Friday, 23 July 2010

‘Prayer comes from love, love comes from joy’

Early morning calm on Sidney Street, outside Sidney Sussex College this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The summer organised in Cambridge by the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies came to an end today. For the past week we have been considering ‘Passion: Human & Divine,’ and our final lecture this morning was by Dr Marcus Plested on ‘Removing the Veil: Macarius (and others) on the Passions.’

We were presented with two interesting contrasts in his readings from the Fathers. Firstly: “[...] prayer comes from love, love comes from joy, joy comes from gentleness, gentleness comes from humility, humility comes from service, service comes from hope, hope comes from faith, faith comes from obedience, obedience comes from simplicity.”

And secondly: “[...] hatred comes from anger, anger comes from pride, pride comes from vainglory, vainglory comes from lack of faith lack of faith comes from hardness if heart, hardness of heart comes from neglect, neglect comes from slackening, slackening comes from acedia, acedia comes from lack of patience, lack of patience comes from pleasure-seeking.”

Our discussions continued in the corridors and courts of Sidney Sussex late into the night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

This has been a busy but fulfilling week at Sidney Sussex College, and we celebrated it all last night at our formal dinner in the Old Library in Chapel Court. Apart from the seminars, lectures, and the daily round of chapel services, including Morning Prayer, Vespers and the Liturgy, we have had good debates and discussions over coffee, in the corridors and in the courts, at meals in the Hall, and in the local hostelries, with many of these conversations carrying on late into the night.

The participants in this year’s summer school have been drawn from across the globe – including Ireland, England, Iceland, Germany, Mexico, Israel, the US, Canada, Israel, Estonia, Romania, Greece and Russia. Old friendships have been renewed and new friendships have been made.

Looking for a new home

Meanwhile the institute is looking for a new home. For the past ten years, the IOCS has been housed in Wesley House, the Methodist college beside Jesus College. Wesley House is to be sold next year, and like all parts of the Cambridge Theological Federation housed there, IOCS is under notice to quit.

Suitable premises less than twenty minutes walk from the centre of Cambridge have come on the market in the form of a former hotel, with 16 bedrooms, and generous chapel conference, lecture and office facilities. The institute is hoping to raise £2 million to buy a new home.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

A silver moon over Silver Bridge

Looking across the Cam from Silver Bridge at the moon rising over Coe Fen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Over the last few nights, those of us who have been taking part in this summer school in Cambridge have enjoyed each other’s company in the evenings in a variety of places, including the Eagle, which is owned by Corpus Christi College, the Mitre -- which is an appropriately-named place for welcoming people with active church interests – and the Baron of Beef on Bridge Street, and the Anchor below Silver Bridge, with its views out over the River Cam and across towards Coe Fen.

Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, Gwen Raverat, writing in Period Piece in 1952 – the year in which I was born – recalled how “nearly all the life of Cambridge flowed backward and forward under the bridge, and before our house.”

In her Edwardian fashion, she was disturbed by the behaviour of undergraduates and the scenes she saw on Silver Bridge and below in the Anchor. In the Period Piece, she describes this pub as “a mysterious haunt, full of Bad Women.”

Her memories were from an age long gone. Later, the Anchor was a haunt of the poet Ted Hughes. Today it is popular in term time with undergraduates from Pembroke or Queens or ordinands from Ridley – and graduates from Darwin College. Outside term time, the Anchor is all a-bustle, busy with tourists queuing for a punt or recalling their first experiences of seeing Cambridge from the Backs, while the bridge is crammed with visitors staring in wonder at the Mathematical Bridge.

Few of these people below in the Anchor or above on Silver Bridge, tourists or students, probably ever heard of Coe Fen or realise its place in Anglican hymnody.

Gwen Raverat believed that “men got drunk; women didn’t.” We may not have been drunk, but I wondered what she would have thought of our motley group of participants in the summer school – women and men, priests and students, from Ireland, Iceland, England, Canada, and Israel/Palestine – as we looked across the Cam and as the moon was rising over Coe Fen?

It was a balmy summer’s evening. I hope for those we saw there it was romantic. How shall I sing that majesty?