02 July 2023

A poem by Odysseas Elytis
that Mikis Theodorakis made
an anthem for all Greeks

‘Do not, please, I beg you, / do not forget my home’ … flowers among the stones in a side street in Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Greek Festival in Milton Keynes has become an annual festival and is taking place this afternoon (2 July 2023) in the Swinfen Harris Church Hall of the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. The festival includes live music, dancing, BBQ food, cakes, Greek products, a book stall and family fun. Today’s festival, a Greek meal at Emmy’s Pitta in Coventry last week, and Greek dancing on the streets of Stony Stratford during Stony Live last month, have stirred my longings to return to Greece.

My thoughts of returning to Greece later this year, and especially to Crete, are reinforced emotionally as I listen again to some of my favourite Greek songs or turn again to some of my favourite Greek poems.

In recent weeks, I have found myself listening to a number of versions of the song Της Δικαιοσύνης Ήλιε Νοητέ, a poem by the Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis (1911-1996) in 1949 and was set to music by the composer Mikis Theodorakis.

This morning’s song, Της Δικαιοσύνης Ήλιε Νοητέ (‘The Sun of Justice’) was adapted from Canto 3 in the Axion Esti, a literary masterpiece by Elytis. It is a difficult poem to translate, and efforts to render it in English are puzzling if not almost unintelligible to many people outside Greek.

Yet, the words of Elytis and the music of Theodorakis make this one of the most emotional and rousing anthems in the modern Greek repertoire. Every Greek is moved to patriotic tears when they hear to and join in to its haunting repeated refrain:

Μη παρακαλώ σας μη
λησμονάτε τη χώρα μου!

Do not, please, I beg you,
do not forget my home

It was set to music by Theodorakis almost 60 years ago in 1964, and within a few years it had become a popular anthem in the resistance to the colonels until their junta a decade later in 1974.

Odysseas Elytis is one of the greatest poets of the second half of the 20th century, and his Axion Esti is regarded as a monument of contemporary poetry. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979. Several of his poems have been set to music and his collections have been translated into dozens of languages.

Odysseus Elytis (Οδυσσέας Ελύτης) was his pen name, but he was born Odysseus Alepoudellis (Οδυσσέας Αλεπουδέλλης) in Iraklion, the capital of Crete, on 2 November 1911, into the Alepoudellis family, an old industrial family originally from Lesbos.

When he was three, the family moved to Athens, where he went to school and later studied law at the University of Athens.

He published his first poem in 1935 in the journal New Letters (Νέα Γράμματα) at the prompting of friends such as George Seferis. His entry with a distinctively earthy and original form assisted to inaugurate a new era in Greek poetry and its subsequent reform after World War II.

He was an army lieutenant during World War II, and fought on the Albanian frontline, resisting the Italian invasion.

After World War II, he was twice Programme Director of ERT, the Greek National Radio Foundation (1945-1946, 1953-1954). In between, he moved to Paris in 1948, where he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. He moved in literary and artistic circles that included Matisse, Picasso, Chagall and Sartre, but was private and solitary in pursuing poetic truth. He worked for the BBC in London in 1950-1951.

His great epic poem, Το Άξιον Εστί (To Axion Esti, It is Worthy) was published in 1959, after a period of more than 10 years of poetic silence. It became one of the most widely read volumes of poetry published in Greece since World War II, and it remains a classic to this day.

The Axion Esti won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1960. Widely regarded as his chef d’oeuvre, it is a poetic cycle of alternating prose and verse patterned after the ancient Byzantine liturgy.

As in his other writings, Elytis depicts Greek reality through an intensely personal tone. It is a hymn to creation inspired by the Greek Orthodox liturgy and the 17th century epic poetry of Crete, including the Erotokritos (Ἐρωτόκριτος) by Vikentios Kornaros. It is a composition of song and praise that is all the more powerful for exploring the darkest of shadows at times. The speaker explores the essence of his being as well as the identity of his country and people.

At the invitation of the US State Department, he travelled throughout the US in 1961, and similar invitations brought him to the Soviet Union (1963) and Bulgaria (1965). He was awarded the First State Poetry Prize in Greece in 1960, and was decorated with the Order of the Phoenix in 1965.

Meanwhile, the composer Mikis Theodorakis set the Axion Esti to music in 1964, and it became immensely popular throughout Greece. This setting by Theodorakis later contributed to Elytis receiving the Nobel Prize.

During the colonels’ regime in Greece, Elytis lived in exile in Paris from 1969 to 1972. By then, The Axion Esti and its setting by Theodorakis had been taken to heart by lovers and revolutionaries alike, particularly during the resistance to the colonels’ regime.

Elytis returned to Greece, and in 1975 was awarded an honorary PhD by Thessaloniki University and received the honorary citizenship of Mytilene, his ancestral island of Lesbos.

He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979. He died of a heart attack in Athens on 18 March 1996, at the age of 84, and was buried at the First National Cemetery in Athens.

‘Its high mountains eagle-shaped, / Its volcanoes all vines in rows, / And its houses the whiter, / for neighbouring near the blue!’ … street art in Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The setting of Το Άξιον Εστί (To Axion Esti) to music by Theodorakis as an oratorio, with its sheer beauty and musicality, provided anthems that were sung throughout Greece by in the resistance to injustice.

It is surprising, then, that it was not included by Constantine Trypanis in The Penguin Book of Greek Verse in 1971.

Edmund Keeley, who translated the epic into English, suggested the Axion Esti can ‘be taken best as a kind of spiritual autobiography that attempts to dramatise the national and philosophical extensions of the poet’s personal sensibility. Elytis’s strategy in this work … is to present an image of the contemporary Greek consciousness through the developing of a persona that is at once the poet himself and the voice of his country.’

The song I have been listening to in these recent weeks, Της Δικαιοσύνης Ήλιε Νοητέ, became a symbol of Greece seeking to recover and heal its wounds. It is one of the most dramatic songs heard in Greece, but at the same time one of the most inspirational and optimistic songs one can hear.

Grigoris Bithikotsis made the song his own in 1964 with his voice – as he did with so many pieces composed by Theodorakis, and he first made the song a symbol of an era:

After the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974, this particular song from the Axion Esti became a popular hymn throughout Greece.

The song gave voice to the suffering of Greeks in previous generations and their struggle against the colonels’ junta, their desire for freedom, stability and progress.

Modern versions that are popular throughout Greece include this one sung by Yannis Kotsiras:

However, my favourite version is that recorded by one of Greece’s most loved singers, Maria Farantouri:

Elytis’ poems are written in rich language, filled with images from history and myths. His lines are long and musical, inspired by the Greek light, the sea, and the air.

Both Elytis and Theodorakis were born in Crete and were major figures in Greek culture throughout the second half of the 20th century. The only other Greek poet to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature was George Seferis in 1967. Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), who was also born in Crete, received Nobel nominations on nine separate occasions, but never received the honour.

Theodorakis was especially drawn to the work of Elytis, whose writings were seen as a mirror to the revolutionary music of Theodorakis. The autobiographical elements are constantly coloured by allusions to the history of Greece, and his poems express a contemporary consciousness fully resonant with those echoes of the past that have shaped the modern Greek experience.

‘Its high mountains eagle-shaped, / Its volcanoes all vines in rows, / And its houses the whiter, / for neighbouring near the blue!’ … the White Mountains in Crete seen from Platanias in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Translating poetry and the lyrics of songs never does justice to the original, nor can it ever capture the passion of those who sing the song. So here are the original words, as adapted by Mikis Theodorakis, and a handful of recent efforts to translate the song:

Της Δικαιοσύνης Ήλιε Νοητέ Μίκης Θεοδωράκης:

Της δικαιοσύνης ήλιε νοητέ
και μυρσίνη συ δοξαστική
μη παρακαλώ σας μη
λησμονάτε τη χώρα μου!

Αετόμορφα έχει τα ψηλά βουνά
στα ηφαίστεια κλήματα σειρά
και τα σπίτια πιο λευκά
στου γλαυκού το γειτόνεμα!

Της Ασίας αν αγγίζει από τη μια
της Ευρώπης λίγο αν ακουμπά
στον αιθέρα στέκει να
και στη θάλασσα μόνη της!

Τα πικρά μου χέρια με τον Κεραυνό
τα γυρίζω πίσω άπ' τον Καιρό
τους παλιούς μου φίλους καλώ
με φοβέρες και μ' αίματα!

Μα' χουν όλα τα αίματα ξαντιμεθεί
κι οι φοβέρες αχ λατομηθεί
και στον έναν ο άλλος
μπαίνουν εναντίον οι άνεμοι!

Intelligible Sun of Justice
And you, Glorifying Myrtle
Do not, I implore you
Do not forget my country!

Its high mountains eagle-shaped,
Its volcanoes all vines in rows,
And its houses the whiter,
for neighbouring near the blue!

My bitter hands circle with the thunderbolt,
the other side of time.
I summon my old friends
with threats and running blood!

Intelligible Sun of Justice
And you, Glorifying Myrtle
Do not, I implore you
Do not forget my country!

Another translation goes like this:

Notional sun of justice
and you glorifying myrtle
don’t please don’t
forget my homeland!

It has eagle-shaped high mountains
terraced vineyards on the volcanoes
and the whiter houses
in the neighbourhood of the blue!

It almost meets Asia on one side
and almost touches Europe a little
it stands in the air
and in the sea by itself!

My bitter hands with the Thunder
I turn them before Time
I’m calling my old friends
with threats and blood!

But all the blood has been remunerated
and the threats all quarried
and one against the other
the winds are invading!

Odysseus Elytis was born in Iraklion in 1911 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (35) 2 July 2023

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was once the most important and controversial Anglo-Catholic church in Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and today is the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (3 July 2023). Later this morning, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, and there is a Greek Festival in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford later this afternoon, from 2 to 5 pm.

But, before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, is lonely and forlorn on the top of Old Camp Hill, between Bordesley Circus and Camp Hill Circus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, Birmingham:

Last week, I described a recent visit to Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, a Grade II listed former Church of England parish church, about 2 km south-east of Birmingham city centre. The church appears lonely and forlorn on the top of Old Camp Hill, isolated in a virtual traffic island between two roundabouts, Bordesley Circus and Camp Hill Circus, on the Middleway ring road.

Holy Trinity Church was consecrated and opened 200 years ago in 1823, and it was once the most important Anglo-Catholic controversies in Birmingham that led to its Irish-born vicar, the Revd Richard Enraght, being jailed and dismissed.

Historically, Bordesley was part of the parish and union of Aston, on the edges of Birmingham. The hamlet was originally small, with only a few scattered dwelling-houses, such as Stratford Place, still standing at Camp Hill, and the Old Crown in Deritend, which I visited after visiting Holy Trinity Church last week. Both houses are of timber framework and plaster, with projecting upper stories.

Holy Trinity Church is an example of a Commissioners’ church. It was built between 1820 and 1822 by the architect Francis Goodwin (1784-1835) in the decorated perpendicular gothic style. Goodwin’s later works include Lissadell House, Co Sligo, designed for Sir Robert Gore-Booth, and the gatehouse at Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo.

Goodwin is said to have modelled Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The church was consecrated 200 years ago on 23 January 1823 by the Bishop of Lichfield, James Cornwallis. A parish was assigned out of the parish of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Aston. At first, the living was in the gift of the Vicar of Aston, and was called a vicarage from 1872. The patronage was transferred to the Aston Trustees in 1884.

The church was built on a conventional rectangular plan with shallow canted apse, faced in Bath stone that is enlivened by spirelet pinnacled buttresses diving the windows and with octagonal pinnacled turrets holding the corners. A larger pair flank the effectively recessed full height entrance bay under the parapeted gable.

The soffit has a pattern of ribs over the large decorated west window, and the tracery is of cast iron. The porch proper is shallow and contained within the recess, a tripartite composition with an ogee arch to the central doorway with an ornate finial.

The east end above the apse has a cast iron tracery rose. It is said the coved ceiling still partially remains, but the interior decoration, which was of a high standard for its time, has been stripped and a floor inserted.

Holy Trinity Church played an important in the history of the High Church or Anglo-Catholic movement in the Church of England in the 19th century.

The Revd Samuel Crane, who was the first vicar in 1823-1841, was succeeded by the Revd Dr Joseph Oldknow, who is often regarded as Birmingham’s first Anglo-Catholic or ‘ritualist’ priest.

Oldknow was succeeded in 1874 by the Revd Richard William Enraght, whose trials and tribulations came to a head in the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case’ were first brought to my attention in 2016 by a friend at Lichfield Cathedral, Stephen Wright.

The Revd Richard William Enraght (1837-1898) was an Irish-born Anglican priest and one of the Anglo-Catholic priests who were prosecuted and jailed in the 19th century for their ritualism. He was born on 23 February 1837 at Moneymore, Co Derry, where his father, the Revd Matthew Enraght (1805-1882), was the Curate of Saint John’s, Desertlynn.

Matthew Enraght was born in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, where I was the priest-in-charge until last year (2017-2022). When he later moved to England, Richard remained in Ireland and in 1860, at the age of 23, he graduated BA from Trinity College Dublin. He then moved to England, and in 1861 he was ordained deacon in Gloucester Cathedral by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol.

Richard Enraght became Vicar of Holy Trinity, Bordesley, in 1874. He introduced weekday celebrations of the Eucharist. His practices at Holy Trinity included the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, candles on the altar, wearing a chasuble and alb, using wafers at the Eucharist, mixing water with the wine, making the sign of the Cross, bowing during the Gloria, and allowing the choir to sing the Agnus Dei.

The ‘Bordesley Wafer Case’, which I described in a posting on Tuesday, resulted in Enraght’s conviction on 9 August 1879 on 16 counts. He spent that Christmas in prison and was released after 49 days.

Bishop Philpott revoked Enraght’s licence in March 1883 and appointed the Revd Alan H Watts to the parish, against the wishes of the congregation.

The church was closed in 1968. There were plans to demolish the church in the 1970s and proposals to convert the building into an arts centre, but these never came to fruition. Instead, the church was used for some years as a shelter for homeless people until about 1999.

There were plans to retore the building for church and community use as the Birmingham Trinity Centre, a conference and wedding venue and the meeting place of All Nations’ Church, Birmingham. The church was marketed for a residential conversion in 2014, but it remains empty today.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was designed by Francis Goodwin and modelled on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 10: 40-42 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 40 ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was at the centre of the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case’ in 1879 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

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), is ‘FeAST – Fellowship of Anglican Scholars of Theology.’ This theme is introduced today by the Revd Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar of USPG:

‘USPG launched its new global forum of scholars engaged in theological research and education in February. This forms part of our continuing commitment to stimulate, support and strengthen theological engagement across the Anglican Communion.

‘FeAST, which represents ‘Open Table,’ is true to its name. It’s a place of sharing, challenge, and mutual conversations where a new community of Anglican scholars pursuing theology as a field of study will be formed. Its core goal is to launch a future of Anglican theological research that is truly international in scope and participation.

‘Global Anglicanism holds boundless theological wealth, much of which is often not sufficiently shared across (and beyond) the Anglican Communion. There are several reasons for this, some of which include a lack of networking opportunities, academic publishing opportunities, and engagement in international academic forums. These barriers have their roots in historical imbalances in global theological studies, which have long favoured and given normative authority to theologies and theological techniques with a Eurocentric bias.

‘Our aim is that this global forum will change what is being presented at these tables for the edification of the Communion and beyond.’

Find out more HERE.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (2 July 2023, Fourth Sunday after Trinity) invites us to pray:

Healing God,
May we look to You in uncertain times.
Let us take the words of your Son to heart:
‘Do not fear, only believe’.


O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope:
teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was closed in 1968 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, remains empty, isolated on a virtual traffic island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)