28 October 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (153) 28 October 2023

The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Chiesa Maria Immacolata) seen from the beach in Giardini Naxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and tomorrow is the Last Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XXI, 29 October 2023). The Church Calendar today (28 October) celebrates the Apostles, Saint Simon and Saint Jude.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

My reflections on the Week of Prayer for World Peace concluded last Sunday, and my reflections each morning throughout the rest of this week followed this pattern:

1, A reflection on a church or cathedral in Sicily;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The beach at Naxos, where the first Greek settlers arrived in Sicily in 735 BC (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Church of the Immaculate Conception, Giardini Naxos, Sicily:

The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Chiesa Maria Immacolata) is a striking modern church, whose cone shape makes it a very visible landmark on the coast of Giardini Naxos in Sicily. The church was built in the San Giovanni district of Giardini Naxos in 1963-1968, and opened on 8 October 1968.

Giardini Naxos takes its name from the site of Naxos, the earliest Greek settlement in Sicily. Today, it is a popular tourist resort , close to Taormina, and within easy reach of Mount Etna, and the classical sites in Syracuse and Noto.

The site of the classical city of Naxos is behind a railed site, east of the beach at Recanati, and the entrance to the archaeological site and museum is beside La Sirena restaurant on the busy seafront, on the low, rocky headland now called Cape Schisò.

It is hard to imagine with these few scanty remains that this was once an important centre of Greek civilisation and culture on the island of Sicily, and it remained so until the Arab invasions of the Byzantine Empire. Classical Naxos stood on Cape Schisò, formed by an ancient stream of lava, immediately to the north of the Alcantara, one of the great gorges in Sicily. A small bay to the north separates it from the foot of the hill-top town of Taormina.

Classical writers say Naxos was the most ancient Greek colony in Sicily. It was founded a year before Syracusae (Syracuse), or in 735 BCE, by a group of colonists from Chalcis in Euboea and the island of Naxos in the Cyclades. The leader of the colonists and the founder of the city was Theocles or Thucles, who was born in Athens. But the name of Naxos is derived from the presence among the original settlers of a group of colonists from Naxos.

The new colony was soon joined by fresh settlers from Greece. Six years after it was established, the Chalcidians at Naxos were able to send out a fresh colony to set up the city of Leontini (Lentini) in 730 BCE, followed soon by another colony at Catana. Strabo also speaks of Zancle (modern Messina) as a colony from Naxos, although Thucydides does not mention this. Callipolis was another colony of Naxos, although the site is not known.

Surprisingly, little is known about the early history of Naxos, and the first accounts are of disasters that hit the Greek city. Herodotus recounts that Naxos was besieged and captured by Hippocrates, the despot of Gela, ca 498-491 BCE.

Naxos was in the hands of Gelon of Syracuse and his brother Hieron by 476 BCE. In a move to strengthen his own military power, Hieron moved the people of Naxos and Catana to Leontini, and brought in new Greek colonists to live in the cities he had emptied. However, Naxos was restored to the original inhabitants in 461 BCE, and the cities of Naxos, Leontini and Catana formed a close alliance against Syracuse and the other Doric cities in Sicily.

When Athens sent a force to Sicily under Laches and Charoeades, Naxos immediately came to its aid. In the war that followed, Naxos repulsed a sudden attack from Messina in 425 BCE. During a later expedition from Athens to Sicily, the Athenian fleet landed at Naxos in 415 BCE, and Naxos once again fought on the same side as the Athenians. Thucydides recalls that Naxos and Catania were the only Greek cities in Sicily that sided with Athens.

A revenge attack on Naxos by Syracuse was called off in 409 BCE because Carthage was posing a military threat to all the Greek cities in Sicily. But in 403 BCE, Dionysius of Syracuse captured Naxos which was betrayed by the general Procles. Dionysius sold all the inhabitants of Naxos into slavery, razed the city walls and buildings, and handed over the defeated city’s territory to neighbouring Siculi.

Naxos never recovered from this blow, and it is difficult to trace what happened to it in the immediate aftermath. A new settlement was built on the hill called Mount Taurus, which rises immediately above the site of Naxos, ca 396 BCE. This eventually became the town of Tauroménion (Ταυρομένιον), present-day Taormina.

In 358 BCE, Andromachus, the father of the historian Timaeus, gathered together the descendants of the people of Naxos, by now exiles throughout the island, and brought them to live on the hill of Tauroménion, which became the successor of ancient Naxos. Pliny the Elder is mistaken when he says Tauroménion was once called Naxos. The new city quickly prospered, and the site of Naxos was never fully resettled.

However, the altar and shrine of Apollo Archegetes continued to mark the spot where Naxos once stood, and it is mentioned in the war between Octavian and Sextus Pompey in Sicily in 36 BCE. It remained a tradition for all envoys setting out on sacred missions to Greece or returning to Sicily to stop at Naxos and offer a sacrifice on the altar.

The site stretches over a large area of Cape Schisò, among olive and lemon groves. It is poorly labelled, but it is possible to make out the foundations of a once-large town laid out in grids and a long stretch of the city wall of Naxos, as well as rubble indicating the later presence of a Byzantine town on the site.

During the Arab occupation of Sicily, Naxos was called al-Kusus. In the Norman period, Kusus became Kisoi and then Schisò. Since the area was widely cultivated with citrus orchards, it came to be known as Giardini and was part of the administrative area of Taormina.

Queen Adelasia, the wife of Count Roger of Altavilla, gave the Church of Saint Pantaleo at Schisò to monks following the rule of Saint Basil in 1005, granting them the right of tax-free fishing in the sea off Naxos.

Schisò Castle may date back to 1100. For centuries, the castle belonged to the De Spuches family. It is still owned privately by the Palladino family and is not open to visits or for archaeological research. It may date back to 1100. It has a square shape and four round towers and is surrounded by a large garden. The castle had its own independent supply of water thanks to a well immediately outside.

Underground passages connected to the Vignazza Tower, an impressive defence garrison on the promontory of Naxos, and to another small fortress east of the castle. Inside the Schisò Castle is the small Church of Saint Pantaleo, a martyr who was a missionary in Roman Sicily (feast day 29 July).

The towers and castles on the cape helped to protect the Sicilian coastline along the Ionian Sea against corsairs and pirates from the north African coast, and the raids did not cease until France conquered Algiers in 1830.

King Ferdinand II made Giardini an independent commune in 1846. On the evening of 18 August 1860, Garibaldi set sail from Giardini for the Calabrian coast at the beginning of the Italian War of Unification.

Giardini Naxos began to develop economically around 1870 after the Messina-Catania railway opened, changingd the small maritime village into a popular tourist destination. However, the site of Naxos has never been fully excavated by archaeologists, and some of the small number of pieces recovered are on display in the small two-room museum.

The tall, slender Church of the Immaculate Conception with its conical shape has become one of the modern landmarks on the coastline of Giardini Naxos. Bishop Carmelo Canzonieri, Auxiliary Bishop of Messina, blessed the laying of the foundation stone on 1 May 1963. Building work was completed by 8 October 1967, when Archbishop Francesco Fasola of Messina recognised the new parish.

Father Eduardo Di Felice, a Capuchin Franciscan, was the first parish priest. He worked hard to complete the church and the parish complex, and the church was later visited by Pope John Paul II. The parish continued to be run by the Capuchin Franciscans until the beginning of the 2000s.

The other churches in Giardini Naxos include the Church of Santa Maria della Racconmandata, known as the ‘mother church’ of Giardini Naxos and built in 1719, and the Church San Pancrazio (Saint Pancras), built in 1957 and dedicated to the patron of the nearby lofty hill-top town of Taormina.

The lengthy remains of the former city walls of Naxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 17-27 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 17 ‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.’

The Byzantine site at Giardini Naxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers: USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a prayer written by the Revd Tuomas Mäkipää, Chaplain of Saint Nicholas.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (28 October 2023, Simon and Jude, Apostles) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us give thanks for the lives and works of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. May we emulate them in our discipleship and witness to the Good News.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who built your Church upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets,
with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone:
so join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine,
that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Among the exhibits in the Archaeological Museum at the site of Naxos (Photographs: 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

Caves between the beaches on the coast at Giardini Naxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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