29 June 2024

Unexpected and unsolicited,
generous and encouraging
comments on a neglected site

I have been considering the future of the ‘Dead Anglican Theologians Society’ project for some time

Patrick Comerford

I have not paid much attention in recent years to the site ‘Dead Anglican Theologians Society’, a site I began in 2012 while I was a lecturer at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and teaching Church History.

I was acutely aware at the time of the lack of appropriate resources when it came to looking for accurate biographies, personal accounts, reliable sources and useful illustrations. When it comes to the Church of Ireland, too much Church History has been written as pious and ill-researched hagiography.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew with that project a dozen years ago. Since then I have retired from academic life, it has been difficult to find the resources, the time and the energy to maintain the ‘Dead Anglican Theologians Society’ site. So much so that more recently I have seriously considered mothballing it, if not actually closing it down.

But then along came some surprising words of encouragement earlier this week that I read when I was on the train to Lichfield early one morning.

Professor Bruce Stewart, who now lives in Brazil, maintains the Irish historical website www.ricorso.net, with comprehensive bio-bibliographical information about 5,000 Irish authors. In recent days, he has left a very generous – and, I have to say, unsolicited – comment on a post from almost 12 years ago, ‘16: William Bedell (1571-1642), Caroline Divine and translator of the Bible into Irish.’

He says: ‘This [is] a wonderful essay on Bedell – great history-writing and immensely well-read in the historical and ecclesiastical questions concerned.

‘I have shameless[ly] copied the parts concerning his time in Ireland to Ricorso – hoping permission will not be denied – and want to thank the author, the website and Patrick Comerford, whose photography and personal warmth make him such a treasure to all who known him in Ireland and in the wide international circles where he shares his ecumenical message.’

These unexpected and encouraging comments from Bruce Stewart are making me think again about the future of the Dead Anglican Theologians Society website and pages.

Bishop William Bedell of Kilmore (right) with Archbishop William Sancroft of Canterbury (left) in a window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
51, Saturday 29 June 2024

The icon of the Raising of Lazarus in the new iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow is the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity V, 30 June 2024), and during the week I have been remembering the anniversaries of my ordination as deacon on 25 June 2000 and as priest on 24 June 2001.

Today is the Festival of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and ‘Peter-tide’ is traditionally associated with ordinations. Among the ordinations this weekend, there are deacon ordinations in both Lichfield Cathedral and Christ Church, Oxford, this evening. Alison Drury, who was on placement in Wolverton last autumn, is being be ordained in Oxford today and will serve her curacy in the Walton Churches Partnership in Milton Keynes; and Kara Gander, who was on placement in Wolverton in 2022-2023, is being ordained in Derby tomorrow and will serve her curacy in Swadlincote.

Please pray for all who are being ordained this Petertide and the parishes and people they will serve amongst.

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The icon depicting the Raising of Lazarus is fifth from the left among the 12 feasts depicted in the upper tier of the new iconostasis in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on images to view full screen)

Matthew 16: 13-19 (NRSVUE):

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Lazarus is unbound from his grave clothes … a detail in the icon of the Raising of Lazarus in the iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 14: The Raising of Lazarus (Ἡ Εγερση του Λαζάρου):

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary over these weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates or Royal Doors facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

The six icons on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict Christ to the right of the Royal Doors, as seen from the nave of the church, and the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary to the left. All six icons depict (from left to right): the Dormition, Saint Stylianos, the Theotokos, Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios.

Traditionally, the upper tier has an icon of the Mystical Supper in the centre, with icons of the Twelve Great Feasts on either side, in two groups of six: the Nativity of the Theotokos (8 September), the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), the Presentation of the Theotokos (21 November), the Nativity of Christ (25 December), the Baptism of Christ (6 January), the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February), the Annunciation (25 March), the Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Ascension, Pentecost, the Transfiguration (6 August) and the Dormition (15 August).

In Stony Stratford, these 12 icons in the top tier, on either side of the icon of the Mystical Supper, are (from left): the Ascension, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Raising of Lazarus and the Crucifixion; and the Harrowing of Hell or the Resurrection, the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Pentecost, the Transfiguration, the Presentation and the Annunciation.

The fifth in this top tier of 12 icons in Stony Stratford is the icon of the Raising of Lazarus, and the Greek title above reads Ἡ Εγερση του Λαζάρου (He Egerse tou Lazarou). The icon is also known in Greek as Ἡ Ανάσταση του Λαζάρου (He Anastase tou Lazarou), the Resurrection of Lazarus.

In the Orthodox Calendar, Lazarus Saturday marks the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter or Paschal cycle. It is known as Το Σάββατο του Λαζάρου (To Sabbato tou Lazarou), the Saturday of Lazarus. The story of the raising of Lazarus is found only in John 11.

The icon takes us to Bethany on the outskirts of the Jerusalem, in a rocky landscape where, according to tradition, the tomb of Lazarus has been hollowed out In one of the rocks.

Here, once again, Christ is the most prominent figure in the icon. His grief is obvious, but we can still see that he is divine. This is manifest firstly in his majestic stance, and secondly, by the fact that the people present are looking not at Lazarus but at Christ.

Christ is holding a scroll in his left hand, while his right hand is extended towards Lazarus, in blessing or in with a gesture that is intense.

Christ’s halo contains a cross, although only three arms of the cross are visible, indicating a Trinitarian reference. Three Greek letters are in the three arms of the cross: Ο ΩΝ, ὁ ὤν (Ho On), ‘He Who Is’. These letters form the present participle, ὤν, of the Greek verb to be, with a masculine singular definite article, ὁ. A literal translation of Ὁ ὬΝ would be ‘the being one,’ although ‘He who is’ is a better translation. These words are the answer Moses received on Mount Sinai when he asked for the name of him to whom he was speaking (Exodus 3: 14a; see John 8: 58). In the Septuagint, this is ἐγώ εἰμί ὁ ὢν, ego eimi ho on, ‘I am he who is’ or ‘I am’.

Above Christ’s left shoulder are the letters IC and XC, forming the Christogram ICXC (for ‘Jesus Christ’). The IC is composed of the Greek characters iota (Ι) and lunate sigma (C, instead of Σ, ς) – the first and last letters of Jesus in Greek (Ἰησοῦς); in XC the letters are chi (Χ) and again the lunate sigma – the first and last letters of Christ in Greek (Χριστός).

A young man is removing the shroud’s bands while another is moving the slab away from the entrance to the tomb.

Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, are prostrate before Christ, their faces lined with unspeakable grief. The apostles too show the same sentiments of deep solemnity and lamentation so full of self-denial.

This icon contains elements that are both divine and human. Other icons, such as the Ascension and the Resurrection, may retain their mystery obscure while their symbolic character is obvious. Here, everything is comprehensible and obvious.

Leonid Alexandrovich Ouspensky (1902-1987), one of the most important Russian émigré icon writers of the last century, writes: ‘The icon gives us the external, the natural side of the miracle, making it as accessible to human perception and examination, as it was when the actual miracle was performed, and exactly as it was described in the Bible.’

The scene is a moving one, with the people who have comes to console the two grief-stricken sisters seen in the background. ‘One of the onlookers covers his nose, for ‘there is a stench because he has been dead four days’ (John 11: 39). They become eyewitnesses of the miracle, and many of them, having ‘seen what Jesus did believed in him’ (John 11: 45).

The icon of the Raising of Lazarus also recalls Christ’s words to Martha: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’ (John 11: 25-26).

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Lazarus would become the first bishop of Kition or Kiteia, modern-day Larnaca on the south coast of Cyprus. Latin Christianity had a different tradition in which Lazarus, Mary and Martha were set adrift in a boat by hostile people, and miraculously floated to Marseille on the south coast of France, where Lazarus became the first bishop. It is a legend that seems to have developed by the 13th century, and it is likely to have confused the biblical Lazarus with another bishop in France.

Mary and Martha at the feet of Jesus … a detail in the icon of the Raising of Lazarus in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 29 June 2024, the Festival of Saint Peter and Paul, Apostles):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Anglican support and advocacy for exiled people in Northern France.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a programme update by Bradon Muilenburg, Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France, the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Saturday 29 June 2024, Saint Peter and Saint Paul) invites us to pray:

Lord, let us remember the examples of St Peter and St Paul, two of your most loyal disciples. May we seek to emulate the conviction of their faith through our deeds and words.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul
glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church,
inspired by their teaching and example,
and made one by your Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation,
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Trinity V:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The new iconostasis or icon stand installed in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford in recent weeks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

An introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis (15 June 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Peter and Saint Paul … a fresco in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Saint Peter (left) and Saint Paul (right) amnong the carved figures on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)