Saturday, 23 February 2013

Go raibh míle maith agat to three quarters of a million readers

Over three quarters of a million readers ... but who and where? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

About seven months ago, I wrote that I have never been very fluent in the Irish language, but how two sayings show there is a profuse and generous spirit in the language.

One is the traditional way of saying thank you: Go raibh míle maith agat. It translates not simply as “Thank You,” but “May you have a thousand good things.”

Another is the phrase for welcoming someone, whether stranger or friend: “Céad míle fáilte.” It means not just welcome, but “One hundred thousand welcomes.”

At the time [14 July 2012], This blog has passed a milestone with over half a million visitors.

Late this evening [23 February 2013] this blog passed yet another milestone with over three quarters of a million visitors. Once again, three quarters of a half million welcomes to each and every one of you, and 750,000 thank yous to each of you for visiting this blog, using its resources and making yourself at home.

I have been on blogger since 10 November 2007. But there were only 13 postings that year. By 2008, it was 183, 272 in 2009, 322 in 2010, 449 in 2011, and 498 last year.

Some of my postings have been reposted on other blogs and sites in Skerries, Lichfield and Greece, I have been invited to guest write for other blogs, and I have found myself part of new communities finding new ways of communicating, including and especially those who share my condition of living with sarcoidosis.

At an early stage, I resisted having a counter. I wanted to make my sermons, lecture notes and notes for Bible studies and tutorial groups accessible to students, and to give a wider circulation to the monthly columns I write in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory). But I also wanted to give a longer shelf life to occasional papers in journals such as the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society, Search, Koinonia and the Cambridge Review of International Affairs and occasional features in publications and newspapers, including The Irish Times, the Church of Ireland Gazette, Skerries News and the Athens News.

As sarcoidosis took a cruel grip on my lungs and my breathing, I started to write too about my health and my beach walks, including beach walks in Skerries, country walks, my thoughts on architecture, especially the work of Pugin, return visits to Wexford and Lichfield, and also found myself writing about travel in Ireland and England, and to a variety of countries, especially Greece and Turkey. There were accounts too of my regular participation in summer schools with the Institute for Orthodox Studies at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

I have never been terribly concerned about how many people have read any of these postings. If one student missed a lecture and found it here, or one person did not understand what I was trying to say in a sermon and came back here to read it, then it was worth posting.

I still resisted having a counter because I want to write to a very different set of priorities than popularity. This is a different style of writing and if I wanted to write for a mass circulation tabloid newspaper then circulation figures might have been interesting. But I feared a counter might change my style of writing. Now that I have got over that, I am very humbled that over half a million people would even consider what I am writing. That is more feedback than I ever got for a newspaper feature or a chapter in a book.

Three quarters of a million readers by this evening.

But where are you from?

And what do you read?

The statistics provided by Blogger show that the top readership figures are in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, Russia and Australia.

Many of you find this blog through Facebook.

But what are you reading?

The most popular reading has been three postings on the Transfiguration, which between them have attracted over 25,000 visitors:

The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons and Orthodox spirituality (7 April 2010) with over 19,500 visitors;

Looking at the Transfiguration through icons (23 February 2011) with over 4,500 visitors; and

The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons (9 April 2011), with over 1,300 visitors.

The next single most-read posting is one on the thoughts of Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well (5 September 2008), with almost 8,500 visitors.

About 9,000 people have visited two postings on the Raising of Lazarus:

The grave of Lazarus (3 April 2010), over 5,500 visitors.

The Raising of Lazarus, John 11: 1-45 (30 March 2011), over 3,200 visitors.

These were Easter themes one year after another, so I was not surprised that over 1,600 people also visited Waiting at the tomb on Holy Saturday (1) (23 April 2011).

Liturgy, Icons, Orthodox spirituality and Celtic spirituality also proved interesting for thousands of readers.

The most popular lecture on Icons, The Cretan School of Icons and its contribution to Western art (27 June 2009) has had almost 4,000 visitors so far, An introduction to Orthodoxy  (25 November 2009) has had over 2,300 visitors, and a similar lecture, Orthodox Spirituality: an introduction, (15 March 2010) has had over 1,300 visitors.

Two versions of a lecture on Celtic Spirituality have had pver 2,500 visitors: Introducing Celtic Spirituality (7 February 2010), over 1,800 visitors; and Introducing Celtic Spirituality (21 November 2011), with over 700 visitors.

This blog also seems to be providing you with resources for the seasons of the Church Calendar. I was overwhelmed with the number of readers for my postings on poetry and saints in Advent, Lent and Easter in recent years. Indeed, anything I post on TS Eliot attracts a large number of readers. Spirituality for Advent: waiting for Christ in all his majesty (29 November 2010), has had over 2,600 visitors, and Who is Jesus? A Lenten Talk (23 March 2011), a Lenten talk in Skerries two years ago, continues to attract readers and has had over 1,300 visitors.

I am never quite sure of my writing abilities. Perhaps I should take heart from the number of people who have read Developing writing skills (18 September 2010), which has attracted over 2,200 visitors.

I shall keep writing. But please keep on providing feedback and criticism, both negative and positive.

And each time you visit this blog I hope you find “céad míle fáilte, one hundred thousand welcomes” – in fact, 750,000 thanks to you.

Go raibh míle maith agat, may you have a hundred thousand good things.

With the Saints in Lent (11): Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, 23 February

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, depicted in the Church of Saint Polycarp in Izmir (Smyrna), Turkey

Patrick Comerford

Saint Polycarp (Πολύκαρπος), Bishop of Smyrna and Martyr, is commemorated in the Calendar of the Church today [23 February].

Saint Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna – known today as Izmir – on the west coast of present-day Turkey. The letters to the Seven Churches in Asia in the Book of Revelation include a letter to the church in Smyrna, identifying it as a church undergoing persecution.

Saint Polycarp is said to have known the Apostle John, who wrote the Book of Revelation. It is said that Saint John instructed him in the Christian faith. Tertullian said that Saint Polycarp had been a disciple of Saint John. Saint Jerome wrote that Saint Polycarp was a disciple of Saint John and that Saint John had ordained him Bishop of Smyrna.

Saint Polycarp, in his turn, was known to Saint Irenaeus, who knew him in his youth and who later became Bishop of Lyons in what is now France.

We have various sources for the life Saint Polycarp:

● Saint Irenaeus’s brief memoir of Saint Polycarp;
● a letter to Saint Polycarp from Saint Ignatius of Antioch, written ca 115, when Saint Ignatius was being through Anatolia in chains to Rome to be put to death;
● a letter from Saint Polycarp to the church in Philippi, written at the same time;
● an account of the arrest, trial, conviction, and martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, written after his death by one or more members of his congregation.

Saint Polycarp was denounced to the government, arrested, and tried on the charge of being a Christian.

When the proconsul urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

The magistrate was reluctant to kill a gentle old man, but he had no choice. Saint Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he waited for the fire to be lighted, he prayed:

Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in your presence: I bless you that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. Among them may I be accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.

The fire was then lit and shortly after that a soldier stabbed Polycarp to death on the orders of the magistrate. His friends gave his remains an honourable burial, and wrote an account of his death to other churches.

The date of his death is in dispute. Eusebius dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (ca 166-167). However, a later addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, 23 February in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus, which puts his death at 155 or 156.

With Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers.

The Agora in Smyrna ... all that remains of the classical and biblical city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to your Venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Psalm 31: 3-4, 6-8, 17, 21; Revelation 2: 8-11; John 15:18-21.

Tomorrow (24 February): Saint Matthias the Apostle, the Second Sunday in Lent.