17 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (28) School

Greek schoolchildren and pupils went back to school this week … the school on Nikomedias Street in Tsesmes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The schools reopened across Greece earlier this week, and each morning there are joyful sounds from the schools in this part of Rethymnon. The school in Tsesmes, beside La Stella, the hotel where I have been staying this week and last week, is brightly decorated with street art on the street frontage.

The word school, of course, comes from the Greek σχολή (scholē), originally meaning ‘leisure’ or free time, and also a place where there is time for leisure and to make good use of it. Later, the word came to mean a lecture or discussion, or a group to whom lectures are given, in other words, a school.

Watching the happy faces of the children going to school in Rethymnon, they could hardly imagine how, when I was a child, me and my schoolfriends would have made no link between ‘school’ and ‘leisure.’ So, how was this leap in language first made?

Leisure gave Greeks in the classical world time to think and to explore ideas. And so, the connection was made between leisure and the pursuit of knowledge or learning. The word evolved to mean ‘time used for intellectual discussion,’ then to mean the discussions themselves, and finally to mean the place where these discussions were conducted.

Eventually, we had a name for a place of learning, a school.

The Romans borrowed this Greek word with its educational meaning as schola, which became scōl in Old English. In time, this word evolved into scole in Middle English, and then into school when attention was paid to the influence of the Latin form of word.

The ‘school’ meaning ‘place of instruction’ comes from the Latin scola, itself derived from the Greek skhole, meaning ‘lecture or discussion.’ The same classical roots also gave us words such as ‘scholar,’ ‘scholastic’ and ‘scholarship.’

By the early 17th century, we were using ‘school’ in the figurative sense of ‘group of people who share agreement on a subject,’ as in a ‘school of thought.’ In English, we also use the word school as a figure of speech, speaking of ‘a school of thought’ or describing the way we through experience as the ‘school of hard knocks.’

When I was looking at the word synagogue earlier this week, I mentioned that Yiddish speakers in Eastern and Central Europe often called a synagogue a shul, which is also the Yiddish word for school.

Ashkenazic Jews in English-speaking countries use the Yiddish word shul (שול) for a synagogue, but many Sephardic and Romaniote Jews use the word esnoga (אשנוגה), from the Ladino (‘bright as fire’) or kahal (קהל).

But the word shul, with the same roots as the word school, has roots in classical Greek today. Indeed, a similar word is also used in some Sephardic communities, most notable in Venice. The Scuola Levantina is the synagogue of the Sephardic community in Venice, for example, and the Italian Synagogue of the Italkim community is known as the Scuola Italiana.

Meanwhile, on this Friday evening after Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, it is interesting to read that Yad Vashem in Jerusalem has honoured two Greeks, Vasiliki and Dimitrios Kiakidis, posthumously for rescuing Donna Rodrig, a Greek Jew, during the Holocaust.

The Israeli Ambassador to Greece, Yossi Amrani, presented the award last week to the couple’s grandson, Dimitris Kiakidis, in Komotini in northern Greece. The ceremony was hosted by the town’s mayor, Ioannis Garanis.

Vasiliki and Dimitrios Kiakidis ‘shined as beacons of light in the darkest of times of the Holocaust,’ Mr Amrani said. ‘They are a living proof that humanity should never give up to tyranny. They remind us all it could have been different. They are the right answer to racism, bigotry, history rewriting and Holocaust deniers.’

About 59,000 Greek Jews were victims of the Holocaust – a least 83 percent of the total number of Jews living in Greece during World War II.

Dimitrios Kiakidis was a doctor with a small private clinic, which he opened in the winter of 1941-1942. He met Donna Rodrig, who had been desperately looking for work, during a visit to Thessaloniki in 1942. He offered her a job and invited her to live with his family, looking after the children, Theofilos and Konstantinos.

Dr Kiakidis obtained a fake Christian identity card for Donna in 1943. With the help of the Greek resistance, he then sent her to the safety of a mountain village. There she continued to work as a nurse until the end of the occupation.

In March 1943, 864 Greek Jews from Komotini were arrested by Bulgarian authorities, deported and exterminated by the Nazis in Treblinka. All of Donna’s relatives were among them.

Thanks to the humanity and bravery of the Kiakidis family, she found a safe haven and was rescued. After the war, Donna married an Auschwitz survivor in Thessaloniki, where she lived until she died in 1996, remaining friends with the Kiakidis family.

To date, 362 Greeks have been recognised among ‘the Righteous Among the Nations.’ They include the Archbishop Damaskinos of Athens, the chief of the Greek police in German-occupied Greece, Angelos Evert, the Greek resistance fighter Lela Karagianni, the former Mayor of Zakynthos, Loukas Karrer, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos and Metropolitan Ioakim of Dimitriada.

‘They are the right answer to racism, bigotry, history rewriting and Holocaust deniers.’ Their resistance to evil, racism and fascism put them in a school all of their own, and teach us salutary lessons.

Shabbas Shalom

The Holocaust Memorial in Plateia Eleftherias (Liberty Square) in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
111, Christ Church, Greyfriars, London

The tower and some walls remain on the site of Christ Church Greyfriars, near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am on my last day on this holiday on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

I am planning to catch a flight from Chania to Dublin later this evening. But, before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (17 September 2021) are from Christ Church, Greyfriars.

The Monastery of Christ Church Greyfriars was dissolved at the Reformation in 1538 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ Church Greyfriars, within walking distance of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, was also known as Christ Church Newgate Street, and stood in Newgate Street, opposite Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The church began as the conventual church of a Franciscan friary, and the name Greyfriars refers to the grey habits worn by the Franciscan friars.

The first church on the site was built in the 13th century, but this was soon replaced by a bigger building, begun in 1306 and consecrated in 1326. This new church was the second largest in mediaeval London, measuring 91 metres (300 ft) long and 27 metres (89 ft) wide, with at least 11 altars. It was built partly at the expense of Margaret of France, the second wife of King Edward I.

Queen Margaret was buried at the church, as was Queen Isabella, the widow of Edward II who was complicit in her husband’s murder. The heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, was also buried here.

Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, more often associated with Saint Mary-le-Bow and its bells, founded a library in connection with the church in 1429.

Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent,’ was buried on the site after she was hanged at Tyburn in 1534 for preaching against Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. But her head was put on a spike on London Bridge, the only woman ever accorded that dishonour.

In 1546, Henry VIII gave the priory and its church, along with the churches of Saint Nicholas Shambles and Saint Ewin, Newgate Market, to the City Corporation.

A new parish of Christ Church was created, incorporating those of Saint Nicholas and Saint Ewin, and part of that of Saint Sepulchre. The priory buildings later housed Christ’s Hospital, a school founded by Edward VI, and the church became the principal place of worship for the schoolchildren.

In the 1640s, Christ Church was associated with the Presbyterian polemicist Thomas Edwards, and in 1647 it became a centre of operations for attempts to disband and pay arrears to members of the New Model Army.

When the mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, Wren was commissioned to rebuild the church.

The church was an important centre in the political and cultural life of London. The Lord Mayor attended an annual service to hear the Ancient Spital Sermon on the second Wednesday after Easter, placing his ceremonial sword in a special holder. Felix Mendelssohn played Bach’s Fugue in A minor and other works on the organ in 1837. Samuel Wesley also performed at the church.

Christ’s Hospital moved out of London to Horsham in West Sussex in 1902, reducing the Sunday attendances considerably, and the school building was sold to the GPO. In the years that followed, attendance figures continued to decline, and by 1937 had dropped to 77.

The church was severely damaged in the Blitz on 29 December 1940. During one of the fiercest air raids of World War II, a firebomb struck the roof and tore into the nave. Much of the surrounding neighbourhood was also set alight, and eight Wren churches burned that night alone. The roof and vaulting of Christ Church collapsed into the nave. The tower and four main walls remained standing but were smoke-scarred and gravely weakened.

When the parishes in London were being reorganised in 1949, it was decided not to rebuild Christ Church. The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, and in 1954, the parish of Christ Church was merged with nearby Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

The steeple was dismantled in 1960 and reassembled. The surviving lower part of the south wall and the entire east wall were demolished in 1962 for the widening of King Edward Street. In 1981, neo-Georgian brick offices were built against the south-west corner of the ruins, in imitation of the 1760 vestry house that once stood there.

The former nave area became a public garden and memorial in 1989. The paths follow the lines of the former aisles, the pergolas represent the piers, the box hedging represents the pews, and the plants represent the former congregation.

The US investment bank Merrill Lynch completed a regional headquarters complex on land to the north and west in 2002. Along with this project, the site of Christ Church underwent a major renovation and archaeological examination, King Edward Street was returned to its former course, and the site of the church has regained its pre-war footprint.

The tower, once used as commercial space, was converted into a private residence in 2006.
The north and south walls had large round-arched windows of clear glass, which allowed for a brightly lit interior (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 1-3 (NRSVA)

1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described the steeple of Christ Church Greyfriars as one of Wren’s finest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 September 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church of the Province of Myanmar, as they continue to serve Christians across Myanmar during political upheaval and social unrest.

The parish of the former Christ Church Greyfriars was merged with nearby Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate in 1954 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

The flowers and plants in the garden represent the former congregation of Christ Church Greyfriars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)