Ascension Sunday and visit of Rowan Williams to St Paul’s Anglican Church Athens
Fr L W Doolan
They say ‘lightning doesn’t strike twice’. Open for debate, I think. A few years ago I had the privilege of preaching at St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral in the centre of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The preacher the Sunday before my preaching engagement was none other than one Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Follow that.
Well I find that I am in the same situation again. Bishop Rowan Williams preached here last Sunday, so I find myself in a somewhat unenviable situation again. ‘Lightning doesn’t strike twice’. If I put a positive spin on this, I could be grateful to Rowan Williams as my ‘warm up’ guy.
Bishop Rowan was with us in Athens for 5 days, and we had a varied programme, a programme devised by me to exploit the world-wide prestige of this man, and the esteem with which he is held by the Orthodox Church here in Greece.
He arrived last Saturday night and stayed at the Residence of the British Ambassador. Sunday was set aside for a St. Paul’s focus, with him presiding and preaching at the morning Liturgy, followed by a wonderful church brunch served in our garden – thank you to all who organised this brunch, or who served food, moved tables, cleared away, and brought food to share.
After an afternoon rest we were back to St. Paul’s for Choral Evensong with the Schola Cantorum choir which Bishop Rowan thoroughly enjoyed, and we popped into Plaka to have a drink with the young singers.
On Monday we had an audience with His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens. At this Bishop Rowan presented HB with a commissioned icon of St. Theodore of Tarsus. In case you are unaware, Theodore was born in Tarsus, educated in Athens, and became Archbishop of Canterbury in the latter decades of the 7 th Century. This was a great opportunity to show the historic connections with Canterbury, before the great 11th century schism between East and West.
After visiting a few historic churches in the centre of Athens we embarked on a guided tour of the Byzantine Museum, with Dr. Niki Tsironi of the Hellenic Institute as our guide. Monday evening brought together leading figures from the ecumenical, social, academic and ecclesiastical life of Athens for a dinner hosted at the British Residence.
On Tuesday we visited Aegina, first to the ancient and sadly neglected chapels of Paleochora, followed by a spiritual visit to the shrine of St. Nektarios. By contrast we then spent a short time at the stunningly beautiful 5 th century BC temple of Aphaia. On our return ferry journey Bishop Rowan was interviewed by a prestigious journalist from Kathimerini newspaper. That interview might be in today’s edition, if not it will probably be next Sunday.
One of ‘key events’ of Bishop Rowan’s visit was a colloquium at St.Philothei House in Plaka. The bishop introduced themes from one of his recent books, ‘Being Human’, followed by panel contributions from Metropolitan Gabriel of Nea Ionia, and Mr. Kostas Karras who turned out to be a bit of a firebrand. I think we could have listened to the panel all night. Well over a hundred people came to this event, including a really good number of you, the congregation, and I am thankful to you for being there – it was remarked on by several people. read more about Tuesday evening here
Wednesday was a bit of a whirlwind. First there was the liturgy here, then to a formal welcome at Apostoli offices. I pay tribute to the tireless support that Apostoli offers to the Anglican Church, and in particular the personal friendship shown to me by Dr. Vasileios Meichanetsidis. After formal speeches we were whisked away to a formal reception from Metropolitan Gabriel and 14 of his senior clergy. After a good lunch in a fish restaurant, we brought the 5 day visit to a close with a personal appointment with the Deputy Foreign Minister. We managed a well-earned quick cup of tea at the British Residence before escorting Bp. Rowan to the airport.
The consequences of this highly significant visit will emerge over the months and even years ahead, and I believe some excellent seeds were sown that will mature into good fruits.
It was my privilege to be in attendance throughout, and I wanted to take some time to share with you all the ingredients of the visit. There will be sequels to this historic encounter. Throughout it was the crucified, risen ascended and glorified Christ who was at the centre of the visit.