Monday, 31 August 2015

Finding common ground in dialogue
as we step across the water on stones

The afternoon rain leaves little opportunity to enjoy the gardens between Mong Hall and South Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

The IOCS summer conference in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, is looking at ecumenical and interfaith dialogue this week, and in the third session this afternoon [31 August 2015], the Greek theologian the Revd Professor Nikolaos Loudovikos of the University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, shared his personal experience in ecumenical dialogue between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions.

For 10 years, Father Nikolaos has been the Orthodox co-secretary of the Saint Irenaeus Joint Orthodox-Catholic Working Group. He is Professor of Dogmatics and Philosophy at the University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Winchester.

This afternoon he spoke at the conference in Cambridge on “The International Catholic / Orthodox academic dialogue in the Saint Irenaeus Group: Adventures of an Orthodox Secretary.”

Father Nikolaos Loudovikos (π. Νικόλαος Λουδοβίκος) was born in Volos in 1959. He studied psychology, education, theology and philosophy in Athens, Thessaloniki, Paris and Cambridge. His PhD dissertation in Thessaloniki in 1989 was The Eucharistic Ontology in the Theological Thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor.

It was a discussion that brought us through the thinking of Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Maximus the Confessor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, through debates and discussions about the filioque, consubstantiality, perichoresis (περιχώρησις) and primacy.

He suggested that many disagreements arise when theologians from the past are pitted against each other when in fact they were talking about very different things.

He spoke with humour about the differences that can be expressed in formal dialogue and the common ground that can be shared in the informal discussions on the margins of talks.

He drew an analogy with the neurotic patient who either talks to the psychiatrist without talking about his neurosis, or who talks about his neurosis without talking to the psychiatrist.

Two priests are fishing in a lake in Switzerland one day, but fail to catch anything.
The Orthodox priest throws down his rod, throws up his arms and calls out: “Saint Gregory of Palamas, help me.” He gets out of the boat, walks on the water, goes across the lake to an island and starts catching fish.

The Catholic priest sees what is happening, throws down his rod, throws up his arms and cries out: “Saint Thomas Aquinas, help me.” He steps onto the water, and immediately steps out of the boat, tries to start walking on the water, and immediately begins drowning in the lake.

His Orthodox friend shouts out: “Step on the stones!”

Father Nikolaos has said: “Fortunately, Christianity is neither Platonism nor Stoicism. Everything in our body and soul is created by God, and as such absolutely sacred. It is up to my own freedom to get angry, fall in love, play, create, eat, rejoice, be sorrowful, in such a manner that will bring me continuously closer to the Divine Source of my being: this is what Incarnation means. God does not call me to escape from this world, but to transform it into a place of His manifestation.”

And he has told a Greek interviewer some years ago: “Anselm says: why did the Incarnation happen? So that the Son of God could be punished in the place of man. Gregory the Theologian says the Incarnation happened ‘because humanity must be sanctified by the Humanity of God’. Quite the opposite, in other words … Now try and build legalism on a position such as that of the Greek Fathers! It is impossible. That’s why many of my fellow students in France marvelled at us Greeks, saying: ‘vous êtes anarchistes’ (you are anarchists)!”

Our day concludes with Vespers in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College at 5.30 p.m. and dinner at 6.30 p.m.

Journeys in exile, through icons
paintings, poetry and imagination

Learning in Cambridge … books illustrate a hoarding on a building site near the railway station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

“Try not to be attached to any place, every place is for you little, every place is for you, there is a place of journey in you.” So Father Sergei Bulgakov wrote in his diary on 25 November 1924.

We were taken on a journey with Russian exiles through paintings and poetry, poetry and imagination, this afternoon at the second session of the IOCS summer conference in Cambridge when Dr Kateřina Bauerová (Charles University of Prague) spoke to us on “To Live Otherness: Sergei Bulgakov, Joanna Reitlinger and Maria Skobtsova in Exile.”

The conference is looking at “Christian Faith, Identity and Otherness,” and at the possibilities and limitations of dialogue in ecumenical and interfaith discourse.

Sister Joanna Reitlinger (1898-1988) (Julia Nikolaeyevna Reitlinger) was a Russian Orthodox nun and iconographer, who while in Paris was the spiritual child of Father Sergei Bulgakov and was present when he died after a stroke. Sister Joanna was one of three people who saw the divine light on Father Bulgakov’s face as he died.

Sister Joanna wrote dozens if not hundreds of icons in her life, including frescoes for the Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius in London. She studied under the French painter Maurice Denis (1870-1943), and she influenced modern iconographers such as Leonid Ouspensky and Father Gregory Krug.

After World War II, Sister Joanna went to England in 1946-1947 and created the frescoes and icons in the chapel of the Anglican-Orthodox Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius and a triptych for the Anglican Monastery of the Resurrection in Mirfield.

In 1947-1956, she decorated the east wall of the Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius in Prague.

She returned to Soviet Russia in 1956, but was exiled to Tashkent with her sister, and there she supplemented her pension by decorating silk scarves. Sister Joanna gradually became reconciled with the Orthodox Church, and in 1974 a mutual friend introduced her to the enlightened and ecumenically-minded Russian Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Men (1935-1990).

She became the spiritual child of Father Alexander, and gave him Father Sergei Bulgakov’s vestments. Encouraged by Father Alexander, she returned to her icon writing at the age of 76, and once again produced palm-sized icons.

She had found a spiritual father who was completely in tune with the questing, intellectually outward-looking Orthodox tradition of her youth. He encouraged her to emerge from her reminiscences of turbulent times in émigré Orthodox theological circles in Paris, and to discuss Catholic and Protestant theology without any question of betraying their Orthodoxy.

Sister Joanna died in 1988 praising God to the end, dressed in the severest nun’s habit (the skhima). Despite her doubts and fears, and critics within the church of her free spirit, she is remembered as an artist of true merit and moral stature.

However, perhaps because of time, we never got to discuss Sister Maria Skobtsova of Paris (1891-1945), also known as Mother Maria of Paris. She was a Russian noblewoman, poet and nun who became part of the French Resistance in World War II, and she too had Father Sergei Bulgakov as her confessor.

In July, 1942, when the order requiring Jews to wear the yellow star was published, she wrote her poem Israel:

Two triangles, a star,
The shield of King David, our forefather.
This is election, not offence.
The great path and not an evil.
Once more in a term fulfilled,
Once more roars the trumpet of the end;
And the fate of a great people
Once more is by the prophet proclaimed.
Thou art persecuted again, O Israel,
But what can human malice mean to thee,
who have heard the thunder from Sinai?


Later, Mother Maria was sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. There, on Holy Saturday 1945, she took the place of a Jewish woman who being sent to the gas chamber, and died in her place.

According to Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh: “Mother Maria is a saint of our day and for our day; a woman of flesh and blood possessed by the love of God, who stood face to face with the problems of this century.” She has been canonised a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Later in the afternoon, the Revd Prof Nikolaos Loudovikos (University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki) describes “The International Catholic / Orthodox academic dialogue in the Saint Irenaeus Group: Adventures of an Orthodox Secretary.”

The day concludes with Vespers in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College at 5.30 p.m. and dinner at 6.30 p.m.

Can one say ‘Christ is divided’
for believing Christians?

Rain and reflections in Chapel Court in Sidney Sussex College today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Last night’s rain has continued all day today [Monday 31 August 2015] in Cambridge, but we are still calling this a Summer Conference. The conference in Sidney Sussex College is organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, and is looking at “Christian Faith, Identity and Otherness.”

This is an ecumenical journey this week, and as Dr David Frost, the founding principal of the institute, said in his welcome, it is appropriate that the people here come from a wide variety of traditions, backgrounds, nationalities and institutions.

Dr Christoph Schneider, the Academic Director of IOCS, marked out three distinct levels of dialogue for discussion at this conference: intra-Orthodox dialogue, dialogue within Christianity, where there is still a common point of reference, and the third type which is the most challenging – dialogue with non-Christian beliefs, including different religions and secularism, with different understandings of being and reality.

In the first conference session this morning, Professor Ivana Noble of Charles University of Prague, asks: “On what common path do we embark when we converse with the other? Three different visions of ecumenism: Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Lossky.”

Dr Noble is Professor Ecumenical Theology Protestant Theological Faculty. Before looking at the ecumenical visions of Berdyaev, Bulgakovand Lossky, she introduced us to the influential lifestory and experiences of Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (1853-1900), the Russian philosopher and theologian who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy, theology and poetry at the end of the 19th century and in the spiritual renaissance of the early 20th century. His book The Meaning of Love was one of the philosophical sources of Leo Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata (1889).

Solovyov was a friend and confidant of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), and it is widely held that he was one of the sources for Dostoyevsky’s characters Alyosha Karamazov and Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov.

But, unlike Dostoyevsky, Solovyov was sympathetic to the Roman Catholic Church. He favoured the healing of the schism – (ecumenism, sobornost) – between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Eventually, “through an ethical and social standpoint,” he was received into Roman Catholic Church. But he continued to regard himself as Orthodox, and when he was dying he received the last rites from a Russian Orthodox priest.

Solovyov influenced the religious philosophy of Nicolas Berdyaev, Sergey Bulgakov, Pavel Florensky, Nikolai Lossky, Semyon Frank, the ideas of Rudolf Steiner and the poetry and theory of the Russian Symbolists. Hans Urs von Balthasar explores his work as one example of seven lay styles that reveal the glory of God’s revelation in The Glory of the Lord.

Puddles in Hall Court in Sidney Sussex College today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Nikolai Alexandrovich Berdyaev (1874-1948) was a Russian religious and political philosopher. His mother was Orthodox by birth but in her views on religion she was more Catholic than Orthodox.

He was charged with blasphemy in 1913 and sentenced to a life in exile in Siberia. But World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution intervened. Although he later fell out with the Bolshevik régime, he continued to lecture and write and founded a private academy, the Free Academy of Spiritual Culture, in 1919.

In 1920, he became Professor of Philosophy at the University of Moscow, but was accused of taking part in a conspiracy, he was arrested and jailed.

Although he was a practising member of the Russian Orthodox Church,he was often critical of its institutional policies and un-Christian behaviour, yet believed that Orthodox Christianity was the true vehicle for Christianity.

Father Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov (1871-1944) was a Russian Orthodox theologian and philosopher, and a key founding figure in the Ecumenical movement. He helped found the Orthodox Institute of Saint Sergius in Paris, formed an Anglican-Orthodox dialogue group, and after World War I he lead the way for the Orthodox engagement with ecumenical groups such as Faith and Order.

Bulgakov was certain that the Orthodox Church was the true Church of God, and that ecumenical work was essentially a reconciliation of all Christians to Orthodoxy. But he differed from his colleagues, such as Georges Florovsky, in that he never understood Church reconciliation as a movement to any particular cultural form of Orthodoxy – Hellenised or Slavofied – but simply Orthodoxy and simply Christianity.

This simple Christianity, moreover, in its spiritual essence, is shared by every true Christian who loves Christ. Therefore Christian reconciliation becomes simply the renewal of a physical unity manifesting an already present spiritual unity. In this he illuminated the most salient point of unity for Christians and avoided the snares of ethnophylism that he thought Orthodox Christians fall into far too often.

For Bulgakov, all Christians are united dogmatically through the confession of the Apostolic creeds. This underlies a deeper spiritual unity that already binds all Christians – the Name of Christ is hallowed among all Christians, and every Christian calls on him in worship, love, and faith. This very personal relationship of every Christian with Christ constitutes the very basis of full ecumenical reconciliation; it is a spiritual oneness that unites every Christian. Bulgakov says that we must begin here in order to pursue unity.

He believed that the labels of “heretic” and “heresy” were used too often; although perhaps true of the teaching itself, the label is used to “completely anathematise” the entire person.

Bulgakov writes: “By casting another Christian as a ‘heretic,’ a spiritual judgment is also made which asserts that that person holds this belief because of spiritual pride and eristic boldness. But why is such a judgment placed on a Christian who truly loves our Lord and follows what he has been taught, though it may be doctrinally incomplete?” He asks, “can one say that ‘Christ is divided’ for a contemporary Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or believing Protestant? In their love of our Lord and their striving towards him all Christians are one.”

Bulgakov regarded it as unfortunate that “we tend to stress our dogmatic disagreements much more than our common Christian heritage.” This is very often tied in with culture, since language creates the mode of expression of creeds, and when we have an inflated love for our own language and terminology – which comes from ethnophylism – we condemn those who prays to the same Lord in a different tongue.

He points out that a great fruit of coming together in dialogue has been the realisation of our common Christian love and devotion to God, which empowers us all to work out the doctrinal differences, so that we may pray with one voice.

As an Orthodox Christian, Bulgakov stated that the ancient canons that forbade common prayer with heretics did so because heretics were in error in teaching as well as leading spiritually destructive lives. But Bulgakov says that if a Christian truly desires unity and seeks to love Christ just as any Christian, these rules no longer apply, since “there is no attacking party.”

Bulgakov argues that “the spirit of schism and division is not only a characteristic of ‘heretics’ and ‘schismatics’.” A Christian could be entirely Orthodox in confession, but entirely heretical in obstinacy, stirring up of dissension, hatred, rancour, and an unforgiving spirit, he believed. Indeed, he thought, “we all are heretics in various ways.”

If a Christian manifests the fruits of the spirit – love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – and, for example, does not hold that Christ ordained priests, will he not more quickly connect with a humble Catholic than with one who is filled with bitterness and hatred?

Bulgakov states that the common priesthood shared among the Apostolic Churches creates a unity in the sacraments that transcends divisions. If we receive Christ at the altar through a priest ordained sacramentally by the Apostles, and Christ cannot be divided, then we also receive each other. This sacramental unity in the priesthood also reflects – and becomes indeed the fountain of – the common phenomenon of sanctity experienced by Orthodox and Catholics saints through this Eucharist.

Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky (1903-1958) was an influential, exiled Russian theologian who emphasised theosis as the main principle of Orthodoxy.

His main theological concern was exegesis of mystical theology in Christianity. He argued in The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1944) that Orthodox theologians maintained the mystical dimension of theology in a more integrated way than those of the Catholic and Reformed traditions after the East-West Schism because the latter misunderstood such Greek terms as ousia, hypostasis, theosis and theoria.

He cites the Philokalia and Saint John Climacus’s Ladder of Divine Ascent, as well as works by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, and Saint Gregory Palamas, so that his close friend Georges Florovsky describes his approach as a “neopatristic synthesis.”

The genius of Eastern mystical theology lay, he contended, in its apophatic character, which he defined as the understanding that God is radically unknowable in human, thus philosophical, terms. Consequently, God's special revelation in Scripture must be preserved in all of its integrity by means of the distinction between the ineffable divine essence and the inaccessible nature of the Holy Trinity, on the one hand, and the positive revelation of the Trinitarian energies, on the other.

“When we speak of the Trinity in itself,” said Lossky, “we are confessing, in our poor and always defective human language, the mode of existence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one sole God who cannot but be Trinity, because He is the living God of Revelation, Who, though unknowable, has made Himself known, through the incarnation of the Son, to all who have received the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and is sent into the world in the name of the incarnate Son.”

Lossky and Florovsky were opposed to the sophiological theories of Bulgakov and Soloviev. For Lossky, Christian mysticism and dogmatic theology were one and the same. According to Lossky, mysticism is Orthodox dogma par excellence. The Christian life of prayer and worship is the foundation for dogmatic theology, and the dogma of the Church helps Christians in their struggle for sanctification and deification. Without dogma, future generations lose the specific orthodoxy (right mind) and orthopraxis (right practice) of the Eastern Orthodox path to salvation (see soteriology).

A week in Cambridge discussing possibilities and
limitations in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue

Cloister Court, where I am staying in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge ... the venue for the IOCS annual conference this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Cambridge for the annual conference of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies which begins in Sidney Sussex College this morning [31 August 2015] and continues until Wednesday evening [2 September 2015].

I have been a regular participant at this conference since 2008, and having stayed in Trumpington at the weekend, I am staying in Sidney Sussex College throughout the conference. This year, I am on Stairs M in Cloister Court, in a room looking out onto the Gardens and Jesus Lane.

This year’s conference is looking at ‘Christian Faith, Identity and Otherness: Possibilities and Limitations of Dialogue in Ecumenical and Interfaith Discourse.’

The conference is investigating the nature of Christian faith and identity and how Christians can appropriately relate to internal and external otherness. One of the main aims is to reflect on the possibilities and limitations of dialogue in ecumenical and interreligious debates.

I began this morning attending the early morning Eucharist at 8 a.m. in Saint Bene’t’s Church, which is just five minutes stroll from Sidney Sussex College. The Revd Richard Ames-Lewis presided at the Eucharist, and we remembered Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne whose feast day is today.

Saint Aidan, who was one of St Columba’s monks from the monastery of Iona, was sent as a missionary to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald, who was later to become his friend and interpreter. He was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne in 635, worked closely with Oswald and became involved with the training of priests. From the island of Lindisfarne he was able to combine a monastic lifestyle with missionary journeys to the mainland where, through his concern for the poor and enthusiasm for preaching, he won popular support. This enabled him to strengthen the Church beyond the boundaries of Northumbria. He died on this day in the year 651.

In the first conference session this morning, Professor Ivana Noble of Charles University of Prague, asks: “On what common path do we embark when we converse with the other? Three different visions of ecumenism: Berdyaev, Bulgakov, Lossky.”

At the second session this afternoon, Dr Kateřina Bauerová (Charles University of Prague) speaks on “To Live Otherness: Sergei Bulgakov, Joanna Reitlinger and Maria Skobtsova in Exile.” Later in the afternoon, the Revd Prof Nikolaos Loudovikos (University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki) describes “The International Catholic / Orthodox academic dialogue in the St Irenaeus Group: Adventures of an Orthodox Secretary.”

The day concludes with Vespers in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College at 5.30 p.m. and dinner at 6.30 p.m.

We begin tomorrow morning [1 September 2015] with Dr Razvan Porumb (IOCS) speaking on “Orthodoxy and ecumenism: towards active metanoia.” Later in the morning, the Revd Dr Alexander Tefft (IOCS) speaks on “Integrism and the Limits of Dialogue.”

In the afternoon, Dr Dominic Rubin (Higher School of Economics, Moscow), addresses “Orthodox-Muslim interaction in Russia today: between ideology and theology,” and Dr Mangala Frost (IOCS) speaks on “Karma and the Cross: a dialogic study of suffering.”

Once again, the day concludes with Vespers in the Chapel at 5.30 p.m. and dinner at 6.30 p.m.

On Wednesday morning [2 September 2015], Dr Gorazd Andrejč (Woolf Institute, Cambridge) asks: “Dialogue, Conversation or Discursive Encounter – How Relevant are the Conceptual Distinctions?”

Dr Andrejč, a philosopher and theologian, is a Junior Research Fellow at the Woolf Institute, and a research associate at Saint Edmund’s College, Cambridge. His academic interests: include the ways in which religious language, belief-attitudes and felt experience are intertwined, especially in Christianity, and inter-religious and religious-secular relations, both their verbal and non-verbal aspects, and how these aspects are related, especially in Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and the UK. Before joining the Woolf Institute in 2013, he was a lecturer at the University of Exeter, where he designed and taught philosophy of religion courses.

The Woolf Institute is a global leader in the academic study of relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The institute was established in Cambridge in 1998, with close links to the university. The Institute aims to connect the multi-disciplinary study of these relations with broader practical and theoretical questions, including the importance of trust in everyday life, the role of religion in international diplomacy, and improving end-of-life care in local hospices.

Later on Wednesday morning, Dr Brandon Gallaher (University of Exeter) introduces us to “The One Logos and the Many Logoi: Reflections towards an Orthodox Comparative Theology.”

The closing panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon is being chaired by Dr Christoph Schneider of IOCS.

The last of the flowers on the wisteria in Chapel Court in Sidney Sussex College this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford 2015)

In contemporary discussions, dialogue is often understood in different or even incompatible ways: Either, dialogue is uncritically idealised as the mode of discourse par excellence to access truth. The free verbal expression of the interlocutors’ different religious convictions, their mutual respect and tolerance, are celebrated as an end in itself.

The logic of dialogue is thus understood as the norm that prevents the dialogue partners from universalising their own religious beliefs and practices at the expense of the other. This position is only a small step away from the more radical view that dialogue enables us to transcend specific manifestations of lived religion, and to access the common, universal core of human existence.

Accordingly, the fact that differences are often irreducibly incommensurable is denied. Dialogue is seen as a strategy to unmask the apparent heterogeneity of different beliefs as a mere surface phenomenon.

Or, conversely, dialogue is exposed as a manipulatory rhetorical tool and the incommensurability between different religious beliefs and practices is absolutised. It is believed that the co-existence of proponents of different religious traditions necessarily has an agonistic character.

Any attempt to initiate dialogue is viewed as an encroachment of the dominant and more powerful dialogue partner on the ideological territory of the other.

Within this framework, even peaceful, non-violent mission and conversion are inevitably seen as forms of subtle coercion and manipulation. The conference seeks to explore alternative, more nuanced views of dialogue that do justice to the Christian understanding of truth, and that avoid the impasses of these two outlined approaches.

The speakers are being invited to address one of the following issues:

• The possibilities and limitations of dialogue in ecumenical or interfaith discourse.
• Historical and theological case studies of cross-fertilization across confessional boundaries.
• Historical and theological case studies of ecumenical or interfaith encounters and dialogues.
• Mission and dialogue.
• The contemporary ecumenical dialogue.

The conference opens this morning after registration and morning coffee. Further details are available at the IOCS website.

David’s Bookshop in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

I hope to begin each day this week at the early morning celebration of the Eucharist in Saint Bene’t’s Church. Hopefully too, there will be time too to enjoy the bookshops and cafés in Cambridge, for walks along the Backs or the banks of the River Cam and across the Fens, and perhaps even to visit Ely Cathedral or some of the other historic churches and towns around Cambridge before the week is over.

Collect of the Day:

Everlasting God,
you sent the gentle bishop Aidan
to proclaim the gospel in this land:
grant us to live as he taught
in simplicity, humility, and love for the poor;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The cloisters in Cloister Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

‘But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there …’

‘Stands the Church clock at ten to three?’ … the clock on the tower of Saint Andrew’s and Saint Mary’s Church, Grantchester, on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I’m not yet sure whether the summer sunshine is gone for this week, but the rains began to come down yesterday afternoon [30 August 2015] as I strolled through Cambridge, and are still pouring down this morning [31 August 2015].

But it was a glorious summer afternoon on Saturday [29 August 2015], and two of us strolled from Trumpington through the countryside to the neighbouring village of Grantchester, made famous or popular by both Lord Byron and Rupert Brooke, later by Pink Floyd and the novelists Tom Sharpe and Jeffrey Archer, and more recently by James Runcie’s television drama series Grantchester.

But Grantchester long predates poets, popular culture, paperback novelists and television drama.

The area was long settled in prehistoric and Roman times and later by the Saxons, according to artefacts that show provide archaeological evidence of settlement in this area.

The Domesday Book offers evidence of life in 1086, and the parish church in Grantchester has some Norman stonework, although it dates mainly from the 14th and 15th century.

Grantchester village has been part of the life of Cambridge for centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The village of Grantchester has been part of the life of Cambridge for centuries. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, became the patron of the Parish Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary in 1352, and a century later, King’s College acquired the Lordship of the Manor. An underground passage is said to run from the Old Manor house to King’s College Chapel two miles away.

Both King’s College and Corpus Christ College, Cambridge, have maintained their influence on village life ever since, along with Merton College, Oxford, which also owned property in Grantchester until the 1960s.

Grantchester is said to have the world’s highest concentration of Nobel Prize winners, most of whom were or are academics at the University of Cambridge.

The parish church in Grantchester provided many of the locations for the ITV drama series (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The village and many of its inhabitants form the backdrop to the ITV drama series Grantchester, based on the novels by James Runcie, son of the Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury.

In the series, the Vicar of Grantchester is the Revd Sidney Chambers (James Norton), a former Scots Guards officer who is an amateur sleuth and who solves a series of mysteries from the 1950s until 1978.

Grantchester was the location for extensive filming for the series, and the interior of the Parish Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary and the churchyard were used for many of the scenes.

The apples are coming to full fruit in the Orchard in Grantchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The apples are coming to full fruit in the Orchard, and as we queued for lunch there a few voices obviously thought they were among the first to ask: “And is there honey still for tea?”

The line from Rupert Brooke’s poem celebrates the place that first became popular in 1897, when a group of Cambridge students persuaded the owner of Orchard House to serve them tea in its apple orchard.

Those who stayed at Orchard House included the poet Rupert Brooke, who later moved next door to the Old Vicarage. While he was in Berlin in 1912, Rupert Brooke wrote of his homesickness in his poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. The house is now the home of the Cambridge scientist Mary Archer and her husband, the paperback novelist Jeffrey Archer.

Rupert Brooke is less than kind in his poem about the neighbouring villages and villagers, including Trumpington. But yes, I made my way back from the Orchard to the Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary on Saturday afternoon in that summer sunshine, and I found the answer to the poet’s questions: “yet Stands the Church clock at ten to three?”

An afternoon by the banks of the River Cam at Grantchester Meadows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

(Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow …
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
– Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe …
‘Du lieber Gott!’

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; – and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten’s not verboten.

ειθε γενοιμην … would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low: …
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by ...
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean ...
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) …

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? … oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, once the home of Rupert Brooke and now the home of Jeffrey Archer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)