25 November 2022

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Friday 25 November 2022

‘Breathe upon them, O Christ, and turn them into butterflies’ (Nikos Kazantzakis) … a butterfly in Platanias, Rethymnon (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.

The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship commemorates Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Martyr, 4th century, and Isaac Watts, Hymn Writer, 1748.

Tradition says Saint Catherine of Alexandria was born into of a noble family and that, because of her Christian faith, she refused marriage with the emperor as she was already a ‘bride of Christ’. She is said to have disputed with 50 philosophers whose job it was to convince her of her error, and she proved superior in argument to them all. She was then tortured by being splayed on a wheel and finally beheaded.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was born in Southampton and educated at the local grammar school. He declined the opportunity to go to university, preferring the dissenting academy at Stoke Newington. He became the pastor of the Independent (or Congregationalist) Church at Mark Lane in London. Because of his deteriorating health, he resigned in 1712 and retired to Stoke Newington. He opposed the imposition of the doctrine of the Trinity on his fellow dissenting ministers, which led to the belief that he had become a Unitarian.

He wrote many collections of hymns and his own faith showed clearly through them. ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’, ‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun’ and many other hymns are still used in worship. He died at Stoke Newington on this day in 1748.

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.’

‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees’ (Luke 21: 29) … a fig tree coming into fruit in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 21: 29-33 (NRSVA):

29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’

Butterflies on the beach in Elafonisi, off the south-west coast of Crete … reminders of a prayer by Nikos Kazantzakis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Nikos Kazantzakis, 5:

Last month marked the 65th anniversary of the death of the Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis 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).

I recalled yesterday how Kazantzakis admired Saint Teresa of Avila, and how he derived from her his metaphor of silkworms, one of his favourite metaphors. The literary critic Tom Doulis extends Kazantzakis’s metaphor of the butterfly to render Kazantzakis’s Jesus as ‘God in the cocoon of man.’ In a prayer, Nikos Kazantzakis says:

The human heart is a tangle of caterpillars.
Breathe upon them,
O Christ, and turn them into

The prayer is found in his 1960s novel, The Fratricides, set in Castello, a village in Epirus, during Holy Week in the midst the Greek civil war in the late 1940s. At an early stage in the novel, Kazantzakis recalls the horrors of this conflict, and says of the villagers: ‘Their life is an unceasing battle with God, with the winds, with the snow, with death.’

In The Last Temptation of Christ, Kazantzakis depicts Christ readjusting a butterfly on a tree and referring to her as ‘my sister.’ In his fictional semi-autobiographical Report to Greco, Kazantzakis recalls:

‘It is impossible to express the joy I experienced when I first saw a grub engraved on one tray of the delicate golden balances discovered in the tombs of Mycenae and a butterfly on the other – symbols doubtlessly taken from Crete. For me, the grub’s yearning to be a butterfly always stood as its – and man’s – most imperative and at the same time most legitimate duty. God makes us grubs, and we, by our efforts, must become butterflies.’

But perhaps the most popular story by Kazantzakis about a butterfly is told in Zorba the Greek:

‘I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain.

‘It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

‘That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. 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 external rhythm.’

‘The grub’s yearning to be a butterfly always stood as its … most imperative and at the same time most legitimate duty’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


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:

We thank God for the Christian organisations that support the Church’s efforts in various ways in building his kingdom.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘God makes us grubs, and we, by our efforts, must become butterflies’ (Nikos Kazantzakis) … butterflies in the village of Tsesmes near Rethymnon, Crete (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

An icon of Saint Catherine in Saint Catherine’s Church on the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

No comments: