1983 to 2011. The topics covered included salvation, communion, teaching, and the place of Mary. In 2007 the commission issued Growing Together in Unity and Mission, which stated: “The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the ministry of the Bishop of Rome [the Pope] as universal primate is in accordance with Christ’s will for the Church and an essential element of maintaining it in unity and truth.” The document goes on to say: “We urge Anglicans and Roman Catholics to explore together how the ministry of the Bishop of Rome might be offered and received in order to assist our Communions to grow towards full, ecclesial communion.”

The meeting opening the third phase of Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue is due on 17-27 May 2011 at the ecumenical Monastery of Bose in northern Italy. This third phase of ARCIC is to consider fundamental questions regarding the ‘Church as Communion – Local and Universal,’ and ‘How in Communion the Local and Universal Church Comes to Discern Right Ethical Teaching.’

Liturgical dialogue

Meanwhile, the Societas Liturgica, founded in 1967 by Anglicans and Roman Catholics, has grown to become the international and ecumenical academy of liturgists, and has been an important forum for co-operation and agreement between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

The initiative was taken by of Wiebe Vos, a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church who had founded Studia Liturgica in 1962 as “an international ecumenical quarterly for liturgical research and renewal.”

In 1965, he invited 25 liturgists from Europe and North America to meet at the Swiss Protestant community of Grandchamp, in Neuchâtel. They formed Societas Liturgica “for the promotion of ecumenical dialogue on worship, based on solid research, with the perspective of renewal and unity.”

Lismore Cathedral, Co Waterford ... Dean Gilbert Mayes was the first secretary of Societas Liturgica

The first meeting of Societas Liturgica took place at Driebergen in the Netherlands in 1967. That meeting studied the Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican II and recent work on worship by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. The Very Revd Gilbert Mayes, Dean of Lismore, was elected the first secretary.

The second congress was held in Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick, in 1969, and since then Societas Liturgica has met at two year intervals, meeting in Dublin in 1995.

Most of the papers delivered at meetings of the Societas have been published in English in Studia Liturgica. There are now more than 400 members of Societas Litugica. The international and ecumenical character of the society is illustrated by the list of its successive presidents and council members, including many Anglican liturgists such as Gray, Jasper and Bradshaw.

The International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, which began in 1983, meets every two years, with the active participation and engagement of ecumenical partners.

The WCC, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Lima) and Taizé:

The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches published Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, the Lima Report, in 1982

The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches has also encouraged ecumenical conversation and convergence on the liturgy with the publication of the document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Lima, 1982).

This liturgy was strongly influenced by the ecumenical community at Taizé, and particularly by the Sub-Prior of Taizé, Max Thurian, and his interest in a diverse range of liturgical traditions, from the French Reformed to the Eastern Orthodox.

It discusses the Eucharist under five headings:

1, The Eucharist as Thanksgiving to the Father;
2, The Eucharist as Anamnesis or Memorial of Christ;
3, The Eucharist as Invocation of the Spirit;
4, The Eucharist as Communion of the Faithful;
5, The Eucharist as Meal of the Kingdom.

Dialogue with the Lutheran churches

A map showing the churches participating in the Porvoo Communion

As I have said, from the very beginning, the Lambeth Conferences were concerned not only with the unity of the churches that now form the Anglican Communion, but were anxious to pursue unity with other Churches, including the Old Catholics and the Scandinavian Lutherans.

The Anglican Churches and the Old Catholics have been in communion since the Bonn Agreement (1931), recognising each other’s orders, episcopate, ministry, &c, so forming effectively an overlapping communion – at least on continental Europe.

But the Church of Ireland is also part of a closer communion of churches, which is emerging in Northern Europe and which is being referred to increasingly as the Porvoo Communion – a grouping of more than a dozen Anglican and Lutheran churches in these islands, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

The member churches of the Porvoo Communion which have ratified the Porvoo Statement are:

● The four Anglican or Episcopal Churches of England (1995), Ireland (1995), Scotland (1994) and Wales (1995);
● The two Anglican churches in the Iberian peninsula: the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church (Portugal);
● The seven Lutheran or Evangelical-Lutheran Churches of Estonia (1994), Finland (1995), Iceland (1995), Lithuania (1994), Norway (1994), Sweden (1994) and Denmark (2010).
● In addition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has observer status.

Bishop Michael Jackson at the signing of the Porvoo Agreement by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark in Copenhagen last October

Initially, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark declined to sign Porvoo in the wake of strong criticism from Danish theologians in 1996 about the place of women as priests and bishops in the Church of England. But the Church of Denmark agreed to join in 2009 and signed the Porvoo Agreement in Copenhagen Cathedral in October 2010.

If Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which have their own separate dioceses, become independent states, which is possible within the next ten years, then the future of the Church of Greenland and the Church of the Faroe Islands, independent from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, could be worth watching.

This new communion has the prospects of, at some stage, being more important to the Church of Ireland than membership of the Anglican Communion. It dates back beyond those early initiatives at the Lambeth Conference to embrace the Scandinavian Lutherans – particularly the Church of Sweden.

The Anglican interest in the (Episcopal) Church of Sweden can be traced back to the Oxford Movement in the 1830s and 1840s. Prior to the first Lambeth Conference of 1867, Charles Kingsley and others were urging the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite the bishops of Sweden to the conference. The Lambeth Conference of 1920, although it avoided the term “inter-communion,” agreed to a series of special relations with the Church of Sweden, including mutual participation in Episcopal consecrations.

And so when, for the first time, the Church of Sweden formally came into a closer relation with another church it was, strangely enough, not with another Lutheran Church, but with the Church of England. And, although there is now full communion between the Church of Sweden and the Church of Ireland and other Anglican churches, there are still tensions between the Church of Sweden and those Lutheran churches it sees as not having preserved the historic episcopate.

The ordination of women in Sweden threatened to rock this relationship in 1959 and 1960, but it was resumed in 1976, and it has been the bedrock on which the Porvoo Agreement is founded. New tensions arose two years ago with the election in May 2009 of Eva Brunne as Bishop of Stockholm, and her consecration in November that year. She lives in a registered partnership with another woman, and has a four-year-old son.

The consecration of Eva Brunne as Bishop of Stockholm in November 2009

The Porvoo and Meissen agreements are similar to the agreements reached between the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the Waterloo Agreement between Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans, and similar agreements between Anglicans and Lutherans in other countries. Today, Anglican and Lutheran bishops share mutually in episcopal consecrations in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and many parts of the Americas.

Lutheran bishops from the member Churches of the Porvoo Churches have taken part in the most recent episcopal consecrations in Ireland: Trevor Williams of Limerick (2008, the Bishop of Iceland), Alan Abernathy of Connor (2007, Linkoping, Sweden), Michael Burrows of Cashel (2006, Lund, Sweden); Peter Barrett of Cashel (2003, Lund, Sweden, as well as Haarlem, the Old Catholic Church).

The Porvoo Agreement may provide the basis for further developments in the Meissen Agreement between the Anglican churches in these islands and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), which was signed in 1988.

The Meissen Agreement was signed only by the Church of England, but it may provide a basis for deepening the relations between the Anglican churches of these islands and the German Protestants, who are grouped in Lutheran, Reformed and United churches. It commits the churches to “share a common life and mission” and to “take all possible steps to closer fellowship in as many areas of Christian life and witness as possible,” by committing their churches to encourage partnerships and exchanges at all levels of church life, and on the part of theological colleges and specialist agencies.

Exchanges of ministers, church workers and students are also to be encouraged. It does not achieve full inter-changeability of ministers, but it does agree on mutual eucharistic hospitality and encourages attendance at each other’s ordinations.

The Reuilly Agreement, signed in 1997 and approved by the General Synod of the Church of England in 1999 and the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in May 2000, links the four Anglican Churches on these islands and the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches, acknowledging one another’s churches and looks forward to a fuller visible unity.

The eight participating churches are four Anglican churches of these islands (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales); and the four French churches of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions: the Church of the Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France, the Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine and the Reformed Church of France. It dates back to visit to Strasbourg in 1989 by Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury, when the French Reformed and Lutheran Churches signalled their desire to enter into closer fellowship with Anglican churches on the model of the Meissen Agreement.

Welcoming this approach, the Anglican side felt a new relationship with the French churches ought to be built on long, historical links between the churches. Those links include the story of the arrival of the Huguenots in Ireland following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

The continuing theological and other work done by the Meissen Commission and the Porvoo churches offered a structure and resources for the Anglican/French conversations, which began formally in 1994, and were completed by 1997.

Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue:

The Anglican-Orthodox consultations at Christ Church Oxford late last year

In Dublin, a number of Orthodox parishes are using former Church of Ireland parish churches – including the Romanian Orthodox Church in the former Christ Church, Leeson Park, and the Russian Orthodox Church in Harold’s Cross. In the past, the Greek Orthodox Church has also received hospitality in the former Saint Mary’s in the city centre and a former church in Ranelagh that has since been demolished.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, there were a number of attempts to open dialogue between Anglicans and the Orthodox traditions, most notably the establishment of a Greek college in Oxford, and the attempts at dialogue between the Nonjurors and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

However, modern dialogue between the Anglican and Orthodox traditions begins in 1962. Following the talks that year between the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Athenagoras I of Constantinople, the Primates of the Anglican Communion agreed unanimously to set up an Anglican Theological Commission to confer with theologians of the Orthodox Churches.

In 1964, the Third Pan-Orthodox Conference at Rhodes unanimously decided officially to resume dialogue with the Anglican Communion, and this was ratified by all the Orthodox Churches. After a preparatory phase (1966-1972) in which the Anglican and Orthodox Commissions met separately, the first series of joint conversations took place (1973-1976). In 1973, the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Discussions (A/OJDD) met for the first time in Oxford.

This first phase resulted in the Moscow Agreed Statement (1976) on the Knowledge of God, the Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, Scripture and Tradition, the Authority of the Councils, the Filioque Clause, the Church as the Eucharistic Community, and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist.

When the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission met at Cambridge in 1977 to study the subjects agreed at the conclusion of the Moscow Conference a “thunderstorm” broke out when the Orthodox members “realised with regret” that the ordination of women was “no longer simply a question for discussion but an actual event in the life of some of the Anglican churches,” and asked themselves “how it will be possible to continue the dialogue, and what meaning the dialogue will have in these circumstances.”

It was agreed that the 1978 meeting would take place “before the Lambeth Conference, in order, by expounding the Orthodox position, to enable their Anglican brethren to come to what, in their view, would be a proper appreciation of the matter. For the Orthodox the future of the Dialogue would depend on the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference.”

In February 1978 the Bishop Robert Runcie of St Albans told the General Synod of the Church of England that “the future as well as the character of these valuable doctrinal discussions now hangs in the balance.”

The main part of the 1978 conference at Moni Pendeli in Athens was devoted to setting out the Orthodox and Anglican positions on the Ordination of Women to the priesthood. In its report the Orthodox members said: “We see the ordination of women, not as part of the creative continuity of tradition, but as a violation of the apostolic faith and order of the Church … This will have a decisively negative effect on the issue of the recognition of Anglican orders ... By ordaining women
Anglicans would sever themselves from continuity in apostolic faith and spiritual life.”

They added: “It is obvious that, if the dialogue continues, its character would be drastically changed.” The joint conclusions to the report stated: “We value our Dialogue together and we are encouraged that our Churches and their leaders, as well as the members of our Commission, hope that it may continue under conditions acceptable to both sides.”

Following the 1978 Lambeth Resolution 21 on the ordination of women, the Orthodox Co-Chairman of AOJDD, Archbishop Athenagoras, expressed his view that “the theological dialogue will continue, although now simply as an academic and informative exercise, and no longer as an ecclesial endeavour aiming at the union of the two churches”. He later recommended that Orthodox professors rather than bishops should take part in the dialogue as an indication of its changed status and purpose. Some Orthodox agreed with this. However, as the Bishop of St Albans discovered during his visits to the Orthodox Churches in the spring of 1979, other Orthodox felt there was no need to change the standing of the talks and wished the dialogue to be.

The steering committee of AOJDD met in July 1979 and agreed that the full commission should continue its work in July 1980. “The ultimate aim remains the unity of the Churches,” it affirmed.

The commission resumed work at St Michael’s College, Llandaff, in July 1980, and approved a report on “The Communion of Saints and the Departed,” and continued the work on “The Church and the Churches” and on the Filioque clause in the Creed. This continued at meetings at the Orthodox Patriarchal Centre at Chambesy in Geneva 1981, and at Canterbury in 1982 where the sub-commissions focused on “The Mystery of the Church,” “Participation in the Grace of the Holy Trinity and Christian Holiness,” and “Tradition, Christian Worship, and the Maintenance of the Christian Faith.”

During his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios I in 1982 Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury referred to first series of Anglican-Orthodox conversations as a “spiritual summer” with the Moscow Agreed Statement as its “first-fruits,” but also spoke of a “wintry season” of difficulties experienced in Anglican-Orthodox relations. Archbishop Runcie, thanked the Patriarch for his encouragement to continue the dialogue which had led to a “second spring.”

In Odessa in 1983, the commission gave particular to Primacy (Seniority); Witness, Evangelism, and Service; and Prayer, Icons, and Family Devotion. The 1984 meeting at Bellinter, Co Meath, agreed on a report and statements on “The Mystery of the Church,” “Faith in the Trinity, Prayer and Holiness,” and “Worship and Tradition.” The publication after this meeting of the Dublin Agreed Statement (1984) concluded the second phase. Both statements recorded a measure of agreement on specific topics, while acknowledging continuing divergence on others.

The third phase of this dialogue began in 1989, when the commission was re-constituted as the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue (ICAOTD), chaired by Metropolitan John of Pergamon and Bishop Henry Hill (and later by Bishop Mark Dyer), drawing together senior clergy and theologians from the Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion. It has considered the doctrine of the Church in the light of the doctrine of the Trinity, and examined the doctrine of the ordained ministry of the Church. It has given particular attention to the question of who may be ordained to the presbyterate and episcopate, to ecclesiological issues and to aspects of Trinitarian doctrine.

The publication of The Church of the Triune God: The Cyprus Agreed Statement (2005) concludes the third phase of the Anglican-Orthodox international theological dialogue. The statement sets out significant material on the life of the Church which is timely and pertinent to many of the current debates within Anglicanism. It was sent for consideration to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Christ Church hosted the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue, which met from 31 August to 6 September 2010 and explored aspects of Christian anthropology: “what is a human being?”; “the freedom and growth of the human being with particular reference to the understanding of image and likeness”; and “human responsibility for the creation; a critical overview of recent statements by our churches.”

Anglicans and inter-faith dialogue:

Archbishop Michael Jackson and Bishop Trevor Williams visiting a mosque in Leicester earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

[Discussion: Experiences of inter-faith dialogue]

There is a difference not just in terms of expectations, but in understandings, between inter-church dialogue and inter-faith dialogue.

In the Church of Ireland, the Committee for Christian Unity (now the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue) of the General Synod and the House of Bishops published Guidelines for Interfaith Events and Dialogue in 2007:

Guidelines for Interfaith Events and Dialogue

The Guidelines were written for members of the Church of Ireland to equip them as members of a society experiencing accelerated diversity of faiths and cultures. These Guidelines build on the agreement reached at a Porvoo Consultation in Oslo in 2003.

The Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) of the Anglican Communion seeks to encourage:

● Progress towards genuinely open and loving relationships between Christians and people of other faiths.
● Exchange of news, information, ideas and resources relating to inter faith concerns between provinces of the Anglican Communion.
● Local contextual and wider theological reflection.
● Witness and evangelism where appropriate.
● Prayerful and urgent action with all involved in tension and conflict.
● Support for people of faith, especially Christians, who live as religious minorities in situations of discrimination or danger.

NIFCON does this by:

● Networking and meeting;
● Communication using various media
● Gathering information through its international presidents, management group, correspondents, and contacts support groups.

NIFCON has also been charged by the Lambeth Conference to study and evaluate Muslim-Christian relations and to report regularly to the Anglican Consultative Council.

Some of the Anglican work and consultations on Inter-Faith relations include:

● The Agreement between the Chief Rabbis and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
● The al-Azhar agreement.
● The declarations at Alexandria, Bali, Cairo, Islamabad and Kaduna.

NIFCON has convened or taken part in a number of key consultations, including:

● Bangalore (India), 2003, a South Asian consultation on ‘mission and dialogue’ that stressed the importance of engaging in trustful and respectful inter-faith dialogue while vigorously advocating the cause of minorities suffering religious oppression.

● Oslo (Norway), 2003, when Anglicans and Lutherans from the Porvoo Communion highlighted the need to maintain the integrity of the church’s ministry while enabling the pastoral care of the other.

● Kaduna (Nigeria), 2007, a meeting in the Christian and Muslim setting of West Africa, a consultation on ‘faith and citizenship’ that pointed to the challenge of witnessing persuasively to the Gospel while welcoming fellow citizens of other faiths as co-workers for the common good.

From these experiences and gatherings, and from soundings across the Anglican Communion, it is evident that Anglican churches can be renewed in their life and mission when they commit themselves as part of their discipleship to presence among and engagement with other faith communities.

We can recognise the three following dynamic patterns in particular through which we are being led into this newness of life:

● First, in maintaining our presence among communities of other faiths, we are abiding as signs of the body of Christ in each place.
● Second, in engaging our energies with other groups for the transformation of society, we are being sent in the power of the Spirit into each situation.
● Third, in offering embassy and hospitality to our neighbours, we are both giving and receiving the blessing of God our Father.

Additional reading:

Ian Ellis, Vision and Reality: A Survey of 20th Century Inter-Church Relations (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1992).
Eric Gallagher and Stanley Worrall, Christians in Ulster: 1968-1980 (Oxford University Press, 1982).
Michael Hurley (ed), Irish Anglicanism 1869-1969 (Dublin: Allen Figgis, 1970).
Brendan Leahy, Inter-Church relations – a tribute to Bishop Anthony Farquhar (Dublin: Veritas 2008).
Alan Megahey, The Irish Protestant Churches in the Twentieth Century (Macmillan Press, 2000).
Norman W Taggart, Conflict, Controversy and Co-operation: The Irish Council of Churches and ‘The Troubles,’ 1968-1972 (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Peter Thompson, Working out the covenant: the story so far (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2007).


The ARCIC Final Report

The WCC Report, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No 111 (The Lima Report)

For a study guide to the Lima Report, see: BEM study guide"> The Church of Ireland/Methodist Church in Ireland Covenant

Appendix: The Church of Ireland/Methodist Church in Ireland Covenant

The Methodist Church in Ireland
The Church of Ireland

We acknowledge one another’s churches as belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and as truly participating in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.

We acknowledge that in each of our churches the Word of God is authentically preached and the sacraments of baptism and holy communion authentically administered according to the command of Christ.

We acknowledge that both our churches share in a common faith set forth in the scriptures and summarised in the historic creeds.

We acknowledge our common inheritance in traditions of spirituality and liturgy.

We rejoice in our diversity from which we may mutually benefit as we continue to develop varied forms of worship as appropriate to different situations.

We acknowledge each other’s ordained ministries as given by God and as instruments of his grace by which our churches are served and built up. As pilgrims together, we look forward to the time when our ministries can be fully interchangeable and our churches visibly united.

We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight is embodied and practised in both churches, as each seeks to express continuity of apostolic life, mission and ministry.


We believe that God is calling our two churches to a fuller relationship in which we commit ourselves
● to share a common life and mission;
● to grow together so that unity may be visibly realized.

As the next steps towards that goal, we agree:
● to pray for and with one another and to avail of every opportunity to worship together;
● to welcome one another’s members to receive Holy Communion and other ministries as appropriate;
● to share resources in order to strengthen the mission of the Church;
● to help our members to appreciate and draw out the gifts which each of our traditions has to offer the whole people of God;
● to encourage the invitation of authorised persons of each church to minister in the other church, as far as the current disciplines of both churches permit;
● to encourage united Methodist/Church of Ireland congregations
◦ where there are joint church schemes
◦ where new churches are to be planted
◦ where local congregations wish to move in this direction;
● to encourage united Methodist/Church of Ireland chaplaincy work;
● to enable a measure of joint training of candidates for ordained and lay ministries of our churches where possible and appropriate and to encourage mutual understanding at all levels in our churches;
● to establish appropriate forms of consultation on matters of faith and order, mission and service;
● to participate as observers by invitation in each other's forms of governance at every possible level;
● to learn more about the practice of oversight in each other’s churches in order to achieve a fuller sharing of ministries at a later stage of our relationship.


Robert Armagh
Primate of All Ireland

W Winston Graham
President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

26 September, 2002
Chrome Hill,


Postcolonial Biblical exegesis and liberation theology in contemporary global Anglicanism.

Next week:

End-of-module integration and review, including discussion of what it means to be an Anglican today, and asking: is there an Anglican culture?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is an extended version of notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Thursday 24 March 2011

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A note on three of this evening’s hymns

‘The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’ (John 4: 14) … A hidden waterfall above the beach at Loughshinny Co Dublin (Photograph; Patrick Comerford) (from the cover of the booklet for this evening’s Community Eucharist)

Patrick Comerford

Our processional hymn at the Community Eucharist this evening [30 March 2011], The Lenten Prose (Hymn 208, Church Hymnal, 5th edition), is a plainsong responsory from a 10th century Mozarabic litany, Attende Domine, and is a beautiful plea for God’s mercy. The first line is sung as a response between the verses and the English translation allows it to be sung to the traditional chant.

The Lenten Prose was introduced to modern hymnody by Dom Joseph Pothier, the Benedictine liturgist at Solesmes, in 1895, and was first adapted in English by WJ Birkbeck (1859-1916) in the English Hymnal (1906), which he co-edited with Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Birkbeck, whose grandmother was from Co Galway, was a devout Anglican who worked to increase understanding in England of pre-revolutionary Russia and the Russian Church. In 1913, he was the Birkbeck Lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at Trinity College Cambridge.

Vaughan Williams wrote the settings for both ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ and ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’

The setting for our Gradual, I heard the voice of Jesus say (Church Hymnal, 576), is Kingsfold by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)., who was one of the greatest English composers of the last century and the musical editor of The English Hymnal, which he co-edited with Dearmer and Birkbeck.

Vaughan Williams also wrote the tune for this evening’s offertory hymn, Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life. The words are from The Call, a poem by George Herbert (1593-1633), published in a posthumous collection of poetry, The Temple, in Cambridge in 1633.

The Call is essentially a meditation on Christ’s words to the Apostle Thomas: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14: 6). Herbert adds a number of additional allusions and offers real food for thought in the way he develops his theme. Because of the structure of each of the three stanzas, this poem is often described as “a trinity of trinities.”

George Herbert’s ‘Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life’ was first published as the poem ‘The Call’ in his posthumous collection, ‘The Temple’

Herbert had been an MP and a Jacobean courtier before he was ordained in 1630, encouraged by Nicholas Ferrar and his community in Little Gidding. As Rector of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton St Andrew, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, Herbert was unfailing in his care for his parishioners, bringing the Sacrament to those who were ill and food and clothing to those in need. There he also began writing poetry, and shortly before he died he sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, who later arranged for its publication. Other hymns from The Temple in the Church Hymnal include King of glory, King of peace (358) and Let all the world in every corner sing (360).

Vaughan Williams, like Herbert, studied at Trinity College Cambridge. He retained the title The Call for his setting for this hymn, which was first published as the fourth of his Five Mystical Songs in 1911. However, the harmonisations of this evening’s hymn version are not identical to the original by Vaughan Williams – instead, the version in the Church Hymnal combines the first half of the version in BBC Songs of Praise (1997) with the second half from the Cambridge Hymnal (1967).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute

The Raising of Lazarus, John 11: 1-45

The Raising of Lazarus, Juan de Flandes, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Patrick Comerford

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday after next, the Fifth Sunday in Lent [10 April 2011], are: Ezekiel: 37: 1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8: 6-11; and John 11: 1-45.

John 11: 1-45

1 ἦν δέ τις ἀσθενῶν, Λάζαρος ἀπὸ Βηθανίας, ἐκ τῆς κώμης Μαρίας καὶ Μάρθαςτῆς ἀδελφῆς αὐτῆς. 2 ἦν δὲ Μαριὰμ ἡ ἀλείψασα τὸν κύριον μύρῳ καὶ ἐκμάξασατοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ ταῖς θριξὶν αὐτῆς, ἧς ὁ ἀδελφὸς Λάζαρος ἠσθένει. 3 ἀπέστειλανοὖν αἱ ἀδελφαὶ πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγουσαι, Κύριε, ἴδε ὃν φιλεῖς ἀσθενεῖ. 4 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁἸησοῦς εἶπεν, Αὕτη ἡ ἀσθένεια οὐκ ἔστιν πρὸς θάνατον ἀλλ' ὑπὲρ τῆς δόξης τοῦθεοῦ, ἵνα δοξασθῇ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ δι' αὐτῆς. 5 ἠγάπα δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν Μάρθαν καὶτὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν Λάζαρον. 6 ὡς οὖν ἤκουσεν ὅτι ἀσθενεῖ, τότε μὲνἔμεινεν ἐν ᾧ ἦν τόπῳ δύο ἡμέρας:

7 ἔπειτα μετὰ τοῦτο λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς, Ἄγωμενεἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν πάλιν. 8 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταί, Ῥαββί, νῦν ἐζήτουν σελιθάσαι οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, καὶ πάλιν ὑπάγεις ἐκεῖ; 9 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς, Οὐχὶ δώδεκα ὧραίεἰσιν τῆς ἡμέρας; ἐάν τις περιπατῇ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, οὐ προσκόπτει, ὅτι τὸ φῶς τοῦκόσμου τούτου βλέπει: 10 ἐὰν δέ τις περιπατῇ ἐν τῇ νυκτί, προσκόπτει, ὅτι τὸ φῶς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν αὐτῷ.11 ταῦτα εἶπεν, καὶ μετὰ τοῦτο λέγει αὐτοῖς, Λάζαρος ὁ φίλος ἡμῶν κεκοίμηται, ἀλλὰ πορεύομαι ἵναἐξυπνίσω αὐτόν. 12 εἶπαν οὖν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ κεκοίμηται σωθήσεται. 13 εἰρήκει δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς περὶτοῦ θανάτου αὐτοῦ. ἐκεῖνοι δὲ ἔδοξαν ὅτι περὶ τῆς κοιμήσεως τοῦ ὕπνου λέγει. 14 τότε οὖν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁἸησοῦς παρρησίᾳ, Λάζαρος ἀπέθανεν, 15 καὶ χαίρω δι' ὑμᾶς, ἵνα πιστεύσητε, ὅτι οὐκ ἤμην ἐκεῖ: ἀλλὰἄγωμεν πρὸς αὐτόν. 16 εἶπεν οὖν Θωμᾶς ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμος τοῖς συμμαθηταῖς, Ἄγωμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς ἵναἀποθάνωμεν μετ' αὐτοῦ.

17 Ἐλθὼν οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εὗρεν αὐτὸν τέσσαρας ἤδη ἡμέρας ἔχοντα ἐν τῷ μνημείῳ.18 ἦν δὲ ἡ Βηθανία ἐγγὺς τῶν Ἱεροσολύμων ὡς ἀπὸ σταδίων δεκαπέντε. 19 πολλοὶ δὲ ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίωνἐληλύθεισαν πρὸς τὴν Μάρθαν καὶ Μαριὰμ ἵνα παραμυθήσωνται αὐτὰς περὶ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ. 20 ἡ οὖνΜάρθα ὡς ἤκουσεν ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἔρχεται ὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ: Μαριὰμ δὲ ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ ἐκαθέζετο. 21 εἶπεν οὖν ἡΜάρθα πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν, Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἂν ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός μου: 22 [ἀλλὰ] καὶ νῦν οἶδα ὅτι ὅσαἂν αἰτήσῃ τὸν θεὸν δώσει σοι ὁ θεός. 23 λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀναστήσεται ὁ ἀδελφός σου. 24 λέγει αὐτῷ ἡΜάρθα, Οἶδα ὅτι ἀναστήσεται ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ. 25 εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή: ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ κἂν ἀποθάνῃ ζήσεται, 26 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ζῶν καὶ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ οὐμὴ ἀποθάνῃ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα: πιστεύεις τοῦτο; 27 λέγει αὐτῷ, Ναί, κύριε: ἐγὼ πεπίστευκα ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸςὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἐρχόμενος.

28 Καὶ τοῦτο εἰποῦσα ἀπῆλθεν καὶ ἐφώνησεν Μαριὰμ τὴνἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς λάθρᾳ εἰποῦσα, Ὁ διδάσκαλος πάρεστιν καὶ φωνεῖ σε. 29 ἐκείνη δὲ ὡς ἤκουσεν ἠγέρθηταχὺ καὶ ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν: 30 οὔπω δὲ ἐληλύθει ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν κώμην, ἀλλ' ἦν ἔτι ἐν τῷ τόπῳ ὅπουὑπήντησεν αὐτῷ ἡ Μάρθα. 31 οἱ οὖν Ἰουδαῖοι οἱ ὄντες μετ' αὐτῆς ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ καὶ παραμυθούμενοι αὐτήν,ἰδόντες τὴν Μαριὰμ ὅτι ταχέως ἀνέστη καὶ ἐξῆλθεν, ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῇ, δόξαντες ὅτι ὑπάγει εἰς τὸμνημεῖον ἵνα κλαύσῃ ἐκεῖ. 32 ἡ οὖν Μαριὰμ ὡς ἦλθεν ὅπου ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἰδοῦσα αὐτὸν ἔπεσεν αὐτοῦ πρὸςτοὺς πόδας, λέγουσα αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἄν μου ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός. 33 Ἰησοῦς οὖν ὡς εἶδεν αὐτὴνκλαίουσαν καὶ τοὺς συνελθόντας αὐτῇ Ἰουδαίους κλαίοντας, ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι καὶ ἐτάραξενἑαυτόν, 34 καὶ εἶπεν, Ποῦ τεθείκατε αὐτόν; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Κύριε, ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε. 35 ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς. 36 ἔλεγον οὖν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, Ἴδε πῶς ἐφίλει αὐτόν. 37 τινὲς δὲ ἐξ αὐτῶν εἶπαν, Οὐκ ἐδύνατο οὗτος ὁ ἀνοίξαςτοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς τοῦ τυφλοῦ ποιῆσαι ἵνα καὶ οὗτος μὴ ἀποθάνῃ;

38 Ἰησοῦς οὖν πάλιν ἐμβριμώμενος ἐνἑαυτῷ ἔρχεται εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον: ἦν δὲ σπήλαιον, καὶ λίθος ἐπέκειτο ἐπ' αὐτῷ. 39 λέγει ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἄρατε τὸνλίθον. λέγει αὐτῷ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τοῦ τετελευτηκότος Μάρθα, Κύριε, ἤδη ὄζει, τεταρταῖος γάρ ἐστιν. 40 λέγειαὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐκ εἶπόν σοι ὅτι ἐὰν πιστεύσῃς ὄψῃ τὴν δόξαν τοῦ θεοῦ; 41 ἦραν οὖν τὸν λίθον. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἦρεν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἄνω καὶ εἶπεν, Πάτερ, εὐχαριστῶ σοι ὅτι ἤκουσάς μου. 42 ἐγὼ δὲ ᾔδειν ὅτιπάντοτέ μου ἀκούεις: ἀλλὰ διὰ τὸν ὄχλον τὸν περιεστῶτα εἶπον, ἵνα πιστεύσωσιν ὅτι σύ με ἀπέστειλας.43 καὶ ταῦτα εἰπὼν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἐκραύγασεν, Λάζαρε, δεῦρο ἔξω. 44 ἐξῆλθεν ὁ τεθνηκὼς δεδεμένος τοὺςπόδας καὶ τὰς χεῖρας κειρίαις, καὶ ἡ ὄψις αὐτοῦ σουδαρίῳ περιεδέδετο. λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Λύσατεαὐτὸν καὶ ἄφετε αὐτὸν ὑπάγειν.

45 Πολλοὶ οὖν ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, οἱ ἐλθόντες πρὸς τὴν Μαριὰμ καὶθεασάμενοι ἃ ἐποίησεν, ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτόν.


Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Rembrandt, The raising of Lazarus, ca 1630, Los Angeles County Museum of Art


In the Gospel according to Saint John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is the last and the greatest of the seven Signs performed by Christ. We also have here the fifth of the “I AM” sayings: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11: 25).

The Raising of Lazarus is the crowning miracle or sign, revealing Jesus as the giver of life and precipitating his death. 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, the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Christ is an appropriate Sign to recall as a prelude to Holy Week, as we prepare for the climax of Lent and to mark the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Saturday after this reading – the Saturday before Palm Sunday – is known traditionally in the Orthodox Church as Lazarus Saturday, and the appointed Gospel reading is this reading, John 11: 1-45. In the Orthodox Church, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday together hold a unique position as days of joy and triumph coming between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.

The theme of the raising of Lazarus dominates all Orthodox services on Lazarus Saturday, while at the same time looking forward to Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day. 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. 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 that are omitted on Palm Sunday are chanted today on Lazarus Saturday.

Many Orthodox people abstain from meat and dairy products on Lazarus Saturday, although wine and oil are allowed, and special spice breads called Lazarakia are made in Greece and eaten. In Greece, it is a custom on Lazarus Saturday to make elaborate crosses out of palm leaves or olive branches that are then used the next day, Palm Sunday.

The canon on the Resurrection of Lazarus by Saint Andrew of Crete, chanted at Vespers the night before Lazarus Saturday, is also a preparation for Holy Week:

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 we sing with one accord:
O Lord, glory be to you.

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.

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

Reading the story:

This story is well-known because it once contained the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept (John 11: 35, AV).

Jesus loved Lazarus, who had died in Bethany. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he finds Lazarus has been dead four days. Jesus comes to his tomb, and despite the objections of Martha, he has the stone rolled away, prays, and calls on Lazarus to come out. This Lazarus does, wrapped in his grave clothes.

The Raising of Lazarus illustrates the two natures of Christ: his humanity in weeping at the death of his friend and in asking: “Where have you laid him?” (John 11: 35); and his divinity in commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead (John 11: 43).

Verse 1:

The name Lazarus means “God helps,” the Greek Λάζαρος (Lazaros) being derived from the Hebrew Eleazar, “God’s assistance,” or “God has helped.” So, already the name of the principal character in the story introduces us to expectations of God’s actions.

Verse 3:

Notice that when the news comes to Jesus, it is brought with no specific request to come or to act.

Verse 4:

Jesus replies: ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’

His reply is enigmatic, but he is not saying that the life of Lazarus is not in danger, for he knows already that Lazarus has died (see verses 11, 14). Note the comparison between physical death, which is inescapable, and spiritual death, which comes by choice.

Verse 5:

Note the tenderness here that counters any harsh interpretation of the words in verse 4 – Jesus loves Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus.

Verse 6:

Jesus does not delay going to Bethany out of callous disregard for the plight of Mary and Martha. What he is going to do is not as a reaction, but on his own initiative. Jesus ought to be seen as proactive rather than reactive.

Verse 9:

Here again we have the contrast between light and dark, a Johannine theme we encountered in recent weeks in the lectionary readings, for example, about Nicodemus and the blind mean healed at the pool of Siloam.

Verse 11:

“Asleep” is a common term in the New Testament for death (see Matthew 9: 24; Mark 5: 39; Acts 7: 60).

Verse 14:

But just in case they think “asleep” means sleep, and is not a euphemism, then Jesus tells them plainly: “Lazarus is dead.”

Verse 15:

Once again we come across the Johannine theme relating seeing and believing.

Verse 16:

Contrast Thomas’s apparent faith at this point, with his refusal to believe until he sees for himself after the Resurrection.

Verse 20:

Here, as in Luke, Martha is the active sister, while Mary is the contemplative member of the household in Bethany (see Luke 10: 38-42).

Verse 22:

Martha has moved beyond personal interest in seeking for her brother; now she moves beyond even that wider but limited circle of want and need to accepting what God wills.

Verse 23:

Death is not the end. But I am reminded of how Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to say that there are things that are worse than death for a Christian … including the loss of values, commitment and faith.

Verse 25:

This the fifth of the “I AM” sayings in this Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11: 25).

Verse 27:

Martha addresses Jesus as “Lord.” But notice then how she uses three distinct titles in affirming her faith in Christ: Messiah, Son of God, and “the one coming into the world.”

Verse 28:

After that, the title “the Teacher” appears to be quite a mundane title for Martha to use. Yet this is also the title Mary Magdalene uses at the tomb on Easter morning (John 20: 16). So can we draw parallels between what is happening at this grave, and what we can expect two weeks later on Easter Day?

Verse 34:

Jesus asks: “Where have you laid him?” This is precisely the same phrase used by the women when they arrive at the empty tomb on Easter morning (John 20: 2), and when Mary approaches Jesus in the garden (John 20: 13).

Verse 35:

Do you think the four words here lose the literary impact on the King James Version; “Jesus wept”?

Of course, the word used for Jesus weeping is not the same word used to describe formal weeping at a Jewish funeral. It means to shed tears, and indicates that Jesus is not just formally acknowledging the death of his friend, but is sharing in the human emotions of grief and sorrow.

The Raising of Lazarus illustrates the two natures of Christ: first his humanity is revealed in his weeping at the death of his friend and in asking: “Where have you laid him?” (John 11: 35).

Verse 39:

Popular belief at the time accepted that the soul lingered near the body for three days. So on the fourth day Lazarus was truly dead, and all that remained in the grave was a corpse.

Verse 41:

“And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me’.”

The Greek conveys more of the prayerful action that is taking place here: ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἦρεν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἄνω καὶ εἶπεν, Πάτερ, εὐχαριστῶ σοι … (“And Jesus lifted his eyes up and said, Father, I give thanks to you …”). In other translations it says Jesus “lifted up his eyes.”

Lifting up his eyes is a prayerful action in itself, and that combined with his giving thanks to the Father has action and words that convey Eucharistic resonances.

Verse 43:

The Raising of Lazarus illustrates the two natures of Christ: here we find his divinity in his commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead.

Verse 44:

In his death, Christ breaks through the barriers of time and space, bringing life those who are dead. Those who hear the voice of Christ live.

The other Lazarus

In the poem, The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock, TS Eliot refers to Lazarus in these lines:

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”

But Eliot is referring to the other Lazarus in the Gospel stories: Lazarus who each day sat begging outside the gate of a rich man, his sores being licked by the dogs, while inside Dives, dressed in fine clothing, is dining sumptuously each day (Luke 16: 19-31).

Both men die, but Dives would like Lazarus to come back to life. But despite what Eliot says and Dives hopes, this Lazarus does not come back from the dead once he has been received into Abraham’s Bosom at the heavenly banquet. For his part, the rich man craves merely a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger to cool his tongue, for he is tormented by fire, and wants Lazarus to return and warn his wayward brothers.

This Lazarus is the only character in a New Testament parable with a name. The rich man has been named Dives by tradition, but in the telling of the story he has no name: in effect, he has lost his name, and with it his human identity.

Death comes to us all. We all end in the grave. No miracles, no wishing, no praying, can take away that inevitability. Dives learns – when it is too late – what it is to be human, and that we do not come back from the grave.

This Lazarus was rewarded, not because he was poor, but for his virtuous acceptance of poverty. The rich man was punished, not because he was rich, but for his persistent neglect of the opportunities his wealth gave him.

Christ in his life points us to what it is to be truly human. In the grave, he proves he is truly human. He has died. He is dead. Unlike Lazarus the beggar, he can bridge the gap between earth and heaven, even between hell and heaven. But like Lazarus of Bethany, he too is raised from death not by human power but by the power of God.

The grave of Lazarus

There is no further mention of Lazarus of Bethany in the Bible. So what happened to the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany? And what happened to Lazarus himself?

The first tomb of Lazarus at Bethany (al-Eizarariya) continues to be place of pilgrimage. According to ancient tradition, Lazarus was 30 years old when he was raised from the dead. But of course Lazarus had to die a second (and last) time. Orthodox tradition says Lazarus went to Cyprus, where he lived for another thirty years and became the first Bishop of Kition (Larnaka). 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.”

When he –finally – died, it is said, Lazarus was buried in Larnaka. In 890 or 898, his relics were transferred to Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI “the Wise”, when the Emperor composed his stichera for Vespers, “Wishing to behold the tomb of Lazarus …” His body was later stolen by the Crusaders in 1204 and pirated away to France as one of the spoils of war. However, the location of his (second) grave in Kition has the inscription: “Lazarus the four days dead and friend of Christ.”

Come out, Lazar

Come out, Lazar, (Paul Spicer, the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge)

An interesting piece of music to play for reflecting on the story of the raising of Lazarus is by Paul Spicer. Come out, Lazar is the title track (7’24”) on a recording made two years ago of the shorter choral works of this English choral conductor 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, to mark the 1300th anniversary of Lichfield Cathedral. The Independent described it 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 the 2009 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.

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.

Notes produced two years ago 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.

An icon of The Raising of Lazarus from the dead


Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer

God of hope,
in this eucharist we have tasted
the promise of your heavenly banquet
and the richness of eternal life.
May we who bear witness to the death of your Son,
also proclaim the glory of his resurrection,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in tutorial group with MTh students on 30 March 2011.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Water Awareness Sunday Ecumenical Service

Canon Patrick Comerford, Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, addressing the 3Rock Churches Environmental Group ‘Water Awareness Sunday’ Ecumenical Service in Whitechurch Parish Church

The website of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough has posted the above photograph and two further photographs by Orla Ryan taken at the 3Rock Churches Environmental Group ‘Water Awareness Sunday’ Ecumenical Service in Whitechurch Parish Church, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, yesterday afternoon [Sunday, 27 March 2011]:

Canon Patrick Comerford, Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and the Revd Canon Horace McKinley, Rector, pictured following the 3Rock Churches Environmental Group ‘Water Awareness Sunday’ Ecumenical Service in Whitechurch Parish Church

Robert Cochran, TRCEG; Máirtín de Burca, TRCEG Chairperson; Carol Newburn, Taney Parish; Canon Patrick Comerford, Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute; the Revd Canon Horace McKinley, Rector; Pamela Sheil, Whitechurch Parish; Helen McSharry, TRCEG; Helen Shiel, TRCEG Methodist representative; Alan Shiel, Whitechurch Parish; Teresa Hunt, Holy Cross TRCEG; Gabriel Hunt, Holy Cross TRCEG; and Owen Lemass, TRCEG, pictured following the 3Rock Churches Environmental Group ‘Water Awareness Sunday’ Ecumenical Service in Whitechurch Parish Church.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

‘The voice of the hidden waterfall’

‘in the stillness/Between two waves of the sea’ ... waves on the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath, this weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

‘Holy Wellspring’:

Whitechurch Parish Church, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

Sunday 27 March 2011, 3 p.m.

Reading: John 4: 5-15.

Patrick Comerford

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

On Easter Monday, 29 March 1630, a Puritan leader, John Winthrop, sailed from England for the New World, “with a great company of religious people,” on the Arbella. They had only been to sea for a short time when their flagship was rocked by the waves in a storm that set their spiritual and worldly course.

The Arbella eventually arrived safely, with its crew and passengers, at Salem, Massachusetts, in June 1630, and its passengers disembarked to begin their great mission, establishing a pioneering plantation of faith and fellowship, their holy “city upon a hill.” Among the new settlers was Isaac Stearns, who later settled in Watertown, and who throughout his life would constantly recall God’s “favour and blessing.”

A generation later, in the late 1660s, Andrew Eliott emigrated from East Coker in Somerset, sailing to Salem in Massachusetts, and later settling in Beverly. Both men were the direct ancestors of Thomas Stearns Eliot, the poet TS Eliot, who, from childhood, regularly returned to New England each summer, revelling in the sights and sounds of the sea.

And so the poet’s formative years were influenced by the open, haunting call of the sea on the north shore of Massachusetts, which continued to influence his work long after he had crossed that sea, back to his deepest ancestral roots, becoming England’s own great Nobel Prize winning poet.

As we climbed a path above Loughshinny beach yesterday and came across a hidden waterfall, I was reminded how Eliot concludes his poem Little Gidding (1942), the last of his Four Quartets, with his deep thoughts about the spiritual refreshment to be found in water, in rivers and in the sea:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

‘The voice of the hidden waterfall’ ... above the beach at Loughshinny, Co Dublin, yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

These are rich images that draw beautifully on Saint John’s closing vision in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 22) of the New Jerusalem, in which the River of the Water of Life, bright as crystal, flows through the middle of the great street of the city from the throne of God and of the Lamb. The tree of life grows in the middle of this street and on either side, or in the middle of the street and on either side of the river. The tree bears twelve kinds of fruit, producing this fruit every month (Revelation 22: 1-2).

According to Saint John, “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22: 3).

Surrounded by the Aegean waters in his lonely exile on Patmos, Saint John, more than any of the four Gospel writers, draws constantly on water for his images of God, of God’s action in the world, of Christ’s bounty and generosity, and of the Kingdom of God. It is as if he is drawing from a deep well for his inspiration.

But we take water for granted in this country. We use it freely. We baulk at any efforts to charge us for it in restaurants. I can imagine that the great political battle in a few years to come may not be over the cost of recapitalising the banks but on the follow-up to introducing water charges.

Already the world is suffering from a scarcity of water. Those who analyse future security risks point to the danger of wars in the future in the Middle East caused not by militant Islam, nor by militant Zionism, but by competition for access to the waters of the Nile, the Jordan and the rivers of Mesopotamia, the Euphrates and the Tigris.

We take water for granted at the moment in Ireland. But last winter’s water crisis was created precisely because we take water for granted. It was not caused by us using too much water, but by us wasting too much water, mainly through not maintaining the pipes that bring water from our lakes and rivers to our homes, factories, offices and schools.

If we do not remedy this soon – and it can only be remedied through political will, political action and public spending – then we face a series of major water crises, every year, each winter and each summer.

If this problem is not addressed, and water charges are introduced, then we can be sure, that like all taxation, those charges will rise steadily, drip-drip-drip, that people will be cut off, that major health problems will arise, and that eventually – as so often happens – there will be pressures to privatise the water supplies. When that then happens, profit, not health and cleanliness, will quickly become the primary motive for supplying water.

At present, this may appear to be a prospect so dismal that it is almost a fantasy of Orwellian dimensions. But it can come about through our own complacency, our own carelessness, the way we continue to think that water … well … that water is going to continue flowing freely, in saecula saeculorum.

In The Waste Land, Eliot warns us to “fear death by water,” and tells how:

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Why do we take water for granted?

Why, when we ought to be in wonder and in awe?

Up to 60% of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70% water, and the lungs are nearly 90% water. About 83% of our blood is water, which helps digest our food, transport waste, and control our body temperature. Each day, each human must replace 2.4 litres of water, some through drinking and the rest taken by the body from the foods we eat.

When water finally flows from Christ’s side on the cross, we know that he has given us all.

God gives us all in the water of life.

Yes, we ought to be in wonder and in awe.

To quote again from T.S. Eliot, he writes in the The Dry Salvages (1941), the third of the Four Quartets:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god — sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities — ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget...

Yes, we ought to be in wonder and in awe.

But so often we forget about water in our cities until it becomes a problem. And then, when the problem goes, we forget about the way in which water is the first and the last of God’s great blessings in nature, immediately after creation itself.

● Creation comes on the first day, in the story in Genesis, and life begins to have possibilities and to take shape on the second day, when God separates the waters.
● The slaves are led from captvity to freedom and promise through the waters of the Red Sea.
● The exiles weep and dream of promise by the waters of Babylon.
● In the waters of the Jordan, Christ is revealed as the Beloved Son, and the Spirit hovers above the new creation.
● Water flows from the side of the Crucified Christ.
● The waters of Baptism incorporate us into the Body of Christ.
● And then, God’s creation reaches the climax of its potential, its potential beauty, with that image in Revelation of the City of God with the River of Life running through its centre.

Too often we see water as a problem – rivers to be bridged, tsunamis to clean up after, storms to clear up from, leaky roofs, dripping drains, flooded fields, stormy shores, barren deserts when water fails ...

And we blame not ourselves.

I begin each day in the shower, thanking God for water, not just the water that cleans me, restores my health and quenches my thirst, but thanking God too for the waters of baptism, in which I was bathed in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, when God called me his own.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well ... a modern icon in the Orthodox tradition

In our Gospel reading this afternoon, Jesus shares water with a woman who is an outsider in so many ways. Sharing water with her, he tells her she is not an outsider, she is accepted by God, she is truly called into the Kingdom of God.

He offers her living water, and those who drink of this water that he gives us will never be thirsty. The water that he gives us will become in us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

It is water that cannot be tainted, water that cannot be commoditised, water that privatisation cannot stop from flowing freely.

Lord, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the 3Rock Churches (ECO Congregation) Ecumenical Service in Whitechurch Parish, Rathfarnham, Dublin, on Sunday 27 March 2011.