31 August 2016

Finding Christ in the garden
and the gardener as a priest

Sunflowers in the garden at Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, near Tolleshunt Knights in Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I heard a story this morning of a monk from Cyprus who was the gardener in his monastery. He was happy at his work, growing vegetables, tending the vines and orchards, bringing the flowers to bloom, and looking after the soil, in season and out of season.

He enjoyed his work, and never sought to do anything more in the monastery.

One day, the Abbot called him aside and told him he wanted him to be ordained.

The monk was perplexed. He was from a simple farming background and had never thought about being ordained a priest.

But Father Abbot, he protested, I do not know how to serve the liturgy.

But the garden is your liturgy, the Abbot insisted. And the garden shall continue to be your liturgy.

Despite his protests, he was ordained a priest.

He continued to work in the garden. The flowers bloomed and the vegetable grew in such vast quantities that the monks had to give them away freely to the local villagers.

Often, while the monks were praying the offices or hours in the chapel, Father John was still out on his tractor, looking after the garden, the flowers, the vegetables, the vines and the orchards. They needed constant attention, Father John understood nature, and there he prayed with them.

There are three degrees in Orthodox monasticism:

Rassophore (ρασοφόρος): when the novice becomes a monk, he is clothed in the first degree of monasticism and receives the tonsure.

Stavrophore (σταυρoφόρος): when some years after the first tonsure the abbot feels the monk has reached an appropriate level of discipline, dedication, and humility. This degree is also known as the Little Schema.

Great Schema (μεγαλόσχημος): Monks whose abbots feel they have reached a high level of spiritual excellence, they reach the final stage, known as the Great Schema.

In his dying days, Father John received the Great Schema from the Abbot. He died a few days later, but his gardens continue to bloom and to blossom, and both he and his generosity are still remembered by the villagers many years later.

Shortly after hearing this story this morning, I found myself face to face with a fresco depicting the Resurrection scene where Mary Magdalene in the garden mistakes the Risen Christ for the gardener.

But if priesthood is about presenting Christ to the people, and the people to God in Christ, then it seems there is something spiritually beautiful and appropriate about the monk-gardener becoming a priest, and that the Risen Christ might at first sight be confused with the gardener.

After breakfast this morning [31 August], we left Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, for our annual visit to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, near Tolleshunt Knights in Essex.

It was the last day of the summer conference organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, and the programme included a tour of the monastery and a lecture by Sister Magdalen on ‘Mother Elisabeth (1893-1993),’ and also offered an opportunity for walks in the monastery garden and the Essex countryside.

‘Noli Me Tangere’ … a fresco of Mary Magdalene with the Risen Christ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

A fellow of Sidney Sussex who
ended up in prison for ritualism

The bell of the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College seen from Green Street, Cambridge … the college was a ‘Puritan’ foundation but responded positively to the Anglo-Catholic movement in the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The chapel in Sidney Sussex College Cambridge, where I am staying this week, is closed for repairs, and I have not been inside for the duration of this week’s conference organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Although Sidney Sussex was founded as a ‘Puritan’ college in the late 16th century, the college responded positively to the rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement in the 19th century. The college chapel, built in 1600, rebuilt in 1782 and again from 1912 to 1923, was refashioned in the Edwardian era, with brown oak stalls and panels, marbled floors, a bronze and marble altar, and decorative barrel vaulting. Today, it is one of the finest and most elaborate modern Catholic-style chapels in Cambridge.

A pioneering 19th century Anglo-Catholic from Sidney Sussex was the Revd Thomas Pelham Dale (1821–1892), who was jailed for his ‘ritualistic’ high church practices.

Thomas Pelham Dale was born at Blackheath on 3 April 1821, the son of Thomas Dale (1797-1870), Dean of Rochester. The elder Thomas Dale had also been Professor of English language and literature at London University (1828-1830), Professor of English at King’s College, London (1836-1839), Vicar of Saint Bride’s in Fleet Street, London (1835-1846) and Rector of Saint Pancras, London (1846-1861), and has been described as ‘an old-fashioned high church evangelical.’

Dale grew up in Beckenham, Kent. After attending King’s College, London, he went up to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he was admitted as a ‘pensioner’ on 30 June 1841 and matriculated in Michaelmas term.

He graduated BA in 1845 as the 25th Wrangler. The Wranglers are those students at Cambridge who gain first-class degrees in mathematics. The Cambridge undergraduate mathematics course, or Mathematical Tripos, is famously difficult. The Senior Wrangler is the top mathematics undergraduate at Cambridge, a position that has been described as ‘the greatest intellectual achievement attainable in Britain.’

Dale was immediately elected a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College in 1845. He was ordained deacon that year by Charles Sumner, Bishop of Winchester, and was ordained priest in 1846.

His first appointment in 1845 was as curate of the Camden Chapel, Camberwell, Surrey. The Camden Chapel on the north side of Peckham Road had opened in 1797 as a Protestant Dissenting Chapel, and became an Anglican chapel in 1829. But it had only become a parish church within the Church of England in 1844.

Dale resigned his fellowship at Sidney Sussex in 1847 when he was appointed the Rector of Saint Vedast’s in Foster Lane with Saint Michael’s-le-Querne in the City of London. He received his Cambridge MA in 1848, and continued his scholarly scientific and theological interests, so that he was the librarian of Sion College in the City of London from 1851 to 1856.

In 1861, with Archibald Tait, Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, Elizabeth Catherine Ferard (1825-1883), who was related to Dale by marriage, and two other women, Dale founded the North London Deaconess Institution, based in King’s Cross. Dale wanted to establish a women’s society to work among the poor, but one that was more flexible than a structured religious order.

Dale was also a considerable Hebrew scholar, and he was the author of A Life’s Motto (1869) and A Commentary on Ecclesiastes (1873).

Less than three months after becoming Dean of Rochester, Thomas Dale was visiting his son at No 2 Amen Court, Saint Paul’s, London, when he died suddenly on 14 May 1870.

Like his father, Dale was originally an evangelical. However, he came to believe that ritualism was specifically appropriate to deal with the nature of secularism and the forces he saw as hostile to Christianity of the time. He began to use the mixed chalice and to wear Eucharistic vestments at Christmas 1873.

Opposition to Dale crystallised around his ritualism, and grew when he offered locum tenens ministry in 1875 to the congregation of Saint Alban the Martyr, Holborn, while the Revd Alexander Heriot Mackonochie was suspended for his ritualist practices.

In 1876, Dale was prosecuted under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874. He was supported by the English Church Union in his prosecution by the Church Association. In the same year, he joined the Society of the Holy Cross.

On 12 November 1876, John Jackson, Bishop of London, enforced an inhibition obtained from the Court of Arches, and insisted on taking over the services at Saint Vedast’s. Dale submitted for the time, but legal flaws were discovered in the case of the prosecution. Amid much correspondence, public and private, Dale renewed the services, and ignored the citations, summonses, admonitions, inhibitions, and other documents with which he had been served and in December 1878, he recommenced all his former practices.

After protracted legal proceedings, another judgment was obtained against him from the Dean of Arches, Lord Penzance, in the Court of Arches on 28 October 1880. Two days later, Dale was arrested and he was sent to Holloway prison on 30 October 1880.

Dale’s imprisonment drew great sympathy from all but his most die-hard opponents. Such imprisonments did more than anything else to turn public opinion against Disraeli’s attempt to use the law to put down ritualism.

Dale was released on bail on Christmas Eve 1880, and in January 1881 he was entirely released by order of the Lords Justices, who held that the writ of inhibition was bad, because its issue had not been reported to the Court of Queen’s Bench. A protracted case that had excited extraordinary attention had been had come to an end.

Soon after his release, Dale was presented by the patron, Charles Trollope Swan, to the living of Sausthorpe-cum-Aswardby, near Spilsby in Lincolnshire, and he was instituted on 21 April 1881.

In his rural rectory, Dale resumed his Hebrew and scientific studies and his water-colour painting. Several of his paintings, made on in Padua and Venice on a tour of Italy in 1882, were reproduced in his biography by his daughter.

Dale died at Sausthorpe Rectory on 19 April 1892, on the eleventh anniversary of the death of Disraeli, one of the architects of the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874. He was buried in Sausthorpe churchyard.

His later successors at Saint Vedast’s included Canon Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1974-1986), former Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and the Revd Dr Alan McCormack (2007-2015), former chaplain of Trinity College Dublin.

A Sidney Sussex don and father
of the architect of Portmeirion

The Sidney Sussex boathouse by the River Cam … John Clough Williams-Ellis (1833-1913) was a good oarsman and swimmer and received a medal for rescuing a friend from drowning in the River Cam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing last month about Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978), the English-born architect from a Welsh family who is best remembered as the designer of Portmeirion.

I am staying this week in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, during the annual Summer School organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, and I was interested to learn that the architect’s father, the Revd John Clough Williams-Ellis (1833-1913), was a leading don at Sidney Sussex.

John Clough Williams-Ellis was a don at Sidney Sussex College in the Victorian era before returning to Wales, and was descended from a long line of Welsh Anglican priests.

The Williams family can be traced back to Thomas Ellis Anwyl, of Porthdinllaen, Edern, Caernarfonshire, who died in 1703. Later, the Ven John Ellis (1721-1785), Rector of Bangor, Chancellor of Bangor Cathedral and Archdeacon of Merioneth. His son, Canon Thomas Ellis MA (died 1833), was Rector of Llanfachreth, Anglesey, and the Treasurer of Bangor Cathedral.

The architect’s grandfather, the Revd John Williams-Ellis, adopted the additional name of Williams when he inherited the Brondanw estates. He was born 21 January 1808, and educated at the Friars’ Grammar School, Bangor, and Saint John’s College, Cambridge (BA, 1830). Later, he was the Rector of Llanaelhaiarn and the Rector of Beddgelert. On 21 February 1831, he married Harriet Ellen, only child of James Henry Clough, of Plas Clough, Denbighshire, and they had two sons and a daughter.

His eldest son, Thomas Parr Clough (1832-1897), succeeded to the Plas Clough estate in 1878 and assumed by royal licence the name of Clough in accordance with the will of his grandfather.

His second son, the architect’s father, the Revd John Clough Williams-Ellis (1833-1913), succeeded to the Glasfryn and Brondanw estates. He was born in Plas Clough, Denbighshire, Wales, on 11 March 1833. He was brought up in Brondanw, Llanfrothen, and later, when his father became the Rector of Llanaelhaearn, in Glasfryn, Llangybi. He was educated in Rossall School and came to Cambridge in 1852 when was admitted a pensioner at Sidney Sussex on 28 April 1852 and matriculated at Michaelmas 1852.

Although he was proficient in Welsh, he seems to have written only in English. He won prizes for poetry in Cambridge, and while he was proficient in Welsh and assumed the pen-name, ‘Shon Pentyrch.’

He was also a good oarsman and swimmer. In 1855, he received the Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal for rescuing a friend from drowning in the River Cam.

Williams-Ellis graduated BA (3rd Wrangler) in 1856. The Wranglers are those students at Cambridge who gain first-class degrees in mathematics. The Cambridge undergraduate mathematics course, or Mathematical Tripos, is famously difficult. The Senior Wrangler is the top mathematics undergraduate at Cambridge, a position that has been described as ‘the greatest intellectual achievement attainable in Britain.’

Following his graduation 160 years ago, Williams-Ellis was elected a fellow of Sidney Sussex College in 1856. Two years later, he was ordained deacon by Thomas Turton, Bishop of Ely and former Regius Professor of Divinity in Cambridge, in 1858. He proceeded MA in 1859, and was ordained priest by Bishop Turton that year.

He was admitted MA at Oxford (ad eundem) on 7 June 1860, when he was described as ‘Of Glasfryn, Co Carnarvon, and of Brondanw, Co Merioneth.’

He remained a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College for over 20 years from 1856 to 1877, and was also a Tutor from 1859 to 1876. He was Senior Moderator of the University of Cambridge in 1866-1867.

Williams-Ellis may have been the first Welshman to climb one of the highest mountains in the Alps. He was familiar with the mountains of Snowdonia and in 1857 he went on a tour in the Alps with the Revd JF Hardy, also a don at Sidney Sussex College.

On 13 August 1857, accompanied by JF Hardy, William and St John Mathews, ES Kennedy (1817–1898), and five guides, he climbed the Finsteraarhorn (4,274 metres), the highest peak in Bern Oberland. The mountain had been scaled earlier, possibly in 1812, but this was the first British climb and the venture inspired William Mathews and Kennedy to establish an Alpine Club.

However, Williams-Ellis did not join the Alpine Club and there is no mention of him visiting the Alps again, although his family still has his alpenstock.

Meanwhile, the reforms to the university in the 1850s would change Sidney’s intellectual course forever. From the largely theological and mathematical college of the first two centuries or so, it became a power-house in the rapidly expanding medical, natural, physical and chemical sciences, and this direction was much inspired by John Clough Williams-Ellis.

John Wale Hicks, later Bishop of Bloemfontein, was typical of the time, publishing books on both doctrine and inorganic chemistry. The laboratories that stood along the Sidney Street wall beyond ‘A’ staircase, were among the first in Cambridge. Later, they were the site of a string of important experiments by the world famous metallurgist FH Neville and others such as EH Griffiths until they fell into disuse by 1910.

Their fame led Dorothy L Sayers to propose Sidney Sussex as the Cambridge college Sherlock Holmes attended in 1871-1873. Developing this theme, Professor Richard Chorley of Sidney Sussex College later allocated Holmes a room on the first floor of Staircase A, overlooking both Hall Court and Sidney Street.

The fame of John Clough Williams-Ellis and others led to Sherlock Holmes being ascribed rooms on the first floor of Staircase A in Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

As a brilliant mathematician and a successful tutor, Williams-Ellis contributed to enhancing the reputation of Sidney Sussex College. When the Cambridge chair in mechanics became vacant all the eminent scholars in the field supported him, but another person was elected as a result of the influence of the larger colleges.

While he was still a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Williams-Ellis became the Vicar of Madingley, Cambridgeshire, in 1865. His predecessor, Robert Mackray, who was Vicar from 1862 to 1865, was later the first Anglican Primate of Canada. As Vicar of Madingley, Williams-Ellis restored Saint Mary’s Church, and he planned the new vicarage, which allowed Madingley to have a resident vicar.

In 1876, he became the Rector of Gayton, Northamptonshire. Within a year, he married Ellen Mabel Greaves on 2 January 1877, and resigned his fellowship at Sidney Sussex. They had six sons, including Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect (1883-1978), who was their fourth son.

Meanwhile, Williams-Ellis invested his earnings as a tutor in expanding his Glasfryn estate in North Wales, and he retired there in1889. A year later, he became a Justice of the Peace in 1890.

Williams-Ellis died on 27 May 1913 at the age of 80, and was buried in a glade near Glasfryn in North Wales. Had he remained a don at Sidney Sussex College and never returned to Wales, I wonder whether his son, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, would ever have dreamt of building Portmeririon.

Rowing by the Sidney Sussex boathouse on the River Cam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

30 August 2016

‘If evil is bottomless, so
goodness too is boundless’

The Gledhill Sundial in Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

‘If evil is bottomless, so goodness too is boundless,’ the Romanian writer and theologian Nicolae Steinhardt wrote while he was in prison. This afternoon, Dr Razvan Porumb introduced the writings and thoughts of ‘Father Nicolae Steinhardt’ at the summer conference in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

This year’s conference is looking at ‘Contemporary Fathers and Mothers of the Church. Dr Porumb, who is Vice-Principal of the IOCS, where he is a postdoctoral fellow and a lecturer sketched out the life of the Romanian theologian, hermit, confessor and dissident writer, Dr Nicolae Steinhardt (1912-1989).

Nicolae Steinhardt is one of the great writers in Romanian literature, and is studied nation-wide. His great work, The Diary of Happiness, or The Journal of Happiness, is his literary testament and stands between literature and theology, culture and faith, but has not yet been translated into English.

He was born Aurelian Nicolae Steinhardt in Bucharest into a Jewish family and completed his PhD in constitutional law. On a holiday in Switzerland in 1937 or 1938, he met an Irishman who first stirred his interests in Christianity, although later he could not recall his name.

He was a writer and journalist, and was imprisoned in 1958 and was held in harsh conditions for 14 years. In jail, he taught English literature to other prisoners. There too he converted to Orthodox Christianity while he was a prisoner, and was baptised in prison in 1960.

He was fascinated by the paradox of faith, but he sought ambiguity rather than clarity: ‘Never have more astounding words been uttered than “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” [see Mark 9: 24] I tell myself that if, of all words on the entire Bible we would only retain these, they would be enough to prove the divine essence of Christianity … They are paradoxical, they represent the very mystery of the act of faith …’

His baptism took place hurriedly in extraordinary circumstances, with is fellow prisoner, Father Mina Dobzeu, a Romanian Orthodox priest using chipped enamel mug filled with wormy water from the water tank, and witnessed by two Greek Catholic (Uniate) priests, two Roman Catholic priest and a Protestant pastor. He would rejoice that his baptism had an ‘ecumenical character.’

He noted in his diary: ‘Those baptised as infants cannot know, nor can they suspect what baptism means. I find myself assaulted, second after second, by ever-stronger attacks of joy … I am a new man.’

He later had an Epiphany moment in a dream in his cold cell in the winter of 1962: ‘I do not see the incarnated Christ, but only an enormous light – white and bright – and I feel unspeakably happy. This light envelops me from all sides, it is complete happiness, and it ousts everything else. I am submersed in the blinding light, I float inside the light, I am in light and I exult. I know it is going to last forever, it is perpetuum immobile. The light speaks to: I am, not through words – but through thoughts. I understand it is the Lord and that I am inside the light of Tabor, and I don’t just see it, but I am living inside of it.’

He continued: ‘More than anything, I am happy, happy, happy. I am happy and I recognise that I am, and tell myself that. The light seems to be brighter than light and it seems to talk to me and tells me who it is. The dream seems to go on for long, very long. Happiness not only lasts forever, but increases constantly. If evil is bottomless, so goodness too is boundless.’

On his release in 1964, he remained a dissident and continued to write and publish. Late in life, he entered Rohia Monastery in 1978, where he worked as the monastery’s librarian and continued to write. There, his growing reputation as a counsellor and father-confessor attracted many visitors to Rohia. He died on 29 March 1989.

Sunshine this morning on King’s Parade, Cambridge, at the corner with Bene’t Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Later this afternoon, the Romanian theologian and priest, the Revd Dr Liviu Barbu, spoke on: ‘What it takes to be a saint today? A tentative sketch of a profile.’

Dr Barbu, who has a PhD from King’s College London on Orthodox pastoral theology, is a parish priest in Norwich. He has written extensively on Metropolitan John Zizioulas, Saint Gregory Palamas, spiritual direction and fatherhood, and on ascetism.

In our lives, we all have glimpses of the Kingdom. The unavoidable vocation of the Christian is sainthood, and holiness is our destination. Indeed, in the Apostolic times, all Christians were called saints.

He too drew on the work of Father Dumitru Stăniloae, the Romanian Orthodox priest, theologian and professor we heard about yesterday [29 August 2016].

The journey from faith to the full stature of Christ is a life-long, never-ending journey. He spoke of his own journey and his relationship with his spiritual father or mother. A true spiritual father or mother is a mystagogue who helps us to see our true selves, so that the teachings of the Church can be lived in the life of the Christian and the life of the Church. The great spiritual fathers were great because first they were faithful disciples.

Here and now, God calls us all to holiness, and he concluded. ‘The greatest joy of my life is that I am called to be a saint.’

Earlier this morning, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia spoke on ‘Elder Amphilochios of Patmos,’ and Dr Christine Mangala Frost presented a paper on ‘Signs and Wonders: a Comparative Study of Spiritual Elders in Orthodox Christian and Hindu Traditions.’

Again, the day concludes with Evening Prayer and dinner. After breakfast tomorrow morning [31 August], we leave for our visit to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, near Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. The programme there includes a tour of the monastery and a lecture by Sister Magdalen on ‘Mother Elisabeth (1893-1993).’

‘I was born to love people … I see in
the face of each person the image of God’

Flowers in Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

‘The more a person loves God, the more he loves other people. He loves them with holiness, respect and refinement, as images of God.’ So said Elder Amphilochios of Patmos.

Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia told the story of Father Amphilochios this morning at the summer conference in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

Metropolitan Kallistos, who is the President of the IOCS and a monk of Patmos, was speaking on: ‘Elder Amphilochios of Patmos.’ They first met on Patmos in 1961, when there was only a boat once a week from Athens to the island, three taxis and a car belonging to the doctor.

Father Amphilochios said: ‘We must have Love, even if they do us the greatest harm, we must love them. We will be able to enter Paradise only with love.’

Metropolitan Kallistos said elders have a variety of gifts and charisms from the Holy Spirit. But they were often harsh and remote, and he gave the example of Saint Arsenios, a fifth century tutor to imperial children who withdrew to the Egyptian Desert. When he was asked by his former friends why he avoided him, he replied: ‘I cannot leave God to be with men.’

But Father Amphilochios was not like that, he said. He was an icon of the love of Christ, and did not force people’s free will.

The true elder appeals to people’s free will. He is not a substitute figure for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, but frees us to listen to the voice of God in our hearts and consciences. The spiritual father does not replace God, but acts as God’s usher, ushering us into the presence of God, so that we can listen to God in our own conscience.

Father Amphilochios (1889-1970) was a priest and monk who was born on Patmos when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. This was the island where Saint John the Divine received the Revelation in the Cave of the Apocalypse. The Monastery of the Apocalypse, founded by Saint Christodoulos in 1088, sits like a citadel on the top of the mountain, and Metropolitan Kallistos has many memories of celebrating the Liturgy in the cave in the monastery.

Father Amphilochios lived on Patmos, and after basic schooling he became a monk in the Monastery of the Apocalypse. He had a hearty sense of humour and lived a life of prayer. He taught the value of frequent Communion, regular Confession, and the practice of the Jesus Prayer, which he learned from a hermit who lived in a cave on the island and which he taught to all, giving prayer ropes to children.

Father Amphilochios wrote: ‘Cultivate the Jesus Prayer and a time will come when your heart will leap with joy, just as it does when you are about to see a person who you love very much.’

After a short time on Mount Athos, he was sent to be ordained deacon on the neighbouring island of Kos in 1913. But instead he travelled to Alexandria and on to Jerusalem to visit the holy sites and in search of a cenobitic monastery.

He was sent back to Patmos, where he was sent to a remote hermitage. There he learned inner prayer, based on the Jesus prayer in the Hesachyst tradition. He was ordained deacon and priest in 1919.

He was the Abbot of the Monastery of the Apocalypse (1935-1937) until the occupying Italians forced him into internal exile in Greece. He received hospitality from the Zoe brotherhood in Athens, and then travelled throughout Greece; first in Athens and later on Crete, where he became the spiritual father of many people on the island.

He returned to Patmos in 1939, but did not become abbot again. Instead, he was the spiritual father to the women’s community in the Monastery of the Annunciation. He died on 16 April 1970.

The Master’s Garden in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Earlier this morning, Elder Amphilochios was also referred to by Dr Christine Mangala Frost, who quoted him saying: ‘I was born to love people. It doesn’t concern me if he is a Turk, black, or white. I see in the face of each person the image of God. And for this image of God I am willing to sacrifice everything.’

Dr Frost is a research associate at the IOCS, a published novelist and a leading voice in the area of interfaith dialogue, particularly in Hinduism and Orthodoxy. She was speaking on ‘Signs and Wonders: a Comparative Study of Spiritual Elders in Orthodox Christian and Hindu Traditions.’

We live in an apparently enlightened age, free of superstition and informed by scientific insights. Yet, she pointed out, people seek after holy men and holy women, who are often associated with signs and wonders.

In her paper, she asked what are the hallmarks of the Orthodox elders, what do the Hindu gurus offer, what have they in common, and where do they differ.

She began by looking at signs and wonders in the Bible.

Christ accepts that signs and wonders are expected of the Messiah. He often performs these out of compassion to make people whole so that they may turn towards God. But, as in the case of the feeding of the multitude and the miracle at Cana, these signs and wonders also prefigure the Eucharist, showing that Christ is the true bread and the true wine. His signs and wonders related to the whole message of the Gospel, and the core message of salvation.

He often refuses to be a mere wonder worker, and instead points people to his central messages of repentance, God’s forgiving love, and resurrection, and he warns of false signs and wonders.

In looking at the criteria for holiness in the Orthodox tradition, and asked whether these are shared by Hindu ‘holy men and women.’

She pointed out that all Christians are called to be saints, but some live lives that show how the Holy Spirit can transform sinful human life in the here and now.

Many are monastics, and not all are priests. They share a common spiritual bond and share the same goal of acquisition of the Holy Spirit. They talk in parables, paradox and poetic language, and their lives show deification by grace and the promise of spiritual transformation.

Elder Amphilochios Makris of Patmos once said: ‘I was born to love people. It doesn’t concern me if he is a Turk, black, or white. I see in the face of each person the image of God. And for this image of God I am willing to sacrifice everything.’

She looked at the place of self-abasement or self-effacement, playing the holy fool, holy idiosyncrasies and humility in the lives of the Orthodox elders, and then compared this with the lives of holy men and women in the Hindu tradition. She suggested the mystery of repentance and the mystery of love come together in their lives.

Discernment is seen by Orthodox writers as the ability to perceive the secrets of another’s heart, often concealed even from that person’s own heart. It is not like telepathy, clairvoyance, or psychic gifts, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit for healing the wounded and scarred.

They live in the atmosphere of heaven, in the here and now. Spiritual practices are not ways of earning merit but of keeping Christ’s commandment of love.

Turning to Hindu holy men and women, she distinguished traditional gurus, who tend to be monastics, who have ascetic lives, traditional teachings, and are low-profile are self-effacing from the cultic gurus she described as ‘export gurus’ and ‘a curious tourist phenomenon.’

She compared the traditional gurus to the righteous figures in the Bible who may not know God, but God knows them, such as Cornelius. They are full of compassion and love, they deflect attention from themselves, they have a strong yearning for the love of God, and they want people to know of this love of God.

On the other hand, the cultic gurus emphasise self-realisation and often are not ascetic. She referred to Jaggi Vasudev or Sadhguru, who founded the Isha Foundation, and Swami Prabhavananda, who introduced Christopher Isherwood to Hinduism.

They emphasise positive thinking and self-help, while belief in God is marginal or dispensed with, so that belief in self is important, with the promise of continuous bliss in the here and now. The motto of the Isha Foundation is: ‘Be, breathe, blossom.’

These gurus offer ‘technologies of inner well-being’ and a message of total self-reliance and cosmic consciousness. They do not demand any explicit faith commitment, but instead offer an ‘easy, download-free message.’

They engage in a psychic feat to be obtained through yogic meditation, with Christ as an accessory who is recast as an avatar. All the old heresies are well and truly alive in the language of these gurus. Many of them deny the reality of evil, and the demonic is not a category they recognise.

This afternoon, Dr Razvan Porumb, Vice-Principal of the IOCS and a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer, speaks on ‘Father Nicolae Steinhardt,’ and the Romanian theologian and priest, the Revd Dr Liviu Barbu, presents a paper on: ‘What it takes to be a saint today? A tentative sketch of a profile.’

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (right) and Dr Christoph Schneider at the IOCS summer conference in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

An Irish bishop in Sidney Sussex College
who opposed war and ‘infantile theology’

The portrait of John Garnett, Bishop of Ferns and later Bishop of Clogher, on the stairs leading to the Old Library in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this week while I take part in the annual conference of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. Earlier this week [28 August 2016], I wrote about the portrait that hangs in the Old Library of John Bramhall, Bishop of Derry and later Archbishop of Ireland. But their is a second painting of a Church of Ireland bishop in Sidney Sussex. The portrait of John Garnett (ca 1709–1782), Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin and later Bishop of Clogher, can be seen on the stairs leading up to the Old library, where Archbishop Bramhall’s portrait hangs.

John Garnett, who was born in Lambeth ca 1709, was the third successive generation in his family to be ordained. His father, the Revd John Garnett, was the Rector of Sigglesthorne, in East Yorkshire, his grandfather, the Revd John Garnett, was the Vicar of Kilham, and his great-grandfather a merchant in Newcastle. His brothers, Canon Barnard Garnett and the Revd Henry Garnett, were also priests of the Church of England, and all three brothers were educated at Cambridge.

John Garnet went to school in Beverley, Yorkshire, and at the age of 16 he was admitted to Saint John’s College, Cambridge, on 21 May 1725. However, on 13 September 1728, he moved as a Scholar to Sidney Sussex College, where his father had been a student, and graduated from here (BA) in 1729.

He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Lincoln, Richard Reynolds, on 24 May 1730, and became a fellow of Sidney Sussex that year, and curate of Barmston in the Diocese of York 1731. He proceeded MA in 1732 and was ordained priest by Reynolds of Lincoln on 8 April 1733. He was incorporated MA at Oxford University in 1738, received his BD at Cambridge in 1739, and was a Whitehall Preacher in 1739-1741 and a chaplain to the Duke of Devonshire.

From 1744 to 1752, he was Lady Margaret Preacher to the University of Cambridge. This position, now known as Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, is regarded as the oldest chair in Cambridge, and previous holders of this position have included John Fisher (1502) and Desiderius Erasmus (1511). In 1745, he preached a sermon before the university at Great Saint Mary’s, the university church, during the Jacobite rebellion. Meanwhile, he was appointed Rector of Lockington in East Yorkshire in 1748.

He was still holding his academic and parochial positions in Cambridge and Yorkshire when he went to Ireland in 1751 as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant, Lionel Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset. He decided to remain in Ireland, resigned his Fellowship at Sidney Sussex and his chair in Cambridge, and in 1752 he was appointed Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin in succession to Robert Downes. He was incorporated at Trinity College Dublin in 1752 and received his Doctorate in Divinity (DD) from Cambridge that year.

In a sermon in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on 5 November 1753, to mark the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, he condemned holy war and ‘that pious solecism in holy-church politicks,’ which for so long had nurtured the associated mythologies of holy war. Such ‘infantile rhetoric’ and ‘infantile theology’ must, he predicted, ‘be now no more.’

He was translated to Clogher in 1758, succeeding Robert Clayton who had died before he could be tried for heresy. Garnett was succeeded in Ferns by William Carmichael, who later became Archbishop of Dublin.

In 1765, Garnett was spoken of, alongside John Ryder, Archbishop of Tuam, as a possible successor to William Carmichael as Archbishop of Dublin. But the appointment went instead the Irish-born Bishop of Meath, Arthur Smyth (1706-1771), and Garnett remained Bishop of Clogher until his death. There he contributed from his personal income to rebuild the cathedral and the bishop’s palace.

John Garnett died at his townhouse in Leinster Street, Dublin, on 1 March 1782 and was succeeded as Bishop of Clogher by John Hotham. There is a mural tablet to his memory in the chancel of Saint Lawrence’s Church, Sigglesthorne, where his father was rector, and portraits of him in both Saint John’s College and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

Garnett married Dorothea, the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Molyneux, 1st Baronet. His son, the Very Revd John Garnett, became Dean of Exeter in February 1810, and died on 11 March 1813, aged 64.

The only work of Garnett, besides some occasional sermons, was his prolix Dissertation on the Book of Job (1749). On seeing it at the house of the Duke of Newcastle, to whom it was dedicated, Lord Morton remarked that it was ‘a very proper book for the ante-chamber of a prime minister.’ A second edition was published in 1752, when Garnett became a bishop. In all, 53 editions were published between 1749 and 2005.

In his book, Garnett proposed that the Book of Job refers to the period of the Babylonian captivity, and that Job represents the oppressed and exiled people. It was original thinking for an 18th century theologian.

Williamstown House, near Kells, Co Meath, was built in a Palladian style ca 1770 for the Cuffe family, was later owned by the descendants of John Garnett. The Revd George Garnett, who also owned 304 acres at Knockglass, Crossmolina, Co. Mayo, died in 1856. He left Williamstown House to his eldest son, William Stawell Garnett (born 1838). During and after the Great Famine many of the Garnett family moved to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Fiji and England.

Garret’s later successor as Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity at Cambridge have included Samuel Ward (1623), William Selwyn (1855), Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1875), Dublin-born Fenton John Anthony Hort (1887), William Ralph Inge (1907), CFD Moule (1951), and Judith M Lieu (2010).

According to Philip Skelton’s biographer, Samuel Burdy, Bishop Garnett was ‘a pious, humble, good-natured man, a generous encourager of literature, kind to his domestics, and justly esteemed by all those who had an opportunity of knowing his virtues.’

29 August 2016

‘To love visible creatures is to allow the
received Divine energy to reveal itself’

The Knox-Shaw Room in Cloister Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge is the venue for the conference organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies opened in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this morning [29 August 2016] with Dr Christoph Schneider, the Academic Director of IOCS, introducing the subject of ‘Fatherhood and Sacramentality.’

This year’s conference, in the Knox-Shaw Room in Cloister Court, addresses the theme: ‘Contemporary Fathers and Mothers of the Church: Guides for Today’s World.’

Father Dragos Herescu, the acting principal of IOCS introduced the conference as a ‘pinnacle’ of one-day conferences at the institute during the past year. He described these ‘Contemporary Fathers and Mothers’ as witnesses to the continuing and continuous presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and as guides for education and theological inquiry and practice through their lives and writings.

We live in a world where the light of God is intensely present, although we do not always see it like that, he said. These diverse people are another testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in the World.

Dr Christoph Schneider said the conference title suggests that we need guidance and that we need guides. But this need was lost at the enlightenment, and he quoted Immanuel Kant who said in 1784 that ‘enlightenment is man’s emergency from his self-imposed immaturity’ and the need for guidance.

The search for independent thinking, intellectual and moral autonomy and self-sufficiency was a reaction to authoritarianism in Church and State. Modern philosophers, such as Alasdair McIntyre and Charles Taylor, have recently developed the idea of Communitarianism, which seeks to oppose excessive individualism, the revival of tradition, and advocates virtue ethics. In this thinking, guides enact and embody the ‘good life’ and are indispensable to the community.

In the Eastern tradition, Sobornost, developed as an alternative to individualism and socialist collectivism.

But, he asked, why do we need guides that are like Fathers and Mothers. He looked at Father figures and Father-Child relationship, and drawing on the writings of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), he discussed how Fatherhood can be problematic, but so too the absence of the father, and looked at the concept of the sacramental presence of the father, experienced in love, beauty and holiness.

Lacan wrote that ‘Man’s desire is for the Other to desire him’ (le désir de l’homme, c’est le désir de l’Autre) or ‘Man wants to desire that which the Other desires.’

The problematic absence of the ‘Father’ leads to psychosis. The unsuccessful establishment of the ego-ideal creates a false certainty instead of doubt. Such a person is always certain of his own ideas because there is no authority figure, and may have hallucinations such ‘they are trying to get me’ or ‘God has chosen me as his messenger.’ He experiences shame, but not guilt, and has no critical self-reflection because the psychotic’s ‘father’ is demanding without limits.

In neurosis, the obsession is to completely adopt the Other’s ego-ideal, and wants a despotic father. But divine love is not love like this, and involves creative reception. Is there a way beyond the neurosis?

He looked at Nature and Grace in Orthodox theology, especially in the writings of Saint Maximus the Confessor. The desire for God is grounded in nature and creation. Fathers and mothers fulfil a mediating function from the beginning, facilitating the child realising the desire for God, and helping the child to redirect desire and love towards God.

For Christian love, misdirected love can be redirected, but cannot be imposed, yet it is unconditional. It aims at transforming the loved one and aims at reciprocity, even when there is no initial response.

He quoted the martyred Russian Orthodox theologian and Pavel Florensky (1882-1937), who explains that ‘to love visible creatures is to allow the received Divine energy to reveal itself – through the receiver, outside and around the receiver – in the same way that it acts in the Trihypostatic Divinity itself. It is to allow the energy to go over to another, to a brother. For merely human efforts, love for a brother is absolutely impossible’ (The Pillar and Ground of the Truth).

In Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

This afternoon, the Romanian Orthodox theologian, Professor Ciprian Streza of the Faculty of Theology in Sibiu, spoke on ‘Father Dumitru Staniloae – The Liturgy: The Kingdom of the Holy Trinity.’

Introducing Dr Streza, Dr Razvan Porumb, a Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in the IOCS, described him as one of the most prolific and prestigious Romanian scholars in this field.

Dr Streza introduced us to some of the key texts by Professor Dumitru Stăniloae (1903-1993), who became rector of the Theological Academy in Sibiu in 1936, but was forced to move to Bucharest in 1947. He was the leading Romanian Orthodox theologian of the 20th century. For over 45 years, he worked on a Romanian translation and commentaries of the Philokalia, a collection of writings on prayer by the Church Fathers. He worked alongside the monk, Father Arsenie Boca, who brought manuscripts to Romania from Mount Athos.

His three principal subjects were ascetics and patristics in the 1940s, dogmatics in the decades that followed and the liturgy in the 1980s. His book The Dogmatic Orthodox Theology (1978) made him one of the most influential theologians of the last century. He also wrote commentaries on many Patristic writers, including Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Maximus the Confessor, and Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.

This introduction was important for, as he said, Father Stăniloae is ‘mostly quoted but not read.’ He brought together dogmatic theology and liturgical theology in a unique way for Orthodox theologians. He discussed the life and the love of the Trinity as the Liturgy of the Trinity, and he defined the Eucharistic Syntax as ‘the Kingdom of the Holy Trinity, the intimate godly home that comprises all.’

He sought a synthesis of the understandings in Antioch and Alexandria of the Liturgy, and he wrote of the Holy Liturgy in the contexts of mystery, person and Communion. Everybody has an internal liturgy alongside the external liturgy, and when we bring them together we have a foretaste of the Kingdom.

In the discussion that followed, Dr Streza spoke of how when we receive the mystery of the Trinity we have to give it to the world. You cannot take without giving. The Liturgy is taking part in the life of Christ and putting it into action.

Later this afternoon, the Revd Professor Andrew Louth discussed ‘Father Sergii Bulgakov’ as a spiritual father. Father Andrew, who is a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church and Emeritus Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University, is one of the leading Patristic scholars in the English-speaking world.

Father Andrew, who was introduced by Dr Christoph Schneider, spoke about Father Sergeii Nikolaevich Bulgakov (1871-1944), the Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher and economist who died in exile in Paris.

He was once a Marxist professor of economics in Russia, But he realised he could not make sense of the beauty of the world without relating it to God, and he moved back to the Orthodox faith at the beginning of the 20th century.

Little of his correspondence has been published, and his theological writings are rooted in German idealism that makes him difficult to read. But many found him a real spiritual father, and his spiritual children included Sister Maria of Paris and Sister Joanna.

He was 47 when he was ordained on the Day of the Holy Spirit (‘Whit Monday’) in 1918, and he remained in post-revolutionary Russia until several thousand members of the Russian intelligentsia were expelled at the end of 1922. From Constantinople, he made his way through Prague to Paris, where he helped found Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute.

His ideas about the Wisdom of God, his sophiology, were unpopular, but were hugely respected. He is best known short trilogy published in the 1920s, and his three-volume work in the 1930s.

He celebrated his last Liturgy on the Day of the Holy Spirit (‘Whit Monday’) in 1944, and he died 40 days later.

Father Andrew presented Bulgakov as spiritual father rather than as a theologian, as a Christian sage and a teacher of the Church.

In his life experiences, Bulgakov lived out the idea Aeschylus expresses in a play on words about learning through suffering. After a near-death experience, he found God was bringing him back to life, and he celebrated every Liturgy as if it might be his last.

The great man was at heart a simple priest. For Father Sergeii, the Spiritual Father was first and foremost the celebrant of the Divine Liturgy with his Spiritual Children. His advice includes to prepare carefully for the celebration of Liturgy, which may involve the whole day beforehand. He advised his spiritual children never to close their door on anyone.

The liturgy constantly seeps into his theology and into his practice. For Father Sergeii, liturgy and eschatology come together with the breaking in of future hopes into the present. At times, it seemed he was celebrating the Liturgy for the first time, bringing together the whole Creation, and his suffering leant depth to his celebrating.

Remembering ‘Tommiknox’ and
his gifts to Sidney Sussex College

The Knox-Shaw Room seen from the Fellows’ Lawn in Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The summer conference in Sidney Sussex College organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies has moved this year from the William Mong Hall, behind the chapel, to the Knox-Hall Room in Cloister Court, just below my rooms on Staircase L.

The room is a genteel, oak-panelled seminar room looking out onto both Cloister Court and the Fellows’ Lawn, and was named in honour of Thomas Knox-Shaw (1895-1972), a Fellow of Sidney Sussex and Master of the College from 1945 to 1957.

Knox-Shaw was educated at Blundell’s School, which has had links with Sidney Sussex since its foundation in 1604. He won a mathematics scholarship to Sidney Sussex, and here he obtained Firsts in both parts of the Mathematical Tripos and was fourth Wrangler in 1908.

He was elected a fellow of the college in 1909, but at the outbreak of World War I he joined the York and Lancaster Regiment. He spent the war both with his regiment and on brigade staffs, first in France and later in Mesopotamia, and was awarded the Military Cross.

Knox-Shaw returned to Sidney Sussex as a mathematics tutor in 1919. He was on the council of the Senate of Cambridge University, and in 1929. Knox-Shaw became the second treasurer of the university. In these roles, he made reforms to university accounting and its methods of controlling and maintaining the university’s buildings.

Knox-Shaw became the Master of Sidney Sussex in 1945, and remained in office until he retired in 1957. His gifts to Sidney Sussex College include the picture of Oliver Cromwell that hangs in the Hall where I am having meals each day.

In Church life, he also served as a member of the Board of Finance of the Diocese of Ely, was a trustee of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi and a very active member on the committee of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA). Both missions are now part of the Anglican mission agency USPG.

Knox-Shaw played a role in the early developments of the National Health Service in the Cambridge area, and in 1954 was made a CBE.

Knox-Shaw was also an active supporter of the Sidney Sussex Boat Club and Tomminox 2002 is one of a succession of boats bought by the boat club from the Knox Shaw fund. This is a Burgashell 8+ designated for use by both the men’s and women’s squads. Indeed, there is evidence of former Tomminoxes around the boat house.

Thomas Knox-Shaw … Master of Sidney Sussex College (1945-1957)

A week in Cambridge with ‘Contemporary
Fathers and Mothers of the Church’

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies opens in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this morning [29 August 2016].

This year’s conference addresses the theme: ‘Contemporary Fathers and Mothers of the Church: Guides for Today’s World.’

I have taken part in this conference since 2008, and this week’s conference continues in Sidney Sussex College until Wednesday evening [31 August 2016]. The speakers include Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, the Revd Professor Andrew Louth, Dr Christine Mangala Frost, Dr Ciprian Streza, Dr Christoph Schneider, Dr Razvan Porumb, the Revd Dr Liviu Barbu and Sister Magdalen.

The last day of the conference on Wednesday includes a visit to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights in Essex, which has become an annual pilgrimage for me.

I am staying for the week in rooms on Stairs L in Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, overlooking the Fellows’ Lawn and beyond that the Fellows’ Garden. This morning before breakfast, I hope to attend the early morning Eucharist in Saint Bene’t’s Church nearby.

Registration for the conference begins at 9:30, followed by coffee and tea. The speaker at this morning’s first session is Dr Christoph Schneider, the Academic Director of IOCS, who is addressing ‘Fatherhood and Sacramentality.’

In the first session after lunch (2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.), the Romanian Orthodox theologian Dr Ciprian Streza of Sibiu is speaking on ‘Father Dumitru Staniloae – The Liturgy: The Kingdom of the Holy Trinity.’

Professor Dumitru Stăniloae (1903-1993) was the leading Romanian Orthodox theologian of the 20th century. For over 45 years, he worked on a Romanian translation of the Philokalia, a collection of writings on prayer by the Church Fathers, alongside the monk, Father Arsenie Boca, who brought manuscripts from Mount Athos. His book, The Dogmatic Orthodox Theology (1978), made him one of the best-known theologians of the last century. He also wrote commentaries on Patristic writers, including Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Maximus the Confessor, and Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.

Later this afternoon, the Revd Professor Andrew Louth is discussing ‘Father Sergii Bulgakov’ (4 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.) Father Andrew is a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church and in 1996 he became the Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University, where he is also the Orthodox chaplain. Father Sergeii Nikolaevich Bulgakov (1871-1944) was a Russian Orthodox theologian, philosopher, and economist who died in exile in Paris.

The day ends with Evening Prayer in the Knox-Shaw Room in Sidney Sussex at 5.30 and dinner at 6.30.

Tomorrow [Tuesday, 30 August], after Morning Prayer and breakfast, Dr Christine Mangala Frost is presenting a paper on ‘Signs and Wonders: a Comparative Study of Spiritual Elders in Orthodox Christian and Hindu Traditions’ (9.30 to 11 a.m.). Later in the morning, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia is to speak on: ‘Elder Amphilochios of Patmos’ (11.30 to 1 p.m.). Elder Amphilochios (1889-1970) was a priest and monk who lived on Patmos, where he was Abbot (1935-1937) of the Monastery of the Apocalypse, until the occupying Italians forced him into internal exile in Greece, first in Athens and later on Crete.

In the first afternoon session tomorrow, Dr Razvan Porumb speaks on ‘Father Nicolae Steinhardt’ (2 to 3.30 p.m.). Dr Porumb is Vice-Principal of the IOCS, where he is a postdoctoral fellow and a lecturer. Dr Nicolae Steinhardt (1912-1989) was a Romanian theologian, hermit and confessor from Bucharest. He was a Jewish journalist who converted to Orthodox Christianity while he was a prisoner. Late in life, he entered in Rohia Monastery, where he worked as the monastery’s librarian and dedicated himself to writing. There, his growing reputation as a counsellor and father-confessor attracted many visitors to Rohia.

Later in the afternoon, the Romanian theologian and priest, the Revd Dr Liviu Barbu, is speaking on: ‘What it takes to be a saint today? A tentative sketch of a profile’ (4 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.).

Again, the day concludes with Evening Prayer at 5.30 and dinner.

After breakfast on Wednesday morning [31 August], we leave for our visit to the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, near Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. The programme there includes a tour of the monastery and a lecture by Sister Magdalen on ‘Mother Elisabeth (1893-1993).’

We return to Cambridge and Sidney Sussex College later on Wednesday afternoon.

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, which was founded in 1999, is a full member of the Cambridge Theological Federation, an Allied Institution of the University of Cambridge and a Regional Partner of Anglia Ruskin University. Full details of this week’s conference are available at the IOCS website.

Looking out at Fellows’ Lawn from my room in Cloister Court in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, with the spire of All Saints’ Church in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

28 August 2016

Why an Archbishop of Armagh is never
the ‘last straw’ in Sidney Sussex College

John Bramhall (1594-1663), Archbishop of Armagh ... portrait in the Old Library in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I checked into Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this afternoon [28 August 2016] and I am staying here for most of the coming week as a participant in the annual summer conference organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. I have rooms on Stairs L in Cloister Court, looking out onto the Fellows’ Lawn, and beyond that to the Fellows’ Garden.

A schoolfriend from Malahide who lives near Cambridge still refuses to meet me inside the gate of Sidney Sussex because Oliver Cromwell’s head is buried in the antechapel and his portrait, ‘warts and all,’ hangs in the Hall. For my friend, this would be the last straw, even though over the years I have often dined beneath that portrait and the chapel and antechapel are closed this week for essential repairs.

But, while Cromwell may have been one the better-known undergraduates at Sidney Sussex, he never actually graduated he and left Cambridge without a degree.

On the other hand, I have also dined beneath a portrait of a Sidney graduate with more positive connections with Ireland: the portrait of John Bramhall (1594-1663), Archbishop of Armagh, hangs in the Old Library, almost directly above the supposed burial place of Cromwell’s head.

John Bramhall was one of the key Anglican theologians and apologists of the 17th century known as the Caroline Divines. He firmly defended Anglicanism, against both Puritans and Roman Catholics, and he was critical of the materialism of Thomas Hobbes.

According to the Dictionary of Phrases, in 1655 Bramhall coined the phrase ‘It is the last feather that breaks the horse’s back,’ an early version of ‘It is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back” or ‘the last straw.’

Bramhall was born in Pontefract, Yorkshire. He matriculated at Sidney Sussex College in 1609, and graduated BA (1612), MA (1616), BD (1623) and DD 1630. Bramhall400 years ago, in 1616, and soon after he was presented to the parish of South Kilvington, Yorkshire, by Sir Christopher Wandesford, a prominent Yorkshire politician who later became MP for Kildare and Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Bramhall went to Ireland in 1633 with Wandesford’s friend and distant cousin, Thomas Wentworth, and almost immediately he was appointed Archdeacon of Meath. A year later, he was appointed Bishop of Derry and he was consecrated in the chapel of Dublin Castle on 16 May 1634.

Bramhall promptly took his seat in the Irish House of Lords, and played a key role a few weeks later in the Irish Parliament in securing the passing of acts for the preservation of church property.

Later that year, he was instrumental in the Irish Convocation adopting the 39 Articles in addition to the Irish Articles drawn up by Archbishop James Ussher in 1615. However, when Bramhall tried to get Convocation to adopt the English canons of 1604, he came into conflict with Ussher.

Their conflict was resolved when distinct Irish canons were passed, but Bramhall had a share in writing them. The 94th canon, endorsing a policy of William Bedell, Bishop of Kilmore, provided for the use of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer in the vernacular in Irish-speaking districts.

In August 1636, Bramhall joined Henry Leslie, Bishop of Down and Connor, in moving against five Puritan ministers when they refused to subscribe the new canons. They included Edward Brice (1569-1636), the first Presbyterian appointed to a parish in Ireland.

In his conflict with Presbyterians, Bramhall came to the assistance of the Revd John Corbet of Bonhill, who had been deposed by the Dumbarton Presbytery in Scotland for supporting the Scottish bishops, refusing to subscribe to the assembly’s declaration against prelacy and for writing a ‘pugnacious’ tract against the Covenanters.

In 1639, Bramhall found Corbet a parish in the Diocese of Achonry. Although Corbet was nominated by Wenworth, his appointment created a conflict between Bramhall and Archibald Adair, Bishop of Killala and Achonry. Adair was a Puritan. And because of his views on Corbet he was tried as a supporter of the Scottish Covenant. Adair was fined £2,000, jailed indefinitely and deposed in 1640. But his trial and sentence alienated Scottish settlers in Ireland. Later that year, the Irish House of Commons drew up a remonstrance, claiming the Derry plantation had been ‘almost destroyed’ by Bramhall’s policies.

Eventually, Adair’s deposition was set aside, and in 1641, following the trial and execution of Bishop John Atherton, he was moved to the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. However, he was forced to flee Ireland during the 1641 rebellion, and died in Bristol in 1647.

Meanwhile, Bramhall’s patron Wentworth, by then Earl of Strafford, was impeached for treason by the English House of Commons. The Ulster Presbyterians presented the English Parliament with a petition including 31 charges against the bishops of the Church of Ireland. On 4 March 1641, the Irish Commons impeached Bramhall, along with the Lord Chancellor, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and Sir George Radcliffe (1599-1657), who built Rathmines Castle in Dublin, as participants in Strafford’s alleged treason.

Bramhall left Derry for Dublin, and took his place in the Irish House of Lords. He was accused of unconstitutional acts and jailed. His defended himself, saying he had only sought the good of the Church, and wrote to Ussher in London. Eventually, King Charles I intervened, and Bramhall was freed, although he was never acquitted, and he returned to Derry before moving back to England in 1642.

He remained in Yorkshire until the Battle of Marston Moor on 2 July 1644. He supported the Royalist cause in his sermons and his writings, and sold his plate to help the king. He fled abroad with Lord Newcastle and other royalists, and arrived in Hamburg on 8 July 1644. When the Treaty of Uxbridge was signed in January 1645, Bramhall and Archbishop Laud of Canterbury were specifically excluded from the proposed general pardon.

In Paris, Bramhall met Hobbes and argued with him on liberty and necessity. There debate would continue in later years. He then moved to Brussels, where he preached at the chapel in the English embassy, as well as in Antwerp.

When Bramhall returned to Ireland in 1648, he did not return to his diocese in Ulster. He was at Limerick in 1649, when he received the profession of the dying James Dillon, 3rd Earl of Roscommon. He was in Cork that October when the city declared for Cromwell and the Parliament. It was a narrow escape, and once again he was an exile on the Continent. He moved to Spain in 1650, and he was one of the bishops excluded from the Act of Indemnity in 1652.

After the Restoration of Charles II in October 1660, Bramhall returned to England and then to Ireland. On 18 January 1661, he became Archbishop of Armagh in succession to James Ussher, who had died in 1656. On 27 January 1661, he presided at the consecration in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, of two new archbishops and 10 new bishops for the Church of Ireland.

Bramhall presided at Convocation, and on 8 May 1661 he was chosen as Speaker of the Irish House of Lords. Within days, both Irish houses of parliament had erased the old charges against Bramhall from their records.

As Primate, he was responsible for the Irish Parliament passing declarations requiring conformity to episcopacy and to the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, and ordered the burning of the Covenant. However, Bramhall could not carry his bills for a uniform tithe system and for extending episcopal leases. Until 1667, there was no Irish Act of Uniformity, and all that was in place was the old statute of 1560 on the use of Edward VI’s second Book of Common Prayer. But even before the Act of Uniformity was passed in England in 1662, the nonconformists were ejected by the bishops of the Church of Ireland.

Bramhall had used money from the sale of his property in England to buy an estate at Omagh, Co Tyrone, in the 1630s. He was defending his rights in a court in Omagh against Sir Audley Mervyn when stroke deprived him of consciousness, and he died on 25 June 1663.

Professor David Frost of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, speaking in the Old Library in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, under the portrait of Archbishop John Bramhall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bramhall’s importance lies in his writings while he was in exile. Deprived of episcopal office in Ireland, he turned to responding to attacks on Anglicanism.

In 1643, he wrote Serpent Salve, a defence of episcopacy and monarchy in response to attacks by the Puritans and Presbyterians. In 1649, his Fair Warning against the Scottish Discipline attacked the theology and claims of the Presbyterians and the Puritans.

Bramhall also defend Anglicanism against Roman Catholics. In 1653, he countered Théophile Brachet de la Milletière’s restatement of the doctrine of transubstantiation with a reply that restated the Anglican understanding of the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

His five treatises replying to Roman Catholics include a confutation of the ‘Nag’s Head’ fable. He also debated with Richard Smith, the titular Bishop of Chalcedon who had the episcopal leadership of Roman Catholics in England, telling him how he hoped to live to see the day when all Christian churches were united again.

His works were collected by John Vesey and first published in Dublin in 1677. They were reprinted in five volumes in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology (Oxford, 1842-1845).

‘You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.
And prayer is more than an order of words’

‘Here, the intersection of the timeless moment’ ... Clare College Chapel with The Annunciation (1763) by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying this weekend in Clare College, Cambridge, before moving on Sidney Sussex College where I am spending the week during the annual summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

There was a wedding in the Clare College yesterday. But because we are out of term time, there are no Sunday services in the chapel this morning [28 August 2016]. So I am probably going to Saint Bene’t’s Church, where the Revd Anna Matthews is the Vicar.

Saint Bene’t’s has become the nearest thing to a parish church I have when I am in Cambridge, and I hope to be at the early morning Eucharist at 8 a.m. there throughout the week.

The Chapel in Clare College was built in the 1760s to a design by the amateur architect and Master of Caius, James Burrough. The Chapel is at the heart of the college in Old Court, and it is a place of quiet and beauty and of daily prayer throughout term time. With its simple beauty and light-filled space, the chapel is an oasis for peaceful reflection, and all are welcome, even outside term time.

The worship and reflection in the Chapel is an integrated part of college life, seeking to serve and build up the community in peace and virtue, in mutual respect, and with a commitment to the holistic flourishing of every person. There is a daily Eucharist each morning during Full Term, when Choral Evensong is also sung by the College Choir.

According to instructions left by the college founder, Lady Elizabeth de Clare, the chapel, as with the whole college, is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The painting above the altar is The Annunciation by Giambattista Cipriani, and was commissioned for the chapel by the Duke of Newcastle in the 18th century.

The window commemorating Richard de Badew, the original founder of the college, offering what was known then as University Hall to the Virgin Mary and Christ Child (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In the early 20th century, two stained glass windows were installed at the West End of the Chapel. The window on the south commemorates Richard de Badew, sometime Chancellor of Cambridge University and the original founder of the college, which was later re-established, renamed and endowed by Lady Elizabeth de Clare. He is shown offering his foundation, then known as University Hall, to the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.

Below them is a a map of Europe, with Ireland and Britain comfortably close to the European continental landmass, long before anyone thought of Brexit.

Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding and Bishop Hugh Latimer (right), a martyr in the reign of Queen Mary Tudor, in the north window of the Chapel in Clare College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The window opposite on the north side of the chapel commemorates two of the college’s most distinguished alumni: Bishop Hugh Latimer, a martyr in the reign of Queen Mary Tudor; and Nicholas Ferrar, founder of the community at Little Gidding just before the English Civil War in the 17th century. To the left is a small image of the church built by Nicholas Ferrar and referred to by TS Eliot in his poem ‘Little Gidding.’

The antechapel has memorials to the members of Clare College who died in the two World Wars, including Hamo Sassoon, brother of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon.

The Dean of Clare College, the Revd Dr Jamie Hawkey, is also Director of Studies in Theology. He studied at Girton College and Selwyn College and at Westcott House in Cambridge, and at the Angelicum University in Rome. He came to Clare having been Precentor of Westminster Abbey and a Minor Canon there since 2010. Before that, he was a curate in Saint Mary’s, Portsea, in inner-city Portsmouth. His research interests focus on ecclesiology and ecumenical theology.

In addition to his work at Clare, he serves on the International Anglican-Reformed Dialogue, as a member of the Malines Conversations Group, and he chairs the UK Appeal Committee of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Bishop John Robinson (1919-1983) was the Dean of Clare College (1951-1959) before becoming Bishop of Woolwich (1959-1969)

Previous deans of Clare College include Archbishop Rowan Williams (1984-1986), later Archbishop of Canterbury (2003–2013). He succeeded the theologian and biochemist Canon Arthur Robert Peacocke (1924-2006) who was Dean, Fellow, and Tutor and Director of Studies in Theology of Clare College (1973-1984).

Before them, one the best-known clerical Deans of Clare College was the theologian and New Testament scholar, Bishop John AT Robinson (1919-1983). He was the Dean of Clare College (1951-1959) and a fellow, and Lecturer in Divinity at Cambridge University before becoming Bishop of Woolwich (1959-1969).

He studied theology at Westcott House, Cambridge, and after retiring as Bishop of Woolwich in 1969, he returned to Cambridge as a lecturer in theology and Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was the author of In the End, God (1951) and Honest to God (1963). He preached his last sermon, ‘Learning from cancer,’ to a packed college chapel six weeks before he died.

The Robinsons are an outstanding clerical, theological and missionary family from Monaghan. They were descended from a family that lived in Seagoe area of Co Armagh from the 17th century, and later in Monaghan and Clones. John Robinson’s father, Canon Arthur Robinson, (1856-1928), was a canon of Canterbury Cathedral and the author of several books, and he inherited a house called The Wood just outside Monaghan.

He in turn was a son of the Revd George Robinson (1819-1881), the vicar of a poor Somerset parish near Bristol and Bath. George Robinson was born in Monaghan where his father, Joseph Robinson (1782-1866), a printer and bookseller. Joseph Robinson lived at No 1 The Diamond, Monaghan, beside Saint Patrick’s Church, where he is buried in the vault.

George Robinson was educated at Trinity College Dublin and was ordained deacon (1844) for Donaghcloney in the Diocese of Dromore by Henry Pepys, Bishop of Worcester, and priest (1845) for Barr in the Diocese of Clogher by John Leslie, Bishop of Kilmore. In 1847, he moved to England, where he was curate in Saint James’s, Clapham, Vicar of Keynsham, Somerset and Vicar of Saint Augustine’s, Everton, Liverpool.

George Robinson was back in Ireland in 1854, when he married Henrietta Cecilia Forbes in Collon, Co Louth. She was a daughter of Arthur Forbes and Caroline (Armitage) of Craigavad, Co Down. George and Henrietta had 13 children, including six sons who were priests and two daughters who were deaconesses. He died in 1881 in Marseilles, where he was buried.

But Clare’s association with key Anglican thinkers spans the centuries.

In the early 16th century, when religious debate in Cambridge was fierce, and Hugh Latimer (1485-1555) was one of the principal leaders of the Reformation. He was elected a Fellow of Clare in 1510 while still an undergraduate. Latimer became a chaplain to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1534 and Bishop of Worcester in 1535, and was one of the king’s advisers on the dissolution of the monastic houses.

During the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558), Latimer refused to recant his beliefs. He was burned at the stake with Nicholas Ridley in Oxford on 16 October 1555. While he is known to history as one of the ‘Oxford Martyrs,’ he was a product of Cambridge and a Fellow of Clare.

Despite the turmoils of the Reformation, Clare Hall, as it was then known, continued to grow in size and wealth in the 16th century. Later, in the early 17th century, Nicholas Ferrar (1593-1637) came into residence at Clare the age of 13, and in Cambridge he became a close friend of the poet George Herbert. With the outbreak of the plague in 1625, Ferrar established the Anglican retreat at Little Gidding that is commemorated by TS Eliot’s in ‘Little Gidding’ in his Four Quartets.

Later in the 17th century, the college fellows at that time, including John Tillotson, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury (1691-1694).

In the mid-19th century, the hymn-writer and historian the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) graduated from Clare (BA, 1857; MA, 1860). He is remembered for hymns such as Onward, Christian Soldiers and Now the Day Is Over.

At the end of the 19th century, a distinguished fellow of Clare was J. Rendel Harris (1852-1941), a Biblical scholar and curator of manuscripts who was instrumental in bringing back to light many Syriac scriptures and other early documents. His contacts at the Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt led to the discovery by the Cambridge twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson of the Sinaitic Palimpsest, the oldest-known Syriac New Testament document.

Harris, who was a Quaker, accompanied the sisters on a second trip, with Robert Bensly and Francis Crawford Burkitt, to decipher the palimpsest. He also discovered three other key manuscripts on Mount Sinai. His Biblical Fragments from Mount Sinai was published in 1890. Their story is told by Janet Soskice, Professor of Philosophical Theology at Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus College, in The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Lost Gospels (London: Chatto and New York: Knopf, 2009). This was Book of the Week on Radio 4, and in the Best Books of the Year lists of the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and the Library Journal.

The New Testament scholar, CFD (‘Charlie’) Moule (1908-2007), was Dean of Clare (1944-1951), before becoming Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, the oldest chair in the University of Cambridge, and he remained a Fellow at Clare until his death. Like his great-uncle, Handley Moule, first Principal at Ridley Hall and later Bishop of Durham, he was known affectionately as ‘Holy Mouley.’ He was succeeded as Dean of Clare by John Robinson.

Maurice Frank Wiles (1923-2005) was the chaplain at Ridley Hall, Cambridge (1952-1955), and then succeeded John Robinson as Dean and Fellow of Clare College (1959-1967) before becoming Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford (1970-1991). His son, Sir Andrew John Wiles, the mathematician and Oxford Professor, completed his PhD at Clare and is known for solving Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Maurice Wiles was succeeded as Dean of Clare by Mark Santer (1967-1972), later Principal of Westcott House (1973-1981) and Bishop of Birmingham (1987-2002). He was followed at Clare by Arthur Peacocke (1973-1984) and then by Rowan Williams (1984-1986).

While he was the Dean of Clare, the future Archbishop of Canterbury was an active member of Christian CND in Cambridge; at the same time, I was chair of Christian CND in Ireland and completing a postgraduate dissertation at the Irish School of Ecumenics for Trinity College Dublin on Roman Catholic teachings on the nuclear arms race. Rowan Williams took a leading part in a Christian CND protest at RAF Alconbury near Huntingdon, climbing the barbed-wire fence and holding a brief service of penitence, with the imposition of ashes, on the runway. He was arrested and detained for 12 hours before being released without any charges, but his arrest left the Chapel of Clare without the Dean for Ash Wednesday that year.

That radical tradition of speaking out against injustice was continued by his successor, Canon Nicholas Sagovsky (1986-1997), who went to court in 1990 for refusing the pay the Poll Tax.

As I stood in the chapel of Clare College this weekend, I was reminded of TS Eliot’s reflections on Nicholas Ferrar and his community in ‘Little Gidding’:

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

‘England and nowhere’ ... the Fellows’ Garden in at Clare College, Cambridge, I am spending the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)