01 April 2021
Poems for Holy Week 2021:
4, CP Cavafy, ‘Julian at the Mysteries’
Thursday 1 April 2021
The Maundy Eucharist
Readings: Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.
Each evening in Holy Week this year, I am reading a poem to help our reflections.
In our Gospel reading this evening (John 13: 21-32), we are at the Last Supper, and Christ is washing his disciples’ feet. He shows them that at the heart of Christian life is not what others think of us but how we serve others, sacrificial love.
Tomorrow is Good Friday, he is to show finally what sacrificial love is with his death on the Cross.
My poem this evening is ‘Julian at the Mysteries’ by the Greek poet Constantine P Cavafy (1863-1933), who lived in Alexandria and worked as a journalist and a civil servant.
Cavafy was instrumental in the revival and recognition of Greek poetry both at home and abroad, and his best-known poems include ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ (1904) ‘Ithaca’ (1911), ‘The City,’ and ‘The god abandons Antony’ (1911).
Cavafy wrote 12 poems on the theme of Julian the Apostate, and was obsessed with removing the glamour and exposing the fraud of this hero of latter-day pagans.
Cavafy’s experience of Christianity was complicated by his feelings of guilt and distress over his sexuality, which he tried to confront alone, writing a series of private confessions in which he tried to reconcile his sexuality and his Christianity.
This evening’s poem, ‘Julian at the Mysteries’ (O Iουλιανός εν τοις Mυστηρίοις), was written in November 1896 and was published posthumously.
The word ‘Greeks’ in this poem means the neo-Platonist philosophers who have turned against Christianity, while the word ‘mysteries’ here means the Sacrament of the Eucharist, in the way it is used in our Post-Communion prayer, which speaks of ‘the sacred mysteries of your body and blood.’
Cavafy sees Julian as a figure marked by hypocrisy and a pagan, puritanical intolerance, an ascetic who demanded strict adherence to the principles of his new pagan church.
This evening’s poem, as we prepare for Good Friday tomorrow, reminds us of the power of the sign of the cross, even for those whose faith is weak, who marginalised in the Church, or who have rejected the message of Christ.
Julian at the Mysteries, by CP Cavafy
But when he found himself in darkness,
in the earth’s dreadful depths,
accompanied by unholy Greeks,
and bodiless figures appeared before him
with haloes and bright lights,
the young Julian momentarily lost his nerve:
an impulse from his pious years came back
and he crossed himself.
The Figures vanished at once;
the haloes faded away, the lights went out.
The Greeks exchanged glances.
The young man said: “Did you see the miracle?
Dear companions, I’m frightened.
I’m frightened, friends. I want to leave.
Didn’t you see how the demons vanished
the second they saw me make
the holy sign of the cross?”
The Greeks chuckled scornfully:
“Shame on you, shame, to talk that way
to us sophists and philosophers!
If you want to say things like that,
say them to the Bishop of Nicomedia
and his priests.
The greatest gods of our glorious Greece
appeared before you.
And if they left, don’t think for a minute
that they were frightened by a gesture.
It was just that when they saw you
making that vile, that crude sign,
their noble nature was disgusted
and they left you in contempt.”
This is what they said to him,
and the fool recovered from
his holy, blessed fear, convinced
by the unholy words of the Greeks.
CP Cavafy, by David Hockney
John 13: 1-17, 31b-35 (NRSVA):
1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7 Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8 Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9 Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10 Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Liturgical Colour: White.
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
The Collect of the Day:
God our Father,
you have invited us to share in the supper
which your Son gave to his Church
to proclaim his death until he comes:
May he nourish us by his presence,
and unite us in his love;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Lenten Collect:
Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Introduction to the Peace:
Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace. (Ephesians 2: 17)
Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:
Post Communion Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ,
in this wonderful sacrament
you have given us a memorial of your passion.
Grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries
of your body and blood
that we may know within ourselves
the fruits of your redemption,
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:
515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you’
438, O thou who at thy eucharist didst pray
Ο Iουλιανός εν τοις Mυστηρίοις, Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης
Πλην σαν ευρέθηκε μέσα στο σκότος,
μέσα στης γης τα φοβερά τα βάθη,
συντροφευμένος μ’ Έλληνας αθέους,
κ’ είδε με δόξες και μεγάλα φώτα
να βγαίνουν άυλες μορφές εμπρός του,
φοβήθηκε για μια στιγμήν ο νέος,
κ’ ένα ένστικτον των ευσεβών του χρόνων
επέστρεψε, κ’ έκαμε τον σταυρό του.
Aμέσως οι Μορφές αφανισθήκαν•
οι δόξες χάθηκαν — σβήσαν τα φώτα.
Οι Έλληνες εκρυφοκοιταχθήκαν.
Κι ο νέος είπεν• «Είδατε το θαύμα;
Aγαπητοί μου σύντροφοι, φοβούμαι.
Φοβούμαι, φίλοι μου, θέλω να φύγω.
Δεν βλέπετε πώς χάθηκαν αμέσως
οι δαίμονες σαν μ’ είδανε να κάνω
το σχήμα του σταυρού το αγιασμένο;»
Οι Έλληνες εκάγχασαν μεγάλα•
«Ντροπή, ντροπή να λες αυτά τα λόγια
σε μας τους σοφιστάς και φιλοσόφους.
Τέτοια σαν θες, εις τον Νικομηδείας
και στους παπάδες του μπορείς να λες.
Της ένδοξης Ελλάδος μας εμπρός σου
οι μεγαλύτεροι θεοί φανήκαν.
Κι αν φύγανε, να μη νομίζεις διόλου
που φοβηθήκαν μια χειρονομία.
Μονάχα σαν σε είδανε να κάνεις
το ποταπότατον, αγροίκον σχήμα
σιχάθηκεν η ευγενής των φύσις,
και φύγανε και σε περιφρονήσαν».
Έτσι τον είπανε, κι από τον φόβο
τον ιερόν και τον ευλογημένον
συνήλθεν ο ανόητος, κ’ επείσθη
με των Ελλήνων τ’ άθεα τα λόγια.
(Από τα Κρυμμένα Ποιήματα 1877;-1923, Ίκαρος 1993.)
The English translation of ‘Julian at the Mysteries’ is by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard in CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, edited by George Savidis (revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992).
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.