…and I Single-handedly Save Liverpool Cathedral and Everyone in It
Well, that last is an exaggeration. Okay, so it’s a wild exaggeration; nobody, apart from the deacon, was ever in any real danger.
What happened is, we attended the ordination of our friend and neighbor, Stuart, with 13 others, at (the Anglican) Liverpool Cathedral, and it came time for the reading of the Gospel. So the richly-attired deacon came down the center aisle as far as the cross aisle, where Demetrios and I were, and where the Paschal Candle was set on a stand taller than the deacon himself. And just as the deacon had finished the Gospel Lesson, and the people were saying, “Praise be to Thee, O Christ,” the Paschal Candle went out. It went out because its entire top section, wick, wax, flame, and all, fell, barely missing the deacon himself and dropping into a wreath of flowers on the floor. Of course the wreath caught fire.
The deacon, facing away from the candle, heard the people gasp and turned after a moment or two and saw the burning flowers, but in his alb and cope, his best move was to get out of there. So, with the equally long-skirted acolytes either side of him, he processed solemnly back up the aisle to the chancel.
People murmured, but nobody did anything. Demetrios later said he was waiting for some official to do something. Others appeared reluctant to trample the beautiful flowers. Somebody began ineffectually beating at the flames with a giant candle snuffer, but the fire only grew. So finally, unwilling to wait any longer, I did it – just waded in, hiking up my dress some, and began stomping and in a moment the fire was out (and my brand new shoes, unharmed).
Okay, back-tracking now to tell you the main story, Stuart is the very special man at whose house we meet on Tuesday nights for Bible study. He’s a good and humble man and we are very fond of him and Angela, his wife. So when we found out his ordination was on Sunday at 10:30, we realized we could actually be there, as the Orthodox service, only a few blocks away, didn’t begin until noon. So, on a glorious Pentecost morning, we set off, taking the train to Liverpool and a cab from the station to the Cathedral.
We found seats right beside a delightful old lady who looked like an elderly Katharine Hepburn and was as personable as she was pretty. (We ended up giving her one of our cards, in hopes of keeping up the acquaintance.) She is a geographer, used to teach geography in school and keeps up her interest (though she didn’t know where Thessaloniki is) and she kept chatting amiably until the opening prayer.
Those to be ordained are first taken to the Chapter House, where they stand before the Bishop of Liverpool and make some affirmations and vows.
First, each affirms and declares “my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.”
This of course raises a couple of questions in my mind, such as what Scripture is thought to set forth and what is not allowed by Canon, but we can pass over those for now.
Next come two oaths:
I, _____, swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors according to law.
I, ____, swear by Almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of Liverpool and his successors in all things lawful and honest.
Then, says the rubric, “When the legal business is completed, those to be ordained are conducted from the Chapter House to their places in the Cathedral.”
The service proper begins with the Cathedral Procession, consisting of:
Beadle [a minor parish official whose duties include ushering and preserving order at services ]
The Cross of Liverpool
Cathedral Readers and Chaplains
Officers for post licensing Initial Ministerial Education
Assistant Dean of Women’s Ministries
Director of Ordinands
Mace [one who carries a mace, an ornamental staff borne as a symbol of authority before a public official]
The Archdeacon of Northolt (one Rachel Treweek)
The Cathedral Chapter
The Dean of Liverpool
The Bishop of Warrington
The Bishop of Liverpool
We were able to stay through the ordinations, but had to leave for our own church just as the Eucharistic rite was beginning,
What can I say about the service? The words were unobjectionable (apart from the filioque) and the rites impressive enough. Although we missed a certain profundity to be found in Orthodox services, one could almost think the service quite orthodox, until you remembered that of the 14 people ordained, 10 were women. (It's their organization; let them do what they please with it, is what I say.)
We ducked out after the Applause (to welcome the newly ordained) and before the Exchange of Peace, to find our glorious morning transformed into a cold, rainy one; and having broken one of our two cardinal rules, we were carrying only one umbrella, the one in my purse. Demetrios had bought it just before we came here, thinking it a bargain at only $5. NO! You need a good umbrella here, and it’s worth every penny you pay. This one was virtually useless; we actually tossed it in the trash bin later, at the end of the day.
After two miserable blocks of wet and cold and wind, we hailed a cab to take us the remaining four, and arrived only a few moments late.
Gotta tell you, it’s been a while since I did a full, forehead-to-the-ground prostration. Those Pentecost prayers, just the parts where you do the prostrations, seemed to me half an hour long! They’re virtually never done at our parish back in Richmond, except on Pentecost Sunday. I’m going to have to start doing some of those at home or I’ll be totally unable by next year. I habitually forget I’m no thirty-year-old.
After the Divine Liturgy, we were reunited with several friends, notably dear Elias, together with Philippos and Yiannis. We met another Yiannis, a Greek-American born and raised in New Jersey. It felt very good to us and apparently to him, to meet another American in church.
We had to hurry away soon after church, because back in Ormskirk, the local parish was having a biggish “do” for Stuart. And for Linda, their other newly-ordained priest. The festivities were to continue until vespers at 4:30, so we thought we could make it, but we didn’t.
Yiannis, the one we met last year, kindly drove us to the train station; we only had to wait 12 minutes for our train to depart at 3:10; we arrived in Ormskirk at 3:40, and the Church House was several freezing, wet, windy blocks away. We gave up and ducked into the first open café we found, to take shelter and have a LONG-delayed meal.
We were still there when a formally-attired party of some 30 people arrived – a gray-mustachioed man and his bride, and, we supposed, his and her various children and grandchildren and best friends.
Then, home through the wind and rain and cold. We gave up even trying to stay somewhat dry and dashed through it all as quickly as we could, laughing and panting until we arrived at our cozy, warm apartment, where we stripped off our sodden clothing, got into pajamas and robes, hung up our wet things near the radiators to dry, and settled down to a hot cuppa in front of the television. Watched a hilarious movie called “Clockwise” and then, early to bed and to sleep while it was still daylight.
Here is a slidehow of the ordination, in case you want to see pictures. In one of them, the paschal candle is visible, and you can see Demetrios and me standing near it, bottom center of the photo. We're also in the bottom right corner of a couple more photos in this group.