01 August 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
64, the Cathedral, Corfu

The Cathedral of the Virgin Spiliotissas and Saint Vlassis and Saint Theodora stands on a small square at the top of marble steps near the harbour of Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

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

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

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 USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme is seven churches on the Greek island of Corfu, and my images this morning (1 August 2021) are of the Cathedral of the Virgin Spiliotissas and Saint Vlassis and Saint Theodora.

Inside Corfu Cathedral … built in 1577 and a cathedral since 1841 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The cathedral in Corfu stands on a small square facing out onto the harbour of Corfu and the Ionian Sea. It was built in 1577 and has served the Diocese of Corfu, Paxos and the Diapontian Islands since 1841.

The cathedral is often difficult for visitors to find in the labyrinth of narrow streets and side alleys. The marble stairway and the purple fa├žade with a decorative sunburst surrounding the rose window are only appreciated by stepping out of the cathedral and down into Mitropolis Square.

The Diocese of Corfu traces its history to two disciples of Saint Paul, Jason of Tarsus and Sosipatrus of Achaea (see (see Acts 17: 5-9 and Romans 16: 21). The Bishops of Corfu took part in ecumenical councils from 325 to 787, originally as suffragans of Nicopolis and later of Kephalonia.

The cathedral was built as a church in 1577 on the site of an older church dedicated to Agios Vlassis or Saint Blaise, an Armenian miracle worker and martyr whose feast is celebrated on 11 February. The new church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary Spiliotissas after the destruction of an older church with the same name. The name Spiliotissa is derived from spilia (cave), referring to an older church in a cave at the foot of the New Fortress.

The cathedral is a three-aisled church built in a Baroque style, with many Renaissance details and features.

The cathedral is filled with icons, treasures and large chandeliers, there is a carved wooden iconostasis or icon screen, paintings from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, Byzantine icons like the Panagia Dimossiana, painted in the 15th century on both sides, icons by Mikhailis Damaskinos from Crete, Emmanouil Tzanes and Panayiotis Paramythiotis, and three remarkable but dark paintings of Old Testament scenes.

The most celebrated relic is the shroud-wrapped body of the Empress Theodora, in a lined silver sarcophagus in a shrine on the right-hand side of the iconostasis.

Saint Theodora (815-867) was the wife of the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos. She lived during the conflicts and divisions of the iconoclastic heresy, and brought the conflict to an end in the Great Church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople on 11 March 843, celebrated in the Orthodox Church as ‘the Triumph of Orthodoxy.’

Her body and the body of Corfu’s patron saint, Saint Spyridon, were moved to Corfu after the Fall of Constantinople. Her feast day is 11 February – the same day as feast of Saint Vlassis, and they both share the dedication of the cathedral. Her relics are carried in procession through the streets of Corfu on the first Sunday of Great Lent, the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

The bust at the foot of the cathedral steps depicts the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I. While still a deacon, he was elected the Metropolitan of Corfu in 1922. He was elected Patriarch of Constantinople in 1960. The meeting between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem in 1964 led to rescinding the excommunications of 1054. He died in 1972.

Inside Corfu’s cathedral, with the shrine of Saint Theodora to the right, behind the iconostasis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 24-35 (NRSVA):

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28 Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30 So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”.’ 32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

Looking out to the harbour and the Ionian Sea from the steps in front of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

This week, the USPG Prayer Diary is recalling the 76th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and reflecting on how this commemorated by the Anglican Churh (Nippon Sei Ko Kai) and other faith groups in Japan.

Writing in the Prayer Diary this morning, the Right Revd Augustine N Kobayashi, Bishop of the Diocese of Kobe in the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, writes:

On August 6th 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, instantly killing over 70,000 people. Many more died from their injuries and radiation poisoning caused by the bombing.

In 1950, the Anglican church in Hiroshima, which had been destroyed, was rebuilt and re-dedicated as the Church of the Resurrection.

In 1998, I was appointed as Priest at the Church of the Resurrection. To my surprise, there was no specific church service to commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima. The bombing had become a taboo subject.

On the 60th anniversary of the bombing, a group of church leaders from Hiroshima initiated the Hiroshima Peace Worship. This is an ecumenical initiative where we gather to remember the past and look to the future.

The Hiroshima Peace Worship is held every year on 6th August, with around 200 attendees. We believe that the initiative helps to communicate the reality of war to younger generations and emphasises the need for humankind to work together to achieve peace.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (1 August 2021, Trinity IX) invites us to pray:

Loving Lord Jesus,
We thank you for the gift of peace.
Fill us with that peace,
And help us learn to share it with others.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The gallery at the west end of the cathedral (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

The bust of Patriarch Athenagoras outside Corfu Cathedral … he was Metropolitan of Corfu in 1922-1930 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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