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