Saturday, 14 May 2016

‘What you leave behind is not what
is engraved in stone monuments’

A moving tribute from students now on my bookshelves (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

This is a busy working weekend. It follows a demanding working week that began with serving as the sub-deacon at the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral and that included two academic committee meetings in Trinity College Dublin and one in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, reading and marking dissertations and essays, tutorial groups, a three-day meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, meeting deadlines for the Church of Ireland Gazette and two diocesan magazines, a hospital visit, and some preparation for future features, postings and meetings.

There was time too for sermon preparation and consultation on chapel services in CITI, and for some long walks along some of my favourite streets, by water and a beach, and in the countryside, and a refreshing visit to a place that has been foundational and nurturing in my spiritual growth and development.

This is a working week that has been punctuated, supported and underpinned by prayer, regular worship and the Eucharist in cathedrals, churches and the chapel in CITI.

The sun came out today, and as I looked out the window of my first-floor study, there was a blanket of blossoms on the lawn beneath the cherry tree. It was a good day to sit out with coffee and reading, and to delight in the opportunity to work in the summer-like sunshine.

This working weekend marks the end of the academic year for part-time MTh students, and for some of them this marks the end of their studies.

In the bright sunshine, we marked ends and beginnings with a barbecue on the lawn, and there were joyful and tearful moments for saying goodbye.

As a token, I was presented with a Greek flag to place on the desk in my study, and a card with a quotation: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others – Pericles.”

Pericles (Περικλῆς, ca 495-429 BC) was an important leader in Athens during the Peloponnesian Wars.The quotation on the card is a paraphrase of part of the Funeral Oration by Pericles for the Athenian soldiers who died in one of the opening battles of the Peloponnesian War.

The speech by Pericles is quoted by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War (II.43.3). In the full speech, Thucydides quotes Pericles saying: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.

Or:

ἀνδρῶν γὰρ ἐπιφανῶν πᾶσα γῆ τάφος, καὶ οὐ στηλῶν μόνον ἐν τῇ οἰκείᾳ σημαίνει ἐπιγραφή, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν τῇ μὴ προσηκούσῃ ἄγραφος μνήμη παρ᾽ ἑκάστῳ τῆς γνώμης μᾶλλον ἢ τοῦ ἔργου ἐνδιαιτᾶται.

The translation reads:

“The sepulchre of famous men is the whole earth, not only the epigraph engraved on the columns in their own country, since also in foreign lands there dwells the unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts and minds of men.”

The shorter citation on the card – “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others” – could be read in classical Greek as:

ἡ μνήμη ἡ σή οὐκ εστι τῶν στηλῶν μόνον ἐπιγραφή, ἐστί δε ἡ τῶν ἀνδρῶν μνήμη

It was a moving tribute from students who are about to move on to the next stage in ministry. The Greek flag is now standing on my bookshelves. I am looking forward to taking part in the Pentecost Eucharist with them tomorrow morning.

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