27 November 2023

Saving one Ukrainian
monk and bishop
brings Orthodox honours
to Rector of Killarney

Archdeacon Simon Lumby (left) of Killarney at special celebrations in Ukraine earlier this year

Patrick Comerford

For many years, while I was a priest in he Rathkeale Group of Parishes in West Limerick and North Kerry, the Ven Simon Lumby was my archdeacon. He was also a good neighbour, friend and colleague, and we went on a number of retreats together, including one to Glenstal Abbe.

Simon is the Rector of Killarney, Co Kerry, and when he recently rescued Father Benjamin Voloshchuk, a refugee Orthodox monk-priest from Ukraine who had ended up in Killarney, little did he realise what was going to unfold as a consequence.

Archimandrite Benjamin was then a priest of the Chernivtsi and Bukovyna Diocese in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The monk was about to be ‘transported’ or moved without choice to Westport, Co Mayo, along with the other Ukrainian refugees in their hotel in Killarney back in October 2022. In all, 135 Ukrainian refugees were housed in Hotel Killarney and they were given just two days’ notice that they would be relocated to Westport.

Archdeacon Simon was quick to respond, and moved the refugee monk into his Rectory in December. Then, to his surprise, shortly after moving in, Father Benjamin was called back to Ukraine in early January and was told he had been chosen to become the bishop to the Ukrainian refugees and diaspora in Europe.

There are 32 communities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 11 countries in Western Europe today, with a large number of priests from the church meeting their spiritual and pastoral needs.

Because the war in Ukraine means the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has an increased presence across Europe, the Holy Synod of the church decision to elect a bishop to look after Ukrainian parishes abroad and supporting people who have found themselves outside Ukraine forcibly as a consequence of the war.

The decision to elect a new bishop was taken on 20 December last, and Archimandrite Benjamin was nominated as the Bishop of Boyarsky, Vicar of the Kyiv Metropolitanate, and administrator of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church parishes abroad.

The jewelled pectoral cross presented to Archdeacon Simon Lumby in Ukraine in recognition of his work with the Ukrainian community in Killarney

The Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, consecrated the new bishop in the Pochaiv Lavra or Monastery. The church itself is formally known as the Church of Venerable Agapitos of the Kyiv Caves in the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.

The lavra or monastery belongs to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but for centuries it has been the most spiritual centre in western Ukraine for all the different Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches in Western Ukraine, despite their differences and divisions and recent controversies.

Before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy and the consecration of the new bishop, a special rite took place when the bishop-elect proclaimed his faith and made vows to keep the tradition of the Church. A deacon then offered wishes for long life to the primate, priests, the Church, the people, and the prospective new bishop.

During the Liturgy, prayers were offered for peace in Ukraine, for the government, for prisoners of war, and for God’s mercy on the people, especially refugees. Afterwards, Bishop Benjamin was handed a hierarchal crozier, and then as bishop he blessed the people for the first time.

In recognition of his instrumental role in pioneering the spiritual support of Ukrainian Orthodox refugees in Ireland, Archdeacon Lumby was invited to attend the consecration in the lavra as a guest of honour of the new bishop. Later, he was invited by Archbishop Onuphryi to the celebratory meal at his residence. There, the Rector of Killarney was given a unique award when he was presented with a jewelled pectoral cross in honour of his work and for giving Bishop Benjamin a welcome in his home.

Last Saturday morning (25 November), the archdeacon was a guest at the Ukrainian Divine Liturgy in Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney, wearing his cassock and the cross he had been decorated with. In yet another honour, he was presented with an icon of the Mother of God. This icon is a copy of one in a monastery on Mount Athos and is known for the healing a blind monk received when he prayed kneeling in front of the icon.

Bishop Benjamin has named his congregation in Killarney after this icon, ‘so this is a signal honour,’ Simon tells me. ‘It turns out my cross is the one worn at Mother of God Liturgies.’

The archdeacon’s connections with Orthodoxy have continued to blossom, and he says ‘it’s a delight to sit and watch’ the Orthodox Ukrainian at their Divine Liturgy. He recently spent a few days at the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, where I have often been a guest. Now, he is planning a retreat and pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos early next year.

Meanwhile, on Day 7 of his tour of the Diocese of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe, Bishop Michael Burrows visited Killarney ten days ago (18 November). There he was joined by members of the Orthodox Community from Ukraine who worship in Saint Mary’s Church, before he then set off to visit the churches and parishes along the Ring of Kerry.

Bishop Michael Burrows with members of the Orthodox Community from Ukraine in Saint Mary’s Church, Killarney

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (23) 27 November 2023

The Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath … a landmark building in the Irish Midlands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. The week began with the Feast of Christ the King and the Sunday next before Advent (26 November 2023).

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

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on Christ the King, as seen in churches and cathedrals I know or I have visited. My reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on Christ the King;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Co Westmeath:

The Cathedral of Christ the King in the centre of Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is a landmark building in the Irish Midlands. The campanile towers and the dome dominate the skyline and approaches to Mullingar for many miles around, and the silhouette of the cathedral has become a symbol of Mullingar.

This is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meath and it stands at the top of Mary Street, at the junction with College Street and Bishop’s Gate Street, towering above the centre of the county town of Westmeath.

Mullingar Cathedral is yet another statement by the Dublin-based architect Ralph Byrne of the confidence of Roman Catholicism in post-independence Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s, like his cathedral in Cavan and his strong emphatic churches in Athlone, Co Westmeath, and Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

Byrne’s cathedral in Mullingar replaced an earlier cathedral, dedicated to Saint Mary, that stood on the same site from 1836. This was a large Gothic Revival T-plan church, with four octagonal turrets at the west front, and this, in turn, had replaced the parish chapel dating from 1730.

Planning for a new cathedral began in 1920. The building work began in March 1933 and the foundation stone was laid on 6 August 1933 by Thomas Mulvany, Bishop of Meath (1929-1943).

The new cathedral was designed by the Dublin-based architect, Ralph Henry Byrne (1877-1947). Byrne was noted for his academic approach to architectural design. He favoured the classical idiom for much of his church designs, moving away from the Gothic Revival-style, which had been in vogue for Roman Catholic building projects since the early 19th century.

Byrne designed the cathedral to look like a basilica in form and renaissance in style. The distinctive twin towers, surmounted by bronze crosses, rise to a height of about 42.6 metres. The nave is 36.5 metres long and 15.2 metres wide. It follows the pattern of great Roman basilicas such as Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Murphy of Dublin were the builders, while much of the artistic decoration work, including the marble altar goods and the bronze and brass fittings, was designed and fitted by Earley of Camden Street, Dublin, Gunning Smyth’s, and J and C McGloughlin of Dublin, and Oppenheimer of Old Trafford, Manchester.

The cathedral is designed on a complicated regular plan and on a north-south axis rather than the traditional, liturgical east-west axis. It has a seven-bay nave with a clerestory over and flanking single-storey side aisles, full-height transepts terminated by pediments, a broad apsidal chancel at the north or liturgical east end, and a circular drum with a copper dome above at the central crossing.

At the south side or liturgical west end, the cathedral has a central two-storey block with a pedimented breakfront and with colonnades or loggias at both the first and second floor levels. This is flanked by single-storey blocks on each side supporting the four-storey arcaded campanile towers, each crowned with limestone domes, topped with gilded cross finials.

The main, square-headed entrance has timber panelled double-doors, with a segmental-headed window over, to the centre of the south façade. It is set behind a Venetian-type arrangement of a central round-headed arch flanked by lower square-headed openings, divided by Doric columns in antis.

The elaborate sculpture on the pediment or tympanum is in Portland stone by Albert George Power (1881-1945), the leading Irish sculptor of the 1920s and 1930s. It depicts the Virgin Mary handing over a model of the previous Gothic Revival cathedral into the care of Christ the King. There are sculpted panels by H Thompson of Dublin on the front façade above the main entrances.

The cathedral is built of channelled ashlar granite, with extensive ashlar limestone and ashlar granite detailing. There is a variety of window openings, mostly square-headed with metal glazing bars and cut stone surrounds. The ground floor window openings in the nave are set in round-headed recesses. There are pitched roofs.

Inside, the vast open interior of the cathedral is reminiscent of the layout of a Roman basilica and seats over 1,800 people. It is lavishly decorated using different types and colours of marble and has least seven side chapels. There are numerous columns in various types of marble, including colonnades formed of paired Doric columns in Rochambeau marble, separated by high round-headed arches, giving access to the side aisles and to the transepts.

The mosaic in the apse in the sanctuary represents the Ascension. The cathedra or bishop’s throne and the chapter stalls were carved in Irish oak in Waterford.

There are seven side chapels in the cathedral, dedicated to Saint Patrick, Saint Anne, Saint Joseph and the Holy Family, Saint Therese of Lisieux as patron of Foreign Missions, a mortuary chapel, a Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. Some of these chapels are decorated with mosaics by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969).

The Baptistry is now the cathedral shop and the double baptism font has been moved to the top of the west or right-hand aisle.

The Stations of the Cross are in opus sectile and mosaic. The pulpit, of white marble, has carvings depicting the Sermon on the Mount, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick. There is an extensive collection of marble altar goods and a number of bronze fittings and railings.

The new cathedral was formally opened and dedicated on 6 September 1936. At the request of Pope Pius XI, this became the first cathedral in the world to be dedicated to Christ the King. The cathedral was solemnly consecrated on 4 September 1939. The total cost of the building, including decoration, was £250,000 to £275,000, an enormous sum for those days.

Boris Anrep’s image of Christ the King in his Saint Patrick mosaic is inspired by the Visitation of Abraham or Old Testament Trinity best known in the West in the work of Andrei Rublev (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The works of art for which Mullingar Cathedral is most noted are the mosaics in the chapels of Saint Anne and Saint Patrick. These are the work of the Russian-born mosaic artist Boris Anrep, a celebrated artist and socialite, best known for his monumental mosaics at the National Gallery, Westminster Cathedral, and the Bank of England in London.

The Saint Patrick mosaic depicts Saint Patrick lighting the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane. Saint Patrick is seen lifting the cross with one hand in a vigorous movement, and in his other hand he is holding a torch. The firewood is arranged in a Christogram, signifying the symbolic importance of the fire.

In the Saint Anne mosaic, her name is spelled Anna, and the image of Saint Anne is said to resemble the poet Anna Akhmatova, with whom Anrep had an affair during World War I.

Byrne was the architect of choice for the Roman Catholic Church at this time and during the 1930s his commissions included the new cathedral in Cavan, the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone, Co Westmeath, and the Rosary Church in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, during the 1930s.

In Mullingar, Byrne calls on an eclectic mix of architectural styles, drawing on the classical imperial traditions of Rome, the work of Palladio, the Italian Baroque, Webb and perhaps even the neoclassicism of James Gandon and the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens in New Delhi.

Despite Byrne’s seemingly ad hoc use of classical styles, his cathedral in Mullingar is a polished architectural work. The stark cold ashlar granite on the façade contrasts with the opulence of the marble interior. The façade is a complex arrangement of classical elements, giving out a strong message of triumphalism, and is dominated on the upper storey by the pedimented temple with inset Corinthian columns.

The cathedral is set back from a busy junction in the town centre in extensive mature grounds, with the Bishop’s Residence to one side, a school in its own grounds on the other side, north-east and a large forecourt and car park at the front.

Mullingar Cathedral has been compared in terms of architectural style and ambition to the state-sponsored architectural projects built in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the same time. Other critics are kinder when they say this is one of the most stylishly triumphant cathedrals in Ireland, offering visitors ‘an overwhelming experience.’

Whatever you think of it, this massive and extensively detailed cathedral is a monumental statement of the confidence, power and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in the first decades after Irish independence.

Albert Power’s elaborate sculpture on the tympanum of Mullingar Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 18-34 (NRSVA):

18 While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ 19 And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. 20 Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21 for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 And the report of this spread throughout that district.

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ 30 And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, ‘See that no one knows of this.’ 31 But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

32 After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.’ 34 But the Pharisees said, ‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.’

The mosaic in the apse in the sanctuary in Mullingar depicts the Ascension (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 27 November 2023):

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 ‘Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (27 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for the Anglican Church of Tanzania, for all the community programmes they are supporting including the PMTCT programme.

The Baptism Font in Mullingar has been moved to the top of the west (left) aisle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Post Communion Prayer may be used as the Collect at Morning and Evening Prayer during this week.

Additional Collect

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool)

Continued Tomorrow (Church of Christ the King, Turner’s Cross, Cork)

The entrance porch in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar (Photograph: 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

The towers and dome of Mullingar Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)