14 June 2014

A day in Cambridge at the end
of the May Bumps in mid-June

Patrick Comerford

This is a good week to be in Cambridge, for although this is mid-June this is the week of the May Bumps or Mays. The Lent Bumps are run over five days but the May Bumps are run over four days.

The May Bumps are a set of rowing races, held each year on the River Cam. The May Bumps began in 1887, but the colourful tradition of the bumps dates back to 1827. Although known as the May Bumps, they take place in mid-June over four days, from Wednesday to Saturday. This year’s May Bumps began on Wednesday [11 June 2014] and reach their climax today [Saturday 14 June].

It all began last week with the “Getting-on-Race” which was raced on Friday [6 June 2014]. The races are open to all college boat clubs from the University of Cambridge, the University Medical and Veterinary Schools and the Anglia Ruskin Boat Club.

The races are run in divisions, each containing 17 crews. The number of crews in each bottom division varies each year, depending on new entrants. Each crew is made up of eight rowers and one coxswain. Currently, there are six divisions for men’s crews (referred to as M1, M2 and so on until M6) and four divisions for women’s crews (W1 to W4). The divisions represent a total race order with Division 1 at the top. The aim is to try to finish Head of the River, or gaining the “Headship” – in other words, finishing in first position in division 1.

The Bumps get their unusual name because side-by-side racing is not possible over a long distance on the narrow and winding River Cam. Most of this short stretch of river is too narrow or not straight enough to allow more conventional side-by-side knock-out regattas. The bumps format was introduced in the early 19th century as an exciting alternative.

But for the casual spectator, the Bumps are both spectacular and puzzling. What is happening? What order do crews start in, and why? What are the crews trying to do when they race? And who is the winner at the end of it all?

No-one could describe the Bumps as a fair or objective set of races. Aside from the many disputes over obstructions, missed bumps and so on, the races depend on history for starting order, and luck to win coveted “oars.”

The start of a race begins when a cannon is fired. At the beginning of each race, each crew is separated by a distance of about 1½ boat lengths (about 30 metres). Once the race begins, a crew tries to catch up on the crew ahead of it and bump (physically touch or overtake) it before the crew behind does the same to them.

A crew that bumps or is bumped must pull to the side of the river to allow all the other crews to continue racing. If a bump is inevitable, due to the potentially dangerous situation created when a much faster crew is behind a slower one, coxes must acknowledge this by raising their hand before physical contact is made.

Needless to say, this is far better than carrying on regardless and causing a major hold up, not to mention damage or injury.

While the crews are striving on the river, the loyal bank parties try to negotiate the perils of the towpath, encouraging the crews using a variety of whistle and hooter codes – and some very flexible definitions of distance measures – to pass on information about how far ahead the opponents are.

If a crew is able to catch and bump the boat that started three places in front of it, after the two in front have already been bumped out, the crew is said to have over-bumped. A crew that neither bumps a crew ahead nor is bumped by a crew behind before crossing the finishing post is said to have rowed over.

After the race, any crew that bumps or over-bumps swaps places with the crew that it has bumped for the following day’s racing. A crew that rows over stays in the same position. Crews finishing at the top of a division move to the bottom of the next division, as the sandwich boat, in an attempt to try to move up into the next division.

The process is repeated over these four days, allowing crews to move up or down several places in the overall order of boats. The finishing order of one year’s May Bumps is then used as the starting order for the next year’s races. And the fastest crew may miss out and not be rewarded.

The full Bumps course is about 2.6 km long, and the majority of the course is downstream of the Penny Ferry pub, formerly the Pike & Eel. The Plough is also a popular vantage-point pub, as many bumps occur around Grassy Corner and Ditton Corner.

The Pegasus Cup goes to the most successful club in the May Bumps. The winner is decided through a complicated points system:

● One point for every place gained by each of a club’s boats
● One point for each night that a club retains the men’s or women’s headship in Division One
● One point deducted for every place lost by each of a club’s boats
● The total number of points gained over these four days is multiplied by 12 and then divided by the number of boats entered by the club to give the final score

To be eligible, a club must have at least one men’s and one women’s boat – although single-sex colleges re allowed to enter two boats of the same sex.

Clearly no crew has the chance to prove that it is the fastest as the quick crews bump and stop before they complete the course. The aim, for at least the top crews, is to finish ‘Head’ – the first boat in the first Division. But this chance is only realistically available for those crews that start in the top five places.

If a crew manages to get a bump every day – in other words, go up four places – they are awarded their oars … a blade painted in their college colours and illuminated with their crews’ names and boats they bumped.

Most colleges award blades to crews that go up four or more places regardless of how they got there. Today is the final day, when it is possible to identify those crews that have won their oars, for the cox will be holding an impracticably large flag while attempting to steer their boat.

Sidney Sussex shares a boathouse with Girton, Corpus Christi and Wolfson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sidney Sussex College, where I have stayed each year for the past six years, is one of the many regular entrants never to have finished Head of the River for either the men’s or women’s events. The others are: Anglia Ruskin (previously the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology or CCAT), Christ’s College, Clare Hall, Corpus Christi, Darwin, Girton, Homerton, Hughes Hall, King’s, Magdalene, Peterhouse, Robinson, Saint Catharine’s, Selwyn, Saint Edmund’s, Wolfson, Addenbrooke’s and the Veterinary School.

But then, even the best of clubs have bad years, to the dismay of their members.

A day in Cambridge celebrating
the life and work of John Zizioulas

Westcott House, Jesus Lane, Cambridge ... the venue for today’s one-day conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Cambridge today [14 June 2014] for a one-day conference at Westcott House on Jesus Lane, organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Today’s conference is “On Eschatology Today: A celebration of the life and work of John Zizioulas.”

Metropolitan John Zizioulas (Ιωάννης Ζηζιούλας) is the Metropolitan of Pergamon, chair of the Academy of Athens and one of the most distinguished living Orthodox theologians.

Born in Greece in 1931, he studied in Athens and Harvard, and has worked at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. In 1964, he became Assistant Professor of Church History at the University of Athens. Later, he was Professor of Patristics at the University of Edinburgh (1970-1973), before moving to the University of Glasgow, where he was Professor of Systematic Theology for 14 years. He has also been a Visiting Professor at the Research Institute in Systematic Theology in King’s College, London. In 1986, he became Metropolitan of Pergamon in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Professor of Dogmatics at the Thessaloniki School of Theology.

In his theological work, Metropolitan John has focused on the twin themes of ecclesiology and theological ontology. His theology reflects the influence of Russian émigré theologians such as Nikolai Afanassieff, Vladimir Lossky and Georges Florovsky.

He has also been significantly influenced by the ascetical theology of Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), founder of the Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, which I have visited each year as part of the Cambridge summer school programme organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Metropolitan John’s ecclesiology was first developed in his doctoral dissertation, The Unity of the Church in the Eucharist and the Bishop in during the First Three Centuries, which was published in English as Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity .

However, his best-known book is probably Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, a collection of essays first published in English in 1985 by Darton, Longman and Todd in London and by Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press in Crestwood, New York.

In the context of a complete theology that includes extended consideration of the main theological topics, including the Trinity, Christology, eschatology, ministry and sacrament, and the Eucharist, Metropolitan John has put forward a fresh understanding of the person and so of the Church itself, rooted in the writings of the Early Fathers and the Orthodox tradition.

He argues for an ecclesiology that sees the Church not simply as an institution but as a form of existence and a way of being, and he links questions of ecclesiology to existential questions: “The mystery of the Church, even in its institutional dimension, is deeply bound to the being of this world and to the very being of God.”

In his work, he develops critically the Eucharistic ecclesiology of Father Nikolai Afanasiev. He accepts Afanasiefv’s principal contention that the Church is to be understood in terms of the Eucharist. However, he criticises Afanasiev’s understanding as overly congregational and insufficiently episcopal in its emphasis. He advocates an episcopo-centric understanding of the Church, in which the bishop is primarily the president of the Divine Liturgy and the Eucharistic community.

Metropolitan John has also worked on the theology of the person, appealing to the work of Saint Irenaeus and Saint Maximus the Confessor. The primary focus of his work was to develop his own ontology of personhood derived from an extensive investigation of Greek philosophy, patristic writings and rationalist philosophy.

He argues that full humanity is achieved only as person so that we may take part in the Trinitarian life of God. However, an essential component of the ontology of personhood is the freedom to self-affirm the participation in relationship. He continues that humanity initially exists as a biological hypostasis, constrained as to the types of relationships one can have (biological) and to the eventual end of this type of being – death.

He makes use of existentialist philosophers and novelists to show that the only type of ontological freedom in the biological hypostasis is the choice to commit suicide.

He argues that Baptism constitutes an ontological change in the human being, making one an ecclesial hypostasis or person. This rebirth from above gives new ontological freedom as it is not constrained by the limits of biological existence. Such an ecclesial being is eschatological – a paradoxical “now” but “not yet.” The completion of this rebirth from above is the day of resurrection when the body will no longer be subject to death.

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

Metropolitan John presided at the Divine Liturgy in the college chapel in Westcott House this morning, and is speaking later today on “Eschatology: A Challenge to Orthodox Theology.”

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams, now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, is speaking this morning on: “The Eucharist and the End of All Things.”

The Revd Dr Bogdan Bucur, of Duquesne University, is speaking on: “Eschatology Now: Observations on the Emmaus Story in Luke and Mark’s Longer Ending.”

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is a speaker at IOCS summer school in Cambridge each year, is speaking on: “Eschatology and Eucharist: Time and Eternity in the Divine Liturgy.”

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

Westcott House in Jesus Lane is around the corner from Sidney Sussex College, where I have stayed each year for the last six or seven years. It is close to Wesley House and Jesus College. Like the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Westcott is also a member 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.

Westcott House prepares men and women for ordination in the Church of England, provides pathways for theological educators and pioneer ministers, and offers continuing education resources and sabbatical opportunities for clergy and laity.

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.

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 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 … 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.”