10 May 2022

Greek Orthodox Church in
Stony Stratford was built as
an Anglican parish church

The Greek Orthodox Parish Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos on London Road, Stony Stratford … designed as an Anglican parish church by Sir George Gilbert Scott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I have visited a number of churches in the Stony Stratford area in recent weeks. But Stony Stratford is also home to the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos, which I have visited on London Road, Stony Stratford.

The parish and community have found their home at the former Anglican parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin on London Road, and the Swinfen Harris Hall next door. The church was designed in 1863-1865 in the Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), a prolific architect of the Gothic Revival.

When Saint Mary’s Church was built, it was still within Wolverton parish. The church was built in stone in the Early English style, with lancet windows, an apse, south porch, nave, aisles and a bellcote. However, some commentators described the church as ‘dullish’.

The Swinfen Harris Church Hall is the former parish hall beside the former church. The hall was built in 1892 by the local architect Edward Swinfen Harris, and is a beautiful listed building on London Road.

Inside the Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos, the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Mary’s Church closed when the parish was amalgamated with Saint Giles on High Street after a fire had damaged the interior of Saint Giles on 26 December 1964.

Saint Giles was restored and renovated and renamed as the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, and for a time Saint Mary’s served the people of the London Road area as a community centre.

The Greek Orthodox Community of Milton Keynes was founded on 1 December 1989, when Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain presided at the first service.

At first, services took place at noon on occasional Sundays. But eventually a pattern was established for the last Sunday of the month at 11:30. Easter, Christmas, Palm Sunday, the Annunciation, the Dormition and other major feasts were also celebrated regularly.

As part of the community, a Greek school was established. After moving from one venue to another, the school eventually found hospitality at the Lord Grey School in Bletchley. Qualified teachers continue to be supported by the Education Ministries in Greece and Cyprus.

The iconostasis in the Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

As Milton Keynes expanded, the Greek Orthodox community grew too, with new members arriving from Greece and Cyprus, but also from South Africa, and numbers were added to with the arrival of Orthodox Christians from Russia and Eastern European countries.

With generous and substantial support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Greek Orthodox community in Milton Keynes was able to offer to buy the freehold of the former Saint Mary’s Church in Stony Stratford in September 2006.

After a prolonged period of negotiations that lasted almost 2½ year, the purchase was finalised on 11 May 2009. The church and the Swinfen Harris Hall now meet the liturgical, educational and social needs of the Greek Orthodox community, the Hellenic Club and the wider Orthodox communities in the Milton Keynes area.

The Epitaphios in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Inside the church, the iconostasis or icon screen, separating the chancel from the nave, is a low screen with traditional icons.

The church walls have a number of icons of saints and Biblical figures, including the patrons of the church, Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos, Saint Joseph the Hesychast and Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, and icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary that greet visitors in the church porch.

Many of the original architectural details of this Victorian church survive, and it is possible to discern that this is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The church and hall are surrounded by extensive grounds and gardens and the hall is available for hire.

Saint Joseph the Hesychast and Saint Paisios of Mount Athos … two icons in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
10 May 2022 (Psalm 76)

‘At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse stunned’ (Psalm 76: 6) … a detail from the Parthenon Marbles in the Parthenon Museum in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Dublin since yesterday and I hope to visit Askeaton, Co Limerick, later today (10 May 2022). But, before this day begins, I am continuing my morning reflections in this season of Easter continues, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 76:

Psalm 76 is found in Book 3 in the Book of Psalms, which includes Psalms 73 to 89. In the slightly different numbering scheme in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is psalm is numbered as Psalm 75.

This is the fifth of the ‘Psalms of Asaph.’ These are the 12 psalms numbered 50 and 73 to 83 in the Masoretic text and 49 and 72-82 in the Septuagint. Each psalm has a separate meaning, and these psalms cannot be summarised easily as a whole.

But throughout these 12 psalms is the shared theme of the judgment of God and how the people must follow God’s law.

The superscription of this psalm reads: ‘To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.’ The attribution of a psalm to Asaph could mean that it was part of a collection from the Asaphites, identified as Temple singers, or that the psalm was performed in a style associated with Asaph, who was said to be the author or transcriber of these psalms.

Asaph who is identified with these psalms was a Levite, the son of Berechiah and descendant of Gershon, and he was the ancestor of the Asaphites, one the guilds of musicians in the first Temple in Jerusalem.

Asaph served both David and Solomon, and performed at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (see II Chronicles 5: 12). His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, for example, might have been directed against some of court officials. The words used to describe the wicked come from words used by officials of the cult or sacrificial system.

Several of the Psalms of Asaph are categorised as communal laments because they are concerned for the well-being of the whole community. Many of these psalms forecast destruction or devastation in the future, but are balanced with God’s mercy and saving power for the people.

Psalm 76 refers to the majesty of God in judgment (see verses 4, 8, 9) and could be read as an ode to God the awe-inspiring. This psalm focuses on elaborating on the incredible saving power of God. It calls the people to worship and praise God om thanksgiving for his saving power.

Psalm 76 shows some similarities with Psalm 46 and 48. This psalm has been interpreted as:

1, a celebration of a victory over enemies;

2, a part of the New Year celebration in Jerusalem;

3, a prophecy of God’s future victory;

4, a post-exilic song of praise.

Psalm 76 can be divided into four sections:

1, verses 1-3: praise of God who chose Zion as his dwelling and defended the city.

2, verses 4-6: a description of God’s victory.

3, verses 7-9: God is portrayed as ‘a judge who saves the humble.’

4, verses 10-12: all humans will worship God, all rulers will learn to be inspired by and to fear God and to him they will perform their vows.

The Selah repeated in verses 3 and 9 provides a threefold structure to this psalm, with the middle section focussing on this psalm’s description of God.

This psalm explains that Judah and Israel are both names for the chosen people (see verse 1). Some commentators suggest that this psalm refers to the defeat of Sennacherib in the year 701 BCE at the gates of Jerusalem.

‘From the heavens you uttered judgement; the earth feared you and was still’ (Psalm 76: 8) … blue skies over the Iron Trunk Aqueduct near Cosgrove in Northamptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Psalm 76 (NRSVA):

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.

1 In Judah God is known,
his name is great in Israel.
2 His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling-place in Zion.
3 There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war.

4 Glorious are you, more majestic
than the everlasting mountains.
5 The stout-hearted are stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep; none of the troops
was able to lift a hand.
6 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.

7 But you indeed are awesome!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
8 From the heavens you uttered judgment,
the earth feared and was still
9 when God rose up to establish judgement,
to save all the oppressed of the earth.

10 Human wrath serves only to praise you,
when you bind the last bit of wrath around you.
11 Make your vows to the Lord your God, and perform them;
let all who are around him bring gifts to the one who is awesome,
12 who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who inspires fear in the kings of the earth.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Celebration in Casablanca.’ It was introduced on Sunday morning by the Right Revd David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop in Europe.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (10 May 2022) invites us to pray:

We give thanks for the diversity of worship styles encompassed by Anglicanism.

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