07 May 2021
In Jewish spirituality, every Shabbat blesses the week that follows it. The spiritual work on the day of rest fills is seen as providing blessings for the six days that follow.
Once a month, however, the prayers also include petitions for blessings for the month ahead. The Shabbat before the start of a Jewish month, Rosh Chodesh, is known as Shabbat Mevarchim, ‘the Shabbat of blessing.’ The word mevorchim means ‘they [the congregation] bless [the forthcoming new month].’
During the synagogue service on this Shabbat morning, a special blessing is invoked on the new month and announce the timing of Rosh Chodesh is announced. The new month of Sivan begins next Wednesday (15 May 2021).
Part of this brief ceremony is a beautiful prayer with many important blessings and requests — both physical and spiritual —for the coming month.
On Shabbat morning, after the Torah reading, the chazzan or cantor holds the Torah scroll in his or her arms, and this prayer, beginning with the words yehi ratzon (‘May it be your will’), is said:
May it be your will, Lord our God and God of our fathers, to renew us for this coming month for good and blessing. Grant us long life, a life of peace, a life of goodness, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of physical health, a life marked by reverence for heaven and dread of sin, a life without shame or disgrace, a life of wealth and honour, a life in which we have love for the Torah and reverence for heaven, a life in which our heart’s desires are fulfilled for good. Amen. Saleh.
The leader then says:
May he who performed miracles for our ancestors and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, redeem us soon and gather in our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth, so that all Israel may be united in friendship, and let us say, Amen.
Then these words are said:
The new month of [the Hebrew month] will occur on [the Hebrew day/s]. May it come to us and all Israel for good.
The congregation and leader pray:
May the Holy One, blessed be He, renew this month for us and for all his people, the house of Israel, for life and peace, gladness and joy, salvation and consolation; and let us say, Amen.
The prayer beginning ‘May it be your will’ is based on the meditation of the third century scholar Abba Arikha (Rav). The phrase ‘so that all Israel may be united in friendship’ is derived from the rabbinic interpretation of Psalm 122: 3, ‘Jerusalem built as a city joined together,’ as ‘a city that turns all Israel into friends.’
This prayer is said after the Torah reading and before the Torah scroll is carried back to the Aron haKodesh or Torah ark.
During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:
1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;
2, the day’s Gospel reading;
3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).
Last Sunday (2 May 2021) was Easter Day in the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, and this week is Easter Week. I miss the opportunity of being in Greece at this special time of year, so my photographs this week are from churches in Crete.
Until the pandemic lockdown, I have been visiting Crete almost every year since the 1980s. My photographs this morning (7 May 2021) are from the 14th century, Byzantine church of Aghios Vasilios (Αγιος Βασίλειος, Saint Basil) in Koutouloufári (Κουτουλουφάρι), the neighbouring village of Piskopianó (see 5 May 2021), in the mountains above Hersonissos.
I have been visiting Crete regularly since the 1980s, and I first visited Koutouloufári in 1994, when I was staying in nearby Piskopianó, and have returned many times since.
The church in Koutouloufári dates from the 14th century, but it was extended and rebuilt in 1811 and again in 1840, incorporating parts of the smaller church built many centuries before. The woodcut iconostasis dates from 1850. The priest is Father Michael Agapakis
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 where the Hotel Nora now stands, 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. Father Koutifari gave them land around the church to build a new village, and they named it Koutouloufári in his honour.
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 up to 1980, the inhabitants of Koutouloufári 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.
The village of Koutouloufári remains a fine example of a Cretan hill village, with its narrow streets following the contours of the hill. There are some fine buildings of architectural note, with multi-arched buildings. Oil and wine were produced and farm animals were sheltered on the ground floors, while families slept on a raised loft or upper floor if one existed. Most of these buildings are stone-built, with the minimum of dressing.
Many of these traditional buildings have been turned into houses in recent generations, others have been turned into shops and restaurants, but a handful are still in ruins.
John 15: 12-17 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’
Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (7 May 2021) invites us to pray:
We pray for greater access to healthcare worldwide. May we recognise the value of every human life and implement practical steps to ensure everyone has access to healthcare.
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