Friday, 30 November 2012

With the Saints through Advent (1): 30 November, Saint Andrew

Saint Andrew ... a window in Saint Andrew’s Church of Ireland Parish Church in Malahide, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

Advent is the first season of the Liturgical Year, beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays. That means that the First Sunday of Advent can fall as early as 27 November 27 or as late as 3 December.

This year [2012], Advent begins on Sunday next, 2 December, and today [30 November 2012] is Saint Andrew’s Day.

The name Andrew comes among the first alphabetically, but is often last in the Church Year. The Gospels talk about Saint Andrew as “the First-Called,” but his feast day this year comes at the end of the Church Calendar.

Two churches in Dublin are named after Saint Andrew – one in Westland Row, tucked beneath the Dart station at the east end of Trinity College Dublin; the other on the corner of Suffolk Street and Saint Andrew’s Street, close to the West or main entrance to TCD. Both churches continue the name of a mediaeval church, built on a site near the City Hall, close to Dublin Castle, and dating from the early 13th century.

In the 17th century, the Church of Ireland parish church of Saint Andrew’s was relocated east, so it could be nearer to the newly developing suburbs around Trinity College. There it also became the parish church of the Irish Parliament and the Stock Exchange. An oddly-shaped church with a cone-shaped roof, it was known as the “Round Church.”

It was replaced in 1800 by another, new, round church, designed by Francis Johnston. That round shape is still reflected in the bend on the street at Suffolk Street and Saint Andrew’s Street, with Church Lane and Trinity Street leading down to College Green. But the new church suddenly lost its social appeal when Parliament was abolished at the Act of Union in 1800. Greater calamity came when it burned to the ground in 1860.

The cloister-like colonnade on the north side of the former Saint Andrew’s Church in Suffolk Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yet another new church, the present building, was built. Instead of rebuilding a round church, this one was designed in the Gothic Revival style by Lanyon and Lynn of Belfast. However, the church never recovered its parochial life, and it lost its potential for mission and ministry in that part of the city centre.

I remember Saint Andrew’s Church being used by the Ministry of Healing, certainly in the 1970s and the 1980s. But, when it closed in 1993, it had only two remaining parishioners. The building was sold, and since 1996 it has housed the Dublin Tourism Information and Booking Office. Now, a new use may have to be found for it in the coming year or two.

Although Francis Johnston was also one of the architects, Saint Andrew’s in Westland Row was built in a very different architectural style. Johnston, along with John Boulger and James Lever, built it in the classical style with echoes of the baroque of the Roman tradition, rather than the Gothic of the Church of Ireland’s Saint Andrew’s.

Outside, the church has a Doric portico, crowned by a statue of Saint Andrew, sculpted by Edward Smith and holding the X-shaped or saltire-style cross on which the apostle was said to have been martyred.

These two churches named after Saint Andrew bookend Trinity College Dublin – one at the east end and one at the west end. What an ecumenical – albeit unplanned – gesture. But Saint Andrew’s Day also bookends the Church year. This is the last great saint’s day in the Church Year this year, with a new Church Year beginning on Sunday next, 2 December 2012, the First Sunday of Advent.

Daily journey

During this season of Advent, as we prepare for the Coming of Christ at Christmas, I hope to take us on a daily journey through Advent with the saints as examples of that Christian and Christmas hope. Many of us enjoyed opening doors of Advent calendars when we were children. But this is a spiritual exercise to see how the lives of the saints open doors into understanding the meaning and implications of the incarnation for us today.

Saint Andrew the Apostle was a fisherman, an every-day ordinary-day commercial occupation, working on the Lake of Galilee in partnership with his brother Simon Peter. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and it is said that when Saint John the Baptist began to preach, Saint Andrew became one of his closest disciples. The story goes that Saint John the Baptist then sent two of his own disciples, the future Saint Andrew and Saint John the Evangelist, to Christ, declaring Christ to be the Lamb of God.

When he heard Christ’s call to follow him, Saint Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about that call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. He left his nets behind and went to Peter and, as Saint John’s Gospel tells us in another account of his calling, he told him: “We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus” (John 1: 41, 42).

In answering our call to ministry and mission, we must not forget those who are closest to us, those in our families and those who have worked with us. But, at the same time, like Saint Andrew, we must be happy about leaving behind the nets of yesterday and not getting caught up in them.

Tradition says Saint Andrew was so obstinate and so stubborn at his martyrdom in Patras, in today’s western Greece, that he insisted on being splayed on an X-shaped cross. He said he was unworthy to be crucified on a cross of the same shape as the one on which Christ had been crucified.

Unlike the other disciples named in the Gospel reading in the Lectionary for today – Peter and James and John, the sons of Zebedee – Andrew never gave his name to an Epistle, never gave his name to a Gospel. But Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, truly took up his cross and followed Christ. And he called others to do the same.

His stubborn and obstinate commitment to mission, to travelling for the Gospel, has made him the patron saint of mission work and the patron saint of Constantinople, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Scotland.

Saint Andrew, carved by Edward Smith, crowns the portico of Saint Andrew’s Church in Westland Row, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We are marking the beginning of the New Church Year in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Sunday at the Eucharist for the First Sunday of Advent at 11 a.m. and with the Advent Procession at 5 p.m. The seasonal liturgical colours change from green to violet, we shall light the first candle on the Advent Wreath, and we have turned to the Year C readings in the Lectionary.

But, in the midst of change and in the midst of new beginnings, it is important to maintain the link between Saint Andrew and Advent, the beginning of the Church Year. For Saint Andrew is the first-called of the Apostles, the patron saint of mission work. And without mission, there is no church, without discipleship how can people live in the Advent hope, be prepared for the coming of Christ?

Caught up in the minutiae of commercial life and shopping recently, I once noticed how they were selling cinnamon-flavoured hot cross buns in Marks and Spencer in Dundrum at the beginning of November. Hot cross buns? At this time of the year? Hot cross buns with a sell-by and best-before date of 29 November?

And yet there is a direct connection. In the end, the life of this first-called Apostle reached its climax when he met his death through crucifixion. He may have left behind no Gospel or Epistles. But Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, literally took up his cross and followed Jesus. And he called others to do the same.

His martyr’s death makes Saint Andrew an appropriate introduction to start off the Church Year at the beginning of Advent. Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the Cross, the Resurrection, and in Advent the coming of Christ again in glory.

Saint Andrew’s Street, Cambridge, with Christ’s College on the right © Alex McGregor


Almighty God,
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
Call us by your holy Word
and give us grace to follow without delay,
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

may the gifts we have received at your table
keep us alert for your call
that we may always be ready to answer,
and, following the example of Saint Andrew,
always be ready to bear our witness
to our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow (1 December 2012): Blessed Nicholas Ferrar (Calendar of TEC).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral.