27 August 2018

Bringing Byzantium to
life with a course
in Kilkenny in 2004

Saint Kieran’s College, Kilkenny … the former Maynooth University campus was the venue for two course on Islamic Studies and Byzantine Studies in 2003-2004 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

For two years, on Monday morning in 2003 and 2004, I commuted on Monday mornings from Dublin to Kilkenny, where I delivered two 12-lecture courses on Islamic Studies (2003) and Byzantine Studies (2004).

The courses were part of a liberal studies programme organised as part of the access programmes run in conjunction with NUI Maynooth (now Maynooth University) on its Kilkenny campus.

I had recently left The Irish Times and was lecturing part-time on the BTh programme at the Church of Ireland Theological College (now CITI), and was also working with a mission agency based in Dublin.

Those were two interesting years. The two mini-courses offered the opportunity to meet friends in Kilkenny for lunch, including the late Peter Barrett, who was then Bishop of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory, the late Herbie Sherman, who was then the editor of the Diocesan Magazine, and Norman Lynas, who was then the Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral.

In the years that followed, I would learn to put my lecture notes on-line, making them available not only to students, who could interact more positively in the lecture room setting rather than taking furtive notes, but also for a wider circle at readers who could find easy access to courses they might not otherwise have an opportunity of signing up for.

I only started this blog in July 2010, six or seven years after designing and delivering these courses in Kilkenny.

Over time, as I found notes from lectures before July 2010, or journal papers, book chapters and newspaper features that I wanted to continue sharing, I began to post them on this blog.

In the meantime, however, I had lost many photographs and lecture notes. They included many photographs from travelling throughout China, photographs I had taken during many visits to Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and on Mount Sinai.

When digital cameras became popularly available, none of us realised that the cards held far fewer images than many of us have on a modern mobile phone over the course of a day today. Copying those photographs and lecture notes on discs seemed to be a good way of holding onto those memories.

But discs and memory cards were misplaced over time, they were inadequately labelled or indexed, or simply got lost moving from one office to another or one house to another.

I came across a few old discs a few weeks ago, at the bottom of a packing case, and had no idea what was on them.

I still have no idea what was on many of them. They have been corrupted, overwritten, or are no longer compatible with any laptop or system I can access.

But I came across a file with eight of the 12 lectures I delivered in Kilkenny back in 2004 on that module in Byzantine studies.

Last night, I decided to upload them onto this blog, backdate them to the days they were delivered, and add a few photographs to live them up.

Since I designed and delivered those two modules, many things have changed. Earlier this year, Maynooth closed its Kilkenny campus at Saint Kieran’s College.

Although I return to Kilkenny regularly – I am hoping to attend David McDonnell’s installation as Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral on Thursday evening – and I continue to write features each month in the Diocesan Magazine, I am unlikely to find myself delivering a similar course on Byzantine studies in the years to come.

And, while I have only found eight of the 12 lecture notes for that module on Byzantine studies, I still think they offer a good introduction to the topic, providing a contemporary cultural context, drawing on the poetry of Constantine Cavafy, WB Yeats and Leonard Cohen, for example, as well as a reading list, suggested music to listen to, poetry and some links.

I designed and delivered the course in between working trips that also brought me to Romania, Athens, Alexandria, Mount Sinai in those months, followed by a week’s stay at Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos. So, the continuity in lectures was disrupted for all of us. But those working trips made the course a very living experience for me back in 2004, and I hope I enthused those who were taking part.

Should I find the missing, final four lectures on another disc, I hope to add them in time too.

The eight lectures available since last night are:

1, Why Byzantine studies? (2 February 2004);

2, Introducing Byzantine studies (2 February 2004);

3, A brief history of Byzantium and the Byzantine Empire (9 February 2004);

4, Heroes, anti-heroes and the women of Byzantium: some biographical sketches (9 February 2004);

5, Byzantine Culture and the Arts (16 February 2004);

6, Byzantine Literature and the Arts (16 February 2004);

7, Byzantine theology and Church life (1 March 2004);

8, Icons and Byzantine spirituality (1 March 2004).

The missing lectures from this programme are:

9, The other Byzantiums: Alexandria, Jerusalem, Damascus: the world of Dalrymple in the past and today.

10, Wrapping up loose ends in Byzantine history.

11, Where to find Byzantium today: the legacy and the heritage; Athens, Thessaloniki, Alexandria, Mount Athos, Ravenna, Sicily.

12, Package holidays in Byzantium: Greece, Cyprus, Mystras, Moscow and Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania.

The entrance to Saint Kieran’s College, Kilkenny … the venue for the course on Byzantine Studies in 2004 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sorry to miss the IOCS
annual conference in
Cambridge this week

The annual conference in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies takes place in Cambridge on Friday and Saturday

Patrick Comerford

I am disappointed that I cannot take part later this week in the annual conference in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

For many years, I have taken part in this conference at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and since 2008 the IOCS has played an important role in my continuing education and in my spiritual growth.

This week, the conference in Cambridge takes place on Friday [31 August 2018] and Saturday [1 September 2018] at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. The conference topic this year is: ‘The Newness of the Old: Tradition, Doctrine and Christian Life between Preservation and Innovation.’

For more details, enrolments and payments please go to the IOCS website here.

You can find a poster/flyer for the event here.

The keynote speakers at this year’s conference are: Dr Brandon Gallaher, University of Exeter; Revd Prof Nikolaos Loudovikos, University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki; Revd Prof Andrew Louth, Durham University; and Prof Jens Zimmerman, Trinity Western University.

Papers will be presented by: Barnabas Aspray, University of Cambridge; Lucian George Berciu, University of Fribourg; Richard Choate, Graduate Theological Union and University of California, Berkeley; Dr Viorel Coman, KU Leuven; Dr Christine Mangala Frost, IOCS, Cambridge; Ryan Hacker, University of Cambridge; Prof Sigríður Halldórsdóttir, University of Akureyri; Dr Smilen Markov, University of Veliko Turnovo / University of Oxford; Michael Miller, University of Cambridge; Ben Morris, Diocese of Sourozh; Yuliia Rozumna, Nottingham University; and Stefan Zelijkovic, University of Belgrade.

In Christianity, the preservation of tradition and innovation are complexly intertwined. On the one hand, an act of resistance to change can turn out to be an original move that outperforms fashionable new ideas and practices. On the other hand, the audacious introduction of the ‘new’ is at times the only way to safeguard the faithful continuation of tradition.

Yet innovation can also weaken tradition and lead to its destruction, and faithfulness to tradition may degenerate into an ossified and lifeless traditionalism.

A consistently Trinitarian theology and practice must transcend any simplistic dichotomy between a conservative and a progressive outlook on life. Paradoxically, it is precisely the ‘old’ that manifests itself as the ‘ever-new’.

The question as to how to balance the interplay of continuity and discontinuity remains one of the main challenges for Orthodox theology in the 21st century. The aim of the conference is to explore how the complex interrelationship between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ is to be conceived of.

A conference programme/flyer can be downloaded here.

Information about how to get to Sidney Sussex College can be found here.

In advance of the conference, the IOCS has organised a half-day programme of talks delivered by three Visiting Scholars at the end of their research period in Cambridge. This session takes place on Thursday morning [30 August 2018], from 10 am to 12 noon at Wesley House.

The Revd Dr Natanael Neacsu, the Revd Teofil Pantiru and Diogene Mihaila, all from Romania, will present 20-minute papers, summarising their research project.

Their presentations are followed by a Q&A session.

The IOCS is offering a new MA in Spirituality and a new MA in Contemporary Faith and Belief

Meanwhile, enrolment is still open until Friday [31 August] for the October 2018 intake, and until 1 December for the January 2019 intake for the new MA in Spirituality and the new MA in Contemporary Faith and Belief at IOCS. These courses are offered full-time or part-time, on-site or by distance-learning.

These two new MA programmes are suitable for people who are interested in ministry and professional or personal development for today’s world. They are taught in conjunction with the Cambridge Theological Federation, and the MA degree is awarded by Anglia Ruskin University.

The modules on the MA in Spirituality include: Human Condition; Christian Spirituality in Context; Mystery of Love; Christianity and Ecology; Ecumenism in Theory and Practice; Orthodox Spirituality; and Life in Spirituality.

The MA in Spirituality offers participants a lively debate on the meaning and the role of spirituality in the context of the Christian traditions as well as in today’s multi-cultural and multi-religious environments.

The course is available as a Postgraduate Certificate in Spirituality (two modules), a Postgraduate Diploma in Spirituality (four modules) and the MA in Spirituality (four modules and a 15,000-word dissertation).

The options include full-time or part-time study, choosing from online or classroom lectures and seminars, and some modules will be available by block teaching in Cambridge over one or two weeks.

The modules on the MA in Contemporary Faith and Belief include: Secularisation and Christianity; Mystery of Love; Ecumenism in Theory and Practice; Christianity and Ecology; Theology and Science; and Philosophical Theology.

The MA in Contemporary Faith and Belief offers students a timely debate about the role of faith and belief in the contemporary world.

This course in also available as a Postgraduate Certificate in Contemporary Faith and Belief (two modules), a Postgraduate Diploma in Contemporary Faith and Belief (four modules), and the MA in Contemporary Faith and Belief (four modules and a 15,000-word dissertation).

This too is available full-time or part-time, through online or classroom lectures and seminars, and some modules will be available by block teaching in Cambridge over one or two weeks.

Further information about the courses, including admissions process and fees, are available on the IOCS website: www.iocs.cam.ac.uk