22 November 2022

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Tuesday 22 November 2022

The bells in Preveli Monastery … a reminder of a story told by Nikos Kazantzakis in ‘Zorba the Greek’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This is the final week in Ordinary Time this year in the Calendar of the Church, the week between the Feast of Christ the King and Advent Sunday.

Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Saint Cecilia, Martyr at Rome, ca 230.

Saint Cecilia was one of the most revered martyrs of the Roman Church, but the only thing known for certain is that, at some point in the second or third century, a woman called Cecilia allowed the Church to meet in her house in Trastevere in the city of Rome and that, subsequently, the church erected on that site bore her name.

She was remembered as a brave woman who risked giving hospitality to the Christian Church when to do so was to court censure and possibly death. According to tradition, she converted her pagan husband and his brother to Christianity, and both were martyred before her. She is said to have been martyred on this day in about the year 230. She is honoured as the patron saint of musicians.

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

During this week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, a reflection or thought from the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down’ (Luke 21: 6) … classical remains in the Forum in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 21: 5-11 (NRSVA):

5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’

7 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 8 And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.

9 ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ 10 Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

‘Zorba the Greek’ … the film was released 58 years ago in December 1964

Nikos Kazantzakis, 2:

As I think today about Saint Cecilia, the patron of musicians and composers, I think too of the theme music composed by Mikis Theodorakis for the film Zorba the Greek

In my reflections on Saturday last, I referred to the actor Anthony Quinn, the star of Zorba the Greek, who was married for many years to Katherine Lester DeMille, granddaughter of Amy (Hunt) Lester, who is commemorated in a stained-glass window in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford.

The film Zorba the Greek is based on a well-known novel by the Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis. Last month marked the 65th anniversary of his death in Freiburg, Germany, on 26 October 1957.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is a giant of modern Greek literature, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on nine separate occasions. His books include Zorba the Greek, Christ Recrucified, Captain Michalis (also published as Freedom or Death), and The Last Temptation of Christ (1955). He also wrote plays, travel books, memoirs and philosophical essays such as The Saviours of God: Spiritual Exercises.

His fame spread in the English-speaking world because of the film adaptations of Zorba the Greek (1964) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

Zorba the Greek was first published in Greek in 1946 as Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas (Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά).

Zorba the Greek includes the story of a monastery with a treasured icon whose name changes from Our Lady of Mercy to Our Lady of Revenge, and Zorba also tells a story in which his grandfather takes a piece of wood and claims it is part of the True Cross.

I was reminded of these episodes when I visited the Monastery of Preveli. The monastery is famed for its role in struggles against both the Turks and the Germans in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is celebrated in Greek lore, literature and movies for its part in helping allied soldiers escape Crete during World War II.

In the film, the adventurous Zorba is the antithesis of the bookish Basil. Zorba is a potential symbol of freedom in Basil’s quest to find freedom. In Zorba’s view, only people who want to be free are truly human.

In many ways, the conflicts that unfold in the book provide a way for Kazantzakis to work through his own inner conflicts. At one time he had rejected Christianity and sought fulfilment in Buddhism and other philosophies. But he returned to Christianity and later wrote powerful novels about the sufferings of persecuted Christians in Asia Minor and about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

For Zorba, the journey is more important than the destination. He claims to be an atheist, yet realises that Christianity is central to the villagers’ way of life. He tells Basil: ‘the highest point a man can attain is not Knowledge, or Virtue, or Goodness, or Victory, but something even greater, more heroic and more despairing: Sacred Awe!’

In many ways, Zorba gives expression to Kazantzakis’ own spiritual struggles: ‘God changes his appearance every second. Blessed is the man who can recognise him in all his disguises.’

Given the inadequate conclusions to Cop27 in Egypt at the weekend, Kazantzakis now seems to have been ahead of his time too when he expresses his concern for the environment, nature and creation: ‘For I realise today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.’

Zorba and Basil dance syrtáki on the beach in ‘Zorba the Greek’ … the music was composed by Mikis Theodorakis


Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Prophetic Voice of the Nation.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Bishop Matthew Mhagama, from the Diocese of South-West Tanganyika in the Anglican Church of Tanzania.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us remember the evangelists working in difficult circumstances. May they be resilient, act honestly and be supported in their service.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Monastery of Preveli is celebrated in Greek lore, literature and movies (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

Saint Cecilia, Patron of Musicians and Composers … a stained glass window in Saint John’s Church, Sandymount, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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