Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (32) Hypocrite

Classical masks on sale near the Acropolis in Athens … the word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word for an actor who masked or hid his face (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I would hate to call anyone a hypocrite or two-faced, and I would hate it even more to find that some thought that I am two-faced or a hypocrite.

Yet, in Saint Mark’s Gospel, which provides the principal Gospel readings in the Lectionary these weeks, Christ uses the word ‘hypocrite’ to condemn some the Pharisees who consider the ‘tradition of the elders’ to be binding, as are the laws of Moses.

At first, the laws of ritual purity applied only to priests. The Pharisees wished to extend these laws to all Jews, at first not because they had hang-ups about how and when people could eat, but because they wanted to show that all people are priestly and holy. The original intention was broad and embracing, and not narrow and controlling in its intent.

Rather than becoming entangled in the details of argument, Christ calls the narrow and controlling group among the Pharisees hypocrites.

In Greek, the word, ὑποκριτής (hypokrités) was used for an actor who masked or hid his face. The word ὑποκρίνομαι (hypokrínomai) means ‘to play a part on stage,’ and the word ῠ̔ποκρῐτής (hypokrités), meaning one who answers, an interpreter, an expounder or a stage actor, eventually came to mean figuratively a pretender, dissembler, or a hypocrite.

In Athens in the 4th century BCE, the orator Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who had been a successful actor before taking up politics, as a ῠ̔ποκρῐτής (hypokrités) whose skill at impersonating characters on stage made him untrustworthy as a politician. This negative view of the hypokrites, combined with the Roman disdain for actors, shaded into the originally neutral ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis) or hypocrisy.

It is this later sense of hypokrisis as ‘play-acting’ or assuming a counterfeit persona that gives us the modern word hypocrisy with all its negative connotations.

Classical masks from the theatre in Athens on display in the Acropolis Museum … the word ‘hypocrite’ comes from the Greek word for an actor who masked or hid his face (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday: Olympian

Tomorrow: Genocide

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
115, Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … all that remains of the Wren church is the tower with its pinnacles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today in the Calendar of the Church is Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (21 September).

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches and former Wren churches in London. My photographs this morning (21 September 2021) are from Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill.

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren’s office after the Great Fire of 1666 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Saint Mary Somerset stood where Upper Thames Street and Lambeth Hill meet, south of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and was rebuilt in the late 17th century by Wren after the Great Fire of London.

The Church of Saint Mary Somerset is first recorded in the late 12th century, in a deed in the reign of Richard I.

Lambeth Hill is some distance from Lambeth, but the street name was derived from Lambard. It is even further from Somerset, so the designation ‘Somerset’ in the church name is more puzzling. It has been linked to Ralph de Somery, who is mentioned in records at the same time. It is also linked to Summer’s Hithe, a small haven on the Thames, at a time when the banks of the river were much closer.

Before the Great Fire in 1666, London had 14 churches named after the Virgin Mary. This is one of six of those churches rebuilt after the Fire and one of the 51 churches in London rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. At the same time, the parish of Saint Mary Somerset was combined with the parish of Saint Mary Mounthaw, which was not rebuilt.

Building the new church began in 1686, but stopped in 1688 owing to the financial uncertainty associated with the Williamite Revolution. Rebuilding recommenced the next year, and the church was finished in 1694 at a cost of £6,579. The rebuilt church was smaller than its predecessor, as a strip of land was taken by the City to widen what was then Thames Street.

Wren’s church had a nave but no aisles and had a flat roof. George Godwin described the interior as ‘a mere room with low whitewashed walls.’ Two columns supported a gallery at the west end, from which the royal coat of arms was suspended.

The tower projected from the south-west. It is 120 ft high and faced with Portland stone. Lines of windows, alternately circular and round headed, run up each side, with grotesque masks and cherubs serving as keystones.

The parish was very poor, and it was one of only two churches for which Wren provided funds for the furnishings from the Coal Tax – the other was Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.

There was a major movement of population from the City of London in the second half of the 19th century to new suburbs in Middlesex, Kent, Essex and Surrey. With these moves, many of the city churches in London were left with tiny congregations, while many of the newly-built suburbs had no churches.

The Union of Benefices Act (1860) allowed the demolition of City churches and the sale of land to build churches in the suburbs. Over 20 churches were demolished to make way for other buildings, including railway stations. The last service was held in Saint Mary Somerset on 1 February 1867, with about 70 people present.

The parish was then combined with Saint Nicholas Cole Abbey, and the church was demolished in 1871. Thanks to the efforts of the architect Ewan Christian (1814-1895), the church tower was preserved. The proceeds of the sale were used to build Saint Mary Hoxton, which also received the church furnishings and the bell.

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the pinnacles, obelisks and finials may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 9-13 (NRSVA):

9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ 12 But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the last service was held here is 1867 and the church was demolished in 1871 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 September 2021, Saint Matthew the Apostle) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life and works of Saint Matthew. May we emulate his witness, following the ways that Jesus taught us.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill … the tower has been converted into a private residence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Monday, 20 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (31) Olympian

A reminder of Greek pride in the Olympian tradition … in Vergina Restaurant in Platanias in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I left Ireland for Greece with everyone showing great pride in our Olympians, both those who took part in the summer games and those who took part in the Paralympics. I returned from Greece to find a debate in Ireland over plans to rename the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.

In the English language we can use the word Olympian as an adjective relating to, or inhabiting Mount Olympus (Όλυμπος), near Thessaloniki in northern Greece, such as the ‘Olympian gods,’ of something that is befitting or characteristic of Mount Olympus, such as ‘Olympian detachment,’ ‘Olympian calm’ or even ‘Olympian arrogance,’ or of relating to, or constituting the Olympic Games.

We can also use the word Olympian to refer to one of the deities said to have lived atop Mount Olympus, to someone who is lofty and above it all, or to a participant in the Olympic Games.

The word Olympian was first used as an adjective in English in the 15th and 16th centuries, and as a noun in the early 17th century.

The original Olympic Games (Ὀλυμπιακοί Ἀγῶνες) were first held not on Mount Olympus but at Olympia (Ολυμπία), in the western Peloponnese, from the eighth to the fourth century BCE. The modern Olympic Games were revived in Athens in 1894.

If we are proud of our Olympians in Ireland, and if we are quick to defend the name of the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, then Greeks are equally proud of the traditions associated with Mount Olympus, Olympia, and the Olympic Games.

Mount Olympus seen from the Monument of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday: Monastery

Tomorrow: Hypocrite

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
114, Saint Christopher-le-Stocks, Threadneedle Street

The Royal Exchange and Threadneedle Street … Saint Christopher le Stocks was demolished in 1781 for an extension for the Bank of England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches and former Wren churches in London. My photographs this morning (20 September 2021) are from the site of Saint Christopher-le-Stocks, Threadneedle Street.

Saint Christopher le Stocks stood on the south side of Threadneedle Street in the Broad Street Ward of the City of London.

The church, of mediaeval origin, was severely damaged in the Great Fire in 1666, although the outer walls and tower survived. It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1671 using much of the surviving material, and was the first of his churches to be completed, at a cost of £2,098 12s 7d.

When the Church of Saint Christopher le Stocks was demolished in 1781 to make way for an extension for the Bank of England, the parish was united with Saint Margaret Lothbury.

The reredos was later moved to in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster. This is a sumptuous example from the 17th century. The texts of the Ten Commandments are on the two centre panels, while on each side are the words of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.

The reredos in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster came from Saint Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street, demolished in 1781 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 16-18 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 16 ‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (20 September 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Anglican Church of Melanesia, comprised of nine dioceses across the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (30) Monastery

The Monastery of Arkadi, near Rethymnon, is the best-known monastery in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

During my two weeks in Crete this month, I visited a number of monasteries, including the Monastery of Arkadia, about 25 km from Rethymnon, and the Monastery of Preveli, on the south coast of Crete, about 35 km south of Rethymnon, above the Palm Beach of Preveli.

On the way to Preveli, I also stopped briefly below the small monastic Church of Saint Paisios in Damnoni, where an icon of Saint Paisios the Athonite is said to be streaming myrrh since May. For the last four months, this miracle has been attracting pilgrims in large numbers, and they say the small church is filled with a sweet fragrance.

The word monastery, to describe a place where men or women live in common in search of religious seclusion, came into the English language ca 1400 as monasterie, from the Old French monastere.

But this word, in turn, comes through the Late Latin monasterium, and from the Ecclesiastical Greek μοναστήριον (monastērion), ‘a monastery,’ μονάζειν (monazein), to live alone, and from μόνος (monos), ‘alone.’ The suffix ‘-terion denotes a ‘place for doing something.’

In English, the word monastery is generally used for the buildings of a community of monks. But, as the original Greek words imply, the first monks lived alone as hermits. In Eastern Christianity, a very small monastic community can be called a skete (σκήτη), and a very large or important monastery can be given the dignity of a lavra (λαύρα).

Communal life in a monastery is called cenobitic, as opposed to the anchoretic life of an anchorite and the eremitic life of a hermit. Under the Turkish occupation of Greece, an ‘idiorrhythmic’ lifestyle also developed, where monks come together but own things individually and are not obliged to work for the common good.

Both Arkadia and Preveli were filled with tourists and pilgrims last week as the monasteries celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the True Cross. In Preveli, one of the monks blessed visitors with a cross said to hold a relic of the true cross, and in Arkadia a gilded icon was on display in the main church showing Saint Helena and her son the Emperor Constantine, holding the True Cross.

If monasteries are seen as places where monks can find seclusion from the world, the outside world found its way in large numbers to these monasteries in the mountains of Crete last week.

Pilgrims and tourists venerating the relic of the True Cross in Preveli last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday: Muse

Tomorrow: Olympian

Sunday intercessions on
19 September 2021, Trinity XVI

‘Then he took a little child and put it among them’ (Mark 9: 36) … a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Let us pray:

‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mark 9: 35)

Heavenly Father,
we pray for the world and the nations of the world,
that the leaders of the world may seek to be servants,
so that all people may know mercy, peace and justice.

We pray for all who face discrimination …
who are denied equal opportunities …
praying this morning for women and minorities in Afghanistan …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’ (Mark 9: 37):

Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray for the Church,
that we may be a welcoming Church,
welcoming you and welcoming all as God’s children …

In the Church of Ireland this month,
we pray for the Diocese of Meath and Kildare
and Bishop Pat Storey.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for the Nenagh Union of parishes,
their priests, the Very Revd Rod Smyth and the Revd Paul Fitzpatrick,
and the people of Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh,
and Killodiernan and Templederry churches …

We pray for our Bishop, Kenneth, as he prepares to retire,
we pray for our neighbouring churches and parishes,
and people of faith everywhere,
that we may be blessed in our variety and diversity.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer,
we pray this week for the Church of the Province of Uganda.

In our community,
we pray for our schools,
we pray for all working in the fields at harvest time …
we pray for our parishes and people …
and we pray for ourselves …

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

Wisdom ‘opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy’ (Proverbs 31: 20):

Holy Spirit, we pray for one another …

We pray for those we love and those who love us …
we pray for our families, friends and neighbours …
and we pray for those we promised to pray for …

We pray for those who have been baptised, married and ordained in recent weeks …
We pray for families where children, partners and those who are vulnerable
suffer violence, abuse or neglect …

We pray for all who feel rejected and discouraged …
we pray for all in need and who seek healing …

We pray for all who are sick or isolated,
at home, in hospital …

Ruby … Ann … Daphne … Sylvia …
Ajay … Adam …
We pray for Pakie and Eileen Moloney and family

We remember all who grieve and mourn at this time …
all who are broken-hearted …

May their memories be a blessing …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

The Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in its Prayer Diary this morning, the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, invites us to pray:

‘Whoever wants to be first,
must be last of all’.
Lord Almighty,
we pray for a more equal and inclusive world.

Merciful Father …

Holy Wisdom with her children Faith (centre), Hope (left) and Love (right) … a fresco in a church in Rethymnon by the Cretan iconographer Alexandra Kauoki

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
113, Saint Benet Fink, Royal Exchange, London

Saint Benet Fink was demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the third, enlarged Royal Exchange and to widen Royal Exchange Avenue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Askeaton. I arrived back late yesterday after two wonderful weeks in Crete on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

This is the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVI), and later this morning (19 September 2021) I am taking part in Morning Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and presiding at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

But, before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches and former Wren churches in London. My photographs this morning (19 September 2021) are from the site of Saint Benet Fink at the Royal Exchange, London.

‘La Maternité’, a charity fountain at Royal Exchange, is a reminder of a forgotten Wren church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Benet Fink originally stood on Threadneedle Street, but was later rebuilt in 1670-1675 on a site at Royal Exchange by Sir Christopher Wren after an earlier church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was baptised in Saint Benet Fink on 9 April 1801.

Saint Benet’s, along with Saint Bartholomew by the Exchange and Saint Anthony’s Hospital Chapel, were demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the third, enlarged Royal Exchange and to widen Royal Exchange Avenue. The churchyard was acquired by Act of Parliament but had a long history, and a 10th century wheel-headed cross was discovered on the site.

Coming across a fountain without a function, a monument to the memory of Paul Reuter and the Peabody statue in Royal Exchange led me to the stories of three lost churches, including Saint Benet Fink, and a lost synagogue in London.

‘La Maternité’ is a charity drinking fountain at Royal Exchange that shows a breast-feeding mother with two children, one at her breast. It is difficult to imagine how this fountain caused controversy when it was erected in 1878-1879.

The inscription on the front of the plinth reads:

Erected 1878 at the expense of John Whittaker Ellis Esq Alderman & William Hartridge Esq Deputy, supplemented by a vote in Wardmote.

The inscription continues just above the basin:

Also by donations from The Drapers Company and the Merchant Taylors Company.

There are two smaller inscriptions. One on the right side of the plinth reads:

J Edmeston – Archt 1878.

The name and date on the back of the sculpture read:

Dalou, 1879.

The marble group was carved in 1877 by the French-born sculptor, Aimé-Jules Dalou (1838-1902), and was erected in 1878. However, it was altered by weathering and was replaced by an inferior copy in bronze in 1897.

The fountain and marble group were erected by the Drapers’ Company and the Merchant Taylors’ Company. A number of sources say the fountain commemorates Alderman William Bartman, although it appears to have been erected without the specific intention of commemorating anyone or anything.

However, the depiction of a breast-feeding mother was controversial at the time. A letter in the Globe, headed ‘An arrangement in milk and water’ and referring to the nearby statue of George Peabody, complained: ‘Do you not think, Sir, that propriety demands that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of lacteal sustentation be concluded, or until the Drapers or Merchant Taylors, to whom the young woman and youngsters belong, provide them with the requisite clothing.’

This collection of the three monuments – the fountain, the Reuter sculpture and the Peabody statue – stand on the site of Saint Benet Fink, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

Saint Benet’s, Saint Bartholomew by the Exchange and Saint Anthony’s Hospital Chapel, were demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the third, enlarged Royal Exchange and for widening Royal Exchange Avenue.

Saint Anthony’s Hospital Chapel was first built as a synagogue in 1231 but became a chapel of the French Hospital in 1243. It was destroyed and rebuilt in 1666.

Demolition to make way for commercial expansion was the fate of many City churches in the economic boom of the Victorian era. These three churches were demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the new, much expanded Royal Exchange built by Sir William Tite in 1841-1844 and for widening Royal Exchange Avenue. At the same time, the churchyard was acquired by Act of Parliament.

Tite’s Royal Exchange was the third on the site, London’s first Exchange was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1566-1570. The original Renaissance-style building replaced after the Great Fire by a building erected in 1667-1671 that was described as ‘the grandest monument of artisan classicism in the City.’

This second exchange burnt down in 1838 and Tite won the competition for the new Exchange. General trading in the building carried on until 1939 and was then replaced by specialist exchanges. The building has a central courtyard area that was designed by Tite as an open space but covered in 1883.

A paved area to the west end of the Royal Exchange has a number of statues: an equestrian statue of Wellington (1844) designed by Chantrey on a plinth; a War Memorial (1919-1920) by Sir Aston Webb with a sculpture by Alfred Drury; and a statue in Cornhill of JH Greathead (1993) by James Butler. This area at the junction of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill was re-landscaped in 1985 with low walls, some planting and seating, cast-iron lamps.

Royal Exchange Square, to the east of the Royal Exchange, is a paved pedestrian piazza beside Royal Exchange Buildings (1906-1910) designed by Sir Ernest George & Yeates.

The sculptures and monuments include the fountain with Dalou’s bronze figure of a nursing mother set on a granite plinth surrounded by planting, as well as Michael Black’s sculpture of Paul Julius Reuter by Michael Black (1976) and WW Story’s seated figure of the philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869), erected in 1868).

A drinking fountain commemorating the Jubilee of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association is at the south end, a copy of one that was stolen and placed here in 1911 but which was originally placed where the War Memorial now stands to the west of the Royal Exchange.

This paved area with seating set around flower beds marks the site of the forgotten Wren church.

‘La Maternité’ caused controversy when the breast-feeding mother was unveiled (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 9: 30-37 (NRSVA):

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was born at 80 Old Broad Street on 21 February 1801 and was baptised in Saint Benet Fink on 9 April 1801 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (19 September 2021) invites us to pray:

‘Whoever wants to be first,
must be last of all’.
Lord Almighty,
we pray for a more equal and inclusive world.

The statue of Paul Julius Reuter (1816-1899) at the Royal Exchange in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

George Peabody’s statue by WW Story at the Royal Exchange in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saturday, 18 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (29) Muse

A momnent of inspiration between the mountains and the sea at Muses restaurant in Plakias (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, between spending time at the Palm Beach at Preveli and an afternoon visit to Preveli Monastery, I had lunch at Muses Restaurant, looking onto the beach at Plakias on the south coast of Crete and out to the Libyan Sea.

The mid-day sun was sparkling on the small bay below the mountains, small boats were arriving at or sailing out from the pier, there were few people in the water and the light wind was creating a cooling breeze in this small bay.

If I was tempted to be lyrical and to seek inspiration in the sea and the mountains, the menu in Muses reminded me that in Greek mythology the Muses were regarded as nine deities or nymphs of the water and the mountains.

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, the Muses (Μοῦσαι, Moûsai, or Μούσες, Múses) are the inspirational goddesses of literature, science, and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, lyric songs, and myths that were related orally for centuries in ancient Greek culture.

The word has roots in phrases that refer to having things ‘in mind,’ but also to ‘mountain.’ So, the Muses were linked with creative ideas in the mind, while the centres of the cults of the Muses were found in the mountains or the hills.

The earliest known records of the Muses come from Boeotia, and the tradition persisted in Thrace that there were three original Muses. But classical writers from Homer and Hesiod to Diodorus Siculus disagreed about the number of Muses.

Some writers said there were three Muses, while others said there were nine.

Diodorus wrote that Osiris first recruited the nine Muses, along with the satyrs, while passing through Aethiopia, before embarking on a tour of all Asia and Europe, teaching the arts of cultivation wherever he went.

According to Hesiod, the Nine Muses were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, or Memory personified. They became the personifications of knowledge and the arts, especially poetry, literature, dance and music.

The classical understanding of the Muses tripled their triad and established a set of nine goddesses, who embody the arts and inspire creation with their graces through remembered and improvised song and mime, writing, traditional music, and dance.

It was not until Hellenistic times that particular functions became associated with each Muse, but variation persisted in their names and in their attributes. They were regarded as the inspiration for every intellectual activity and were worshipped or reverenced in many places.

The menu in Muses reminded me of their names and their functions or attributes:

Euterpe: music and lyrical poetry

Erato: love or erotic poetry

Thalia: pastoral poetry and comedy

Calliope: epic poetry

Clio: history

Melpomene: Tragedy

Urania: astronomy

Polyhymnia: sacred poetry and hymns

Terpsichore: dance

I might have lingered a little longer by the shore, seeking lyrical inspiration. But my this time of intellectual amusement lasted for only a moment in my mind. The bus was waiting to take me back up into the mountains to Preveli Monastery.

A reminder of the Muses and their inspiration at Plakias on the south coast of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday: School

Tomorrow: Monastery

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
112, Saint Augustine, Watling Street

Saint Augustine, Watling Street … Nicholas Hawksmoor’s tower is all that survives from Sir Christopher Wren’s church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Dublin. In the early hours of today I arrived back in Ireland on a flight from Crete after staying for almost two weeks on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

I am planning on returning to Askeaton, Co Limerick, later this morning. But, before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches in London, and my two photographs this morning (18 September 2021) are from Saint Augustine Watling Street.

Saint Augustine Watling Street, which stood to the east of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, was rebuilt in the late 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

Saint Augustine stood on the north side of Watling Street, at the corner with Old Change. According to Richard Newcourt, the dedication of the church was to Saint Augustine of Canterbury, rather than Saint Augustine of Hippo.

The church is first mentioned in 1148. The mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After the fire, the parish was united with the parish of Saint Faith under Saint Paul’s, whose congregation had worshipped until then in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

The church was rebuilt to designs by Sir Christopher Wren in 1680-1684. The new church opened in September 1683, but the steeple was not finished until 1695-1696, with a spire designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The tall leaded spire that was modified in 1830, and the pulpit was modernised by Arthur Blomfield in 1878.

Wren’s church was destroyed by bombing during the World War II in 1941. The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, but the church was not rebuilt. However, the tower was restored in 1954 and the spire was rebuilt in 1966 according to its original design by Paul Paget of Seely and Paget.

Although the body of Wren’s church is now lost, Saint Augustine Watling Street remains the closest of the City Churches to Wren’s Cathedral and its tower remains a special landmark in the City.

A glimpse of the tower of Saint Augustine Watling Street behind Saint Lawrence and Saint Mary Magdalene Fountain, designed by John Robinson and Joseph Durham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 4-15 (NRSVA)

4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that
“looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.”

11 ‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 September 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the people of Haiti and Russia as they gather to vote in their elections this week.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Friday, 17 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (28) School

Greek schoolchildren and pupils went back to school this week … the school on Nikomedias Street in Tsesmes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The schools reopened across Greece earlier this week, and each morning there are joyful sounds from the schools in this part of Rethymnon. The school in Tsesmes, beside La Stella, the hotel where I have been staying this week and last week, is brightly decorated with street art on the street frontage.

The word school, of course, comes from the Greek σχολή (scholē), originally meaning ‘leisure’ or free time, and also a place where there is time for leisure and to make good use of it. Later, the word came to mean a lecture or discussion, or a group to whom lectures are given, in other words, a school.

Watching the happy faces of the children going to school in Rethymnon, they could hardly imagine how, when I was a child, me and my schoolfriends would have made no link between ‘school’ and ‘leisure.’ So, how was this leap in language first made?

Leisure gave Greeks in the classical world time to think and to explore ideas. And so, the connection was made between leisure and the pursuit of knowledge or learning. The word evolved to mean ‘time used for intellectual discussion,’ then to mean the discussions themselves, and finally to mean the place where these discussions were conducted.

Eventually, we had a name for a place of learning, a school.

The Romans borrowed this Greek word with its educational meaning as schola, which became scōl in Old English. In time, this word evolved into scole in Middle English, and then into school when attention was paid to the influence of the Latin form of word.

The ‘school’ meaning ‘place of instruction’ comes from the Latin scola, itself derived from the Greek skhole, meaning ‘lecture or discussion.’ The same classical roots also gave us words such as ‘scholar,’ ‘scholastic’ and ‘scholarship.’

By the early 17th century, we were using ‘school’ in the figurative sense of ‘group of people who share agreement on a subject,’ as in a ‘school of thought.’ In English, we also use the word school as a figure of speech, speaking of ‘a school of thought’ or describing the way we through experience as the ‘school of hard knocks.’

When I was looking at the word synagogue earlier this week, I mentioned that Yiddish speakers in Eastern and Central Europe often called a synagogue a shul, which is also the Yiddish word for school.

Ashkenazic Jews in English-speaking countries use the Yiddish word shul (שול) for a synagogue, but many Sephardic and Romaniote Jews use the word esnoga (אשנוגה), from the Ladino (‘bright as fire’) or kahal (קהל).

But the word shul, with the same roots as the word school, has roots in classical Greek today. Indeed, a similar word is also used in some Sephardic communities, most notable in Venice. The Scuola Levantina is the synagogue of the Sephardic community in Venice, for example, and the Italian Synagogue of the Italkim community is known as the Scuola Italiana.

Meanwhile, on this Friday evening after Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, it is interesting to read that Yad Vashem in Jerusalem has honoured two Greeks, Vasiliki and Dimitrios Kiakidis, posthumously for rescuing Donna Rodrig, a Greek Jew, during the Holocaust.

The Israeli Ambassador to Greece, Yossi Amrani, presented the award last week to the couple’s grandson, Dimitris Kiakidis, in Komotini in northern Greece. The ceremony was hosted by the town’s mayor, Ioannis Garanis.

Vasiliki and Dimitrios Kiakidis ‘shined as beacons of light in the darkest of times of the Holocaust,’ Mr Amrani said. ‘They are a living proof that humanity should never give up to tyranny. They remind us all it could have been different. They are the right answer to racism, bigotry, history rewriting and Holocaust deniers.’

About 59,000 Greek Jews were victims of the Holocaust – a least 83 percent of the total number of Jews living in Greece during World War II.

Dimitrios Kiakidis was a doctor with a small private clinic, which he opened in the winter of 1941-1942. He met Donna Rodrig, who had been desperately looking for work, during a visit to Thessaloniki in 1942. He offered her a job and invited her to live with his family, looking after the children, Theofilos and Konstantinos.

Dr Kiakidis obtained a fake Christian identity card for Donna in 1943. With the help of the Greek resistance, he then sent her to the safety of a mountain village. There she continued to work as a nurse until the end of the occupation.

In March 1943, 864 Greek Jews from Komotini were arrested by Bulgarian authorities, deported and exterminated by the Nazis in Treblinka. All of Donna’s relatives were among them.

Thanks to the humanity and bravery of the Kiakidis family, she found a safe haven and was rescued. After the war, Donna married an Auschwitz survivor in Thessaloniki, where she lived until she died in 1996, remaining friends with the Kiakidis family.

To date, 362 Greeks have been recognised among ‘the Righteous Among the Nations.’ They include the Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens, the chief of the Greek police in German-occupied Greece, Angelos Evert, the Greek resistance fighter Lela Karagianni, the former Mayor of Zakynthos, Loukas Karrer, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos and Metropolitan Ioakim of Dimitriada.

‘They are the right answer to racism, bigotry, history rewriting and Holocaust deniers.’ Their resistance to evil, racism and fascism put them in a school all of their own, and teach us salutary lessons.

Shabbas Shalom

The Holocaust Memorial in Plateia Eleftherias (Liberty Square) in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
111, Christ Church, Greyfriars, London

The tower and some walls remain on the site of Christ Church Greyfriars, near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am on my last day on this holiday on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

I am planning to catch a flight from Chania to Dublin later this evening. But, before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (17 September 2021) are from Christ Church, Greyfriars.

The Monastery of Christ Church Greyfriars was dissolved at the Reformation in 1538 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ Church Greyfriars, within walking distance of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, was also known as Christ Church Newgate Street, and stood in Newgate Street, opposite Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The church began as the conventual church of a Franciscan friary, and the name Greyfriars refers to the grey habits worn by the Franciscan friars.

The first church on the site was built in the 13th century, but this was soon replaced by a bigger building, begun in 1306 and consecrated in 1326. This new church was the second largest in mediaeval London, measuring 91 metres (300 ft) long and 27 metres (89 ft) wide, with at least 11 altars. It was built partly at the expense of Margaret of France, the second wife of King Edward I.

Queen Margaret was buried at the church, as was Queen Isabella, the widow of Edward II who was complicit in her husband’s murder. The heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, was also buried here.

Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, more often associated with Saint Mary-le-Bow and its bells, founded a library in connection with the church in 1429.

Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent,’ was buried on the site after she was hanged at Tyburn in 1534 for preaching against Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. But her head was put on a spike on London Bridge, the only woman ever accorded that dishonour.

In 1546, Henry VIII gave the priory and its church, along with the churches of Saint Nicholas Shambles and Saint Ewin, Newgate Market, to the City Corporation.

A new parish of Christ Church was created, incorporating those of Saint Nicholas and Saint Ewin, and part of that of Saint Sepulchre. The priory buildings later housed Christ’s Hospital, a school founded by Edward VI, and the church became the principal place of worship for the schoolchildren.

In the 1640s, Christ Church was associated with the Presbyterian polemicist Thomas Edwards, and in 1647 it became a centre of operations for attempts to disband and pay arrears to members of the New Model Army.

When the mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, Wren was commissioned to rebuild the church.

The church was an important centre in the political and cultural life of London. The Lord Mayor attended an annual service to hear the Ancient Spital Sermon on the second Wednesday after Easter, placing his ceremonial sword in a special holder. Felix Mendelssohn played Bach’s Fugue in A minor and other works on the organ in 1837. Samuel Wesley also performed at the church.

Christ’s Hospital moved out of London to Horsham in West Sussex in 1902, reducing the Sunday attendances considerably, and the school building was sold to the GPO. In the years that followed, attendance figures continued to decline, and by 1937 had dropped to 77.

The church was severely damaged in the Blitz on 29 December 1940. During one of the fiercest air raids of World War II, a firebomb struck the roof and tore into the nave. Much of the surrounding neighbourhood was also set alight, and eight Wren churches burned that night alone. The roof and vaulting of Christ Church collapsed into the nave. The tower and four main walls remained standing but were smoke-scarred and gravely weakened.

When the parishes in London were being reorganised in 1949, it was decided not to rebuild Christ Church. The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, and in 1954, the parish of Christ Church was merged with nearby Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

The steeple was dismantled in 1960 and reassembled. The surviving lower part of the south wall and the entire east wall were demolished in 1962 for the widening of King Edward Street. In 1981, neo-Georgian brick offices were built against the south-west corner of the ruins, in imitation of the 1760 vestry house that once stood there.

The former nave area became a public garden and memorial in 1989. The paths follow the lines of the former aisles, the pergolas represent the piers, the box hedging represents the pews, and the plants represent the former congregation.

The US investment bank Merrill Lynch completed a regional headquarters complex on land to the north and west in 2002. Along with this project, the site of Christ Church underwent a major renovation and archaeological examination, King Edward Street was returned to its former course, and the site of the church has regained its pre-war footprint.

The tower, once used as commercial space, was converted into a private residence in 2006.
The north and south walls had large round-arched windows of clear glass, which allowed for a brightly lit interior (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 1-3 (NRSVA)

1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described the steeple of Christ Church Greyfriars as one of Wren’s finest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 September 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church of the Province of Myanmar, as they continue to serve Christians across Myanmar during political upheaval and social unrest.

The parish of the former Christ Church Greyfriars was merged with nearby Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate in 1954 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The flowers and plants in the garden represent the former congregation of Christ Church Greyfriars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thursday, 16 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (27) Diaspora

Hands across the globe … a sculpture beneath the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Greeks people are as conscious of the Greek Diaspora as Irish people are of the Irish Diaspora.

The term is derived from the Greek verb διασπείρω (diaspeirō), ‘I scatter’ or ‘I spread about,’ which in turn is composed of διά (dia), ‘between, through, across’ and the verb σπείρω (speirō), ‘I sow, I scatter.’

A diaspora is a dispersed or scattered population whose origin lies in another geographic locale, separate from its indigenous territories, and the word diaspora refers to the mass dispersion of a population. It is generally used to describe a people who identify with a ‘homeland’ but who live outside it.

But, as today (16 September) has been Yom Kippur, the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, I was reminded too that the word was first used specifically to describe the dispersion of Jews.

In Ancient Greece, the term διασπορά (diaspora) meant ‘scattering’ and was often used to refer to citizens of a dominant city-state who emigrated to a conquered land to colonise it and to assimilate the territory into the empire.

The use of the word developed, however, when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. The first references to a diaspora created as a result of exile is found in the Septuagint.

In Deuteronomy 28: 25, I read the phrase ἔσῃ ἐν διασπορᾷ ἐν πάσαις ταῖς βασιλείαις τῶν γῆς (esē en diaspora en pasais tais basileiais ton gēs). This is translated by the NRSVA as ‘you shall become an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth,’ but it is also possible to read it as ‘you shall be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth.’

In Psalm 146: 2, in the phrase οἰκοδομῶν Ἰερουσαλὴμ ὁ Kύριος καὶ τὰς διασπορὰς τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπισυνάξει oikodomōn Ierousalēm ho Kyrios kai tas diasporas tou Israēl episynaxē. The NRSVA translates this as ‘The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.’ But it could also read ‘The Lord builds up Jerusalem: he gathers together the diasporas of Israel.’

After the Septuagint translation of the Bible into Greek, the word diaspora was used to refer to the Northern Kingdom, exiled between 740 and 722 BCE from by the Assyrians, as well as the people exiled from the Southern Kingdom in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, and the people exiled from Roman Judea in 70 AD by the Roman Empire. The word came to be used to refer to the historical movements and settlement patterns of the dispersed Jewish people, as in the Jewish Diaspora.

The first known use of the word diaspora in the English language is in 1876 referring ‘extensive diaspora work’ to describe the work of English mission agencies among English-speakers in continental Europe. But the term only became more widely assimilated in the English language around the mid-1950s.

Diasporic communities in any language or cultural group often share similar patterns of collective behaviour, such as resistance to language change and the maintenance of traditional religious practices.

The Greek diaspora is one of the oldest and largest in the world, going back to Homeric times. The trading and colonising activities of the Greek tribes from the Balkans and Asia Minor brought Greek culture, language and people around the Mediterranean and Black Sea, with Greek city states and colonies developing in Magna Graecia, which included Sicily and southern Italy, and north Libya, east Spain, the south of France, and the Black Sea coasts.

The conquests of Alexander the Great brought a new wave of Greek colonisation to Asia and Africa, with Greek rule being found in Egypt, south-west Asia and north-west India. In time, the Greek diaspora became one of the most long-standing and widespread in the world.

Greek communities outside Greece and Cyprus are found in Albania, North Macedonia, parts of the Balkans, southern Russia, Ukraine, Asia Minor, the region of Pontus, Eastern Anatolia, Georgia, the South Caucasus, Egypt, southern Italy, and in Corsica.

Greek exiles played key roles in the emergence of the Renaissance, in the liberation and nationalist movements that brought about the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and developing the world’s great shipping lines. New migration in the past century brought large Greek communities to the US and Australia. Estimates for the Greek diaspora today range from three million to seven million worldwide.

Flying the Greek flag outside a family home in Rethymnon … estimates for the Greek diaspora today range from three million to seven million worldwide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday: Synagogue

Tomorrow: School

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
110, All Hallows’ Church, Bread Street

A plaque from All Hallows’ Church in the churchyard of Saint Mary-le-Bow recalls the baptism of the poet John Milton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am staying on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (16 September 2021) are from All Hallows’ Church, Bread Street.

All Hallows’ Church, Bread Street, was a parish church in the Bread Street ward of the City of London. It stood on the east side of Bread Street, on the corner with Watling Street, and was first mentioned in the 13th century.

The church was closed for a month in 1551 following a bloody fight between two priests. As penance, they were obliged to walk barefoot from Saint Paul’s through Cheapside and Cornhill. During the reign of Queen Mary I, the rector, Laurence Saunders, was burnt at the stake in 1555 for preaching Protestant doctrine. John Milton was baptised in All Hallows in 1608.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, and was rebuilt in 1681-1684 by Sir Christopher Wren.

The parish of All Hallows Bread Street was combined with that of Saint Mary-le-Bow in 1876 and the church demolished in 1878. The pulpit is now in Saint Vedast alias Foster, the organ case in Saint Mary Abchurch and the font cover in Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.

The font and cover in Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe came from All Hallows’ Church, Bread Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 7: 36-50 (NRSVA)

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.’ 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ 41 ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ 43 Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ 44 Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ 48 Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ 50 And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

The pulpit from All Hallows is now in Saint Vedast alias Foster (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 September 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for Holy Cross Theological College (in the Diocese of Yangon) and the work they do to train and equip ministers in the Church of the Province of Myanmar.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (26) Synagogue

Etz Hayyim Synagogue stands in a small alley off Kondhilaki Streer in Evraiki or the former Jewish quarter in the old town of Chania (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During these two weeks in Crete, I have been reminding myself of familiar words in the English language that are Greek words, deeply rooted in Greek classics, antiquity and culture.

But the word synagogue is Greek, word, not Hebrew. In Hebrew, a synagogue is called בית כנסת‎ (beit Knesset), which means, a ‘house of gathering.’ The word synagogue comes the classical Greek word συναγωγή (synagogē), meaning assembly.

Ashkenazic Jews in English-speaking countries use the Yiddish word shul (שול) for a synagogue, but many Sephardic and Romaniote Jews use the word esnoga (אשנוגה), from the Ladino (‘bright as fire’) or kahal (קהל).

I am in Crete in the middle of the High Holy Days, with Rosh Hashanah last Monday evening (6 September 2021) marking the beginning of the Jewish New Year, welcoming in the year 5782. Yom Kippur 2021 begins at sunset this evening (15 September), when the evening service begins with Kol Nidre, and ends at nightfall tomorrow (16 September).

I had hoped to travel from Rethymnon to Chania to visit the Etz Hayyim synagogue this evening. But the pandemic restrictions make this difficult if not impossible because only a very small number are being allowed inside.

Etz Hayyim synagogue stands in a small alley off Kondhilaki Streer in Evraiki or the former Jewish quarter in the old town of Chania, where there has been a synagogue since the Middle Ages. It is in the heart of the walled maze of alleyways and narrow streets that spread out from the harbour with its mediaeval lighthouse and the port’s surviving mosque.

There were Romaniote or Greek-speaking Jews in Crete for more than 2,300 years, and they survived wave-after-wave of invaders, including Romans, Byzantines, Saracen pirates, Venetians and Ottomans.

They were strongly influenced by Sephardic intellectual traditions with the arrival of Spanish Jews in Crete in the late 14th century, and the two Jewish communities intermarried and accommodated one another.

At the beginning of the Greek-Turkish war in 1897, there were 225 Jewish families in Crete, or 1,150 people in a total population of 250,000, spread across the three cities in the island: Chania, Iraklion and Rethymnon.

Early on the morning of 9 June 1944, while the 256 remaining Jews of Crete were being sent by the Nazis to Athens for deportation to Auschwitz, the Tanais, the container ship carrying them from Chania to Athens, was torpedoed by a British submarine HMS Vivid off the coast of Santorini. In all, about 1,000 prisoners were on board, including 400 Greek hostages and 300 Italian soldiers. No one survived.

Etz Hayyim synagogue stood empty after World War II. The sleeping building was desecrated. It was used as a dump, a urinal and a kennel, damaged by earthquakes and filled with dead animals and broken glass, its mikvah or ritual bath oozing mud and muck.

The revival of the synagogue is due to the vision and hard work of Nicholas Stavroulakis who grew up in Britain, the son of a Turkish Jewish mother and a Greek Orthodox father from Crete. His family ties inspired many visits to Crete. He returned in 1995, set about restoring the synagogue, and Etz Hayyim reopened in 1999.

Today, barely more than a dozen Jews live in Crete, and Evraiki, the former Jewish quarter, is crammed with tavernas, cafés and souvenir shops. Etz Hayyim holds weekly Shabbat services in Hebrew, Greek, and English, and is home to a research library with 4,000 volumes. Rabbi Gabriel Negrin, who was once a student in Crete, often comes to Chania from Athens to help with the services.

The courtyard of the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania … there have been Jews in Crete for over 2,300 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yom Kippur falls on the Hebrew calendar date of 10 Tishrei. The central themes of this holy day are atonement and repentance, and it is observed with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, and many Jews spend most of the day at synagogue services.

According to Jewish tradition, God writes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah or New Year and waits until Yom Kippur to seal the verdict. During the intervening Days of Awe, Jews seek to amend their behaviour and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other people.

The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private prayer and confessions of guilt.

The evening of Yom Kippur is known as Kol Nidrei night because of the Kol Nidre prayer which is charged with so many emotions and so many memories for Jews everywhere. The words are in Aramaic, not Hebrew, and it is sung to a haunting, traditional melody that has inspired many composers and singers.

There is a tradition that during the Spanish Inquisition, when the conversos or Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity under the threat of death, they remained faithful to Judaism at heart, and tried to observe Jewish practices in their homes.

These conversos would gather in the evening shortly before Yom Kippur began in their secret synagogues. Before beginning the Yom Kippur services, they would tearfully and emotionally pray to God, asking for forgiveness for all the public statements they made in the previous year which were contrary to Jewish doctrine.

This is supposedly also the reason why Kol Nidre is prefaced with the statement: ‘… by the authority of the heavenly tribunal and by the authority of the earthly tribunal, we hereby grant permission to pray with those who have transgressed.’

However, the Kol Nidre prayer predates the Inquisition by at least 500 years. It is said with great devotion as the opening prayer of the holiest day of the year and not because of its content.

Kol Nidre is an Aramaic declaration recited in the synagogue before the beginning of the evening service on every Yom Kippur. Although, strictly speaking, Kol Nidre is not a prayer, it has many emotional undertones and creates a dramatic introduction to Yom Kippur. The term Kol Nidre refers not only to the actual declaration but is also used as the name for the entire Yom Kippur service in the evening.

The name ‘Kol Nidre’ comes from the opening words, meaning ‘all vows.’ It is a pledge that annuls any personal or religious oaths or prohibitions made to God by the person for the next year, so as to avoid the sin of breaking vows made to God that cannot be or are not upheld.

Kol Nidre was introduced into the synagogue liturgy despite the opposition of some rabbis, although it was expunged from the prayer book by many communities in western Europe in the 19th century.



Before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur, the congregation gathers in the synagogue, the Ark is opened and two people take out two or three Torah scrolls. They then take their places, one on each side of the cantor, and the three, forming a symbolic beth din or rabbinical court, recite:

By the authority of the Court on High
and by authority of the court down here,
by the permission of One Who Is Everywhere
and by the permission of this congregation,
we hold it lawful to pray with sinners.


The last word, usually translated as sinners or transgressors, is used in the Talmud (Niddah 13b; Shabbat 40a) for apostates or renegades and in the Talmud of Jerusalem (Ketubot 7, 31c) for someone whose offences are of such magnitude that he is no longer recognised by the Jewish community.

The cantor then chants the passage beginning with the words Kol Nidre with its touching melodic phrases, and, in varying intensities, repeats twice, giving a total of three declarations, these words:

All vows we are likely to make,
all oaths and pledges we are likely to take
between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur,
we publicly renounce.
Let them all be relinquished and abandoned,
null and void,
neither firm nor established.
Let our vows, pledges and oaths
be considered neither vows nor pledges nor oaths.


The leader and the congregation then say together three times:

May all the people of Israel be forgiven,
including all the strangers who live in their midst,
for all the people are in fault.
(Numbers 15: 26)

The leader then says:

O pardon the iniquities of this people,
according to thy abundant mercy,
just as thou forgave this people
ever since they left Egypt.


The leader and the congregation say together three times:

The Lord said,
‘I pardon them according to your words.’
(Numbers 14: 20)

The Torah scrolls are then placed back in the Ark, and the customary evening service begins.

Kol Nidre is not a prayer; indeed, it makes no requests and it is not addressed to God. Instead, it is a declaration before the Yom Kippur prayers begin. It follows the juridical practice of requiring three men as a tribunal, the procedure beginning before sundown, and of the proclamation being announced three times.

It is believed that Kol Nidre was added to the liturgy of Yom Kippur 10 days after Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, because that service is much more solemn, because the Day of Atonement is attuned to the theme of repentance and remorse and because Yom Kippur services are better attended. Kol Nidre also includes an emotional expression of penitence that sets the theme for the Day of Atonement.

Rabbi Meir ben Samuel made an important change to the wording of Kol Nidre in the early 12th century, changing the original phrase ‘from the last Day of Atonement until this one’ to ‘from this Day of Atonement until the next.’

The older text is usually called the Sephardic version, but the two versions are sometimes found side by side. Because it is traditional to recite Kol Nidrei three times, some Sephardic communities and a small number of Ashkenazic communities recite both versions.

Kol Nidre is performed before Yom Kippur begins, and should be recited before sunset, since dispensation from a vow may not be granted on the Sabbath or on a feast-day, unless the vow refers to one of these days. However, Sephardic communities wait until nightfall, when Yom Kippur officially begins, before reciting Kol Nidre.

There is a tradition that makes Kol Nidre more than a technical vow-annulment procedure. Instead, by releasing these vows God is being asked to reciprocate in kind. In the event that he has pledged not to bring the redemption just yet, in the event that he made an oath to bring harsh judgments on his people in the following year, God is asked to release these vows and instead grant a year of happiness and redemption.

גְּמַר חֲתִימָה טוֹבָה ‎

G’mar Chatima Tovah, May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life.

Kol Nidrei, sung by Rabbi Angela Buchdahl at Central Synagogue, New York

Yesterday: Asthma

Tomorrow: School.

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
109, Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, London

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster in the City of London has ‘a vibrant schedule of ecclesiastical, musical and social events’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am staying on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (15 September 2021) are from Saint Vedast-alias-Foster.

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster in the City of London … the new glass doors by Bernard Merry allow the inside of the church to be seen from Foster Lane, even on a cold and dark evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, on Cheapside, stands close to the north-east corner of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It is noted for its small but lively baroque steeple, its secluded courtyard, its stained glass, and a richly-decorated ceiling.

This is one of only a few city churches that are open seven days a week, and has a dynamic congregation. The church describes itself as ‘an Anglican church in the Catholic tradition … with a vibrant schedule of ecclesiastical, musical and social events.’

Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Robert Herrick the poet. Thomas Rotherham, who was rector of the parish from in 1463-1448, later became Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.

The church is dedicated to Saint Vedast, and the alternative name Foster is simply an Anglicisation of the name Vaast by which the saint is known in continental Europe. This French saint is little known in Britain. He was Bishop of Arras in northern Gaul around the turn of the sixth century. Saint Vedast is known as Vedastus in Latin, Vaast in Norman, Waast in Walloon, and Gaston in French.

In England, his name was corrupted from Vaast, by way of Vastes, Fastes, Faster, Fauster and Forster to Foster, the name of the lane at the front of the church. This explains why the official name of the church is Saint Vedast-alias-Foster.

Augustinians from Arras were probably responsible for the foundation of the few churches in England dedicated to Saint Vedast. The one and only other surviving church in England that is dedicated to him is Saint Vedast in Tathwell, Lincolnshire. A third parish in Norwich is remembered only in a street name. Later, Rathkeale Abbey in Co Limerick was founded in 1280 by Gilbert Hervey for the Augustinian Canons of the Order of Aroasia.

The Rector, the Revd James Batty, petitioned the Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury in 1635 for permission to set up a rail around the communion table as there are many ‘disorders and undecencies’ among the parishioners when they were receiving Holy Communion.

For his loyalty to King Charles I, Batty was ‘sequestered, plundered, forced to flee, and died’ in 1642. How the church may have suffered during the Civil Wars of the mid-17th century is not recorded. But the Cromwellians kept horses stabled in the chancel of Saint Paul’s Cathedral nearby, we can image that it suffered badly. The current Rectors’ Board lists the years between 1643 and 1661 as under Foulke Bellers, a ‘Commonwealth Intruder.’

After the Restoration, the church was restored by 1662. Four years later, the Great Fire reached Saint Vedast on the third day. Afterwards, it was thought that although the roof, pews, pulpit and other fittings had been destroyed, the church could be repaired satisfactorily, and so it was omitted from the original list of 50 churches to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.

However, the structural flaws had become so significant by the 1690s that rebuilding began. It was altered, enlarged and restored by the office of Sir Christopher Wren between 1695 and 1701. Only small parts of the older building that survived were incorporated in the new church. These included parts of the mediaeval fabric in the south wall that were revealed during cleaning in 1992-1993.

Apart from Wren, either Robert Hooke or Nicholas Hawksmoor were involved in this restoration work. The three-tier spire of the church, which is considered one of the most baroque of all the City church spires, was added in 1709-1712 at a cost of £2,958. It may have been designed by Hawksmoor, and correspondence between Hawksmoor and the churchwardens survives.

Saint Vedast was one of 19 City churches selected for demolition in 1919. The plan was to sell off the land and use the money to build churches in the north-west suburbs.

The church was destroyed internally on the night of Sunday 29 December 1940 by firebombs during the London Blitz, and Saint Vedast was left a burnt-out shell.

But the structure of the church and its tower were deemed to be safe, plans to restore the church began in 1947, and restoration work started in 1953.

The post-war restoration was overseen by the Parochial Church Council, whose members included the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman and the organ builder Noel Mander. The architect was Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-1991).

The priests at Saint Vedast have included Canon Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1974-1986), former Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and the Revd Dr Alan McCormack (2007-2015), former chaplain of Trinity College Dublin.

The Saddlers’ Company is associated with Saint Vedast’s, and Saint Vedast’s is also linked with Saint Botolph without Bishopsgate.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950. The rectory was listed as a Grade II building in 1998.

The three-tier spire of Saint Vedast may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 7: 31-35 (NRSVA)

31 ‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.”

33 ‘For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’

The interior of Saint Vedast was reordered in collegiate style by the architect Stephen Dykes Bower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 September 2021, International Day of Democracy) invites us to pray:

Lord, we thank you for the gift of democracy. May we remember the value of democracy and exercise our democratic rights wisely and responsibly. We pray for those who have been stripped of their right to vote by undemocratic regimes.

The Grinling Gibbons font in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster was recovered by Noel Mander from Saint Anne and Saint Agnes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The reredos in Saint Vedast came from Saint Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street, which was demolished in 1781 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Evening lights in Saint Vedast, which looks like a perfect Cambridge or Oxford college chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)