Thursday, 29 November 2007
How long before the state begins to think 'Nero had the right idea' ? The persecution continues...
The Royal Commonwealth Society is at the centre of an embarrassing row after it barred a well-known Roman Catholic commentator from attacking intolerance towards Christians at its annual carol service.
Cristina Odone, the former deputy editor of the New Statesman, was to be one of the "celebrity readers" at the service in St Martin in the Fields church in central London next month, which is attended by diplomats and politicians.
But she has pulled out of the event, accusing the society of demonstrating exactly the kind of intolerance she had planned to criticise.
"I am incandescent," she said. "I was told that the words I had written were not appropriate because the congregation would include people of little or no faith who presumably would be upset. Even more insultingly, I was asked instead to read a passage from Bertrand Russell, a militant atheist."
Ms Odone was invited three months ago to take part in the service alongside George Alagiah, the broadcaster, Gareth Thomas, the Government minister, and Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth Secretary General.
As an experienced writer and broadcaster on religion, she was asked to write a short piece on the theme of "opportunities for all" that could be "political and controversial".
She developed the theme of secular intolerance towards believers of all faiths, from the British Airways worker suspended for wearing a cross to the Muslim schoolgirl banned from wearing the veil.
"When it comes to expressing their faith, this country's believers have found that opportunities are blocked," Ms Odone wrote.
"Whether it is the boss at work or the head at school, the local authority or the chattering classes, people of faith know that their worldview is under siege, and their allegiances under suspicion.
"To parade this allegiance by wearing a cross, a cap or a veil is red rag to the secularist bull. What little opportunity believers have to bear witness to their faith is being quashed. If you are black or gay or female, your plea for equal opportunity is met with respect, and your campaign is applauded by supporters. But not if you are a believer. In a culture increasingly hostile to God and his followers, expressions of faith have become taboo. The only opportunity we have is for silence."
Stuart Mole, the director-general of the society, an educational charity that promotes the Commonwealth and whose patron is the Queen, told her the script was not acceptable.
He said it did not fit in with the overall theme of the readings, adding: "We also need to be mindful of the congregation, which will probably include quite a few drawn by the occasion and by the carols but who do not hold a deep (or even a shallow) faith."
Yesterday Ms Odone said: "I think there is a tremendous move to down play this country's Christian heritage, to silence, ridicule and marginalise religious belief.
"They have shown precisely the kind of intolerance and disapproval of Christianity that I am talking about."
Mr Mole said he was "deeply sorry" Ms Odone felt unable to participate in the service but the tone of her script was too polemical for a "multi-faith" carol service
30th November - Feast of St Andrew
1st century; feast day formerly on November 3; feast of his translation, May
9. Andrew was a worrier, or so it seems, who concentrated on details. He
wanted to know where Jesus lived (John 1:38), how they were going to feed a
crowd (John 6:9), and when Jerusalem would be destroyed (Mark 13:4). Born
at Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, Andrew was a fisherman, the son of the
fisherman John, and the brother of the fisherman Simon Peter. It's no wonder
then that Jesus called Andrew to be a fisher of men (Mark 1:16-18). Jesus
stayed with the brothers at their second home in Caparnaum (Mark 1:29), so
they must have been prosperous fishermen, which makes their commitment even
It's appropriate that we celebrate Saint Andrew's feast at the beginning of
Advent because he was first a disciple of John the Baptist, and, when he met
the Lord of Creation at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, he became Jesus' first
disciple (John 1:29-40). Let's ask Saint Andrew to bring us anew to the Lord
as he also brought his brother Peter (John 1:41-42). For a time Andrew and
Simon followed Jesus intermittently, but when the Savior returned to
Galilee, he called them from fishing into ministry and they "dropped their
nets immediately and followed Him (Matt. 4:20) (may we, too, as quickly drop
our work to follow when the Lord calls). They left their families, their
business, and their possessions.
With Philip, he presented the Gentiles to Christ (John 12:20-22) and pointed
out the boy with the loaves and fishes (John 6:8). After the Pentecost he is
said to have preached the gospel in many regions, including Scythia
(according to Eusebius), Epirus (according to Saint Gregory Nazianzen), or
Achaia (per Saint Jerome). An ancient legend preserved in the Old English
poem Andreas (once attributed to Cynewulf) has him preaching in Ethiopia. A
later dubious tradition has him going to Byzantium, where he appointed Saint
Andrew is one of the few early disciples of Jesus about whom there are few
legends. Rather than miraculous legends the story of Saint Andrew is the
story of the Apostles. We always want extraordinary saints, and we are
surprised to find that even among the Apostles there was one whose life was
without miracles. Most saints have lived a simple, everyday life, sometimes
miraculous, but only sometimes. Saint Andrew is just another indication that
we, too, can live a simple, everyday life and still be saints. We, too, can
live a life that is hidden in God and in His Church.
It's uncertain where and how he died except that it was somewhere near the
Black Sea, but an ancient tradition (4th century Acta) says he was crucified
at Patras in Achaia on an X- shaped cross (now known as a Saint Andrew's
Cross). This tradition tells us that the proconsul tied him to the cross
where he remained for several days preaching to all who came to watch the
execution. And the tradition of his martyrdom at Patras was based on an
early medieval forgery, strengthened by the translation of his alleged
relics from Patras. The forgery was intended to provide a counterweight to
Rome's more solid claim to the relics of Saints Peter and Paul.
There is an unfounded tradition that he preached in Russia, reaching as far
as Kiev in the Ukraine, from where the conversion of the country spread in
the 11th century. He is also considered to be a patron of Scotland, where
another tradition says some of his relics were brought in the 4th century in
consequence of a dream of Saint Rule (Regulus), who was custodian of
Andrew's relics at Patras. Reportedly an angel guided Rule to a place called
Saint Andrew's, where Regulus built a church to house the relics, became its
first bishop, and evangelized the Scots in the area for three decades. The
church became a center of pilgrimage. Crusaders stole Andrew's alleged body
in 1210 and took them to Amalfi, which still claims the relics. The head,
considered one of the treasures of Saint Peter's, was given to Pope Pius II
by the despot Thomas Palaeologus in 1461, but was returned to Constantinople
by Pope Paul VI.
Andrew's feast was universal in the West from the 6th century. There are
church dedications in his honor from early times in France, Italy, and
Saint Andrew is generally pictured as an old man, generally with a book and
transverse or saltire cross. Sometimes the image may contain (1) fish or a
fishing net; (2) rope; (3) Andrew sitting in a boat. In the most
ancient images, he is depicted with a normal Latin cross. The X-cross was
associated with him from the 10th century at Autun, but became common only
in the 14th century (Farmer). There are several images available on the
He is the patron of Avranches, Brabant, Brunswick, Burgundy, Holstein,
Luxembourg, Minden, Pesaro, Yetminster, Russia, Scotland, and Greece. He is
the protector of fishermen, fishmongers, and sailors. He is invoked against
gout and stiff-neck