01 May 2024

The Greeks have a word for it:
37, Bishop, ἐπίσκοπος

Welcome to Piskopianó in Crete … overlooking the coast and once the centre of a bishop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I was back in the village of Piskopianó, at the foot of the mountains above Hersonissos, the weekend before last, visiting friends I had not seen for a few years, and catching up on my memories of many happy weeks spent in that part of Crete over the years.

From many vantage points there are spectacular views to the mountains above Piskopianó and below across the olive groves to the northern coast of Crete and out to the sea. For many years, I enjoyed waking early in the morning in Mika Villas simply to enjoy the sun rise from this location.

The name of Piskopianó may describe the location of the village, looking out as a balcony over this stretch of the north coast of Crete. The Ancient Greek σκοπέω (skopéō) means to examine, inspect, look to or into, consider, coming from the word σκοπός (skopós), ‘watcher’, and‎ -έω (-éō), a denominative verbal suffix.

But the name may also hint at its earlier, historical, episcopal importance, of Piskopianó. When coastal raids forced the church to abandon Hersonissos, the see of the diocese was transferred to Piskopianó, and remained there until the ninth century, when the diocese was relocated to Pedialos.

The Greek word ἐπίσκοπος (epískopos), from which the English word bishop is derived, simply means ‘overseer’. The word is found in Ancient Greek and in Greek literature, with ἐπίσκοπος (epískopos) coming from from ἐπί (epí, ‘over’) and σκοπός (skopós, ‘watcher’).

In the early Church, the word epískopos was not always clearly distinguished from πρεσβύτερος (presbýteros), literally ‘old man’, ‘elder’, or ‘senior’. It is from presbýteros that we derive the modern English word priest.

Most scholars agree that the earliest organisation of the Church in Jerusalem was similar to that of Jewish synagogues, but it had a council or college of ordained presbyters (πρεσβύτεροι, elders).

In the Acts of the Apostles, a collegiate system of government in Jerusalem is chaired by Saint James who, according to tradition, was the first Bishop of Jerusalem (see Acts 11: 30, 15: 22), and the Apostle Paul ordains presbyters for the new churches (see In Acts 14: 23). The word presbyter was not yet distinguished from overseer, later used exclusively to mean bishop (see Acts 20: 17, Titus 1: 5-7 and I Peter 5: 1).

In the Pauline writings, a more clearly defined episcopate can be seen in I Timothy and the Epistle to Titus. Both letters record how Saint Paul left Saint Timothy in Ephesus and Saint Titus in Crete to oversee the local church. He urges Saint Titus to ordain presbyters and bishops and to exercise general oversight in Crete.

The earliest writings of the Apostolic Fathers, including the Didache and I Clement, show the two words for bishops and presbyters may have been interchangeable, although the word for deacon (διάκονος) is distinctive and used separately.

The word episcopos is used in the sense of the order or office of bishop, distinct from that of presbyter, in the writings of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who died ca 110. He provides the earliest clear description of a single bishop over all the churches in a city.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch is often attributed with saying: ‘Where the bishop is, there is the Church.’ But what he says is, ‘Where the bishop is, let the people be present, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic/universal Church’ (Smyrneans 8). As the Very Revd Dr John Behr, Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen, says in a paper for Public Orthodoxy last week (24 April 2024), ‘It is, by any standard, a mistake to omit Jesus Christ and the people from the equation!’

When Saint Ignatius was writing, the bishop was not in the position we think of the episcopate today. He was the bishop/overseer of a particular household community, as the parish priest is today, not the overseer of a diocese. Over time, as the number of particular communities in a geographical region increased, it was necessary to co-ordinate their activity, first in larger cities then in ever greater geographical areas.

One of the leaders of these communities was entrusted with the task, as ‘the first among equals’ – never ‘the first without equals’, as John Behr points out – of calling together the other leaders of the communities to ensure the peaceful and co-ordinated activity of the churches in the area.

Early Christian communities or local churches may have had a bishop surrounded by a group or college acting as leaders. Eventually, the bishop came to rule more clearly, and all local churches would eventually have one bishop in charge, assisted by the presbyters or priests. As the Church grew, bishops no longer directly served individual congregations. Instead, the metropolitan bishop or bishop in a large city appointed priests to minister to each congregation, acting as the bishop’s delegate. Since then, bishops have come to hold a privileged place as the guardians of the truth and in many places are often identified with the Church.

The word epískopos came into Late Latin as episcopus, to Spanish as obispo, Italian as vescovo, French as évêque, easpag, and esgob in Welsh. The Germanic forms include Old Saxon biscop and Old High German biscof. Further afield it became Lithuanian vyskupas, Albanian upeshk and Finnish piispa.

The Latin episcopus transformed into the Old English biscop, the Middle English bishop and lastly bishop.

The Bishop’s throne in Saint Nektarios Church in Rethymnon … every Orthodox church has a bishop’s throne (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The word overseer in English continued to have a secular use. In the world of printing and journalism, church-like terms were used to describe trade and union functions.

In the composing room, the overseer was responsible for a great variety of jobs, and I remember how overseers in The Irish Times, and before that in the Wexford People and Irish Printers, had large, balcony-like desks that allowed them to look across the full process with a very wide and full scope.

Similarly, the Father of the Chapel chaired the local meetings of printers and journalists, and the Clerk of the Chapel was, in effect, the secretary.

After the Reformation, Quakers in particular adapted the term ‘overseer’ to describe people appointed to look after the wellbeing of people in a Quaker meeting, while an elder is a member appointed to look after the spiritual life of the meeting and ensure that ministry or business is conducted in the spirit of Quaker worship.

In the early days of the Society of Friends, Quaker ministers preached, elders cared for Friends’ spiritual condition, and overseers cared for Friends’ physical condition. Those overseers made sure Friends had food, children had schooling, and imprisoned Friends were visited.

But it is worth recalling that the early Quaker use of the word overseer came from the English translation for episkopos in the New Testament. Early Quakers saw themselves as restoring early Christian practice, drawing on Biblical texts such as: Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son (Acts 20:28).

The term overseer was used since 1753 – a time when Quakers could be disowned by their meetings for 'immoral' conduct – to describe Quakers who provide pastoral oversight, support and care. Even then, the word overseer was a literal translation of the Biblical Greek word episkopos, usually translated as ‘ bishop’.

However, in recent years Quakers have reflected on the use of the word ‘overseer’ in other contexts and its associations with slavery and oppression. Quakers in Central Yorkshire raised a concern in 2019 that the term was outdated.

After a consultation with Quaker meetings across Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) in 2020 showed there was general support for changing the term ‘overseer’, meetings were encouraged to adapt different terms, such as ‘Pastoral Care Friend’ or ‘Pastoral Friend.’ The group revising the Quaker book of discipline, Quaker Faith and Practice', is considering how to incorporate this change.

Metropolitan Prodromos of Rethymnon officiating at the Divine Liturgy in Rethymnon Cathedral recently

Back in Rethymnon, the Church of the Four Martyrs was packed on Sunday last week for the Eucharist, with Bishop of Rethymnon, Metropolitan Prodromos, presiding at a special service to commemorate the Four Martyrs.

Bishops remain spiritual overseers in Greek Orthodox dioceses, without any ambiguity about their role and title. Indeed, every Greek church has a a bishop’s throne, a reminder that the bishop, technically, is still the focus of unity and the centre of all ministry of word and sacrament through a diocese in the Orthodox church.

The role of bishops in western churches, including the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, seems diluted compared to the way bishops oversee their dioceses in Greece.

Previous word: 36, Exodus, ἔξοδος

Next word: 38, Socratic, Σωκρατικὸς

Saying farewell to Piskopianó last weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The sculpture of Louis Tikas
in Rethymnon tells a May Day
story from Crete to Colorado

The bust of Louis Tikas (Elias Anastasios Spantidakis) at the entrance to the Marina in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

This is May Day, and in Crete Easter is just days away. And I have a May Day story today from Rethymnon that links Crete, workers’ rights and struggles, and Easter.

The Marina in Rethymnon is lined with a number of impressive, modern sculptures. But in a discreet, shaded corner behind the Delfini building at the entrance to the Marina, almost facing the first apartment where I stayed in Rethymnon in the 1980s, is a bust of Louis Tikas (1884-1914), a trade union organiser who was murdered 110 years ago in the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado in April 1914.

Louis Tikas (Λούης Τίκας) was born Elias Anastasios Spantidakis (Ηλίας Αναστάσιος Σπαντιδάκης) on 13 March 1886 in Loutra, a small hillside village 8 km outside Rethymnon.

When he left Crete for America in 1906, his brother Kostis Spantidakis accompanied Louis to Rethymno by horse, and from there Louis took the boat to Piraeus. On his way home, Kostis was overwhelmed by premonitions of doom and, when he returned home, he told his wife, ‘Argyro, this man will one day either become a great man or he will end up destroying himself (θα φάει το κεφάλι του). And we will lose him.’

When he set foot on Ellis Island, he signed his first papers with a new name. By 1910, he was the part owner of a Greek coffeehouse in Denve,r Colorado, and filed for US citizenship. He then worked for a time as a miner in Colorado’s Northern coalfield, and ended up leading a walk-out by 63 fellow Greeks at the Frederick, Colorado mine.

Tikas was chased from the northern field, and was shot and wounded by Baldwin-Felts detectives as he escaped through the back door of a boarding house in Lafayette, Colorado, in January 1910.

Olive groves in Loutra, above Rethymnon, where Louis Tikas was born Elias Anastasios Spantidakis in 1886 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Due to the immense respect Tikas had gained among the miners, the United Mineworkers’ Union appointed him a union organiser in Trinidad, Colorado. By the end of 1912, he was an organiser for the United Mine Workers of America. By then, he was a good friend of Mother Jones and they worked together in the final months of 1913, when Tikas played a leading role in organising the Colorado miners when they went on strike.

The 14-month strike between September 1913 and December 1914 became known as the Colorado Coalfield War in southern Colorado,. It has been described as ‘the bloodiest civil insurrection in American history since the Civil War.’

Support for strike was solid among the miners, many of them Greek. When the strike meant the miners and their families could no longer live in the mining company shacks, Tikas was to the forefront in organising camps where they could live.

In all, up to 20,000 strikers were evicted from the company towns that dotted the coal-rich Sangre de Christo region. Tikas and the union raised a number of tent cities, including the Ludlow Colony.

The camps were constantly attacked by the militia and the gunmen hired by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, owned by John D Rockefeller jr. Tikas helped many miners and their families to escape from the Ludlow camp to the nearby hills. But by then he had become a marked man.

Following a tense day of Greek Orthodox Easter festivities, Tikas met Major Pat Hamrock (1860-1939), the leading and Irish-born militia officer, on the morning 20 April 1914 in response to allegations of a man being held against his will in the camp.

During Hamrock’s conversation with Tikas, the Greeks in the camp grew restless. The militia placed machineguns on the hills and Tikas, anticipating trouble, ran back to camp.

But fighting broke out and lasted all day. During the clash, a deserted tent burst into flames and, within a short time, more tents began to burn. At the same time, the militiamen overran and took command of the site. By 7 pm, the camp was aflame.

Tikas remained in the camp the entire day and was there when the fire started. Lieutenant Karl Linderfelt, a rival of Tikas during much of the strike, broke the butt of his gun over Tikas’s head. Tikas was later found shot to death, one bullet through his back, another in his hip, a third glancing off his hip and traveling vertically through his body.

The Ludlow Massacre on 20 April 1914 was the bloodiest event in the strike. During the massacre, 19 people were killed, including two women and 11 children and one National Guardsman. The day Louis Tikas was murdered, 20 April 1914, was ‘Bright Monday’, the day after Greek Orthodox Easter. He was just 28.

By early morning, 21 April1914, a site once covered by hundreds of tents was nothing more than the charred rubble remains of the tents. The bodies of two women and 11 children were found huddled together in a cellar. Five strikers, two other children, and at least four men associated with the militia also died.

Sporadic violence continued for days after, and more people died in battles at a number of coal camps. Federal troops moved into southern Colorado in late April. However, the strike continued until early December, and came to an end without resolution.

The Ludlow Monument, erected by the United Mine Workers of America some years after the massacre, stands near the site to commemorate the dead strikers and their families.

The inscription beneath the statue of Louis Tikas (Elias Anastasios Spantidakis) at the entrance to the Marina in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

But the strikers had not suffered in vain. His memorial in Rethymnon recalls that the heroic death of Louis Tikas, the strike and the violence encouraged state and federal legislators to pass laws ‘protecting the rights, dignity and respect of the working class.’

The young man has become a Greek-American legend and a national labour icon, inspiring songs of defiance, remembrance, and redemption. Both Tikas and Ludlow live on in the songs of Woody Guthrie. The bust of Louis Tikas at the Marina in Rethymnon was a gift ‘to the land of his birth’ from members of the Pancretan Association of America in July 2009.

A statue of Louis Tikas was dedicated at the Miners’ Memorial on Mani Street in Trinidad, Colorado, on 23 June 2018.

A documentary film Palikari – Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre, produced by Lamprini C Thoma and directed by Nichos Ventouras in 2014, tells his story, from Crete to Colorado.

Palikari – Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
32, 1 May 2024

A statue of Saint Philip on the façade of Lichfield Cathedral … today celebrates Saint Philip and Saint James (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Easter is a 50-day season that continues until the Day of Pentecost (19 May 2024). The week began with the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter V), although this is still the Season of Great Lent in Greece, and this is Holy Week in the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Today is May Day (1 May 2024) and a public holiday in many countries, and today is also marked as Staffordshire Day. Today, the Church Calendar also celebrates the apostles Saint Philip and Saint James.

Throughout this Season of Easter, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

/> The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Pandita Mary Ramabai (1858-1922) Translator of the Scriptures. Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

A statue of Saint James on the façade of Lichfield Cathedral … today celebrates Saint Philip and Saint James (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 14: 1-14 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’

Sunset at Minster Pool below Lichfield Cathedral … today is Staffordshire Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 1 May 2024):

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 ‘The Sacred Circle.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a programme update adapted from the Autumn edition of Revive magazine.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (1 May 2024) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life and works of the apostles Philip and James.

The Collect (Saint Philip and Saint James):

Almighty Father,
whom truly to know is eternal life:
teach us to know your Son Jesus Christ
as the way, the truth, and the life;
that we may follow the steps
of your holy apostles Philip and James,
and walk steadfastly in the way that leads to your glory;
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

Comberford Hall in the Staffordshire countryside … today is Staffordshire Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

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

Saint Philip (left) and Saint James (right) in stained glass windows in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2023)