Sunday, 31 July 2011

A weekend wedding, but no walk on the beach

It was too wet for a walk on the beach in Portrane this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I was back in Dublin on Friday to take part in my niece’s wedding on Saturday afternoon. Deirdre Donnelly and Ruaírí Higgins were married in the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist, Clontarf Road, Dublin.

The church dates to the appointment of the Revd James Callanan as Parish Priest of Clontarf in 1829. He bought a house that is now home the Holy Faith Convent, and approached Colonel Vernon of Clontarf Castle for a site for a new church. Archbishop Murray laid foundation stone on 16 June 1835, and it opened in 1838. The church was designed by the prominent Dublin architect, Patrick Byrne. The church was enlarged in 1895, with the addition of 17 ft at the chancel end, a new high altar, pulpit, altar rails, sacristy, bell and belfry.

Saint John’s Church, Clontarf... the venue for Saturday’s wedding (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Father Terry Murray officiated at the wedding, and I was asked to read the Gospel and to bless the rings. The Gospel reading was John 15: 9-17:

Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

The bride and groom, Ruaírí Higgins and Deirdre Donnelly, with their best man and bridesmaid, Dáire Higgins and Fionnghuala Donnelly, in the Parish Church of Saint John the Baptist, Clontarf Road, on Saturday afternoon

On to Portmarnock and Portrane

Saint Marnock of Portmarnock in commemorated in the new chapel and meeting room in Saint Andrew’s Church, Malahide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The reception was in the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, which has sweeping views across the sand dunes and the lengthy sandy beach at Portmarnock, and which has its own historic and royal associations with weddings.

The hotel stands on land originally part of the Jameson family estate, and the house was called Saint Marnock’s House, remembering the early patron saint who gave his name to this area. King Edward VII often visited the Jameson family, and on his last official visit in 1907 he unveiled a plaque designed to mark the marriage between members of two great Jameson and Haig distilling families.

The Jameson family had a nine-hole golf course on the site over a century ago, and Portmarnock has interesting associations with Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless, whose mother was Annie Jameson, and with the pioneering aviator, James Mollison (husband of Amy Johnson), who took off from Portmarnock Beach on 18 August 1932 for the first solo east-west crossing of the Atlantic.

Despite the cloudy weather this morning, there was a beautiful view of the sea and the shoreline this morning on the way from Portmarnock along the coast to Malahide, for the Parish Eucharist and a baptism in Saint Andrew’s Church, Malahide.

A window in Saint Andrew’s Church commemorating Richard Wogan Talbot, 5th Baron Talbot of Malahide, 2nd Baron Talbot de Malahide, who died in 1921 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The church has interesting stained glass windows in memory of members of the Talbot family of nearby Malahide Castle But the connections with ancient links with Portmarnock are not forgotten, and the new extension is known as Saint Marnock’s Chapel.

From there it was on to Portrane, to help out at the bookstall in the big marquee at the sale organised by my Lynders cousins in aid of Heart-to-Hand. This three-day sale takes place each year and raises funds for projects in Albania, Bosnia, Moldova and Romania.

By late this afternoon, thick clouds covered the whole Portrane area, and heavy rain was coming through the canvas of the large marquee and on all the stalls. There was no possibility of a walk on the beach. It was time to go home, in the hope that the fine weather returns for the last day of the sale tomorrow [Monday 1 August 2011].

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Turning a ‘mark of failure’ into a ‘sign of new life’

Westcott House, Cambridge ... around the corner from Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Cambridge has two Anglican theological colleges for training ordinands – Westcott House and Ridley Hall. Although not part of the University of Cambridge, both halls have close ties with the university and students receive their degrees through the university Faculty of Divinity or from Anglia Ruskin University.

During the week, I visited Westcott House and Ridley Hall. Westcott is around the corner from Sidney Sussex College, in Jesus Lane, close to Wesley House and Jesus College. Like the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, based in Wesley House, both Westcott and Ridley are members of the Cambridge Theological Federation.

Westcott began as the Cambridge Clergy Training School in 1881, founded by Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (1925-1901) while he was the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, and it was renamed Westcott House in his honour in 1901. Ridley Hall was also founded in 1881, and was named in memory of Nicholas Ridley, the 16th century Reformation martyr.

Ridley Hall, Cambridge, founded in 1881 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ridley Hall, which has an evangelical ethos, is across Silver Street Bridge on Sidgwick Avenue on the west side of the River Cam. Ridley alumni include the former Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, and the current principal, the Revd Canon Andrew Norman, succeeded Dr Christopher Cocksworth who became Bishop of Coventry three years ago.

I was particularly interested in paying a return visit to Westcott House, where a former student at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, the Revd Christopher Woods, moves there in a few weeks time as acting chaplain. Westcott House prepares men and women for ordination, provides pathways for theological educators and pioneer ministers, and offers continuing education resources and sabbatical opportunities for clergy and laity.

Uncluttered simplicity

The interior of the chapel in Westcott House is marked by its uncluttered simplicity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The chapel at Westcott is at the heart of the community life. Its uncluttered simplicity provides ideal sacred space for a range of services from sung high mass to said Morning Prayer, from adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to “prayer and praise” services.

As a worshipping community, Westcott House places the Church of England’s Common Worship at the heart of its life, and the diversity it expresses is reflected among the ordinands. But the Book of Common Prayer has a place there too so that students are immersed in its rhythms and at home with its language.

The Eucharist and the Daily Offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are at the centre of worship in Westcott House. The Community Eucharist on Thursday evenings is the focus of the worshipping week, and on Sundays, students are sent out in a diaconal spirit to local parish churches and college chapels.

Visiting preachers at Westcott have included the Chief Inspector of Prisons, for a celebration of Elizabeth Fry, the chaplain of Great Ormond Street Hospital, on Saint Luke’s Day, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the patron of the college chapel, Saint Athanasius.

Once a fortnight, the staff and students of the Cambridge Theological Federation – including those of Westcott House, Ridley Hall, the IOCS and Wesley House – join in shared worship. These services can bring a wide variety of experiences – from Orthodox vespers to charismatic evangelical communion to Roman Catholic Masses to remembrances of the Holocaust led by the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations.

‘A profoundly significant icon’

The altar in Westcott Chapel, with the icon written by Marianna Fortounatto in 1981 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The stark austerity of the chapel at Westcott is dominated by the icon of Christ, commissioned by the Common Room and written by Marianna Fortounatto in 1981. The icon bears his words: “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15: 16).

Archbishop Rowan Williams, in his book The Dwelling of Light: Praying with Icons of Christ (Canterbury Press, 2003) bases his chapter on the Pantocrator on this icon, writing: “The icon of the Pantocrator in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge, was and is for me and many others a profoundly significant image.”

Of its meaning he writes: “The point is simple: face to face with Jesus, there and only there, do we find who we are. We have been created to mirror his life, the eternal life of the one turned always toward the overflowing love of the Father; but our human existence constantly turns away. When we look at Jesus, we see in some measure what he sees, and are drawn to where his eyes lead us ... we look at him looking at us, and try to understand that as he looks at us he looks at the Father.

“In other words, when he looks at us, he sees the love that is his own source and life, despite all we have done to obscure it in ourselves. When we look at him looking at us, we see both what we were made to be, bearers of the divine image and likeness, and what we have made of ourselves.”

Westcott Chapel also hosts the services of the Russian Orthodox Parish of Saint Ephraim the Syrian. The parish usually meets on Saturday evenings and on Sunday mornings, and members of the House are warmly welcome to attend the services.

A landmark in Cambridge

All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, seen from Jesus College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the weekday offices at Westcott is said at All Saints’ Church, which has been used for other occasional services, including a celebration of All Saints’ Day last year. The church stands on the corner of the Westcott House site on Jesus Lane, facing Jesus College. Its pale stone spire, which can be seen from Sidney Sussex, is a prominent city landmark.

The interior of All Saints’ Church ... a fine example of the Gothic Revival and of the Victorian arts-and-crafts movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

All Saints, which is a triumph of Victorian art and design, was built in the 1860s to the plans of the 19th-century architect GF Bodley, and was completed in 1871. The simple wooden door opens into a dramatic blast of colour and pattern. Light gleams through stained-glass windows, designed by leading Arts and Crafts artists, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Maddox Brown.

Almost every surface has painted, stencilled or gilded decoration – pomegranates burst with seeds; flowers run riot over the walls; there is a glorious painting of Christ, the Virgin Mary and Saint John, with throngs of angels; the north aisle has three fine windows by CE Kempe and Co (1891-1923); there is stained glass by Douglas Strachan; and the fittings designed by Bodley include the alabaster font, the pulpit, and the oak aisle screen.

All Saints was declared redundant in 1973 and for years the church stood as a challenging symbol of the Church’s decline. But conservation work began in 2006 under the watchful eyes of Churches Conservation Trust, which cares for All Saints’, and this has resulted in Westcott starting to use the church again for worship.

Westcott is now planning to use the building – as has happened in the past – for liturgical and homiletic instruction, and students and staff are working with the Conservation Trust to turn what was once seen as a mark of failure into a sign of new life.

An interesting challenge

The Revd Christopher Woods ... moves to Westcott House, Cambridge, in September (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is an interesting challenge for the Revd Christopher Woods, Secretary of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission and National Worship Adviser, who has been appointed Acting Chaplain at Westcott for the Michaelmas and Lent terms next year (2011-2012).

Christopher trained for ordination at the Church of Ireland Theological College, and for the past four years he has been living in Cambridge, where he has been Chaplain and Director of Studies at Christ’s College since 2007. Two years ago, I was his guest when he invited me to deliver the Candlemas lecture-sermon in Christ’s College. He moves to Westcott at the end of August.

Over coffee in Michaelhouse, he explained how his work as Secretary of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission and as he National Worship Adviser, means he spends part of his working week in Church House, Westminster, overseeing the work of the commission, and advising the Church of England on best practice in liturgy and worship and developing liturgical formation.

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

Friday, 29 July 2011

Summer School in Cambridge comes to an end

A quiet corner of Cambridge, off King’s Parade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

The 12th Summer School of the Institute for Orthodox Studies has come to an end, I have packed left my rooms at Sidney Sussex College, my bags are in the Porters’ Lodge, and I am ready to leave Cambridge to catch a plane at Stansted Airport.

After our closing lectures and thanks, we had lunch in the Hall and I was one of a group of students from this year who were interviewed by Dr Constantinos (Costas) Athanasopoulos about our experiences at the summer school including our visit to Saint John's Monastery yesterday, for the IOCS distance learning website.

Later, I had coffee in Michaelhouse with the Revd Christopher Woods, an old friend and former student, who is about to move in a few weeks’ time from Christ’s College to Westcott House – Sidney Sussex stands halfway between the two colleges.

Before leaving, I had my own quiet walk about through the streets in the historic centre of Cambridge, dropped in to Saint Botolph’s Church for the first time, and then remembered to have a haircut near Pembroke College.

It’s been a good week. I’m looking forward to coming back to Cambridge again. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s wedding in Dublin.

A quiet corner of Cambridge, behind Saint Bene’t’s Church and Corpus Christi College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Engaging with secularism: different approaches, east and west

Inside the Main Gate at the Porters’ Lodge in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

On the closing day of the summer school [Friday 29 July] in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, two lecturers invited us this morning o look at a variety of approaches to engaging with secularism and modernity.

Dr Brandon Gallaher of Keble College, Oxford, spoke on: “An Alternate Modernity? Orthodox and Roman Catholic Engagements with Secularism and (Post-)Modernity, and the Nature of Episcopal Authority.” Professor Nicholas Loudovikos of the Superior Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki addressed the topic: “An Orthodox Perspective on Psychology and Secularism.” They were speaking on the closing day of the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, which has the theme: “The Challenge of a Secular Age.”

Dr Gallaher looked at Pope Benedict XVI’s critique of and his engagement with to secularism and modernity, and the response of the Moscow Patriarchate, including the works of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and his book Freedom and Responsibility. In a Search for Harmony. Human Rights and Personal Dignity, and of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.

He outlined the complexity of secularism and modernity, and rejected an Orthodox tendency to look at them as monolithic. Religious communities will still have a stake in secularised societies, and society will have to deal with that.

Post-secularism has been described by Jürgen Habermas and addressed by Pope Benedict, but has not been addressed as firmly by Orthodoxy, he said. “You have to talk to people who are secular, and not at them,” Dr Gallaher said.

There are multiple modernities, reconstituting multiple constructions over time, and spoke of those who seek a specifically Christian way of being modern.

Pope Benedict has talked about the dictatorship of relativism and the need to avoid. He speaks of a Christocentric vision that could oppose this, and says theology always needs to be done in a Church context.

For Pope Benedict, Christianity is the true humanism. Western society has forgotten its Christian roots, has relegated God to the merely personal and private, and has no absolute or eternal values. Although claiming to be neutral, secularism is merely negative tolerance, leading to negative discrimination. He says: “In the name of tolerance, tolerance is being abolished.”

Freedom becomes an empty goal because freedom is defined as what one can do with power. Reason ends up destroying itself. Reason and freedom need to make contact again with their roots. Reason needs faith and faith needs reason.

The Pope speaks of the necessary relatedness between reason and faith. They are called to hep and purify each other, acknowledging their mutual need, and correcting and purifying each other.

The Enlightenment has its roots in Christianity, and secularism rightly understood can be a good thing. He calls Christianity back to understanding its essential values, and secularism can be profoundly Christian, so that faith is calling the secular realm back to its root.
Turning to the experience of the Russian Orthodox Church, Dr Gallaher was more critical, looking at the conflicting demands of dialogue and tradition. The approach to dialogue has often been characterised by the invitation: “Come in.”

But he pointed out that while the Roman Catholic Church is a multinational organisation, the Russian Orthodox Church is still essentially a national church and is working in the context of a post-Soviet situation.

He looked at the development of dialogue between the two churches, which share similar concerns about militant secularism, which Metropolitan Hilarion sees as a grave threat to Christian Europe.

Metropolitan Hilarion has been a key figure in dialogue between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate. But Dr Gallaher sourced much of Metropolitan Hilarion’s views on population and immigration in the writings of the right-wing American writer Patrick Buchanan.

He also looked at Metropolitan Hilarion’s views on Church-State relations in Russia, and his writings on secularism, in which he sees Christian roots and much good.

Returning to the different ways in which the question of secularism is approached by the two Churches, he concluded that Pope Benedict had found space for dialogue with secularism, which is a child of Western Christianity, while the Orthodox begin with tradition which leaves little possibility for dialogue with what is seen as liberal and secular.

He argued that Orthodoxy had much to learn from the Vatican’s approach to dialogue, which is needed. He said there is a need for a “spiritual daring” and to risk one’s values for an “ultimate modernity.”

Dr Gallaher is Lecturer in Theology at Keble College, Oxford, and is about to take up a British Academy post-doctoral fellowship at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, working on a project on secularism and religious authority in modern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologies.

He studied at the University of British Columbia, McGill University, Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and Regent’s Park College, Oxford. His doctoral work at Oxford under Professor Paul Fiddes was on the role of freedom and necessity in the Trinitarian theologies of Sergii Bulgakov, Karl Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar. He has published on Russian theologians and philosophers, including Sergeii Bulgakov, Georges Florovsky and Vladimir Solov’ev, and is co-editing a Florovsky Reader with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writing a foreword.

Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in the summer sunshine this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Our final lecture this morning was delivered through a conference call. Professor Nikolaos Loudovikos of the Superior Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki spoke to us from Greece on the topic: “An Orthodox Perspective on Psychology and Secularism.” Dr Loudovikos, who is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church, is Professor of Dogmatics and Philosophy at the Superior Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki.

Drawing on Charles Taylor’s definitions of secularism, he traced it to the rise of a society in which self-sufficient humanism, an exclusive humanism, is an option, owing allegiance to nothing else.

He also looked at the psychological aspects of secularism and modernity, and drew on his own studies of Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Gregory Palamas, Saint Thomas Aquinas and his own work in psychology as he looked at the possibility of humanity becoming what we are made to be.

He spoke of the impossibility of personhood without communion and of the need for a “dialogue of reciprocity.”

Father Nikolaos studied psychology, pedagogy, theology, and philosophy in Athens, Thessaloniki, Paris and Cambridge, and his thesis for his PhD in theology at the University of Thessaloniki examined The Eucharistic Ontology in the Theological Thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor. He has taught in Cambridge, Durham, Winchester, and Patras, and is also a part-time lecturer at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies here in Cambridge.

His recent publications include: The strive for participation: Thomas Aquinas and Gregory Palamas (Athens); A Eucharistic ontology: Maximus The Confessor’s eschatological ontology of being as dialogical reciprocity (Athens and Boston); The terrors of the person and the ordeals of love: critical thoughts for a postmodern theological ontology (Athens); and Theopoiia: postmodern theological aporia (Athens).

The bell of the chapel at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

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

‘Keeping’ chapel in Sidney Sussex and Saint Bene’t’s

Saint Bene’t’s Church is the oldest building in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

An anonymous 19th century ballad, The Freshman and the Dean, is a reminder of how Cambridge undergraduates were expected to “keep” chapel twice on Sundays four times during the week:

It was a fast Freshman who slumbering lay
At a quarter to eight by the right time of day,
Yet still did he slumber, nor heeded the bell,
Which so early did ring him to morning Chapel.


Yes, time flies away and such changes it brings.
That it’s hard to believe in the Oneness of things!
For an acorn grown old as an oak may be seen.
And a Freshman himself may some day be a Dean!

There’s a hurrying of Gownsmen, their Chapels to keep,
But this gay gallant Freshman lay soundly asleep;
The psalms were all sung and the prayers were all said,
But this fastest of Freshmen lay fast in his bed !

’Twas past ten o’clock, when our hero at last
Was leisurely taking his morning repast.
When a neat “billet-doux” from the Dean did arrive,
Requesting his presence at quarter past five.

“How now, Mr Newman, this must not go on,
Sunday morning Chapel is a sine qua non
In the future don’t give me occasion to speak,
But keep two on each Sabbath and four in the week.”

“Mr Dean,” said our Freshman, “I'm in your bad books,
But I’m sure that my fault’s not so bad as it looks,
For to Chapel each morning in spirit I go,
Though my body sleeps snugly in bed as you know.”

“Oh, if that be the case,” said the Dean with a frown,
“You are free. Sir, (in spirit) to roam through the town.
But remember, or treatment more stringent awaits,
That your body, this week, will keep snug within Gates.”


This moral, my friends, you may all take to heart.
In your dealings with Dons, it don’t pay to be smart;
For, ’though briefly you score in an elegant way.
They’ve a card up their sleeve when it’s their turn to play!

During this week, I have been attending chapel in Sidney Sussex College most evenings. But I could not say any morning that “my body sleeps snugly in bed.” I’ve been skipping out of Sidney Sussex most mornings to attend the Daily Eucharist at 8 a.m. in Saint Bene’t’s, a short walk away at the corner of Bene’t Street and Free School Lane.

Tucked into a corner of Corpus Christi College, Saint Bene’t’s is beautiful and ancient church, appreciated by many for its history and architecture. The name of the church may have inspired the setting for Susan Howatch’s third set of three novels – the Saint Benet’s Trilogy – although the novels are is set in the fictional Saint Benet’s Church in London in the 1980s and 1990s.

But this church is also an oasis of calm in the middle of the university and the city. There are many other historic and notable Anglican churches nearby – Saint Botolph’s, Saint Edward’s, Great Saint Mary’s and Little Saint Mary’s – to say nothing of the chapels of the many Cambridge college. But there is something special and something deeply spiritual about Saint Bene’t’s.

The interior of Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The oldest building in Cambridge

Saint Bene’t’s is an ancient parish church, the oldest building in Cambridgeshire, and has been a place of Christian worship for almost 1,000 years. This is an Anglo-Saxon foundation dating from around 1020, when Canute was King of England. The church is dedicated to Saint Benedict, yet, despite of its name, St Bene’t’s was never a monastic place of worship, and has been a parish church from the very beginning.

The Saxon tower was probably completed around 1033. The tower has distinctive “long and short” corner dressings of Barnack stone, and the bell opening is carved from a single stone. All four original Saxon cornerstones or quoins can still be seen inside the church, along with the magnificent Saxon arch. The round holes in the tower are said to have been made to encourage owls to nest and catch mice.

Although the tower may have been built to hold bells from the beginning, the earliest record of bells in the tower only dates from the 13th century – when the bell of St Bene’t’s was used to call students to special lectures and to examinations.

The rector of the day, Alan, complained about this in 1273, but the Bishop of Ely persuaded him to allow the bell to be used “in a civil and honest way.” After that, the parish clerk was paid an annual fee of 6s 8d for ringing the bell to call the students.

The arcading separating the nave and the south aisle dates from around 1300. To the south or right of the altar, are two curved ogee arched recesses dating from the 14th century. One arch houses the sedilia or seats for the officiating clergy – the priest, deacon and subdeacon; the other arch once held the piscina, the shallow basin used for washing the Eucharistic vessels and for the disposal of water used sacramentally, with a drain direct to the earth.

Close to Corpus Christi

Blind recesses on the south side of the transept in Saint Bene’t’s … they once opened into a room that is now part of Corpus Christi College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the 14th century, the church was used by some of the Cambridge guilds, and in 1352 the Guild of Corpus Christi, which met at Saint Bene’t’s, joined with the Guild of Saint Mary, which met at Great Saint Mary’s Church, the University Church, to found the College of Corpus Christi.

For many decades after the foundation of Corpus Christi, the college had no chapel, and the members worshipped at neighbouring Saint Bene’t’s Church. Saint Bene’t’s was used as the college chapel for many years and the two still have strong links. Tiny peepholes in a wall at the east end of the south aisle indicate a 16th century staircase leading to an upper room. The staircase is now blocked off, and the upper room is part of Corpus Christi College.

The Pelican, the symbol of Corpus Christi College, on a hassock in Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The association between the church and the college was so strong that Corpus Christi was popularly known as Bennet College, and in the early 16th century a gallery was erected connecting Old Court and the church.

On the floor near the staircase is a brass to Richard Billingford, DD, Master of Corpus Christi and Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who died in 1432. He wears a doctor’s cap, and the robe called a cappa clausa, which is still used for some university ceremonies.

Last year, for the first time since probably the 16th century, the Corpus Christi Day procession took place from Saint Bene’t’s to Corpus Christi College.

The bells of Saint Bene’t’s

In 1553, the church had “thre great Belles and one Sanctus Bell.” The oldest surviving bell in the church is the second, dated 1588. The third bell, dated 1607, bears the inscription: “Of all the bells in Benet I am the best, and yet for my castings the parish paid lest.”

The bells continued to be used for summoning to “ye schooles ... acts, clearums, congregations, lecturs, disses, and such like,” according to a receipt for a fee of 6s 8d dated 1624.

However, by 1650 the bells were “much out of frame and almost become useless.” In 1655, the churchwardens appealed for money to repair the bells. The university gave 30 shillings, with the caveat that it was a free gift was not to be regarded as setting a precedent. Corpus Christi College also gave money. Today there are six bells, dated 1663, 1588, 1607, 1825, 1610 and 1618.

Rebuilding and retention

The Victorians rebuilt the chancel and the chancel arch in the 19th century, adding new clerestory windows and a new roof, as well as widening the north and south aisles. The north and east walls of the chancel were rebuilt in their original positions, but the south wall, which may be part of the original Saxon church, was retained.

Some of the items of historical interest that have been retained in the church include a 13th century coffin lid, a late mediæval iron-bound chest, a funeral bier, refectory table and bench from the 17th century, and an 18th century fire hook for pulling burning thatch from the roof.

There is also a modern icon of Saint Benedict and Saint Francis – the church was staffed by Franciscans for 60 years from 1945 to 2005 – as well as a crucifix carved by a sister of the Community of Saint Clare, and ‘The Passion,’ a modern sculpture by Enzo Plazzotta.

Since 1578, there have been 73 incumbents at St Bene’t’s and 52 of these have been members of Corpus Christi. Most did not stay long, perhaps because there was no rectory and they had to move elsewhere when they married. Many had distinguished careers, including eight who became masters of Corpus Christ College, four who became bishops and two who became archbishops.

Those former vicars include Michael Ramsey, who was here in 1938 and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. He is still remembered fondly, and the Ramsey Rooms, created at the west end of the south aisle in 2002, beside the tower, are used for Sunday School and other meetings.

The most recent Vicar of Saint Bene’t’s was the theologian, writer and broadcaster, the Revd Angela Tilby, who has also been a tutor in Church History at Westcott House on Jesus Lane. She had been vicar from 2007, and she spent her last Sunday in the church earlier this month on 3 July before leaving to take up a new position as a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

The church continues the rhythms of common daily prayer today, with the Eucharist at 8 a.m. each morning and Evening Prayer at 6 p.m.

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

Old portraits and new needs in Cambridge

Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College last night ... the IOCS summer school comes to an end today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

The portraits of two Irish bishops – Archbishop John Bramhall of Armagh and Bishop John Garnett of Clogher – decorate the Old Library and the stairs leading up to it in Chapel Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

Last night [28 July], we had our closing dinner of the Summer School of the Institute for Orthodox Studies in the Old Library, dining beneath the portrait of Archbishop Bramhall and other Episcopal worthies associated with Sidney Sussex.

Archbishop Bramhall (1594 -1663), who received his BA, BD, MA and DD degrees while he was a member of Sidney Sussex, came to Ireland as Archdeacon of Meath in 1633, became Bishop of Derry in 1634 and became Archbishop of Armagh in 1661. As archbishop, he presided at the consecration in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, of two archbishops and ten bishops for the post-restoration Church of Ireland, and became Speaker of the Irish House of Lords.

Bishop Garnett (1709-1782) graduated BA at Cambridge in 1728, and MA in 1732. He was a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College and Lady Margaret preacher to the university before going to Ireland in 1751 as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Dorset, and in 1752 became Bishop of Ferns. He became Bishop of Clogher in 1758. Bishop Garnett died in Dublin in 1782.

Professor David Frost, in that famous tie, speaking under the portrait of Archbishop John Bramhall in the Old Library in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Principal of the IOCS, Professor David Frost, a Shakespearean scholar, a liturgist and a former Fellow of Saint John’s College, where we watched Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the previous night, stood beneath Bramhall’s portrait after dinner last night as he told a story about a number of Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops who were known variously as “Your Eminence,” “Your Elegance,” “Your Excellence,” and “Your Effluence.”

But on a more serious note, he also launched an appeal for a new home for the IOCS, which has been housed for the past ten years at Wesley House on Jesus Lane, and has been using facilities offered by other colleges in the Cambridge Theological Federation.

But as it expands, the institute needs a place of its own and is now looking at two linked Victorian terrace houses in Portugal Place, beside Saint Clement’s Church, an early English church which is used by both a small Church of England parish and the much larger Greek Orthodox parish of Saint Athanasios. It is a vision that needs practical as well as financial support.

Later, it fell to me – as one of the longer-standing students at these summer schools – to thank the directors, staff and lecturers for all they have done for us in the past and in the present, and for all they hope to do in the future.

And then – in a less sober mood – many of us adjourned to the Eagle in Benet Street, not so much for the Liturgy after the Liturgy, Dinner after the Dinner, or Drinks after the Drinks, but to continue the conversation and our friendships, before returning to Sidney Sussex. The summer school enters its last day today [Friday].

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

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Visiting a monastic community in rural Essex

Inside the first chapel in the old rectory at the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

We had an early start this morning [Thursday, 28 July], leaving Sidney Sussex College at 6 a.m. to catch a bus from Jesus Lane, Cambridge, to visit the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights, near Maldon in Essex.

We arrived in time for the Divine Liturgy at 8 a.m., served by a Finnish monk, Father Melchisedec, followed by breakfast with the Hegumen or Abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Kyrill, who is originally from Australia, and the monastic community. The monastery is a monastic community of both men and women, directly under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and is the oldest Orthodox religious community in Britain.

The community was founded in an old Anglican rectory in 1958 by Elder Sophrony, under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, who was then the ruling Russian bishop in England, with six founding members of the monastic community drawn from different nations. The monastery was brought under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1965.

When he was founding the monastery, Elder Sophrony wanted to be sure his community would not just have outward conformity, but also focus on inner asceticism. The typikon of the monastery consists of the repetition of the Jesus Prayer about four hours a day and the serving of the Divine Liturgy three or four times a week. This found inspiration in Elder Sophrony’s experience as an Athonite monk, and in the example of Athonite skete practices and the lives of Saint Nicodemus and Saint Paisius Velichkovsky.

The community consists of men and women living the monastic tradition of a Christ-centred prayer life. At present, there are over 40 members of the community – the majority are nuns, with a smaller number of monks, and they come from many countries including Australia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Greece, Romania, Russia and Sweden.

After breakfast, Sister Thecla, originally from Romania, brought us on a tour of the monastery, including a visit to the first chapel built here in the former rectory by the founder, Father Sophrony, when he arrived from Paris, and told us of the life of his spiritual father, Saint Silouan the Athonite.

A walk in the Essex countryside before lunch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

There was time before lunch for a walk through some of the beautiful countryside surrounding the monastery, and through the monastery orchards, which look out onto the sea and across to Bradwell.

The monastery rectory where we shared lunch with community (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After lunch, Father Nikolai Sakharov spoke to us about ‘Monasticism and the World Today.’ Father Nikolai was a student of Metropolitan Kallistos, who spoke to us at the summer school on Tuesday, and received a D.Div. from the University of Oxford for his thesis: “I Love Therefore I am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony.” It has been published as: I Love Therefore I am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony (SVS 2003).

Later this evening, there is a special Summer School dinner in the Old Library of Sidney Sussex College.

The Revd Gunnlaugur Garðarsson (Glerárkirkja, Iceland), Father Nikolai Sakharov and Patrick Comerford in the monastery grounds this afternoon (Photograph: Christoph Schneider)

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

A midsummer night of Shakespeare at Saint John’s College

Shakespeare on the lawn ... well it was a midsummer night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Last night, we moved from Jerusalem to Athens, from Sidney Sussex to Saint John’s, from theology to theatre, from Eastern Orthodoxy to English literature, from discussing secularism to the drama of Shakespeare, from summer school to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The participants in the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies were invited to a production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, staged in Saint John’s College Garden as part of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival.

Cambridge is well-known for the Cambridge Footlights, which was the starting point of the careers of many actors, comedians and media personalities, including John Cleese, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Miller, Emma Thompson, and many members of both the Monty Python team and the Goodies. The Footlights – or more properly the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club – is now based at the ADC Theatre in Park Street, off Jesus Lane, and a few steps around the corner from Sidney Sussex College.

The ADC Theatre off Jesus Lane ... home to the Cambridge Footlights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

But theatre in Cambridge is also synonymous – especially at this time of the year – with the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. The festival was founded in 1987, and was recently described in the TLS as “one of the finest events of its kind in the UK.” The festival runs for eight weeks in July and August, with productions attracting up to 25,000 visitors, many returning to Cambridge year after year.

The festival tries to strip away unnecessary theatrical artifice and gimmickry. But the productions are vivid and spectacular, performed in full period costume with live Elizabethan music.

Yet the company seeks to make all the plays accessible, without assuming any prior knowledge on the part of the audience of the author or of the evening’s play.

The audience arrived early for a dramatic evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

A festival evening is a unique experience, with each performance staged in the open air in the idyllic setting of a Cambridge college garden, with the audience arriving early to picnic before an evening of theatre.

Last night’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in the Scholars’ Garden at Saint John's College – just inside the Queen’s Road entrance. The play, one of Shakespeare’s most popular and widely performed the world over, is a humour-packed fairy-tale set in a world of love, jealousy and youthful exuberance.

Dramatis personæ ... a theatrical touch to the façade of Cintra House on Hills Road, Cambridge. Originally built as a terrace of houses by John Edlin in 1860-1865, the romantic façade was added later. Cheshunt College, which moved here in 1905, is now part of Westminster College and Cintra House is now owned by the Open University (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, probably written between 1590 and 1596, tells of the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. These include the adventures of four young from Athens lovers – Demetrius and Helena, Lysander and Hermia – and a group of amateur actors – Quince, Snout, Flute, Starvevling, Snug and Botom – who are manipulated by fairies – Oberon, Titania and Puck – who live in the forest in which much of the play is set.

And how the scenic gardens of Saint John’s provided an apt setting for that woodland scenes last night!

Saint John’s College was founded in 1511 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII. It is the second largest college in Cambridge, it has about 135 Fellows, 530 undergraduates and 300 graduate students. The total current membership of the College, comprising in essence all those who have studied here, stands at around 12,000.

The Scholars’ Garden in Saint John’s provided an apt setting for that woodland scenes last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

David Salter’s production was lively and enjoyable, enthralling us with music and slap-stick humour and inviting audience participation. The cast was hard-working, with most actors playing multiple parts, thanks to quick changes of hats, of accents – and of accents.

Annie Gregson played both Starveling holding ‘the moon’ and a lovesick Helena following Demetrius around. Gareth Saunders played both Demetrius, the object of Helena’s affections, and the equally unhappy ‘wall’ caught between Pyramus and Thisbe in the ‘play within the play,’ visibly uncomfortable as the lovers whispered to one another across him and moved to kiss each other. There was a cleverly choreographed cat fight between the central ladies, with Hermia (Catherine Forrester, who had replaced Daphne Alexander) finding herself trapped in a wicker basket beneath the trees and shaking with rage.

As the sun set, the floodlights picked out the feathers strung through the trees, pigeons could be heard in the trees nearby, a lone swift circled above, moths glowed in Starveling’s would-be moonbeam, and a glorious summer evening passed to dusk and then to night.

When all was over, we walked back from Saint John’s gardens, along Queen’s Road, by Westminster College, on down Magdalene Street, over Magdalene Bridge to the Mitre in Bridge Street, to discuss the play, the play within the play, and to end a perfect midsummer night.

Let the play commence: the Revd Gunnlaugur Garðarsson (Glerárkirkja, Iceland), the Revd David Cassidy (Austin, Texas), Patrick Comerford, and Alexander Ogorodnikov (Moscow) in Saint John’s College, Cambridge, last night (Photograph: Dragos Herescu, 2011)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues in Saint John’s College Gardens until Saturday evening [30 July]. In all, eight plays are being staged during this year’s festival. Until Saturday, the performances are: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Saint John’s), Antony and Cleopatra (Robinson College), The Winter’s Tale (Downing College) and The Comedy of Errors (Girton College).

From Monday [1 August], the plays are: Much Ado About Nothing (King’s College), Macbeth (Trinity College), All’s Well That Ends Well (Robinson College), and Romeo and Juliet (Girton College). The festival ends on 27 August.

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

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Secularisation and the ‘curious case’ of the Orthodox Church

Sidney Sussex College seen from Green Street this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

We had an interesting insight into the impact of secularisation and modernity on the Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe when Dragos Herescu spoke at the summer school in Sidney Sussex College this afternoon [Wednesday] on “Secularisation and the Curious Case of the Orthodox Church.”

Dragos, who was presenting some of the provisional results of his doctoral research at the summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, offered us an image of the London Gherkin, also known as the Swiss Re Tower or 30 Saint Mary Axe, as a symbol of secularisation in modern Britain.

He asked whether it is possible to say secularisation is inherent in post-Reformation Christianity and a natural development of its rationality, its value of the individual, and the “Protestant work ethic.”

He described how secularism is a process of socio-religious change, manifested at three levels:

● societal,
● institutional; and
● individual.

Secularisation is not only a change occurring in society, but is a change of society, he said. Religion no longer looks after health care, education or those areas that create a sense of identity, and there has been a decline in community bonds.

In addition, a sense of morality once associated with relationships has been lost, so that people are valued today not by how moral they are seen as individuals but by how efficient they are.

Looking at the conditions for secularisation, he said that in their attitudes to religion, secularisation can have either a negative or vicious circle of evolution, or a positive circle of evolution, with various combinations of these examples so that it be an organic process.

At an intermediary level, the conditions for secularisation depend on more particular social factors, including urbanisation, mobility and social differentiation.

Looking at the relationship between religion and the process of secularisation, he discussed the difficulties in defining religion.

Orthodox countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus are now members of the EU, and Russia is becoming a multicultural society. So, he asked, why is there a peculiar case for the Orthodox Church?

In the West, the Orthodox Churches are working in a missionary context. In the former Eastern European countries, the Orthodox Churches have not adjusted to changed circumstances, and they have a different theological approach to the transcendent than that found in western theology. Yet the Orthodox Churches there have not experienced a change in the social profile, and church attendance and public practices are visible.

These observations raise interesting questions about whether the Orthodox Church is resistant to the process of secularisation or whether there are different forms of secularisation in those countries. But also, he asked, has the Church in the West fallen into the trap of chasing the power it once had?

He examined how relations between Church and State in Orthodox societies had been governed by the principle of Symphonia or Synallelia, that is, a “symphony” between the civil and the ecclesiastical functions in a Christian society, so that Church and State are to be complementary and to exhibit mutual respect..

The authority of the Church is the authority of the Cross, it is a vulnerable one. It is not the function of the Church to offer alternatives to the state, but to worship and to preach salvation.

The gardens of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Dragos is the graduate secretary at IOCS and a tutor on the distance learning programme. He holds an MA in Pastoral Theology from the IOCS, an MPhil in Theology from Cambridge, and is researching a PhD at Durham on secularisation in Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostalist Christianity.

Before coming to Cambridge, Dragos worked with the Metropolitanate of Moldova and Bucovina, in Iași, Romania, as an administrator and as project officer responsible for accessing funds from the European Union for social assistance and cultural projects. He is secretary of the Cambridge Romanian Society and he conducts the institute’s Byzantine chant choir.

We heard that choir again this evening at Vespers in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex. This evening, after dinner, we have been invited to a performance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is being staged in Saint John’s College Garden as part of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. Hopefully, this is going to be a truly Midsummer delight.

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

Refreshment for both body and soul in mediaeval Michaelhouse

Trinity Street, Cambridge, with Michaelhouse café and Saint Michael’s Church on the left (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I had coffee this afternoon with the Revd Dr Peter Waddell, the Pastoral Dean of Sidney Sussex College, in Michaelhouse, an interesting café located in Saint Michael’s Church in Trinity Street in the oldest part of Cambridge.

Michaelhouse is only a few steps from Sidney Sussex, around the corner at the end of Green Street. It stands opposite Gonville and Caius College and is close to Great Saint Mary’s Church, Trinity College and King’s College Chapel. The café is set within the 14th century church of Saint Michael’s, a parish and collegiate church.

But, while it is an award-winning café and restaurant, Michaelhouse remains a church – you could say it offers refreshment for both body and soul. Church services are held in the chancel several days a week, and the mediaeval Hervey de Stanton Chapel offers a peaceful space that is also a setting at times for concerts.

Michaelhouse recalls the name of one of the earliest Cambridge colleges, which flourished from 13234until 1546, when it was merged with King’s Hall to form Trinity College. Michaelhouse was the second residential college in Cambridge, following Peterhouse (1284) – although King’s Hall was established in 1317, it did not acquire premises until it was re-founded by King Edward III in 1336.

The Hervey de Stanton Chapel in Saint Michael’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Michaelhouse was founded by Hervey de Stanton, Edward II’s Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chief Justice of England, who had acquired the advowson (or right of presentation) to the parish of Saint Michael along with property on the High Street.

In May 1324, Edward II granted a royal charter to the new college for scholars in Holy Orders. Three months later, Bishop John Hotham of Ely granted his own charter. De Stanton suggested to the bishop that the master and fellows, who were all priests, could provide daily worship for the parish as they were using the church as their chapel. And so, the first Master of Michaelhouse, Walter de Buxton, was also Vicar of Saint Michael’s.

Around this time, the church was being rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style, and when de Stanton died on All Souls’ Day 1325, he was buried in the unfinished chancel.

The college continued to acquire more properties, including property between Saint Michael’s Lane (today’s Trinity Lane) and the river, an area now occupied by the south-west corner of the Great Court of Trinity College, New Court, Scholars’ Lawn and the Wren Library, property around Garret Hostel Lane leading down to the river, and a navigable stream.

Nothing much remains of the original Michaelhouse buildings, apart from Saint Michael’s Church. The chancel is three bays long, a bay larger than the nave; both chancel and nave have sizeable side aisles.

The nave was used for parish worship, regular preaching, university debates and lectures. Until a chapel was completed at Gonville Hall in 1396, both Michaelhouse and Gonville shared in the use of the two aisles, with Gonville using the north aisle and Michaelhouse the south.

As a college, Michaelhouse was a study house for clergy with a conservative theological ethos. John Fisher, who was Master of Michaelhouse 1497-1501, was Chancellor of Cambridge University, and was instrumental in the foundation of Saint John’s College and Christ’s College. As Bishop of Rochester, Fisher maintained a conservative stance on the royal supremacy and the reformation measures introduced in the reign of Henry VIII, and he was executed in 1535.

By the time of the dissolution of the monastic houses, Michaelhouse had an income greater than that of Westminster Abbey. Michaelhouse clergy served Saint Michael’s Parish until the college was dissolved by act of Parliament in 1546. It was merged with its neighbour, King’s Hall, to form Trinity College, which is the largest and wealthiest college in Cambridge to this day.

The coat of arms of Trinity College on the north wall of Saint Michael’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Until the completion of Trinity College Chapel in 1565, Trinity used Saint Michael’s as its chapel. As the new chapel was being built, 36 scholars’ stalls from the former chapel of King’s Hall, some with carved misericords, were moved to Saint Michael’s, where they remain to this day.

Trinity College continued to hold the patronage of the living of Saint Michael’s and from the 16th to the 18th centuries, Trinity College fellows were the chaplains of Saint Michael’s.

The interior of Saint Michael’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After a fire in 1849, the church was rebuilt by George Gilbert Scott and his son, George Gilbert Scott junior. Their work included a new stone porch, a new East Window, and a three-tiered new reredos. The artists who worked with Scott included FR Leach, who worked with GF Bodley on the ceiling and frescoes of All Saints’ Church, the ceiling of Jesus College Chapel, and the dining hall ceiling at Queens’ College. Leach painted the chancel ceiling and arches in Saint Michael’s to designs by Scott as a thank-offering, without accepting any payment. Parts of the north aisle had been painted previously to designs by Holman Hunt.

In time, the parish was too small to be sustainable, and it was finally united with Great Saint Mary’s Church, the university Church, in 1908.

By the early 1990s, the church buildings were increasingly in need of significant repair, and an ambitious fundraising and building project began. The Michaelhouse Centre opened in 2002, and is a registered charity. The café is run by Bill Sewell, a restaurateur and food writer who has two other cafés in churches – Café Below in London and Café@All Saints in Hereford. He is an alumnus of Trinity College and was a consultant on the 1990s refurbishment of Saint Michael’s.

Michaelhouse is now a key cultural and spiritual location in Cambridge, a unique community resource in the heart of this city, a place of beauty and tranquillity.

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

Suffering behind closed doors and reflections on morality

The Classical Gate, originally erected in Hall Court to replace the original main gate of Sidney Sussex College, was moved during Wyatville’s alterations in 1832 to the north-east corner of the gardens, where it remains an eye-catching feature (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

we heard about the suffering and survival of the Orthodox Church in Russia during the Soviet era, and its rebirth, renewal and rapid growth in recent decades, this morning [Wednesday, 27 July], at the 12th summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, and we reflected on the moral dilemmas raised by one of the greatest Russian writers, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Alexander Ogorodnikov from Moscow was strongly critical of the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church and political leaders in Russia today. He was speaking in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, on: “The Russian Orthodox Church in the face of the modern secular challenge.”

Alexander was born into a strong party family, but his grandmother secretly arranged for his baptism as a child. He was arrested in 1976, and held in confinement on the grounds that his religious conviction was a mental disorder that began and persisted after he received his education. He was arrested again in 1978, while he was working on a film, The Jesus People, and in September 1980 he was found guilty of “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.”

He was singled out because his religious convictions openly challenged Soviet “science” on the eradication of religious belief. He was sentenced to six years in a labour camp and five years in internal exile. He was held in Perm 36 near the Siberian border.

Alexander spoke this morning of his harrowing experiences of being jailed and being held in solitary isolation, and how he was sustained at night in his prayers and by the surrounding love of God. He was the subject of an international campaign for his release in the 1980s, and was finally released by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

He compared the confession and repentance of the former Church leaders in Bulgaria and Romania with the loss of opportunities by the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, and accused Russian Orthodox leaders of betraying the people.

Although he knows Patriarch Kirill and has worked closely with him, Alexander has faced strong opposition from bishops throughout Russia. He said that despite its suffering, the Russian Church had developed a poor theology and had little understanding of the contribution and suffering of martyrs since the 1920s.

He spoke critically of the work of American Protestant evangelical missionaries in Russia, but said their work had met with little success.

This survivor of the Gulag prisons is a former chair of the Russian Orthodox Argentov Seminar, a peace activist and a key figure in several Russian humanitarian organisations.

Alexander Ogorodnikov was introduced by Irina Kirillova, a retired lecturer in Russian Studies and a Fellow Emerita of Newnham College, Cambridge. Later in the morning, she spoke on the theme: “‘If there is no God, then all is permitted!’ (F.M. Dostoevsky).”

Irina Kirillova, MBE, is a retired University Lecturer in Russian Studies, a Fellow Emerita of Newnham College, Cambridge, and a trustee of Pushkin House, the Russian cultural centre in London. Her publications include The Image of Christ in Dostoevsky’s writing (Moscow, 2010).

Referring to Alexander Ogorodnikov’s reflections earlier in the morning, she recalled an “appalling speech” in Canterbury by a Russian metropolitan. When she challenged him, he smiled and told her he was pleased by her reaction to his speech – this meant he could open more churches in Siberia. And so, she said: “We have to be careful how we judge.”

She spoke in the context of the mass murder in Norway last weekend, and in her opening remarks also referred to Philip Blond, the author of Red Tory, who was referred to by the Revd John Hughes in his lecture yesterday, and to the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sachs, and his book God, Science and the Search for Meaning.

She quoted Dostoevsky, who – shortly after being released from prison in 1854 – wrote to Natalya Fonvizinia: “If someone were to prove to me that Christ was outside the truth, and it was really the case that the truth lay outside Christ, then I should choose to stay with Christ rather than with the truth.”

Hans Holbein’s ‘The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb’ had a profound, lifelong influence on Dostoevsky

She looked at the influence of Hans Holbein’s painting, ’The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521), which had a lifelong influence on Dostoevsky, who was totally overwhelmed on first seeing it in Basel in 1867 – so much so that his wife had to drag him away, fearing its grip on her husband might induce an epileptic fit. She wrote that he could never forget the sensation he experienced gazing at the painting, which continued to haunt him. Two years later, Dostoevsky wrote The Idiot (1869), in which he refers to the painting many times. He thought it posed a terrible threat to faith in Christ, and Prince Myshkin, having viewed the painting in the home of Rogozhin, declares that it has the power to make the viewer lose his faith.

Dostoevsky (1821-1881) is one of the most complex and most complexly misunderstood authors in modern literature – Henry Miller could read Dostoevsky as a great social revolutionary, while others have seen him as a die-hard conservative; William Hamilton tried to enlist Dostoevsky as a forerunner of “Death of God” theology; Georges Florovsky saw Dostoevsky as an exemplar of Russian Orthodoxy; while Malcolm Jones linked him to “post-atheism” in contemporary Russia and judged him to exemplify the workings of “minimal religion.”

And this variety of interpretations of Dostoevsky was reflected in the discussion that followed.

Is it Dostoevsky who thinks that if we cease to believe in our immortality and in God, then all is permitted? Or is it Ivan Karamazov, as filtered through his murderous half-brother Smerdyakov, as a feeble excuse for having killed his own father?

Is it Dostoevsky, or the Devil, or Ivan Karamazov imagining the Devil, who says that he would rather give up everything and become a merchant’s wife lighting votive candles?

The quotation in the title of her paper, “If there is no God, then all is permitted!” is an encapsulation of the belief espoused by Ivan Karamazov in the early chapters of The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan has concluded, or pretends to conclude, that there is no God, no immortality. As what he claims is a logical consequence, "everything is lawful." However, Ivan never speaks the sentence in question, and neither does any other character in the novel. The phrase, “everything is lawful,” is used frequently by other characters as an idea that they got from Ivan. And once, Ivan says: “If there is no immortality, there is no virtue.”

Dostoevsky has also strongly influenced the thinking of Archbishop Rowan Williams, and it would have been interesting to her views of his book, Dostoevsky: language, faith and fiction (2008), in which the Archbishop of Canterbury explores the intricacies of speech, fiction, metaphor, and iconography in the works of Dostoevsky.

In that book, Dr Williams focuses on the four major novels of Dostoevsky’s maturity – Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Devils, and The Brothers Karamozov – and argues that understanding Dostoevsky’s style and goals as a writer of fiction is inseparable from understanding his religious commitments.

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

A visit to Lambeth Palace for an exhibition and supper

The South Front of Lambeth Palace ... Lambeth Palace has been the London home of the Archbishops of Canterbury since the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I interrupted my attendance at the Cambridge summer school of the IOCS yesterday afternoon [Tuesday] and caught a train down to London. I was at Lambeth Palace last night for a reception and a private viewing of an exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. The exhibition, Out Of The Original Sacred Tongues: The Bible and Translation, has been running from 25 May, but concludes on Friday [29 July], and has been an opportunity to see some of the library’s historic collections

Lambeth Palace stands on the south banks of the River Thames, opposite Parliament and the Palace of Westminster. Since the 13th century, this has been the London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury. Today, it is home for the archbishop and his family when they are in London, and it is also the central office for his national and international ministry, with several dozen staff working here.

In summer, the grounds of Lambeth Palace are often used for garden parties for organisations and charities supported by Archbishop Rowan Williams and Mrs Jane Williams, and the Great Hall is also used for various receptions and events, especially at summer time.

A copy of the King James Version of the Bible, dating from 1611, at the exhibition in Lambeth Palace

The exhibition in the Great Hall is being hosted by Lambeth Palace Library and sets in historical context the translation of the texts of the Bible into everyday language. At the centre of the exhibition is the 1611 edition of the King James Version, set in the context of the scholarship which created it.

Other highlights of the exhibition include:

• a 10th century Greek Gospel from Palestine;
• mediaeval and English Bible translations, with documents relating to their suppression;
• John Wycliffe’s 14th century translation from Latin;
• landmark editions that drew on the new textual scholarship of the Renaissance and Reformation;
• the first edition of the New Testament in Greek by Erasmus (1516);
• the first edition of Luther’s German Bible (1536);
• early printed vernacular translations in a variety of languages, including the first complete Bible in Icelandic, the Gudbrandar Bible (1584);

• translations intended for missions, such as Gospel editions in Chinese (1807), Cree (1912), Maori (1841) and Mohawk (1787);
• documents showing the drive towards modern English translations for the 20th century, such as the New English Bible, which sold out on the first morning of publication.

The last display case in the exhibition is devoted to the New English Bible, which was published in March 1961 on the 350th anniversary of the King James Version. The translators faced huge criticism for the use of modern words such as “pregnant” and “homosexual,” and were accused of reducing the Lord’s Prayer to a shopping list. One of the translators was Bishop John Robinson, already under fire for speaking for the defence in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial.

We were welcomed to the exhibition in the Great Hall by the he Librarian at Lambeth Palace, Giles Mandelbrote, who believes two themes have emerged in depicting how Bibles had developed from manuscript to print over the centuries. The first is the quest for truth and certainty by church authorities employing analytical skills in an attempt to ascertain original meanings; the second is the production of Bibles without input from the church or the state.

The library in the Great Hall at Lambeth Palace was founded in 1610 (Photograph: Lambeth Palace)

Lambeth Palace Library is the principal library and record office for the history of the Church of England. It was founded in 1610, and the official papers of the Archbishops of Canterbury are among the most significant collections here, documenting political and social issues as well as church history in England and throughout the Anglican Communion. The papers include correspondence, diaries, sermons and newspaper cuttings.

The library’s overall focus is on church history, but its rich collections are important for a variety of topics, including architecture, colonial history, local history and genealogy. The library holds over 4,600 manuscripts and vast archives dating from the ninth century to the present, including 600 mediaeval manuscripts.

There are almost 200,000 printed books in the library, including 30,000 items printed before 1700, and many more unique books. Much of the library is housed in the Great Hall, which has been built and rebuilt many times over the centuries. It was here that Erasmus and Holbein were welcomed by Archbishop William Warham and here too that Henry VIII was entertained by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

The Guard Room, seen from the South Courtyard at Lambeth Palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After the private viewing of the exhibition, we were joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a buffet supper up in the Guard Room. This room is thought to date from the 14th century. It was the Great Chamber in Mediaeval and Tudor times, one of the most important rooms in the Palace in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.

Initially, the Guard Room was the archbishops’ principle audience room and was used by them for meetings and ceremonies. It is said that on 12 April 1534 Sir Thomas More was summoned in the Guard Room by Thomas Cromwell to swear an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. By refusing to deny the authority of the Pope, Thomas More was led away from Lambeth Palace to the Tower of London, where he was executed in 1535.

The Guard Room in Lambeth Palace ... the venue for supper last night (Photograph Lambeth Palace)

The paintings on the walls in the Guard Room are of Archbishops of Canterbury from 1602 to 1783 – from the reign of Elizabeth I to the reign of George III, illustrating an interesting change in fashion for episcopal garb over the centuries.

The magnificent arch-braced roof of the Guard Room is a contemporary of that in Westminster Hall – across the river in the Palace of Westminster – and predates the walls by some 400 years. When William Blore rebuilt Lambeth Palace in 1830, he retained the roof, supporting it while rebuilding the walls.

Lambeth Palace seen from Westminster Palace ... the first Lambeth Conference was held in Lambeth Palace in 1867 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The first Lambeth Conference was held in Lambeh Palace in 1867, when 75 bishops were called by Archbishop Charles Longley for a meeting.

Nowadays, the Lambeth Conferences meet in Canterbury, but the Guard Room continues to be used for meetings, receptions and dinners, and this is where we were entertained to a buffet supper last night after viewing the exhibition.

The party included bishops and clergy from many provinces of the Anglican Communion, staff from Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office, including many who had been at the Primates' Meeting in Dublin earlier this year, friends from USPG -- Anglicans in World Mission, the Revd Dr Alan McCormack, formerly of Trinity College Dublin, and staff from other mission agencies, including CMS and Crosslinks.

Morton’s Tower at Lambeth Palace ... said to be modelled on the entrance to Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

As I left by Morton’s Tower, I was reminded that this red-brick gatehouse, with its porter’s lodge, is said to be based on the entrance to Saint John’s College in Cambridge, where Cardinal John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who gives his name to the tower, was a fellow and where his memory is still preserved in the stained glass windows in the Great Hall.

I walked across Lambeth Bridge, and on to Victoria Station, for a connection to King’s Cross and a train back to Cambridge. A night-cap in the Jolly Scholar in King Street, at the back of Sidney Sussex College, felt very appropriate before returning to my rooms.