Sunday, 27 June 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
29, Agia Irini, Rethymnon

The bells of Agia Irini are ringing out again after being quiet for decades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Today is the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV). Later this morning I am planning to preach at Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick, and to celebrate the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Last week my photographs were of seven churches in Venice. This morning (27 June 2021), my photographs are from the Convent of Agia Irini, 5 km south of Rethymnon, introducing a week of photographs of monasteries in Crete.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence, and earlier in this series morning reflections, I have also visited Arkadi Monastery (1 May 2021) and the former Monastery of Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai in Iraklion (8 May 2021).

Agia Irini may have been founded sometime between 961 and 1204 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When I am in Rethymon, I often try to visit Agia Irini, one of the oldest monasteries in Crete. Some accounts say it was founded sometime between 961 and 1204, and it was certainly built before 1362, when a Venetian document testifies to its existence.

But the monastery was destroyed several times during the many revolutions in Crete against Ottoman rule, and the monastery went into decline after the revolution of 1821 at the beginning of the Greek War of Independence.

In 1844, the Schools Commission assumed the management of the monastery and in 1866, after it suffered great damage at the hands of the Turks, the monastery was granted to the nearby monastery of Chalevi.

However, during the last Cretan revolution of 1897-1898, the Turks burnt the monastery, the ruined monastery was formally closed in 1900, and the ruins remained deserted for most of the 20th century.

At first, the monastery lands were granted to the monastery of Arsani, but in 1925 the lands were distributed among local Greek war veterans. When Sister Akaterina brought me on a tour of the monastery, she spoke of how the Metropolitan of Rethymnon, the late Bishop Theodoros Tzedakis, had a vision in 1989 for the restoration of the monastery and invited a group of nuns to form a new community at Agia Irini.

The nuns moved into the buildings and restoration work started in 1990. At the time, Agia Irini was a jumble of dilapidated buildings. Today, it is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Crete, having been restored with great care, using the principles of monastic architecture from a bygone era.

The restoration work was acknowledged in 1995 with the annual European Union award for cultural heritage, the Europa Nostra Award. From the entrance, the monastery looks like a walled fortress. Unlike other churches, the main church is not in the centre of the enclosure but outside it on the higher level of the sacred rock.

The church was officially opened in 2003, and was consecrated two years ago ten years ago on 20 August 2011 by Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria.

On the ruins of an old olive mill stands the smaller chapel of Saint Raphael, Saint Nicholas and Saint Irene. The monastery also has a small museum, a refectory, and workshops for icon painting, embroidery and sewing. The nuns use olive oil and tsoikoudia from their own trees and grapes to make hand-made soap and herb extracts.

Outside the courtyard, an older three-aisled church of Saint Irene, Saint Catherine and Saint Euphemia is awaiting restoration.

About eight nuns now live in the monastery. In their shop, the nuns sell traditional handicrafts of weaving and needlework, their own almond-flavoured drink, candles, religious books and icons, including unusual icons written on odd pieces of ceramic. Two of the nuns are also well-known icon writers.

A quiet corner in the monastery of Agia Irini, 5 km south of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 5: 21-43 (NRSVA):

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

The restoration of Agia Irini was acknowledged with the Europa Nostra Award (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 June 2021, Trinity IV) invites us to pray:

Healing God,
May we look to You in uncertain times.
Let us take the words of your Son to heart:
‘Do not fear, only believe’.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The grave of Metropolitan Theodoros Tzedakis outside the church in Agia Irini (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

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