Thursday, 30 September 2021

October 2021 in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

Harvest time in the fields beside the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick … Sunday 3 and 10 October are being celebrated as Harvest Sundays (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

3 October 2021 (Trinity XVIII):

9.30 a.m.: The Harvest Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Harvest), Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert

Readings: Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 126; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Matthew 6: 25-33 (Harvest, Year B)

Hymns:

37: Come, ye thankful people, come (CD 3)
39: For the fruits of his creation (CD 3)
47: We plough the fields and scatter (CD 3)

10 October 2021 (Trinity XIX):

9.30 a.m.: The Harvest Eucharist, Castletown Church

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Harvest), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

(both services with the Revd Dr Leonard Madden, Dean’s Vicar, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick; on this Sunday, Canon Patrick Comerford is preaching at the Cathedral Harvest).

Readings: Joel 2: 21-27; Psalm 126; I Timothy 2: 1-7; Matthew 6: 25-33 (Harvest, Year B)

Hymns:

37: Come, ye thankful people, come (CD 3)
43: Holy is the seed-time (CD 3)
47: We plough the fields and scatter (CD 3)

17 October 2021 (Trinity XX):

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert

Readings: Job 38: 1-7 [34-41]; Psalm 104: 1-10, 26, 37c; Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45

Hymns:

34, O worship the King all-glorious above (CD 2)
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven (CD 22)
294, Come down, O Love divine (CD 18)

24 October 2021 (Fifth Sunday before Advent):

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church

11.30 a.m.: Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Job 42: 1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34: 1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7: 23-28; Mark 10: 46-52

Hymns:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)
553, Jesu, lover of my soul (CD 32)
294, Come down, O Love divine (CD 18)

31 October (All Saints’ Day):

11 am.: Parish Eucharist (Joint Group Service for the Fifth Sunday of the Month), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Readings: Wisdom 3: 1-9 or Isaiah 25: 6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21: 1-6a; John 11: 32-44

Hymns:

459, For all the saints, who from their labours rest (CD 27)
466, Here from all nations, all tongues, and all peoples (CD 27)
468, How shall I sing that majesty (CD supplied)

On Sunday 31 October, there is an afternoon farewell service for Bishop Kenneth Kearon in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (booking required).

Feast Days and Festivals in October:

11 October: Saint Philip the Deacon
18 October: Saint Luke the Evangelist
23 October: Saint James, Brother of the Lord
28 October: Saint Simon and Saint Jude

Christ the Pantocrator surrounded by the saints in the Dome of the Church of Analipsi in Georgioupoli, Crete … 31 October is being celebrated as All Saints’ Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
124, Church of Our Lady of the Angels, Rethymnon

The Church of Our Lady of the Angels in the old town of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The General Synod of the Church of Ireland begins later this morning, and I am likely to find myself in front of a the screen of my laptop for the next two or three days taking part in ‘Zoom’ meetings.

But, before the day gets busy, 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 churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks earlier this month.

My photographs this morning (30 September 2021) are from the Church of Mikri Panaghia or the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, on the corner where Nikifórou Foká Street and Arampatzoglou Street in Rethymnon.

Inside Mikri Panaghia or the Church of Our Lady of the Angels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Church of Mikri Panaghia, or the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, was a church first, then a mosque, and once more a church.

In the closing days of Venetian rule in Crete, a three-aisled church was built by the Dominican friars on the corner where Nikifórou Foká Street and Arampatzoglou (Thessaloníkis) Street meet and it was dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene.

In the immediate aftermath of the Turkish conquest of Crete, the Christians of Rethymnon continued to use the church. Then one day, as the Ottoman conqueror, Huseyin Pasha, was riding through the streets, he was enraged when he saw the congregation spilling out of the church.

He ordered that the church should be converted into a mosque and renamed, although the parishioners were given the use of a neighbouring, smaller church. The new mosque was named after Huseyin Pasha’s successor, Angebut Ahmed Pasha. A minaret was built beside the former north aisle, but the top soon fell to the ground and the minaret was known to later generations as Koutsotroúlis, ‘the Old Stump.’

After two and a half centuries as a mosque, local Christians took advantage of the declining fortunes of the town’s Muslims, and on the night of 3 and 4 April 1917 they staged the miraculous ‘discovery’ of an icon of the Virgin Mary on the steps of the minaret.

The mosque was turned back into a church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, or Mikri Panaghia – to distinguish it from Rethymnon’s cathedral or ‘Great Saint Mary’s.’ A shrine of the icon was set up in the restored church and a new belfry was added in 1920. Sadly, the original Renaissance doorway was demolished at the same time.

The iconostasis or icon screen in the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 10: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.’

The miraculous ‘discovery’ of an icon of the Virgin Mary hastened the transformation of the mosque into a church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (30 September 2021, International Translation Day) invites us to pray:

We give thanks for the diversity of languages spoken across the Anglican Communion. Let us celebrate the work of those who foster links between churches and peoples through the power of translation.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Christ as the Great High Priest in the central panel of the door of the iconostasis or icon screen in the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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 church was first built by the Dominicans and was first dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

The centuries-old links
between USPG and
the Diocese of Limerick

With Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya of Swaziland and the Revd Duncan Dormor of USPG at a recent USPG conference … the Diocese of Limerick has centuries-old links with SPG and USPG

Patrick Comerford

The Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe has a long link with the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). I found this one of the attractive parts of diocesan life when I was invited to move to this diocese in 2017, and those links were expressed for some years in the close links with the Diocese of Swaziland in Eswatini and Bishop Elinah Wamukoya, who died earlier this year (21 January 2021) due to complications caused by Covid-19.

I have just completed a six-year term as a trustee of USPG, and was a member of the USPG council for about five years before that. During the diocesan synod last weekend, Bishop Kenneth Kearon pointed out that the links between this diocese and USPG were in place when he came to the diocese. He suggested those links had been developed by Bishop Michael Mayes, a former USPG missionary, who was Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe in 2000-2008.

Bishop Michael worked with USPG in Japan in 1968-1974, and when he returned to Ireland he was USPG Area Secretary for Ireland (1974-1975) and USPG Area Secretary for Cashel, Cork, Limerick and Tuam (1975-1993), until he was elected Bishop of Kilmore in 1993.

However, the links between USPG and this diocese date back long before that.

Harry Vere White (1853-1941) was elected Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe 100 years ago on this day, 29 September 1921. He was an SPG missionary in New Zealand in 1880-1875. When he returned to Ireland, he was the organising secretary of SPG in Ireland for six years (1894-1900). During those years, he lived at 3 Belgrave Road, Rathmines, later known as Overseas House when I worked there in 2002-2006.

He later became Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s, Ballsbridge (1905-1918), where he conducted the marriage of Philip Henry Comerford and Mary Harvey on 5 October 1907. Their children included the Revd Philip Henry Comerford (1909-2006), a missionary in Paraguay who later moved to Canada and was the father of Archdeacon Henry Comerford.

Harry Vere White was the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral (1918-1921), when he was elected Bishop of Limerick in 1921. He was consecrated in Christ Church on 18 October 1921 and was enthroned in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, two days later on 20 October.

Bishop Vere White’s short history of SPG in Ireland, Children of Saint Columba, provides an interesting account of many of the early Irish missionaries who worked with SPG, including many from these dioceses.

One of my predecessors in Askeaton had strongly family links with USPG when it was SPG (the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) in the 19th century, and another predecessor in Kilnaughtin was an SPG missionary in Central America for two years and then spent seven years in Southern Africa as an SPG missionary.

The Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour (1801-1888) was Vicar of Askeaton from 1833 to 1837. He was the second son of Blayney Townley-Balfour or Blayney Townley Balfour (1769–1856), who came from a long line of politicians, and who was MP for Belturbet when the Act of Union was passed in 1800. Blayney Townley-Balfour owned a large flour mill near Slane, Co Meath, and he who commissioned the architect Francis Johnston to rebuild Townley Hall, the family seat on the banks of the Boyne, between Drogheda and Slane.

Blayney Townley-Balfour married Florence Cole, and they had 10 children. Their eldest son, also Blayney Townley-Balfour (1799-1882), was Governor of the Bahamas from 1833 to 1835, while their second son was the Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour. Willoughby was born in 1801 at Townley Hall and went to school at Harrow before entering Trinity College Dublin in 1819. He graduated BA in 1823 and was ordained deacon in 1829 and priest in 1832.

Willoughby Balfour became Vicar of Askeaton in May 1833, and held that post until 1837, when his successor was the Revd George Maxwell, who worked tirelessly and ceaselessly in the parish during the Great Famine.

Balfour became Vicar of Stone Flanville, Leicestershire, where he remained until 1878. When he retired, he returned to Ireland and died in Rostrevor, Co Down, on 29 June 1888.

His elder brother, Blayney Townley-Balfour (1799-1882), was Lieutenant Governor of the Bahamas (1833-1835). He too was born in Townley Hall, and later inherited the family home.

His first son, Blayney Reynell Townley Balfour, was born in Townley Hall on 15 April 1845. But the family found the climate in the Bay of Naples was more amenable than the Irish climate, and they moved to Sorrento, where their second son, Francis Richard Townley Balfour, was born ion 21 June 1846.

Like their uncle Willoughby, the two Balfour brothers went to school in Harrow, where their younger contemporaries included a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Thomas Davidson (1848-1903), a future secretary of SPG, Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery (1847-1932) from Co Donegal, the slum priest Father Robert Dolling (1851-1902) from Co Down, and a much younger Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932), whose parents were from Ireland.

From Harrow, Francis Balfour went on to Trinity College Cambridge, graduating BA in 1869, and trained for ordination at Cuddesdon College, Oxford. In 1872, the year he received his MA from Cambridge, he was ordained deacon, and he was ordained priest in 1874 by the Bishop of Oxford.

He was a curate in Buckingham for three years until 1875, and then moved to Southern Africa as a missionary with SPG. He first worked in the Orange Free State, as a bishop’s chaplain on the diamond diggings with the miners in Kimberley, lecturing in a theological college in Bloemfontein, and as a parish rector and cathedral canon. He then went to Mashonaland in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he built the first Anglican church in Fort Salisbury (now Harare).

He later moved to Basutoland (present-day Lesotho), where he was the Director of the Mission of the Epiphany in Sekuba (1894-1898). Throughout all this time he preached in Sesotho and translated the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Sesotho.

He regularly returned home to Ireland when he was on leave, and when ill-health forced him to return home in 1900-1901, he acted as an honorary curate in All Saints’ Parish in Raheny, Dublin, where the rector, the Revd Francis Carlile Harper (1838-1931), was known for his missionary interests and was father-in-law of Herbert Packenham Walsh, the Irish missionary bishop in Assam.

In Raheny, Balfour had a profound influence on the rector’s daughter, Dr Marie Elizabeth Hayes, who went to work with the Dublin University Mission in Chota Nagpur in 1905, and died as a medical missionary in Saint Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi, in 1908.

When Balfour returned to South Africa from Raheny in 1901, he became the Archdeacon of Bloemfontein (1901-1906) and then Archdeacon of Basutoland (1908-1922). When he was consecrated in Cape Town as an Assistant Bishop for the Diocese of Bloemfontein in 1911, he was effectively the first Anglican Bishop of Lesotho.

He was proud of his Irish identity and heritage, and there is a wonderful photograph of him from 1914 in a mitre and cope decorated in shamrocks and ‘Celtic’ designs.

When Balfour retired in 1923, there was no question of going back to Sorrento. He returned to Ireland, but died shortly afterwards in Shankill, Co Dublin, on 3 February 1924. He is buried in the grounds of Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth – the ruins of Mellifont had been owned by his family for generations.

In this group of parishes too, the Revd James Napier Clarke (1870-1934) was the curate of Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, in 1905-1908. He had previously served with SPG in Southern Africa for about seven years. He was born in 1870, the son of the Revd Dr JW Clarke, and His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and great-uncle were priests in the Church of Ireland.

Clarke was a missionary in the Diocese of Honduras (1896-1897) and in Belize (1897-1898), before going to Southern Africa with SPG in 1898. There he was a missionary in Kaffraria (1898-1905), where he worked as a chaplain in Saint John’s College (1893-1903), Headmaster of Saint Cuthbert’s School, Tsolo (1904), and Rector of Port Saint John’s (1904-1905). When he returned to Ireland, he worked first as Curate of Kilnaughtin (1905-1908), and later worked in parishes in the dioceses of Ardfert, Ferns, Glendalough and Kildare until his death on 13 April 1934.

Another SPG missionary in Southern Africa with connections with the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe was Nurse Rosanna (Rose) Blennerhassett (ca 1840-1907). She was a daughter of Sir Arthur Blennerhassett (1794-1849) of Churchtown, near Killarney, Co Kerry. Her uncle and great-uncle were priests in the Church of Ireland, and her brother, Sir Rowland Blennerhassett (1839-1909), was MP for Galway and Co Kerry.

She was a nurse with SPG in the Diocese of Mashonaland (1891-1893), and she was the co-author, with Lucy Sleeman, of Adventures in Mashonaland by two hospital nurses (London, Macmillan, 1893). She died in 1907, 14 years before Bishop Harry Vere White came to this diocese.

A portrait of Bishop Harry Vere White has a place of prominence in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, among the portraits of bishops and deans in the Chapter Room and the dean’s office.

Bishop Harry Vere White … worked for SPG before becoming Bishop of Limerick on this day 100 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘You will see heaven opened
and the angels of God
ascending and descending’

Saint Michael’s Victory over the Devil, the 1958 bronze sculpture by Jacob Epstein at Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels,

Wednesday 29 September 2021


11 am.: Festal Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

The Readings: Genesis 28: 10-17; Psalm 103: 19-22; Revelation 12: 7-12; John 1: 47-51.

Saint Finian’s Bay, near Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, with Skellig Michael in the distance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Saint Michael is closely associated with churches in these dioceses, including churches in Pery Square, Limerick, Killorglin and Waterville in Co Kerry, and, of course, the monastic settlement on the Skelligs Rocks, one of the most popular tourist sites in this part of Ireland.

Culturally, the feast day of Saint Michael and All Angels has been an important day for the Church: the beginning of terms, the end of the harvest season, the settling of accounts.

It is the beginning of autumn, and as children in West Waterford we were told that Michaelmas Day is the last day for picking blackberries. As I grew up, I realised that this is a superstition shared across the islands, from Achill to Lichfield, from Wexford to Essex and Cambridge.

In his poem ‘Trebetherick,’ John Betjeman seems to link ripening blackberries and the closing in of the autumn days with old age and the approach of death:

Thick with sloe and blackberry, uneven in the light,
Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat
.

But the former poet laureate had a more benign view of blackberries on a visit to the Isle of Man, when he described ‘wandering down your late-September lanes when dew-hung cobwebs glisten in the gorse and blackberries shine, waiting to be picked.’

In his poem ‘At the chiming of light upon sleep,’ first drafted on this day 75 years ago (29 September 1946), the poet Philip Larkin links Michaelmas and a lost paradise with chances and opportunities he failed to take in his youth.

This is a day to allow the mind to wander back to childhood memories, and a time for contemplation and unstructured prayers, giving thanks for the beauty of creation.

September is also the beginning of the Church Year in the Orthodox tradition, so this too is a day to think about and to give thanks for beginnings and ends, for starting and ending, for openings and closings, for memories and even for forgetfulness.

In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, Michael commands the army of angels loyal to God against the rebel forces of Satan. One of the best-known sculptures by Sir Jacob Epstein is Saint Michael’s Victory over the Devil at Coventry Cathedral.

Yet Michael is mentioned by name in the Bible only in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude and in the Book of Revelation (Daniel 10: 13, 21, 12: 1; Jude 9; Revelation 12: 7-9; see also Revelation 20: 1-3).

In Jewish tradition, Rabbinic lore and the Midrash made Michael the special patron of Adam, the rescuer of Abraham, Lot and Jacob, the teacher of Moses; Michael tried to prevent Israel from being led into captivity, to save the Temple from destruction, and to protect Esther, whose story we heard about on Sunday (26 September 2021).

In the early Church, Michael was associated with the care of the sick, an angelic healer and heavenly physician. Saint Basil the Great and other Greek fathers placed Michael over all the angels and so called him ‘archangel.’ The Orthodox Church gave him the title of ‘Supreme Commander of the Heavenly Hosts’ (ἀρχιστράτηγος, archistrategos).

In all our imagery, in all our poetry, Saint Michael is seen as crushing or slaying Satan, often Satan as a dragon.

Our ideas of dragons are also culturally conditioned. For the Chinese, dragons symbolise gift and blessing, and represent the majesty of the imperial household.

In most European languages, the word for a dragon is derived from the same Greek word used for a serpent. In European folklore and mythology, legendary dragons have symbolised danger and evil. We are warned in the Greek classics against sowing dragon’s teeth.

Most of us know that throughout life we are going to meet our own dragons, and how they are going to ensnare us if we do not face them and slay them.

During the Blitz in World War II, the poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985) spent some of his late teen and early adult years with his father’s family, close to Saint Michael’s Church in Lichfield, where generations of the Larkin family are buried. There, on the north wall of the church, in a large, looming sculpted image, Saint Michael is crushing the dragon under his feet.

Memories of this image and this churchyard may have inspired the imagery in at least two poems written by Larkin some years later. In his poem ‘At the chiming of light upon sleep’, first drafted on this day 75 years ago [29 September 1946], Larkin links Michaelmas and a lost paradise with chances and opportunities he failed to take in his youth.

In his poem ‘To Failure,’ written a year before he moved to Belfast, Larkin realises that failure does not come ‘dramatically, with dragons / that rear up with my life between their paws.’ Failure comes with more subtlety in those wasted opportunities and lost chances.

Throughout life, we find we have your own dragons to slay. We must learn to know our dragons. And we need to pay heed to the opportunities in life that pass far too quickly, to take the opportunities we are presented with, like Nathanael in our Gospel reading, waiting beneath the fig tree, preparing for the next stage in life, the call to follow Christ.

There may be few dramatic conflicts with our inner dragons in daily life. But in time, we may regret not paying attention to the little opportunities, the minor details of life. Then we do not notice the changes, the days passing more quickly, and the years passing by.

Philip Larkin writes:

It is these sunless afternoons, I find,
Install you at my elbow like a bore.
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
Aware the days pass quicker than before,
Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
They look like ruin. (You have been here some time.)


Sitting under his tree, Nathanael was aware of the opportunities and did not allow them to pass him by. And when we seize these opportunities, we may find ourselves prepared to ‘see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man’ (John 1: 51).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 47-51 (NRSVA):

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50 Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

‘There was a ladder … reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it’ (Genesis 28: 12) … ‘you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending’ (John 1: 51) … ascending and descending angels on a frosted-glass door in Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: White

Penitential Kyries:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Woe is me, for I am lost;
I am a person of unclean lips.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your guilt is taken away,
And your sin is forgiven.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministries
of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
Grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Hear again the song of angels:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. (Luke 2: 14)

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this Eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

The God of all creation
guard you by his angels,
and grant you the citizenship of heaven:

Saint Michael slaying the Dragon, an image at Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield … may have inspired at least one poem by Philip Larkin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

346, Angel voices, ever singing (CD 21)
332, Come let us join our cheerful song (CD 20)

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



Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
123, Saint Nicholas Church, Rethymnon

The Church of Saint Nicholas, near the bus station in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels (29 September 2021). Later this morning, I hope to celebrate the Festal Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Before the day gets busy, 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 churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks earlier this month.

My photographs this morning (29 September 2021) are from the Church of Saint Nicholas, close to the bus station in Rethymnon.

Inside the Church of Saint Nicholas, near the bus station in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Church of Saint Nicholas is in a small square formed at the corner of Priskosoridi street and Emmanouil Kefalogianni avenue, the street that runs around the shore of the rocky bay beneath the western slopes of the Venetian Fortezza.

This small chapel or church, close to the bus station, is surrounded by good fish restaurants and tavernas. This is now a suburban part of western Rethymnon, and is slowly becoming a part of the tourist area. But, only a few decades ago and within living memory, this was an area closely associated with fishers and their fishing boats.

Saint Nicholas, as well as being the patron saint of children and the inspiration for Santa Claus, is also the patron saint of sailors, fishermen, ships and sailing, which explains the presence of this modern church dedicated to his name in this part of Rethymnon.

The feast day of Saint Nicholas falls on 6 December, and almost every town in Greece has a church dedicated to him. Saint Nicholas, whose name means ‘Victory of the People,’ was born in Myra in Lycia, now known as Demre, near Antalya on the south coast of present-day Turkey. He had a reputation as a secret giver of gifts, so you can see his links with our Santa Claus today.

There are stories too of Saint Nicholas and the defence of true doctrine. In the year 325, the Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, attended by more than 300 bishops, to debate the nature of the Holy Trinity.

It was one of the most intense theological debates in the early Church. Arius from Alexandria was teaching that Christ was the Son of God but was not equal to God the Father, not God incarnate. As Arius argued at length, Nicholas became agitated, crossed the room, and slapped Arius across the face.

The shocked bishops stripped Nicholas of his episcopal robes, chained him and jailed him. In the morning, the bishops found his chains on the floor and Nicholas dressed in his episcopal robes, quietly reading his Bible. Constantine ordered his release, and Nicholas was reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.

As the debate went on, the Council of Nicaea agreed with his views, deciding against Arius and agreeing on the Nicene Creed, which remains the symbol of our faith. Which probably also makes it appropriate that this church is close to the Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, which I described yesterday.

The unusual iconostasis or icon screen in the Church of Saint Nicholas continues into the pillars of the dome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

John 1: 47-51 (NRSVA):

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50 Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Inside the Church of Saint Nicholas, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (29 September 2021, Saint Michael and All Angels) invites us to pray:

Let us celebrate the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. May we strive to do what is good and resist earthly temptation.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

An icon of Saint Nicholas in the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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 Church of Saint Nicholas is in an area once closely associated with fishers and their fishing boats (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Finding an unexpected
window by An Túr Gloine
in Limerick City Gallery

The Limerick city arms in a window by An Túr Gloine Studio in the Limerick City Gallery of Art, Pery Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)


Patrick Comerford

After a busy Sunday morning, two of us decided to have lunch in Limerick and to spend a few hours on a rainy afternoon, seeing some of the buildings we had missed, and some stained-glass work that had missed our attention in the past.

Two house guests recently gave us a present of the new edition of the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass, edited by Nicola Gordon Brown, David Caron and Michael Wynne (Newbridge: Irish Academic Press, 2021). Since then, we have been using this book as an invitation to see some of the great works of Stained Glass in Ireland.

One of the buildings we visited on Sunday afternoon is the Limerick City Gallery of Art on Pery Square, first built as the Carnegie Free Library and Museum, beside the People’s Park and close to Saint Michael’s Church.

The fanlight above the main door is work of An Túr Gloine Studio ca 1906, and depicts the civic coat-of-arms of the City of Limerick.

The fanlight is barely visible outside the building, and the design and colour are only truly appreciated from inside the porch.

Limerick City Library was established in Glentworth Street in 1893. The site for a new library was donated by the Earl of Limerick, ground landlord of the city, who owned the People’s Park at this time.

The new library was funded by the Scottish-born American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), who laid the foundation stone in 1903. The building was designed in the Neo-Hiberno-Romanesque style by the Dublin architect George Patrick Sheridan (1865-1950), and was completed by 1908.

Sheridan went on to design a number of other Carnegie libraries, including Lismore (1907-1910), Tallow (1909-1910), Ballyduff (1911) and Cappoquin (1909-1911), all in Co Waterford. He also supervised the building of the Parnell Monument in Dublin, unveiled by John Redmond in 1911.

The Limerick City Gallery of Art was built as the Carnegie Free Library and Museum and designed by George Patrick Sheridan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Sheridan’s library in Limerick was built of local limestone with Killaloe slates used for the roof, and included a two-story residence for the City Librarian, which was used until 1973.

It was built in the Hiberno-Romanesque style, which is usually more associated with church buildings. It is thought that the main entrance was inspired by the great doorway of Glenstal Castle, now Glenstal Abbey.

The library was opened in 1906 and ten years later, Limerick’s first municipal museum was also opened in the same building when a group of prominent Limerick politicians, artists and patrons established the first Limerick City Collection of Art from various donations and bequests in in 1936.

The Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA) was established by three key figures in Limerick cultural history. Dermod O’Brien (1865-1945) from Foynes was a grandson of the Young Ireland leader William Smith O’Brien and the prominent Liberal statesman Thomas Spring Rice, first Lord Monteagle. O’Brien was one of the leading artists in Ireland and the longest ever-serving President of the Royal Hibernian Academy (1910-1945). Sean Keating (1889-1977) was also President of the Royal Hibernian Academy (1948-1962) and one of the greatest Irish artists of the 20th century. Joseph Mary Flood (1882-1970) was a barrister and writer who served as District Justice in Limerick City and North Tipperary in 1923-1947.

An extension to the rear of the library and museum became the home to the City Collection in 1948 as the Limerick Free Art Gallery.

The Library and Museum were transferred to larger buildings in 1985, and since then Limerick City Gallery of Art has occupied the entire Carnegie Building. There were two major renovations and expansions in 1999 and in 2010/2011, and the LCGA reopened in Pery Square in 2012.

The main entrance was inspired by the great doorway of Glenstal Castle, now Glenstal Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
122, Saint Constantine and Saint Helen Church, Rethymnon

The Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen … a modern, neo-Byzantine church above the bus station in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, 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 churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks earlier this month.

My photographs this morning (28 September 2021) are from the Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, near the bus station in Rethymnon.

Inside the Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen is a modern, neo-Byzantine church above the bus station in Rethymnon. It dominates the streetscape on the western fringes of Rethymon, looking down on the waters of the bay formed by the western slopes of the Venetian Fortezza.

Few tourists notice this church as they wait to catch buses to Chania to the west or Iraklion to the east, and few notice it as they sit watching the sunset in the rocky bay below the Fortezza. But this is a functioning and busy parish church in this part of Rethymnon, built in the neo-Byzantine style in the 1960s.

Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, also known as ‘Constantine and Helen, Equal-to-the-Apostles,’ and Emperor Constantine and Empress Helen, are celebrated together because Helen is Constantine’s mother.

The Emperor Constantine, who is referred to as a ‘sovereign to the Christians,’ was the son of Constantius Chlorus, who ruled part of the Empire, and the Empress Helen. Constantine was born in 272 and he became Emperor when his father died in 306. In 312, he learned that his opponent, Maxentius, was marching to Italy. Shortly after that, it is said, Christ appeared to him in a dream and told Constantine about the cross and its significance.

After the dream, Constantine ordered that his victory banner be inscribed with the Cross and the name of Christ. On 28 October, he defeated Maxentius in battle. He rode on to and was declared to Emperor of the West, while his brother-in-law, Licinius, became Emperor of the East. Under rule, Christianity really took root. Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325.

After Constantine’s victory, his mother, the Empress Helen, travelled to Jerusalem and is said to have found the True Cross.

Saint Constantine and Saint Helen share a feast day on 21 May 21. The Feast Day of the Elevation of the Cross is on 14 September, and this church in Rethymnon was busy two weeks ago with a large number of visitors to mark that feast day.

The iconostasis or icon screen in the Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 9: 51-56 (NRSVA):

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

Inside the Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, facing west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (28 September 2021, International Day for Universal Access to Information) invites us to pray:

We give thanks for the technology and resources which allow us to access almost any information we need. Let us pray for those who do not have such unrestricted access to information.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Empress Helen depicted in a fresco in the Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

A monument in the grounds of the Church of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 27 September 2021

William Murray, the Dublin
architect whose design
almost broke the bank

The former Provincial Bank on the corner of College Street and Westmoreland Street, Dublin, now part of the Westin Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

When I was visiting Ennis, Co Clare, early last month, I wrote about the architecture of Bindon Street, and how it was completed in the 1860s with the building of the Provincial Bank in 1860-1864, and Saint Columba’s Church in 1869-1871.

The new bank was designed for the Provincial Bank by William George Murray (1822-1871) and built ca 1860-1864. It later became a branch of Allied Irish Bank and is now the offices of the Munster Insurance Group.

Murray was one of the leading architects in Victorian Ireland, designing major banks, insurance offices, and railway stations throughout the island, and his bank in Ennis is typical of his elegant provincial bank buildings.

However, his flourishing architectural career came to an end in court cases, allegations of fraud, financial scandals and public humiliation after he was commissioned to design the Provincial Bank’s headquarters in College Street, Dublin. Murray became the man who almost broke the bank.

The name of the Provincial Bank can still be seen over one small, almost hidden door on College Street(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

It is an intriguing story, and so, when I was in Dublin last week, I decided to visit the former bank on the corner of College Street and Westmoreland Street that is now part of the Westin Hotel.

The bank banked onto Fleet Street, and the building is recognisable to everybody with connections with Trinity College Dublin. I was also familiar with the building when I was working in The Irish Times. Indeed, after it had been coverted from a bank, I was having lunch in the Westin Hotel with some diplomats 20 years ago when the 9/11 crisis erupted on 11 September 2001.

The Dublin architect William George Murray was born in Dublin in 1822, the second son of William Murray, also an architect, and he trained as an architect in his father’s office. In 1845, his father took him and Abraham Denny into partnership as Murray, Son and Denny. William Murray senior died in 1849, and the two younger partners continued to practice as Murray and Denny.

Denny left the architectural profession in 1855, and William George Murray carried on a successful practice on his own. He designed some major banks and insurance offices in Dublin and designed the Royal College of Physicians in Kildare Street. He was also the architect for the Dundalk, Enniskillen and Londonderry Railway Co, designing many railway stations, for the South Dublin Union, and for the Provincial Bank of Ireland.

His bank buildings for the Provincial Bank included banks in Cootehill, Co Cavan, South Mall, Cork, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, College Street, Dublin, Nenagh, and Templemore, Co Tipperary, Omagh, Co Tyrone, and Bindon Street, Ennis, Co Clare.

Murray and Nolan paid attention to even the smallest details (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

However, Murray’s connection with the Provincial Bank ended in bitterness, when the bank took legal action against him and the Dublin building contractor John Nolan, alleging fraud and collusion in connection with the issue of certificates for extra work in building the bank’s headquarters in College Street, Dublin.

When the College Street bank was completed in 1867, the cost was twice the estimate. Before the money ran out, a magnificent banking hall had been built. But there was no money left to provide the planned luxurious first-floor offices for the directors and management.

Although Murray and Nolan were acquitted by the Vice-Chancellor, to the great satisfaction of the Irish Builder, the court of appeal ruled that, because of errors and negligence on Murray’s part, an inquiry should be held to establish whether to pay the sums of money for extra work that Nolan claimed from the bank.

This dispute, involving a contractor Murray had been associated with in a large number of projects over a decade, cast a deep shadow over Murray in the last years of his life. He died at his home at Avonmore, Ballybrack, Co Dublin, 150 years ago on 6 March 1871, leaving effects of about £9,000 and two houses in Ballybrack on 5½ acres of land.

His brief death notice in the Irish Builder noted that ‘he will be remembered in connection with some of the public buildings erected within the space of a few years, and which add so much to the beauty of our city.’

Murray’s pupils and assistants included his son, Albert Edward Murray, who inherited his practice, and Sir Thomas Drew, a leading architect at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, who married Murray’s sister Adelaide Anne in 1871.

Despite the disappaerance of the Provincial Bank, its name can still be seen over one small, almost hidden door on the College Street side of the building.

The former Provincial Bank on the corner of College Street and Westmoreland Street … designed by William George Murray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
121, Saint Nektarios Church, Rethymnon

Saint Nektarios Church … a modern church in the heart of the old town of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

This was a busy weekend, with the Limerick and Killaloe Diocesan Synod meeting on Saturday and two church services on Sunday.

Before today 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 churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks earlier this month.

My photographs this morning (27 September 2021) are from the Church of Saint Nektarios beneath the slopes of the Fortezza in the old town of Rethymnon.

Inside Saint Nektarios … the church has a fresh, cool and inviting interior (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Church of Saint Nektarios on Ioannou Melissinou street in Rethymnon is named in honour of Saint Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920). Saint Nektarios is also the name of the parish church in the village of Tsesmes, where I was staying this month, the Monastery of Agios Nektarios in Anogeia, about 52 km far from Rethymno, and the church in the village of Saint Nektarios, 75 km south-east of Chania.

Metropolitan Nektarios of Pentapolis, known as the ‘Wonderworker of Aegina,’ is one of the most renowned Greek saints.

Saint Nektarios was born Anastasios Kephalas on 1 October 1846 in Selymbria, to a poor family. At the age of 14, he moved to Constantinople (Istanbul) to continue his education. In 1866, at age 20, he moved to the island of Chios to begin teaching post. At the age of 30, he became a monk on 7 November 1876, in the Monastery of Nea Moni.

Later, he graduated from the University of Athens in 1885, and went to Alexandria, where he was ordained priest and served the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo. He became titular Metropolitan Bishop of Pentapolis in 1889, and served as an assistant bishop in Cairo for a year.

However, he was suspended from his post without explanation and returned to Greece in 1891. There he spent several years in priestly education in Athens, developing courses, writing books, and preaching.

At the request of several nuns, he established Holy Trinity Monastery for them on the island of Aegina in 1904, and he ordained two women as deaconesses in 1911.

He resigned in 1908 at the age of 62, and retired to the convent on Aegina, where he lived the rest of his life as a monk. He died on 8 November 1920, at the age of 74. Saint Nektarios was officially recognised as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1961.

The church is a modern building beneath the slopes of the Venetian Fortezza (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 9: 46-50 (NRSVA):

46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

49 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ 50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

The icon of Christ the Great High Priest on the bishop’s chair or throne in the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 September 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Diocese of the Windward Islands, and the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Grenada.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The apse at the east end of Saint Nektarios Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

Votive candles lighting in the church in the afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Sunday intercessions on
26 September 2021, Trinity XVII

‘And if your eye causes you to stumble’ (Mark 9: 47) … the London Eye (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Let us pray:

‘Our help is in the name of the Lord, who has made heaven and earth’ (Psalm 124: 7):

Heavenly Father,
we pray for the world and the nations of the world,
for those nations where rulers and leaders hold onto power
through violence, coercion and subjugation;
that the hearts of those rulers may be changed,
so that the 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.

May these days be ‘turned … from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday, days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts … to one another and presents to the poor’ (Esther 9: 22):

Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray for the Church,
that we may be signs of the Kingdom of God,
sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday …
promising days of feasting and gladness …
generous in bringing your gifts to the world …

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 retired clergy in the diocese …

We pray for our Bishop, Kenneth, as he prepares to retire,
we give thanks for the work of the diocesan synod yesterday …
and pray for the work of the General Synod later this week …
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 Episcopal Church …
and the Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.

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.

‘If the Lord had not been on our side … then would the waters have overwhelmed us and the torrent gone over our soul’ (see Psalm 124: 2-4):

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 …
all who 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 … Cecil …
We pray for Pakie and Eileen Moloney and family …

We remember all who grieve and mourn at this time …
all who are broken-hearted …
those who have died recently, and those who are about to die …

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 Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, invites us to pray:

Holy Father,
We thank you for the gift of prayer.
May we pray when we are suffering,
And when we are cheerful.
Let us pray for ourselves,
For others and the world.

Merciful Father …

‘… they should make … days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor’ (Esther 9: 22) … the Megillah or Scroll of Esther in a synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth’

The Scroll of Esther in a synagogue in Prague … this is the only book in the Bible not to mention God’s name (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 26 September 2021

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVII)


9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church

11.30 a.m.: Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10, 9: 20-22; Psalm 124; Mark 9: 38-50.

The Megillah or Scroll of Esther (bottom right) in an exhibition in a synagogue in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Our first reading this morning, despite its tragic background, is part of a book that creates entertaining and rowdy occasions in synagogues to this day.

But there is a more serious context to this reading, and both our first reading and our Gospel reading are serious warnings against the consequences of plotting and scheming that could destroy the innocence of children and the quality of life in wider society.

The first reading is one that creates entertaining and rowdy occasions in synagogues to this day. As the story of Esther is read at the festival of Purim, usually in March [16 to 17 March 2022], synagogues are crowded, the adults wearing their best Sabbath clothes, and the children, and some adults too, dressed up in colourful costumes, funny beards and playful masks.

Children in particular enjoy dressing up as the characters in the Book of Esther, including King Xerxes, the banished queen Vashti, Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai and the evil, scheming Haman.

In some communities, they still burn an effigy of Haman. So for Jewish communities, Purim is like Hallowe’en, Carnival, Mardi Gras and Guy Fawkes Night ... all rolled into one, and usually focussed on children.

Purim and Hanukkah are two Jewish festivals that are not prescribed in Mosaic law. Indeed, the Megillah or Scroll of Esther is the only book in the Bible not to mention God’s name. It tells the story of the villain Haman who plots the genocide of the Jews in Persia.

Whenever his name is mentioned during the reading, everyone in the synagogue boos and hisses and stamps their feet, and they make a racket with graggers or rattles and cymbals. We have done this once before. This is the only time we get to read from the Book of Esther, so let’s do it again this morning.

The purpose of all this fun is to blot out the name of Haman. Originally, when his name was read, the congregation would shout ‘Cursed be Haman,’ or ‘May the name of the wicked rot!’

Any noise will do, and it is a mitzvah that Jewish people should eat, drink and be merry at Purim. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until they cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordecai’ … although opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is.

In this morning’s reading, we can tell the difference, for we have the end of the story: Haman the villain is hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai, and Mordecai is given Haman’s job.

There is no reference to God at all throughout this book. But a later tradition grew up in Judaism that Esther was protected by the Archangel Michael, whose feast day falls on Wednesday [29 September 2021].

So, why is the story of Esther so important, even though there is no reference to God in this story?

This story of Xerxes and Esther, Mordecai and Haman, is not relevant for Jews alone today. It is a story that reminds us constantly, with or without reference to God, that there are always people who plan and plot evil on a grand scale, happy to wallow in the misery and deaths of millions, men, women and children.

The fate of Haman – and of the 70,000 Persians over three days – may seem unconscionable by today’s standards. But it is not their executions, but rather the plots they planned to execute that faithful Jews are asked to recall at Purim.

During the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity, proclaimed their hidden identity to one another by having domestic shrines to Saint Esther … an insider symbol of resistance to prejudice and persecution.

On a recent visit to Berlin, I was reminded that while Haman and Hitler planned and plotted on a grand scale, there are always people who plot and plan evil and the destruction of innocence on varying scales of intensity and application.

We would be naïve to ever underestimate the capacity of people to do evil, nor ever undervalue the importance of our contribution to protecting the vulnerable, the frightened and the victimised children in our society today.

When we realise that we have been saved from disasters or from our enemies. When sorrow has been turned into gladness and mourning into a holiday, we should not only feast and celebrate among ourselves but also mark these as ‘days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor’ (Esther 9: 22).

I sometimes wonder how the story of Esther was read by Jews during the Holocaust, how they could possibly have sung the words of this morning’s Psalm:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
– let Israel now say –
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us …
– (Psalm 124: 1-3)

But during that visit to Berlin, I came across a story told by Professor Menachem Rosensaft, who was born in the displaced persons camp at Bergen-Belsen.

He later learned how Janusz Korczak, ‘the Good Doctor of Warsaw,’ had set up an orphanage in Warsaw. When the Nazis came, he had an opportunity to leave the children behind and escape himself. Instead, he stayed with these children on the train to Treblinka and the gas chambers.

Abandoned by the world, Janusz did not want these children to feel they had been abandoned by him too.

At Bergen-Belsen, Menachem Rosensaft’s own mother and several other Jewish women took care of the abandoned children in the concentration camp. She said, ‘We gave them all our love and whatever strength was left within us.’

Many years later, Menachem Rosensaft could write:

‘If God was at Treblinka, I want to believe that he was within Janusz Korczak as he accompanied his children to their death. I feel certain that the mystical divine spark … was within my mother as she and other women in her group rescued 149 Jewish children from almost certain death at Bergen-Belsen.’

The story of Esther is a reminder that even when God’s name is not mentioned or invoked, even when we think God is absent, God can act through the decisions of others and through the ways of the world to protect the rights of the vulnerable, the abused and the violated.

For, as the Psalmist says this morning:

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 124: 8)

In the Gospel reading (Mark 9: 38-50), one of the Twelve, John, complains that someone who is not part of their inner circle has been casting out evil in Christ’s name.

But did the disciples welcome him?

Did they praise him for bringing comfort to distressed people and for restoring them to a good quality of life?

Christ rebukes the disciples for attempting to stop those who challenge evil and who do good. Just as the Book of Esther makes no mention of God, we are reminded in this Gospel reading here that God can work even through those who are not followers of Christ.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘ … the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday … they should make … days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor’ (Esther 9: 22) … trinkets on sale in the Jewish Quarter in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 9: 38-50 (NRSV):

38 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ 39 But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

‘Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?’ (Mark 9: 50) … salt on café table in Cobh, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God:
Increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

O God,
your Son has taught us
that those who give a cup of water in his name
will not lose their reward:
open our eyes to see those who are in need,
and teach us to set no store by riches
and earthly rewards,
so that, in surrendering ourselves
to serve you in your children,
we may labour for the treasure that endures;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

All praise and thanks, O Christ,
for this sacred banquet,
in which by faith we receive you,
the memory of your passion is renewed,
our lives are filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory given,
to feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

Hymns:

372, Through all the changing scenes of life (CD 22)
553, Jesu, lover of my soul (CD 32)



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