Here are some recent pictures, the first of which is of the cleric who read prayers for Harry and Megan. I rather hope that my former students will have recognised him!
The archbishop was enthroned in November last year. He is the first Coptic Archbishop of London.
After writing about St Theodore, I was sent a copy of an icon of St Theodora, whose feast is on 11th September, a very different saint, though, to the Empress found in mosaics around the Church of Agia Sophia in Istanbul. There are very few images of this Theodora. This is my version here-
A few years ago I was in Northern Albania searching for the women who dressed as men in local villages. Maybe they no longer exist, but that tradition goes back some way and seems, from this story, to have Christian precedence. (in contradiction of Deut 22.5 and maybe of 1 Tim 2.9) I think St Theodora is a model for the Twenty-first Century!
St Theodora was an early ascetic from the Fifth Century, during the reign of the Emperor Zeno. She was among 10 women who lived and dressed as men in Oktodeka, one of the many monasteries surrounding Alexandria. The abbot simply assumed she was a eunuch.
At some point, she was accused and presented with a child that she was supposed to have fathered with some serving wench. Together they were expelled from the Monastery. Now, the hagiography makes a great point of telling us that the child was not hers and that the tales were fabricated; it is also not at all clear at thispoint that any of the other monks actually realised she was a woman. However, there is also a story of an adulterous affair that she had while she was still married to her god-fearing husband, Paphnutios. She seemed to have been told by a fortune-teller that if a sin was committed during the dark and that if no one else could see, then God would not see it either. She was distraught and sought the advice of an abbess who heard her confession, and reminded her that Mary had washed Christ’s feet with her tears. It was repentance for this affair that drove her into the monastery in the first place.
A period of repentence passed while she and the child wandered around the desert and they were then readmitted to the monastery. She had brought the child up as her own and while he seems unnamed, he is recorded to have been a godly and good boy in all respects. When she died, the abbot was astonished to find that Theodora was a woman and not a man after all.
What happened to Paphnutios? After his wife’s death, he seems to have been inspired to become a monk as well. Oh! And her “son” ultimately became abbot.
While the story is riddled with holes, it nevertheless makes very good reading and St Theodora emerges rather well as an early Christian version of Victor/Victoria or Mulan. Whether she had illicit sex once or twice does not seem to matter much- she took responsibility for the child who had been given to her (think of the teacher in “the Corn is Green” by Emlyn Williams- do you remember Toyah Wilcox as the naughty girl who leads Morgan Evans astray?) and seems to have kept herself to herself so much that even her supposed gender remained unknown.
It is tempting to see in St Theodora some sort Patron of the modern age, perhaps more clearly than the highly colourful and embellished story of the soldiers St Sergius and St Bacchus (or of Juventinus and Maximus martyred about 50 years’ later). Their story is improbable and the actual text (the passion) is full of anachronisms. Their humiliation when they refused to sacrifice to Jupiter was to be paraded in women’s clothing and beaten to death – that happened to others too. A “John Boswell” from Yale fairly recently suggested that Sergius and Bacchus were in fact lovers, described in a martyrology as erastai. He argues that before their execution, they were married in a rite called adelphopoieis and had received some form of Church blessing. All this is a bit spurious. John Boswell’s claims, nevertheless, make fantastic reading, but that, I am afraid is where it ends. He describes a civil ceremony for the emperor Basil I and a mass gay wedding taking place in the Lateran. Even if his claims were about a Wagnerian-style “Blut–Brüderschaft“, I find it odd that it should ever have taken place in the Lateran. But as the present incumbent of the Lateran might now say, “Who are we to judge?” Indeed!
While he is celebrated as one of the founders of Irish Catholicism, and while he was born in Ulster, St Finian actually owes more to Wales, where he was educated by St David. He does not seem to have been a very placid man, getting into a quarrel with St Columna over a copy of St Jerome’s Psalter which Columba eventually had to surrender.
The problem is that there are two St Finnians of which Cluain Erairdat /Clonard is the primary! The second one, whose feast is on 10th September and who comes from county Donegal, seems to have been educated partly in Rome and brought back a copy of the Vulgate with him to Ireland. He set up a school, Druim Fionn, on a sacred pagan site in Movilla at Maigh Bhile.
Where there two St Finnia? Really? Well, maybe not! There are simply many legends. Two many for one individual. Unless he be a shape-shifter and of great age, which was exactly the type of man St Finnian Two met on his travels around Ireland.
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora
Ovid introduced the idea of metamorphosis and, of course, Disney does it best in the alcoholic dream of Dumbo, with all those pink elephants, but metamorphosis was also alive and well in Celtic Ireland! Túan Mac Cairill is one of the first men ever to come to Ireland. He is one of the early heroes ranking with Cu Chulainn and Fionn Mac Cumhaill.
Túan Mac Cairill’s family and tribe die from various plagues and yet he survives. At various times over the next two thousand years, consumed with loneliness, he changes into a deer called Nemed, a wild boar and later a hawk and a salmon until he is eventually caught and eaten by the wife of Cairell, the king of Ulster; over time, he sees new groups invade and settle in Ireland. Finally, he is reborn as a baby again, the son of Cairell (a result of her eating the fish!) as a human and meets Finnian to tell him his story from start to finish.
He says: “Then I was fleeing from refuge to refuge and from cliff to cliff, protecting myself from wolves. Ireland was empty for thirty-two years. Age came upon me at last, and I could no longer travel. I was in cliffs and in wildernesses, and I had caves of my own.
“The son of Agnoman landed, my father’s brother. I used to see them from the cliffs, and hid from them: I was shaggy, clawed, wrinkled, naked, wretched, sorrowful. I was asleep one night. I saw that I went into the shape of a wild stag. I was there thereafter: I was young, and in good spirits, and the lord of a herd, and I made a circuit of Ireland with a great herd of stags around me.”
In the end, he meets St Patrick and converts to Christianity. Arthur Rackham illustrated the moment below that Túan Mac Cairill turns into a hawk: Echoes of the great Ursula Le Guin!
Makarios of Alexandria
There are two great saints called Macarios or Makarios and they were friends in Egypt. It is after these saints that the Archbishop, the First President of Cyprus, the Ethnarth (or father of the nation), was named in the Kykkos Monastery on the Troödos mountains. Later, he was elected Bishop of Kition in absentia while he was still studying on a World Council of Churches’ scholarship in Boston. Two years’ later at the age of only 37, he was the archbishop and de facto “ethnarch”, the leader of the Greek Cypriot community. He is a divisive figure but in fact much of his activity is fairly straightforward and he attracted rather a heavy dose of aggression from the British secret services who peddled fairly unconvincing stories of clerical naughtiness in an attempt to undermine the process of Enosis which by that time he had fairly robustly defied.
It was a difficult time dominated by the rise of the Junta in Modern Greece.
While he remained respected in Grteece, Makarios lost the support of the Cypriot community he governed. The British Prime minister disliked him intensely calling him a “stinker of the first order” and an American official apparently called him “a wold in Priest’s clothing,” branding him the “Castro of the mediterranean”. Part of this was his appeal to Soviet Russia for help during teh Cypriot crisis and also his failure to condemn the large Cypriot communits party, Akel.
When the insurrection began in 1955 against British rule, Makarios had only just been elected Archbishop. He was young and charismatic, and he was certainly photographed with General Grivas who led the EOKA movement towards enosis(union) with the mainland. Makarios was arrested by the British in 1956 and exiled to the Seychelles. This is what the BBC reported then:
“The archbishop was arrested when he arrived at Nicosia airport to board an airliner for Athens after refusing to denounce the use of violence. Britain has accused him of ‘actively fostering terrorism’.”
His arrest led to a fairly blanket resignation by the Greek policeforce which the British replaced with Turkish-led recruits who were happier to remain under collonial control.
This did not play well, because it led to suspicion that the British favoured the Turkish minority and that they tacitly encouraged the Turkish Resistance movement (TMT) which in turn wanted “taksim” partition and union with Turkey.
Makarios, however, was released from the Seychelles in 1959 and brokered a compromise agreement between Greece, Turkey and Britain, giving up ENOSIS and accepting independence. He was elected Prisident. The BBC recorded: “One of the first people to hail the archbishop’s success was the leader of the Turkish community, Dr Fazil Kucuk, once one of his bitterest rivals but now a staunch ally and soon-to-be vice-president.”
Makarios managed three years before attempting to modify the constitution and provoking a Turkish backlash. A greenline was drawn in Nicosia and UN peacekeepers, Unificyp were introduced in March 1964. By 1967, Turkey and Greece were poised to fight over Cyprus. Dampening down the crisis with an election, Makarios ran on an anti-ENOSIS ticket securing a landslide particularly because AKEL-leaning Cypriots looked warily at the new right-wing Greek junta. With a fresh mandate, Makarios ordered peace-talks between his man Glafcos Clerides and the Turksih leader Rauf Denktash in June 1968.
The junta had other ideas and plotted his assassination in 1970. Miraculously he walked away from his gunned-down helicopter. But the Junta then sent Grivas back to Cyprus to stir up discontent, and clamour against the “betrayal of enosis”, founding Eoka B, committed to the overthrow of the Archbishop.
By 1974, he was convinced that the Junta had infiltrated the National guard. He issued an ultimatum but instead on 15th July at 8. 15 am, the suspect officers launched their coup. Makarios escaped to Paphos and then to London. On 19th July, at the UN Security council, he denonced the coup as “an invasion” which “violated the internal peace of Cyprus” asking the UN for “all possible aid”. In a meeting with the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, he conceded that the Junta’s actions would force Turkey’s hand: “What practical measures can be taken. It is against the Turkish interests for Cyprus to become part of Greece.”
The junta imposed Nikos Sampson as President and 5 days later, on 20th July, Turkey invaded the North invoking its rights as military guarantor of peace. In Turkish Cyprus this action is called “the Peace Operation”. Sampson lasted 8 days as the Junta in Greece collapsed and Clerides replaced him until Makarios could return.
In February 1977, Makarios signed an accord with Rauf Denktash that effectively sealed the federal solution still in place today. He died unexpectedly in August that year.
St Makarios was really not much less controversial if truth be told! Makarios of Egypt, Makarios the GREAT was one of the founding fathers of Monasticism. Makarios of Alexandria was also a monk, giving up a life in trade and living as a hermit in a cave from about the age of 40. Initiallly he lived in silence among a community of monks but later went off after Makarios the Great to the Wadi el Natrun and el-Rayyan in the Beheira desert towards the north-west of the Nile delta to live alone. There were three main centres of Nitric monks- in Natrun, Nitria proper and Kellia. This particular area is also called “sketis” (Σκήτη) which gives us the name often used on the Holy mountain to refer to the dwelling of a hermit or ascetic, a “skete”.. From the word “Kellia”, though., the Latin church derives the term “cell”.The caves were abandoned in the 6th or 7th centuries.
The area was, incidentally, where the author of the “petit prince” crashed in 1935.
Makarios attracted attention for his extreme asceticism. At one point during Lent, his fellow monks called on the abbot St Pachomius to get rid of him because he seemed neither to eat, drink nor to sit down. He spent his days standing up and weaving baskets from palm leaves.
At the end of his life, he was exiled with Makarios the Great by the Emperor Valens. They were sent to a small island in the Nile delta because of their support of the teachings of St Athanasius the Great against the Arians. A pagan Priest’s daughter suffered terribl;e seizures there and the two Makarii were able to heal her. In gratitude the pagans tore down their shrine and built a church. As a result the authorities recognised that they were punishing holy men and sent them both back to their own caves.
The monastery of St Makarios lies about 92 km to the west of Cairo. It has been undergoing restoration since the late 1960s on the orders of Patriarch Cyril V. Relics of St John the Baptist and the Prophet Elisha have been found there. Regarding the life of the monastery, the abbot is on record saying “we never divide the material and spiritual. Our whole life, even in its most material details, must contribute towards the spiritual progress of each monk and the whole community towards the worship of God, ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Eph. 4:12). It is our deep conviction that we attain our heavenly vocation through the carrying out of these commonplace tasks on earth.
“This unity between the material and the spiritual in our lives is an important principle in our spirituality, and is the reason why the spiritual father’s direction is not restricted to the inner life, but extends to every detail of material, psychological and physical life. It is also the reason why we have no strict timetable separating times for prayer from times for work. However diverse our occupations during the day, we believe that we all have before us one essential task to which we must constantly address ourselves, whether we be at work, in our cells or in church, and that is to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice of love to the Lord Jesus, lifting up our hearts in unceasing prayer, and remaining continuously at peace, even in the midst of hard work, with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).”
There is a third Makarios, “the younger” who spent 23 years atoning for a murder. During this time, he never spoke. This places him alonside Myra Hindley and Ian Brady rather than the saints but there we are!
Here are a few posts about saints.
The more obscure the better, but there is always something of interest!
St Theodore- a gift from God
St Theodore is celebrated in The Catholic Church on September 5th but in Orthodoxy shares iconography and a small church in Serres (below) in Northern Greece with another Theodore, Tryron (the recruit), also a soldier, whose feast is on February 17th or the First Saturday of Lent. I cannot find eveidence for why one was kept and the other lost. In Orthodox Churches, the two saints are generally found together, called “the Great Martyrs” and celebrated as “agioi Theodoroi”. There are, of course, the more august Theodores of Nyssa and Mopsuestia, about whom no doubt more later!
St Theodore seems to be very good at finding things. There is a story from the Desert fathers about a silversmith whose home was robbed. Terribly depressed and distressed, he spent 5 days praying to St Theodore the Commander who appeared in a dream, saying “sorry I was out. I was helping the soul of Father Sabbas who died the other day, but now you have my full attendtion.” St Theodore told the silversmith to go to a specific site, taking friends with him and there he would find both the stolen silver and the thieves.St Cyril of Scythopolis records in the lives of the monks of Palestine, ” I went to the place announced by the saint, and we found it just as had been announced in the vision.”
There is another story from the 6th Century life of St Nicholas of Sion:
A blind man turned for help to Nicholas who took oil from the lamp that stood before the icon of St Theodore and made the sign of the cross with the oil over the blind man’s eyes. “The following day the eyes of the blind man were opened , and he walked around seeing, and glorified God that he had recovered his sight through the prayer of the servant of God.”
Theodore came from Euchaita, currently modern day Beyözü in Çorum, a small town in Turkey which was being excavated until recently by teams from the University of Birmingham. It is from Theodore that we get much of the mythology of the fellow soldier-saint George, because it was Theodore who killed the irritating and village-threatening giant serpent. For his brave actions, Theodore was appointed commander of the city of Heraclea during the reign of the Emperor Licinius. Heraclea is either in Konya or it is the island of Irakleia in the Cyclades (next to Naxos)- particularly good for cave-hunting…where there are fairly good rock paintings.
In response to the Emperor’s demand for pagan rituals, however, Theodore smashed the gold and silver statues and distributed all the money in the temples to the poor.He was subsequently arrested and tortured. After being repeatedly stabbed, beaten with iron rods, and burnt, his eyes were plucked out and he was crucified. In the morning, however, an angel had taken him off the cross and bandaged his wounds. His followers were baptised in their hundreds before Theodore surrendered to the local prison, releasing the other prisoners in the process. He was then beheaded, asking his servant St Varrus, that he should be remembered every year on the anniversary of his death, 8th February 319. That does not seem to have happened! He is commemorated however, but he merits a second feastday in June as a patron saint of soldiers.
I have been meaning to write something about the reading of Surah 19 in a Scottish Cathedral on 17th January. This led to the resignation of one of the Queen’s 33 Honorary chaplains, Gavin Ashenden, who wanted to conduct his own campaign against the Cathedral and against the priest who had arranged the event. For Gavin Ashenden, what happened was blasphemous.
A number of issues have been raised- that the priest who made the arrangements, the Cathedral Provost, Kelvin Holdsworth, is gay, that the Koran was read by a woman and a Shi’ite and so on. All largely irrelevant, and actually when all is considered, things to be grateful about rather than to condemn. So the real focus is the text of Surah 19, which the sensationalist press and the rev Ashenden, claimed “denies the divinity of Christ”. It does not. Here is a photograph of Madinah Javed reciting the Surah. At the bottiomof the blog is a video recorded in the Cathedral of her recitation. It is, in itself, rather beautiful.
This is what Rev Ashenden wrote to “The Times”:
“Quite apart from the wide distress (some would say blasphemy) caused by denigrating Jesus in Christian worship, apologies may be due to the Christians suffering dreadful persecution at the hands of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“To have the core of a faith for which they have suffered deeply treated so casually by senior Western clergy such as the Provost of Glasgow is unlikely to have a positive outcome.
“There are other and considerably better ways to build “bridges of understanding”.”
There is nothing new in reading the Koran in a Scottish Cathedral. It has been done before, in front of the Moderator of the Church of scotland, in front of Archbishop Winning. And the passage chosen had been read before in Churches in Scotland on a number of occasions. It celebrates the belief in Islam in the Virgin birth, and is also just one instance when Mary is celebrated in the Koran. Mary, after all, is mentioned far more in the Koran than in the Christian Bible and Mary is the only woman to be mentioned by name in the Koran.
In his blog, the Chaplain writes about “Kelvin Holdsworth’s lack of awareness, and his carelessness” which may well be cause for alarm and he also highlights the issue that caused him distress. Towards the end of the Surah are three verses which question the idea that God should have a son, the Christian claim, specifically 19.91 and 19.92:
In the reports circulating on Twitter, the chaplain insists that the Surah specifically denies the Divinity of Christ, which frankly is not the case. It is a passage that may be taken to defend such a denial, but the text itself does not do that. It deals with the lives of Zakariyya. Maryam, Jesus, Yahya (John), Abraham, Ishmael, and Enoch (Idris). It reproduces the Christian message of “glad tidings”, so it is a good companion piece to the New Testament, though it also adds “warnings”. There are warnings about who might intercede to God and as this passage traditionally was to have been recited to a neighbouring Christian King, Negus, it is likely that the passage implicitly challenges the orthodox belief in the intercession of the Theotokos, but it is implicit, not explicit and many anglicans absolutely reject this belief anyway. The only explicit statement that might worry a Christian congregation is the statement above that God should not be thought to have a son.
Reciting the Surah traditionally confers great blessings.
The variety of belief accepted in the Anglican communion today is remarkable. Indeed, it is only recently in 1984, that the Archbishop of York, Dr David Jenkins, denied the Virgin birth. This is a passage from the Koran that, in contrast, celebrates both parthenogenesis and the role of Mary in the Christian narrative!
I applaud the Provost, therefore, in promoting interfaith, and particularly during the service of Epiphany. This is the time when the magi visited Jesus- when people of different faiths and backgrounds came to the home of the infant child and brought him gifts. In the Orthodox tradition, it is also a celebration of the Baptism of Christ.
Following the Chaplain’s intervention (he was not at the service, and maybe the term “bullying” would be more appropriate), the Archbishop of Glasgow has apologised for any distress caused. I really cannot see that there was any reason at all to apologise. We need to promote ties with Islam, welcome strangers, rejoice in mutual kindness and celebrate what we hold in common if we are to challenge extremism.
The Provost is no stranger to controversy. Here he is discussing gay marriage on “Songs of Praise”: