Sunday, 19 April 2020

A ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen
more churches in Crete
on a lost ‘lockdown’ Easter

Greek churches in a souvenir shop in Koutouloufari (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I had planned to visit Greece for Holy Week and Easter, which falls this weekend in the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church. But the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has cancelled all my travel plans.

I am still hoping to visit Thessaloniki and Halkidiki at the end of August and beginning of September. But still hope I can plan in a few weeks’ time to visit Crete later this year.

Meanwhile, to mark Easter in the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church this weekend, I offer a ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen churches and chapels Crete, in the spirit of my recent ‘virtual tours’ of a dozen churches in Thessaloniki, a dozen monasteries in Crete, a dozen churches in Rethymnon, and a dozen restaurants in Rethymnon.

For historical reasons, Crete, like some other Greek islands, stands outside the Church of Greece and is part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Archbishop of Crete is based in Iraklion.

Christianity in Crete traces its origins to the mission of the Apostle Paul and his companion Saint Titus, who is seen as the first Bishop of Crete, and the head of Saint Titus is an important relic in one of the oldest churches in Iraklion.

The first church dedicated to Saint Titus was that in the old capital Gortyn, which also housed the metropolitan see of the island until it was destroyed in an earthquake.

1, Agios Minas Cathedral, Iraklion:

The Cathedral of Agios Minas … the seat of the Archbishop of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Cathedral of Agios Minas (῾Ιερός Μητροπολιτικός Ναός ῾Αγίου Μηνᾶ) in Iraklion is the seat of the Archbishop of Crete.

Saint Minas the martyr and wonder-worker (285-309), is the patron saint and protector of Iraklion, the capital of Crete. His feast day on 11 November is a public holiday in Crete.

This is the largest cathedral or church in Crete, and one of the largest in Greece. This year marks the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral.

The site of the cathedral was once the garden of a local Turk. The architect, Athanassios Moussis, was also the architect of Agios Titos.

Inside the cathedral in Iraklion, one of the largest in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The cathedral was built over time, from 1862 to 1895, but building work was interrupted during the Cretan Revolution in 1866-1869. Building work resumed in 1883, and the cathedral was completed in 1895.

The church has a cruciform shape with a central dome. The external maximum dimensions are 43.20 metres long and 29.50 wide. Inside, this is a three-aisle basilica. The right aisle is dedicated to Saint Titos and the left one to the Ten Holy Martyrs of Crete.

There are two bell towers, one in the north-east corner and the other in the south-east corner.

The small Church of Agios Minas stands beside the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The smaller, older church of Agios Minas and Pantanassa stands beside the cathedral. This church is known to have existed in the Venetian period. An interesting feature is a Gothic window in the north aisle, survives today. After the Turkish occupation of Crete, the church fell into disuse until 1735, when it was refurbished as the metropolitan church or cathedral of Iraklion.

The church had two aisles roofed with two arches. The north aisle is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the south aisle to Saint Minas. The carved, wooden iconostasis or icon screen on the north aisle is gold plated. Many of the icons are the work of 18th century Cretan icon painters.

This church is connected with one of the major atrocities in the history Crete. In June 1821, the Turks slaughtered Bishop Gerasimo Pardali and many priests and lay people inside the church and in its precincts.

The church was damaged by an earthquake in 1856, and was restored and renovated a year later. However, by the mid-19th century, it was too small to serve as a cathedral for the growing Christian community in Iraklion.

Saint Minas and the church feature in a number of books by Nikos Kazantzakis, including Report to Greco, in which he writes, ‘whenever the Turks sharpened their knives and prepared to fall upon the Christians, Saint Minas sprang from his icon once more in order to protect the citizens of Megalo Kastro (Iraklion) ... For the Kastrians (the people of Iraklion), Saint Minas was not simply holy, he was their captain. They called him Captain Minas and secretly brought him their arms to be blessed.’

2, Aghios Titos, Iraklion:

The Church of Saint Titus stands in a pretty square lined with cafés and bars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Saint Titos on Agios Titos Square stands in a pretty square lined with cafés and bars, off 25 August Street. Christianity in Crete traces its origins to the mission of the Apostle Paul and his companion Saint Titus, and the head of Saint Titus is an important relic in the Church of Saint Titos, one of the oldest churches in Iraklion.

When the Byzantine Emperor Nikiforos Fokas took Crete back from the Arabs in 961, the seat of the bishopric was transferred from Gortyn to Chandakas (present-day Iraklion), which became the capital of the island.

Inside the Church of Saint Titos, which became the cathedral of Crete in the late tenth century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A new cathedral was built in the city and dedicated to Saint Titos, the companion of Saint Paul. The skull of Saint Titus, the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mesopanditissa and other relics from Gortyn were moved to the new church.

When the Venetians took Crete, they installed a Latin-rite bishop, who made Saint his cathedral. In the centuries that followed, the church was damaged by fire and earthquakes, and the church was rebuilt in 1557. The church was a basilica, almost square in shape, with a central dome and a bell-tower in the south-west corner. Inside, it was divided into three aisles by two rows of columns.

During the Turkish period, the church was converted into the Vizier Mosque, and the bell tower became a minaret. The earthquake of 1856 severely damaged the mosque, which was rebuilt to designs by Athanasios Moussis, who was also the architect of the Cathedral of Saint Minas.

The reliquary holding the skull of Saint Titus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The minaret was demolished in the 1920s, when the last Muslims left Iraklion with the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. The Church of Crete repaired the church, and in 1925 it was dedicated again to the Apostle Titos.

After the fall of Iraklion to the Turks, all relics in the church were removed to Venice, where they still remain today. The single exception is the skull of Saint Titos, which was returned to Iraklion in 1966 and is now kept in a silver reliquary in the church.

3, Saint Mark’s Basilica, Iraklion:

The former Basilica of Saint Mark date from 1239 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Basilica of Saint Mark, with its landmark portico, is one of the most important Venetian buildings in Iraklion. It stands close the Lion Fountain in Eleftheriou Venizelou Square (Lions Square) in the heart of Iraklion.

The basilica was built in 1239, opposite the Palace of the Duke, and was dedicated to Saint Mark, the patron of Venice. A tall clock tower at the south-west corner of the basilica, facing onto Lions Square, was a copy of the tower in Saint Mark’s Square, Venice.

This church was the venue for official ceremonies and Venetian nobles were buried here.

During the Ottoman period, Saint Mark’s was converted into the Defterdar Mosque, named after Defterdar Ahmet Pasha, the Supreme Treasurer. The Ottomans demolished the bell-tower, replacing it with a minaret, and destroyed the frescoes and Christian graves.

Saint Mark’s Basilica has a plain façade with a covered portico. The minaret was torn down again by the local population in 1915 after the liberation of Crete.

After the Turkish withdrawal in 1922, Saint Mark’s came under the jurisdiction of the National Bank and then the Municipality of Iraklion. The Society for Cretan Historical Studies restored the building to its original form in 1956.

Today, Saint Mark’s houses the Municipal Art Gallery and is open to the public almost all day, every day. It is used nowadays as a literary institute, an art gallery, an exhibition area and a concert hall.

4, Aghios Georgios, Panormos:

The modern Church of the Ascension and Saint George in Panormos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For some years, it has become something of a tradition during holidays in Rethymnon to spend lazy, sunny Sunday afternoons in the small coastal village of Panormos, about about 25 km east of Rethymnon, enjoying lingering lunches in the restaurants, including the Agkyra, Porto Parasiris and Captain’s House.

These lunches often become hours of uninterrupted bliss, sipping coffee, reading books and watching life in the small harbour and beaches below.

Christ the Pantocrator in the dome of the Church of Aghios Georgios in Panormos on Easter Day last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The recently built church, dedicated to the Ascension (Analipsi) and Saint George (Agios Georgios) has a splendid dome with a modern, majestic fresco of Christ the Pantocrator.

The remains of the Agia Sophia Basilica, once one of the largest basilicas in Crete(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Behind the village are the remains of the Agia Sophia Basilica, once one of the largest basilicas in Crete. The site is fenced off and there are few signs indicating its importance.

The Basilica of Agia Sofia was uncovered following research by the theologian Konstantinos Kalokiris, and the site was excavated in 1948-1955 by the archaeologist Professor N. Platonas.

The basilica was built in the fifth and sixth centuries According to archaeologists, this was the seat of the Diocese of Eleftherna, which transferred there after the destruction of the ancient city of Panormos. In time, the name Agia Sophia was given to the entire area around the basilica.

5, Church of the Metamorphosis, Piskopiano:

The new Church of the Metamorphosis towers over the village of Piskopianó (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I spent weeks on end in the 1990s in Piskopianó. When I returned recently, I got a warm welcome from old friends and from the priests of the parish, who gave me time on a sunny afternoon to show me around both the old church, which I once knew intimately, and the large new church, which was built in 2009.

This new Church of the Metamorphosis (the Transfiguration) stands above the village of Piskopianó with the mountains as a stunning backdrop.

Piskopianó, at the foot of the mountains above Hersonissos, is a parish within the Diocese of Petras and Cherronisou. Like all dioceses in Crete, this diocese has had the status of a metropolis since 1962. Its cathedral is in Neapolis, the historical capital of the Lasithi province, and home of the only Cretan to ever have become Pope.

For a short time, Piskopianó was the centre of a diocese. While the Bishops of Cherronisou were seated in Piskopianó, they are mentioned in official documents from the eighth to the tenth centuries, and the Bishop of Cherronisou took part in the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 787 AD.

Inside the 16th century Church of Aghios Ioannis in Piskopianó (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Arab pirates started attacking Crete, Hersonissos was abandoned and the see of the diocese was transferred to Piskopianó, and remained there until the ninth or tenth century, when the diocese was relocated to Pedialos, and in the 19th century it was seated in the Monastery of Agatathos.

The name of Piskopianó may hint at this historical, early episcopal importance, or it may describe the village’s location looking out as a balcony over this stretch of the north coast of Crete.

Meanwhile, the Church of Aghios Ioannis (Saint John) was built in the 16th century, and has been renovated a few times since then.


6, Agios Vasilios, Koutouloufári:

The Church of Aghios Vassilios in Koutouloufári (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Koutouloufári is the neighbouring village of Piskopianó. I have stayed there on three occasions, going to church in the village church of Aghios Vassilios (Saint Basil). The present church was built in 1840, but it incorporates part of a smaller church that was built many centuries before.

Ancient maps and records indicate that there has been a settlement in the Koutouloufári area for hundreds of years. However, local historians say the present village has its beginnings in the Byzantine period after a severe earthquake that destroyed the settlement where the port of Hersonissos now stands.

The residents moved east to a new settlement, close to the Hotel Nora and they named this settlement Zambaniana. However, the village suffered severely from constant pirate raids, and the villagers were forced to move on once again, further inland and uphill towards Mount Harakas.

On reaching the church of Saint Basil, they told a local priest named Koutifari what had happened. He gave them land around the church to build a new village, and they named it Koutouloufári in his honour.

Inside the Church of Aghios Vassilios in Koutouloufári (Photograph: Patrick Comerford) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As the village prospered and became wealthy, many large buildings were erected. During the Ottoman period, the village was renowned for its oil, wine and almonds.

Koutouloufári was almost deserted by the 1970s, with only 150 inhabitants left in the village, and until 1980, the inhabitants were mainly farmers. However, the development of tourism on the northern coast of Crete brought investment and work to the area and the population grew once again. The new prosperity also attracted city people who bought old houses Koutouloufári and restored them.

7, Analipsi Church, Georgioupoli:

Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli stands in its own gardens off the main square and behind the seafront (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

The two main churches in Georgioupoli are the large parish church dedicated to the Ascension (Analipsi), with its splendid flurry of frescoes filling the walls, the ceilings and the dome, and the tiny white-wash chapel of Aghios Nikolaos.

Inside Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Analipsi Church is back from the seafront, away from the main square and shops, and set in its own gardens.

On the outside, it looks like a confident statement of Greek and Orthodox identity in this town, built with a greater capacity that the needs of a small resident community. The church is cruciform in shape, has two tall bell towers, and porches on three sides.

Christ the Pantocrator in the Dome of Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But inside, the dome and the frescoes covering the walls are an almost-overpowering example of contemporary Greek iconography at its best.

They are modern in style and approach, yet maintain a clear continuity with the Byzantine traditions of icons and frescoes.

8, The Chapel of Aghios Nikolaos, Georgioupoli:

Saint Nicholas … everyone’s image of ‘blue and white’ picture postcard Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The most photographed landmark in Georgioupoli is the tiny white chapel dedicated to Aghios Nikolaos at the end of a rocky artificial breakwater that juts out into the bay between the harbour and the beach.

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.

It is worth taking time to watch people picking their way along the rocky, narrow breakwater between the harbour and the beach that leads out to the small islet with the tiny Chapel of Saint Nicholas – a venture that is guaranteed to end in a wet soaking and that has its risks as the rocks become wet and slippery.

Lighting candles at the chapel of Aghios Nikolaos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

It is everyone’s ‘blue and white’ image of Greece in summer sunshine, and has become the symbol of Georgioupoli and the most photographed scene in this area.

It is popular with tourists who are encouraged to make their way out to the chapel and to light a candle there, and sometimes it is a popular venue for weddings, although it is difficult to imagine how a bride could make her way there in a full wedding dress, even if she used a boat and the waves were calm.

9, Saint Barbara, Georgioupoli:

The Church of Saint Barbara, close to the harbour in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tucked into a small corner near the harbour of Georgioupoli is the older, small, traditional Church dedicated to Saint Barbara (Αγία Βαρβάρα).

Few tourists notice this church. Perhaps they think it is closed, but a gentle push on the church door leads into a peaceful and calming space for prayer and reflection.

The walls and the iconostasis or icon-screen of this small are covered with a large number of icons of Saint Barbara, and a lamp with incense is kept burning before her shrine.

Inside the Church of Saint Barbara in Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Barbara was martyred in the Syrian city of Heliopolis during the reign of the Emperor Maximian (305-311).

She is a popular saint in Crete, and for over 30 years I have been familiar with Saint Barbara’s Church in Rethymnon, close to the cathedral in the old town.

10, Trimartiri Cathedral, Chania:

The cathedral in Chania is dedicated to the Panagia Trimartyri, the Virgin of the Three Martyrs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Orthodox cathedral in Chania, the second city of Crete, is on Chalidon Street, the main street that crosses the old town from Eleftherios Venizelos Square in the harbour to 1866 Square in the new town. The cathedral faces Platia Mitropolis or Cathedral Square, a small square on the east side of the street, with a statue of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras facing the harbour.

The cathedral is dedicated to the Panagia Trimartyri (the Virgin of the Three Martyrs), the patron of Chania, and the cathedral celebrates its feast day on 21 November, the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary.

The cathedral is popularly known as the Trimartyri or the ‘Three Witnesses.’ The central aisle is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the north aisle is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and the south aisle is dedicated to the Three Cappadocian Fathers.

There has been a church on this site since the Venetian period, and perhaps earlier. After the Turks captured Chania in 1645, the Ottomans turned the church into a soap factory, and the boiler for the ingredients was where the bell tower now stands. However, on the sufferance of the Turkish Pasha of Chania, the icon of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary was kept in a storeroom inside the church, with an oil-lamp always lit before it.

In the mid-19th century, a man named Tserkaris worked at the soap factory. According to a local legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to him in a vision and told him to leave, because she did not want her house to be used as a soap factory. Tserkaris left, taking the icon with him, but the church remained a soap factory until the business failed.

A little later, the child of Mustapha Naili Pasha accidentally fell into a well south of the church. In despair, Mustapha Pasha called upon the Virgin Mary to save his child, in return for which he would give the church back to the Christians of Chania.

The child was saved, and the soap factory was handed over to the Christian community to build a new church, with financial support from the Sultan and the Veli Pasha, the Turkish commander in Crete. Tserkaris then returned the icon of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary.

The cathedral in Chania was completed in 1860 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The cathedral was completed in 1860 in the style of a three-aisled basilica. The architectural details represent the tradition developed in the Venetian era: sculptured pseudo-pillars, cornices and arched openings. The east wall is decorated with large and impressive icons.

The cathedral was frequently used as a place of refuge and suffered much damage during the Cretan revolt of 1897. It was restored at the expense of the Russian Tsar, to make amends for the Russian bombardment of Akrotiri. The bell-tower on the north-east side was also a gift from the Tsar.

Trimartiri was damaged during the German bombing of Chania in May 1941. It was carefully restored in the post-war years, and until recently, because of its central location in the old town and the attractive square in front, it is constantly visited by tourists.

11, Agios Ioannis Theologos, Élos:

The Byzantine Church of Saint John the Theologian in Élos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The small village of Élos is 60 km south-west of Chania in west Crete, on the road to the Monastery of Chrissoskalitissa and the sandy beach of Elafonissi. Élos is one of the nine villages that are known collectively as the Enneachora, and is known for its chestnut forests.

Behind a taverna in the village, an old arch is said to have been part of an ancient Roman aqueduct. But the real hidden treasure in Elos is the Byzantine Church of Saint John the Theologian (Agios Ioannis Theologos).

The frescoes in Élos are attributed to Ioannis Pagomenos of Kissamos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This is a single-room, vaulted church, measuring 11.20 x 4.46 meters, and probably dates from the first half of the 14th century.

The frescoes of Christ and the saints are attributed to Ioannis Pagomenos, a well-known icon writer and painter from Kissamos.

The modern parish church of Aghios Nikolas in Élos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This tiny church, hidden in a shaded corner among trees behind a taverna, is almost dwarfed by the neighbouring modern parish church of Aghios Nikolas of Élos.

12, Two unusual churches:

The small Church of the Twelve Apostles above Gramvousa Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Every village, every suburb and every town in Crete has at least one church, and every city has a cathedral. But sometimes I have come across churches in the most unexpected and hidden of places.

Gramvousa (Γραμβούσα) is not only small island, but two small uninhabited islands off the Gramvousa Peninsula west of Chania, in the western part of Kissamos Bay. This means the Gramvousa peninsula is one of the most remote places in Crete. Yet this was once the home of the small monastery of Saint John, dedicated to the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The domed cells and rooms of the monastery can still be seen, and there is a water spring nearby.

Today there are legends and stories about hidden pirate treasure on the island, but the one rusty shipwreck at the end of the beach that looks like a pirate shipwreck is nothing of the sort. The Dimitrios P was wrecked over 50 years ago in a winter storm early in 1968 while it was carrying a shipload of cement to Libya.

The tiny church above the sandy beach in the bay is not the pirates’ church, but a later church dedicated to the Twelve Apostles, and the iconostasis has a complete set of icons of the 12 apostles.

The Church of Aghios Dynami is in a cave in the village of Argiroupolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Agia Dynami (Holy Force) is inside a cave in the mountain village of Argiroupolis. Inside the cave, the spring of Holy Force that feeds into the water supply for the Province of Rethymno.

The chapel once had had an impressive mosaic of Christ, but this has been moved to the museum in Rethymnon and has been replaced with a simple icon.

Inside the cave of the Church of Agia Dynami (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday intercessions on
Easter II, 19 April 2020

‘… and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear' (John 20: 19) … locked doors and an abandoned house in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These intercessions were prepared for use on the Second Sunday of Easter in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry. However, the churches have been closed temporarily because of the Covid-19 or Corona Virus pandemic:

Let us pray in this Season of Easter:

Lord God, our Heavenly Father:

Jesus says, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (John 20: 21):

We pray this morning for all who are afraid and who live in fear …
in fear of the Corona virus …
in fear for their health and for their families…
in fear for the future …
in fear of hunger and hatred …

We pray for people who are not at home …
for those who cannot return home …
for all in hospitals or who are isolated …
for families finding it difficult to work at home, to stay at home …
to care for and to school children at home …
for the homeless, the migrants and the refugees …

We pray for the nations of the world in this time of crisis,
for our own country …
for those bearing the responsibility of government …
for those working in frontline services …
and for those who keep working on essential supply lines …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus Christ:

You tell us: ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20: 19, 21, 26):

We pray for the Church,
that as the Church we may be messengers of peace,
sharing the hope and joy of the Resurrection.

We pray for churches that are closed this morning,
that the hearts of the people may remain open
to the love of God, and to the love of others.

In the Church of Ireland, we pray this month for
the Diocese of Down and Dromore and Bishop David McClay,
and pray for his family as they mourn his father Roland.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for the Church of Ireland and Archbishop-elect John McDowell, Primate of All Ireland.

We pray for our Bishop Kenneth.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for Limerick City Parish, Dean Niall Sloane and the Revd Edna Wakely, and the congregations of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Saint Michael’s, Pery Square, and Saint John’s, Abington.

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

Holy Spirit:

Christ breathes on us and tells us,
‘Receive the Holy Spirit … forgive’ (John 20: 22-23):

We pray for ourselves and for our needs,
for healing, restoration and health,
in body, mind and spirit.

We pray for the needs of one another,
for those who are alone and lonely …
for those who travel …
for those who are sick, at home or in hospital …
Alan ... Ajay … Charles …
Lorraine … James …
Niall … Linda ... Basil …

We pray for those who grieve …
for those who remember loved ones …
May their memory be a blessing to us.

We pray for those who have broken hearts …
for those who live with disappointment …
for those who are alone and lonely …
We pray for all who are to be baptised,
We pray for all preparing to be married,
We pray for those who are about to die …

We pray for those who have asked for our prayers …
for those we have offered to pray for …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A prayer on this Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter,
in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG,
United Society Partners in the Gospel:

We thank you, Lord,
for all who endeavour
to ensure Christ’s love for all.
May more of us follow their example.

Merciful Father, …

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … named in the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A message of peace
when we are locked
behind doors in fear

‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’ (1601-1602), Caravaggio, in the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 19 April 2020, the Second Sunday of Easter (Easter II)

9.30 am: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick Morning Prayer

11.30 am: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

The Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; I Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31.

There is a link to the readings HERE

The font from Saint Thomas Church in Newcastle West Co Limerick … the font is inscribed ‘One Baptism For Remission of Sins’ … the church was deconsecrated in 1958 and demolished in 1962 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The Second Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Low Sunday. In the past this Sunday has also been known as Saint Thomas Sunday, because of the Gospel reading (John 20: 19-31) recalling the story of ‘Doubting Thomas.’

In the Eastern Churches, the Sunday after Easter is known as Thomas Sunday, because of this Gospel reading.

In many places, this Sunday is also known as Low Sunday. Some say it was called ‘Low Sunday’ because today’s liturgy is something of an anti-climax after the solemn Easter liturgy and celebrations a week earlier. Some even joke that today is known as Low Sunday because this is the Sunday choirs take off after their hard work during Holy Week and Easter.

In these difficult times, many people are feeling low, feeling isolated and looking for hope. Like the disciples in the Gospel reading, they may feel they are living locked away in fear. But the Gospel reading is not just a reminder, but a triple reminder, that the primary message of the Risen Christ is ‘Peace be with you.’ In Saint John’s Gospel, this phrase has the same impact as the message of the Risen Christ in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Be not afraid.’

‘Peace be with you.’

‘Peace be with you.’

‘Peace be with you.’

We find this phrase three times in this Gospel reading. It is a phrase spoken by the Risen Christ three times, with a Trinitarian resonance that is also a reminder of the three times God says to Moses, ‘I am …,’ or the three visitors who receive hospitality from Abraham and who remind him of God’s commitment to fulfilling his plan for all creation.

This phrase ‘peace be with you’ is a saying in this Easter story in Saint John’s Gospel that identifies the Risen Christ, now living in the Glory of the Trinity, in the same way that the phrase ‘Be not afraid’ is phrase that identifies the Risen Christ in the post-Resurrection narrative in Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

That phrase, ‘Be not afraid,’ keeps on being repeated by many people in this time of crisis shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic. But this other phrase of the Risen Christ, ‘Peace be with you,’ is equally significant as we try to cope with our own angst at this time, and the angst we share with our families, our friends and our neighbours.

We suspended sharing the peace as this crisis began to unfold, weeks before we decided to also shut our churches. But even before that, in some churches, we may have been guilty of being a little too glib about that phrase, ‘Peace be with you,’ when it comes to exchanging the sign of peace. We may have been be a little glib, not just with our handshake, but with what we are actually wishing each other, in our hearts.

The peace that Christ wishes for his disciples is not the usual sort of peace that we often wish one another on Sunday mornings. Sometimes, on Sunday mornings, it has become yet another saying robbed of its real significance, with no more heart-filled meaning than the shop assistant who says, ‘Have a nice day, missing you already.’

The peace Christ is bringing to his disciples this morning is not a cheap way of saying ‘Good morning lads.’ It is a peace that the Disciples sorely need. It is a peace that a traumatised society needs to hear being offered by the Church today.

The Disciples have been sorely hurt by the dramatic and traumatic events of the previous week or so. They know they are a deeply flawed body of believers.

One of them – trusted enough to hold the purse strings – has betrayed Christ, perhaps sold him for a pocket full of coins. Why, there are even rumours that he has now run off and killed himself, or that he is speculating in property with the money.

Another, a most trusted disciple indeed, has denied Christ, openly, not once, but three times, in public.

He and another disciple went to the grave on Sunday morning, but were not quite sure of the significance of the open, empty tomb. Indeed, it took a woman to wake them up to the reality of what was taking place.

And yet another disciple is refusing to believe any of this at all. He is hardly socially-distancing. Was he calling us liars? Was he ever a true believer? Was he thinking of quitting? After all, he had not turned up for a few of the last meetings.

It is to this deeply divided, hurt and self-isolating body of Disciples that Christ comes, breaking through all the barriers, physical barriers and barriers of faith, and says to them, not once but three times, ‘Peace be with you.’ It is not a mere greeting. It is a wish, a prayer and a blessing for those Disciples. And it is a wish, a prayer, a blessing that Christ still has for his Church today.

We are like those Disciples: mutually suspicious, feeling isolated, thinking others may not have realised the full significance of the message of the Risen Christ; perhaps making demanding on others that we would not demand of ourselves.

If we keep our eyes on the Risen Christ, rather than nurturing our fears and our phobias, then we might allow ourselves to see that the same Risen Christ breaks through all barriers, physical, geographical, spiritual, the barriers of time and space, and the barriers that separate us one from another.

The Risen Christ breaks through all those barriers and sees a future when we are gathered together into one, healed and whole body.

Let us pray that we may be true witnesses to the Risen Christ, that as the Body of Christ we reflect not the broken body on the Cross, but the Risen Christ, and that we are not afraid to rejoice in the message of the Risen Christ, ‘Peace be with you!’ … ‘Be not afraid.’

As the Disciples of the Risen Lord, we cannot stay locked away in the Upper Room waiting for God to put everything right at the end of days. We must take courage from the Risen Christ, we must have an Easter faith that allows us to take to heart that message ‘Be not afraid,’ and look forward to going out with his message, ‘Peace be with you.’

In the Epistle reading (I Peter 1: 3-9), Saint Peter tells his readers that even though we may be suffering in our present circumstances, what we have in our faith is more precious than all we may possess. These sufferings refine our faith, as gold is refined in heat. We can have faith in Christ, even though we cannot see him now, and in the end we will rejoice with him.

The Second Sunday of Easter is traditionally called ‘Low Sunday.’ But we need not be low in spirit; instead, we can be in high spirits because of the Risen Christ. ‘Peace be with you!’

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Saint Thomas … an icon in the chapel of Saint Columba House retreat centre in Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 20: 19-31 (NRSVA):

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Saint Thomas the Apostle in a stained-glass window

Liturgical Colour: White

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Easter II):

Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
Grant us so to put away the leaven
of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

Preface:

Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him.
Deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!


Patristic relics … Saint Thomas (centre), with two raised fingers, with Saint Onuphorius, covered with a fig leaf (left), and Saint Basil (right) in a cave church in Göreme in Cappadocia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

252, Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord
293, Breathe on me, Breath of God
338, Jesus, stand among us
372, Through all the changing scenes of life

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The ruins of Saint Thomas Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church at Kilronan on Inishmore in the Aran Islands, Galway Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This sermon was prepared for Sunday 19 April 2020, but was used at a celebration of the Eucharist in the Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Praying in Easter with USPG:
8, Sunday, 19 April 2020

Living with a World of Difference … an image from the USPG study pack

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Lent this year, I used the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections. USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

I decided to continue this theme throughout the season of Easter.

Throughout this week (19 to 25 April 2020), the USPG Prayer Diary has taken as its theme the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe – Central Africa Province. This theme is introduced this morning in the Prayer Diary:

Through initiatives such as its HIV Stigma and Discrimination Reduction programme, the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe (ACZ) is spearheading God’s mission ‘to ensure Christ’s love for all’, ensuring that people living with HIV all have dignity and experience the love of Jesus Christ abundantly.

The programme has been training church leaders on issues of HIV and HIV stigma since 2015. This has become a more mainstream topic for church sermons: people who have disclosed their status are now welcomed into the church and offered support. The programme also encourages people to come forward for HIV testing and counselling. Knowing their HIV status allows people to make informed decisions: they can receive medication to prolong life, be advised on a suitable diet and join wellness groups.

Work on this programme goes on despite some very serious challenges ACZ faces. For a very long time, ACZ has suffered from a paralysed negative cash flow, due to ongoing economic hardship in Zimbabwe. ACZ’s House of Bishops has initiated a strategic revival process to deal with the church’s financial challenges, to enable the church to drive its mission and fulfil its purpose.

Sunday 19 April 2020, Second Sunday of Easter:

We thank you, Lord,
for all who endeavour
to ensure Christ’s love for all.
May more of us follow their example.

The Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; I Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31.

The Collect of the Day (Easter II):

Almighty Father,
you have given your only Son to die for our sins
and to rise again for our justification:
Grant us so to put away the leaven
of malice and wickedness
that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth;
through the merits of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God our Father,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ
you have assured your children of eternal life
and in baptism have made us one with him.
Deliver us from the death of sin
and raise us to new life in your love,
in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow