09 July 2017

Visiting a tiny white chapel at
the end of a rocky causeway

The chapel of Aghios Nikolaos has become a symbol of Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Having spent Friday morning [7 July 2017] in the mountains above and west of Rethymnon, visiting Argiroupolis with its springs and waterfalls, Kournas which was briefly the capital of revolutionary Crete, and Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete, our group moved back down to the coast and spent the afternoon in Georgioupoli.

This was once a small fishing village where three rivers meet the sea at Almiros Bay, 22 km west of Rethymnon. The largest of these three rivers, the Almiros, creates a small harbour that is used today by both fishing boats and tourist boats.

Archaeological evidence points to Georgioupoli (Γεωργιούπολη) as the site of ancient Amphimalla (Amfimala or Amfimalion), the port of Lappa, a classical city at modern Argyroupoli.

Today, Georgioupoli is a resort village with a long sandy beach that stretches for 9 km and many cafés, tavernas, small hotels and apartment blocks.

With a population of about 500, Georgioupoli is the largest village of the municipal unit of the same name that includes several neighbouring villages inland as far as Kournas.

The broad town square in Georgioupoli was part of a vision for creating a new resort over a century ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The wide, open town square, with its fountains, shops and outdoor seating, hints at the plans that were developed in the late 19th century to turn this into an elegant town.

The town takes its name from Prince George, the second son of King George of Greece, who was appointed High Commissioner of Crete in 1898. Prince George built a shooting lodge here, and there was a vision of creating a Brighton of Crete at this spot.

But Prince George’s time on the island was short-lived. An autonomous island government was established, but Crete still technically remained under Turkish sovereignty. A revolt led by Eleftherios Venizelos forced the unpopular Prince George to resign in 1905 and Crete was united with the modern Greek state in 1913.

The vision for Georgioupoli never developed, and the town hall of Georgioupoli municipality is at Kavros-Kournas. It was not until the boom in modern tourism that this became a popular resort.

The tiny whitewashed chapel of Aghios Nikolaos is the most photographed place in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

If Brighton has its pavilion, then the most photographed site in Georgioupoli is the tiny white-washed chapel of Aghios Nikolaos (Άγιος Νικόλαος, Saint Nicholas) on a small rocky islet in the middle of the sea.

Saint Nicholas is the protector of seafarers but rather than reaching the chapel by boat many tourists take the challenge each day of walking out to the chapel along a narrow rocky causeway.

It is said the chapel was built about 100 years ago by an anonymous sailor to give thanks for his rescue. Today, it is a much-photographed landmark that has become a symbol of Crete in the way that the Vlacherna Monastery close to the southern tip of the Kanoni peninsula has become an image of Corfu.

The rocky outcrop of Aghios Nikolaos is officially listed as a Greek island, and the chapel of Aghios Nikolaos is a popular choice for weddings on Crete. But it is difficult to imagine how the bride and the wedding party can arrive in a dry and pristine condition. The causeway is rocky and slippery, and even in this summer weather as I picked my way along the rocks, the waves at times were hitting me at chest level.

And yet, tourists kept on walking the length of the causeway to reach the chapel throughout the afternoon, and none turned back.

Inside, the chapel is simple and modest, with a few icons of Saint Nicholas and other saints, a simple iconostasis and a small altar. It was heartening to notice how many tourists, once they had made the journey on foot along the slippery causeway, stopped for a few moments to light a candle and pray before turning back to hobble along the rocks to the harbour at Georgioupoli.

Inside the chapel of Aghios Nikolaos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

An invitation to move from being at
the Liturgy to being in the Liturgy

Imagine going to a wedding but not getting onto the floor and dancing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 9 July 2017,

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity,

9.30 a.m.:
Castletown Church, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer.

11.30 a.m.: Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, Morning Prayer.

Readings: Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 45: 10-17; Romans 7: 15-25a; Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30.

A reflection on today’s readings prepared by Patrick Comerford

Have you ever stayed up late, far too late, too late into the night, watching your favourite sport late at night on the television?

The World Cup qualifiers, the Lions tour of Zealand, late-night golf and tennis – they all offer gripping entertainment.

And even when the team we support or the player we identify with do not qualify, we keep on watching, waiting and hoping.

If this is you, then if you sit on the edge of your chair rather than resting back on a comfortable cushion, then you know the difference between being a spectator and being a participant.

You don’t have to fly any flags from your window, or have your face painted to still enter into the spirit of great sporting events.

And if Ireland qualifies later this year for the 2018 World Cup, then it’s all going to come around again next year.

Entering into the spirit of a game moves us from being mere spectators to feeling we truly are participants … that every shout and every roar is a passionate response, is true encouragement, is wish fulfilment … the more passion the more we not only hope but believe that our team is going to win.

When we go to baptisms, weddings and funerals, the attitude we go with makes a world of difference: do I go as a spectator or as a participant?

Imagine going to a funeral and failing to offer sympathy to those who are grieving and mourning.

Imagine going to a wedding reception, but not taking your place at the table, not cheering the bride and groom, not getting onto the floor and dancing.

Sometimes we can get a little too precious, a little too worried about sending out the wrong signals. If we stand back, then like John the Baptist in this morning’s Gospel reading are we in danger of being reproached for being aloof from others (see Matthew 11: 18)? If we enjoy ourselves, then, like Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading, are we going to be seen as too interested in eating and drinking (verse 19; cf Romans 7: 15-16)?

When we go to church on Sundays, we have to ask ourselves whether we are here as spectators or as participants.

When we join in waves and chants at a football match, when join in the dance at weddings, when we sing the hymns and enter into the prayers in church on a Sunday, we are moving from being observers and spectators to being participants.

The great opportunity for this transformation is provided Sunday after Sunday, in the invitation to move from being at the Liturgy to being in the Liturgy.

There is very little detail about the actual wedding of Rebekah in our Old Testament reading this morning. But if you have been to the Middle East, or you have seen Fiddler on the Roof, you know that dancing at Jewish weddings is traditionally a male celebration.

At funerals in many Mediterranean countries, open mourning and weeping is sign not just of individual grief, but of public grief, and of the esteem the community holds for the person who has died.

These traditions were passed on through the generations – by children learning from adults, and by children teaching each other.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we see how Christ has noticed this in the streets and the back alleys as he moves through the towns and cities.

He sees the children playing, the boys playing wedding dances, and the girls playing funeral wailing and mourning.

He notices the ways in which children can reproach each other for not joining in their playfulness:

We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.
(verse 17)

Even as he speaks there is playfulness in the way Jesus phrases his observation, there is humour in the way he uses words that rhyme for dance and mourn at the end of each line of the children’s taunts.

Perhaps he is repeating an everyday rebuke at the time for people who stand back from what others are doing.

The boys playing tin whistles and tin drums are learning to become adult men. The girls wailing and beating their breasts in mock weeping are learning to become adult women. Each group is growing into the roles and rituals that will be expected of them when they mature.

Like all good children’s games, the point is the game, not who wins.

When we refuse to take part in the game, in the ritual, we refuse to take part in the shaping of society, we are in danger of denying our shared culture, denying our shared humanity.

If I stand back detached, and remain a mere observer of the joys and sorrow in the lives of others, I am not sharing in their humanity.

And in not sharing in your humanity, I am failing to acknowledge that you too are made in the image and likeness of God.

But when we rejoice with people in their joys, and when we mourn with people in their sorrows, we are putting into practice what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about us being not only made in the image and likeness of God individually but communally and collectively too as humanity. Amen.

This reflection was prepared for Morning Prayer on Sunday 9 July 2017. (Revd Canon) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes.

The Greeks have a word
for it: (12) Liturgy

The Divine Liturgy … an icon by Mikhail Damaskinos in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I enjoy spending Sunday morning’s in Greece at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in a local church. There is only one priest in Platanes and Tsemes, but there are two churches. And so, on Sunday mornings here the Divine Liturgy alternates between each church, Sunday-by-Sunday.

The main Sunday service is always a celebration of the Eucharist in Greece, and is known as the Divine Liturgy, which can be a little confusing for some first-time western visitors.

The word λειτουργία (leitourgía, liturgy) is Greek and means ‘the work of the people.’ The Greek word λαός (laós) means the people, and the laós might even mean the rowdy, the masses, the populace.

‘Ores leitourgías’ … opening hours or the time for serving the public in a shop next door to me in Platanes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Liturgy is not necessarily a sacred word. This word liturgy is well-understood by everyone in Greece. The term is neither technical nor purely theological. I am not good at supermarket shopping, but local shops in Crete have signs that regularly announce ‘Opening Hours’ as ώρες λειτουργίας (ores leitourgías) – the hours of service, or the hours for serving the public.

The word λαός (laós) can also be found in a word such as βασιλεύς (basileós, modern βασιλιάς) for a king, which literally means the one who goes before or leads the people.

The word λαουτζίκος (laoutzíkos) meaning the populace, the rabble, or even the vulgar horde has been used recently during the strikes and protests in Greece about public spending cuts.

A poster in Rethymnon a few years ago reminded me that The Beggars’ Opera translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα.

The Greek word λειτουργία (leitourgía) means public duty. We now restrict this to the worship of the church, and even more specifically and restrictively to the ritual worship of the Church. In Greece, essentially, it is the Eucharist.

The word liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgía) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are λειτος (leitos, from laos) meaning public, and ergo (obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.), to do.

So basically liturgy means the ‘public work of the people’, the masses, all of us, for we are all members of the λαός (laós), the people.

From this we have leitourgós (λειτουργός), ‘a person who performs a public duty,’ ‘a public servant,’ often used as an equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, ‘to do such a duty,’ leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgía, the public duty itself.

In the Greek city-states, the λειτουργία was some public good that a wealthy citizen arranged at his own expense, either voluntarily or by law. In Athens, the λειτουργία (leitourgía) was the public service performed by the wealthier citizens at their own expense.

The γυμνασίαρχος (gymnasíarchos) superintended the gymnasium, which looked after the health, spiritual and physical, of the people. The χορηγός choregós paid the members of the chorus in the theatre. The εστιάτορας hestiátoras gave a banquet to his tribe – the word survives in the modern Greek, meaning a restaurateur (the modern Greek word for a restaurant is εστιατόριο (estiatório), a place of public service where the public is served food. The τριήραρχος triérarchos provided public service to the state in Athens by outfitting and paying for a warship for the state.

The meaning of the word liturgy is then extended to cover any general service of a public kind. In other words, the liturgist looked after the health, including the spiritual health of the people, saw to ensuring the important stories of the people were told and shared publicly, provided the shared, sacred meals, and perpetuated the concept that we are on a shared journey – precisely what priests is responsible for at the Liturgy everywhere this Sunday morning.

In the Septuagint, the word liturgy and the verb λειτουργέω (leitourgéo) is used for the public service of the Temple (see Exodus 38: 27; 39: 12, etc). It then came to have a religious sense: the function of the priests, the ritual service of the Temple (e.g., Joel, 1: 9; 2: 17, etc.).

In the New Testament, this religious meaning has become definitely established. In Luke 1: 23, Zechariah goes home when ‘the days of his liturgy’ (αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ, ai hemérai tes leitourgías autou) are over. In Hebrews 8: 6 (διαφορωτέρας τέτυχεν λειτουργίας, diaphorotéras tétuchen leitourgías), the high priest of the New Law ‘has obtained a better liturgy,’ that is, a better kind of public religious service than that of the Temple.

A reminder in Crete recently that ‘The Beggars’ Opera’ translates into Greek as Η λαϊκή όπερα (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Visiting the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion last week, I spent time appreciating the icon of the Divine Liturgy by Mikhail Damaskenos.

In this icon, dating from 1579-1584, Damaskinos presents his theme in a traditional iconographic interpretation. The Father and the Son are surrounded by seraphim; between them, the altar is draped with a gilded cloth; above them, the Holy Spirit appears as a dove. Encircling angels are present for the Divine Liturgy.

This is one of the most important icons produced by the Cretan School in the 16th century. Mikhail Damaskenos (Μιχαήλ Δαμασκηνός), 1530/35-1592/93, was one of the leading post-Byzantine Cretan painters while Crete was under Venetian rule. He was a near-contemporary of the most famous Cretan painter of any period, El Greco. But while Damaskinos also went to Italy, he remained much closer to his Greek roots stylistically.

Damaskinos lived in Venice for several years, where he learnt miniature painting and travelled extensively throughout Italy. He was a member of the ‘Greek Brotherhood of Venice’ and along with Emmanuel Tzanes he painted the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice.

By 1584 he was back in Greece and worked mainly in Crete and the Ionian islands. His works are in traditional Byzantine style but with many influences from Venetian painting, mainly Renaissance artists such as Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese. He used a particular rose colour that characterised his paintings; the dimensions of his figures are defined by only a few brush strokes, while he was accustomed to drawing wooden and never marble thrones as was typical in the Cretan School.

In this icon of the Divine Liturgy, the only two humans present at the Liturgy are Adam and Eve at the bottom of the composition. But here they represent the whole of humanity being invited into the Divine Liturgy, which is a Trinitarian celebration.

In other words, in the Divine Liturgy we join in the celebration of the Holy Trinity, and find that only are we serving Christ and humanity in the Liturgy, but that the whole of humanity is being served by God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the celebration of the Liturgy.