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Archives: Consecration of St. George’s, Jerusalem (1898)

After a bloody pogrom in Damascus in 1840, the British foreign minister, Lord Palmerston, gained the Ottoman sultan’s support for a plan to encourage Jews from across Europe and Asia to move to Palestine. Anglican mission work began in Jerusalem at the same time, led by the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (known as the London Jews Society), which dedicated Christ Church, Jerusalem, the oldest Protestant Church in the Middle East in 1849. A controversial joint Anglican-Lutheran bishopric was founded in 1841, and its first three bishops were evangelical Anglicans, who worked with missionaries sent by the London Jews Society and the evangelical Church Missionary Society, and who founded many schools and some churches. Success in making converts among the growing number of Jews in the region was minimal, and soon, a majority of Anglicans in the region were formerly Orthodox Arab-speakers.

Bishop Blythe | Diocese of Jerusalem photo

The fourth Bishop of Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. G.F. Popham Blyth (1832-1914), was a committed Anglo-Catholic, who focused his ministry on strengthening ties between Anglicans and the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. He raised funds in the U.K. and North America to support the building of St. George’s just outside the walls of the Old City, an effort that included the founding of the Episcopal Church’s Good Friday Offering, which still supports the ministry of the Diocese. Blyth, who served as bishop from 1887 to 1914, made St. George’s his seat, but always called it a “collegiate church” because he believed Jerusalem could have only one cathedral, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Blyth secured the passage of resolutions at the 1888 and 1897 Lambeth Conferences that encouraged work toward full communion with the Orthodox churches and renewed evangelization of the Jews. The 1898 consecration of Saint George’s, which remains the cathedral of the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, was intended by Blyth as a demonstration of this new focus for Anglican mission in Palestine on the evangelization of Jews and Muslims and on seeking deeper unity with the churches of the East. This is a portion of an article published in the December 3, 1898, issue of The Living Church. The full issue is available online in the TLC Archives.

Consecration of the Collegiate Church of St. George the Martyr, Jerusalem

On St. Luke’s Day, this event, destined probably to have far-reaching consequences in the history of Christianity, took place, by the joint act of the Bishop of Salisbury [the Rt. Rev. John Wordsworth] (as delegate of the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Bishop [George F. Popham] Blyth, the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem and the East. The ceremony constitutes a new historical starting point. Never before has the Anglican Church been able to represent itself in the East in its true character as a faithful descendant of the Apostolic Church founded by our Lord on this sacred spot, and claiming by its authorized ritual and ceremonial an equal place in the sisterhood of Catholic Christendom. No one who had the privilege of taking part on this deeply interesting occasion, and of hearing Bishop Blyth’s sermon, can ever again doubt the wisdom of reconstituting the bishopric.

The function was attended by three delegates of the Orthodox Church (including two archbishops), an archbishop and a priest of the Armenian Church, the bishop and a priest of the Syrian Church, the bishop and a priest of the Coptic Church, the superior and another priest of the Abyssinian [Ethiopian Orthodox] Church, and three pastors of the Lutheran Church …

Nowhere else, in the entire absence of any political interest, could such a representation of Catholic Christianity have been gathered together, and it is satisfactory to note that none went away disappointed. Catholics were surprised to find how Catholic we are, and unbiased Protestants recognized the absence of those points against which alone the battle of the Reformation was fought.

“Never before has the Anglican Church been able to represent itself in the East in its true character as a faithful descendant of the Apostolic Church founded by our Lord on this sacred spot.”

The group of buildings, the erection of which is entirely due to the untiring exertions of Bishop Blyth, consists of a quadrangle, having on the east side the church and vestry; on the south side, the warden’s house (the residence of the bishop); on the west, the library (not yet built) and gate tower; on the north, the subwarden and fellows’ lodgings, of which only the lower story is built. The whole will eventually be connected by a cloister running round the four sides. …

After the sentence of consecration had been signed by both bishops, and read by the acting registrar, Mr. George Jeffry; the beautiful and dignified English service of the Holy Communion was proceeded with, the Bishop of Salisbury being the celebrant. This service was closely and intelligently followed by the representatives of the other churches.

The whole ceremony was much brightened, and the bishop’s heart cheered, by the presence of some thirty-five English visitors who came out with the Bishop of Salisbury, nearly half of them being English clergy who took part in the procession. The offerings amounted to a little over £107.

The Sermon by the Rt. Rev. G.F. Popham Blyth, D.D., Bishop of the Anglican Church in Jerusalem

“That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they may also be one In Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.” John xvii: 21.

The prominent thought which this day is upon the minds of those who have been concerned in the building and equipment of this church, is that of thankfulness to Almighty God who has granted to our work the issue of success.

When we remember that he himself ordered and arranged the solemnities which inaugurated the erection of the Tabernacle, and of the first Temple of God in this city, we can scarcely miss the lesson that, “except the Lord build the house, their labor is but lost that build it;” we could scarcely have presumed, without appeal to him and without trust in his sanction, to build a house for the worship of God upon holy ground. We cannot but feel that he who was the first Missionary in these “holy fields,” and who remains so still, is conscious of, and interested in, the foundation of such an edifice.

It was prophesied as the crowning distinction of Zerubbabel’s Temple, that the presence of the Messiah should hallow it. And it has interested me greatly to note that such a thought as that of the consciousness of Christ of this building has been on the mind of some of those who have made offerings towards it; one and another of whom have said: “I have thought that perhaps his feet may one day stand within its walls at his coming again.” His Presence we know is here; it is with us “to the end of the ages.” But such a thought as I have mentioned may be no mere sentiment, as it regards a building erected here, in days which seem to the Eastern mind a turning point of the ages.

As we have been permitted to build this house on such ground in the holy cause of witness to that primitive Faith of the Gospel which our Church holds sacred, and in that of the destined reunion of the branches of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, it cannot be without his cognizance, who from this Holy City first gave his faith and witness to the world; where also he prayed for and willed the unity of Christendom.

Here in Jerusalem is the natural center of the accomplishment of his will; here we must return with childlike purity, as to the cradle of the primitive Faith. And with such professed aim are the representative bishops of the communions of national Churches of Christendom gathered at the mother city of our religion. And their presence here is without prejudice to the right of the throne of St. James, the first bishop. Such is the true theory of the gathering of the bishops of the Catholic Church in the Holy City; and I have heard it acknowledged by the representatives of every Church which is so personated amongst us. Alas for the unworthy differences of assumptions which for the present bar us from joint action …

When I first came to this city, I saw at once that should there be any increase of success in the missions, and consequent settlement of resident members of the congregation around the churches; or any influx of English Churchmen, whether temporary as visitors, or permanent as residents, there must be a considerable increase of church accommodation …

[An idea] was represented to me by the late Patriarch of Jerusalem [Gerasiumus I] (and he wrote his proposal in detail to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to two other prominent English Churchmen of his acquaintance,) that if the Anglican Bishop would build a house, with a church attaching to it, after the usual Oriental custom, and with resident clergy, not being under the control of any society, but of the Bishop alone, and if he would place on evidence before other Churches such services and ceremonial and order as are fairly representative of and legal in the English Church, without party bias (a matter which he understood quite well) that this would more than anything else could, give to the churches which are also represented here, a clear conception of what Anglican worship and doctrine profess, and of our Catholic claim and position …

I felt that this was a reasonable proposal, and from it I developed the present plan. This, you know, is a bishopric of representation, both of the Catholic claim and position, and of the Apostolic order of the Anglican Church, and also of the distinctive and primitive missionary spirit of our Communion. And I have always endorsed that view which I have already stated to you, that in the same way that the bishops of all other branches of the Catholic Church are represented here, namely, as their Apostolic founders had their common home in the Mother City of the Faith (without detriment to the rights of St. James), so are we also present here.

Nowhere else in the world is such a gathering possible. It is due from us, therefore, that we should present with episcopal authority what is legal and usual in the Church at home; and that we should give illustration (as may be legitimate in our position here) of that missionary character which so prominently distinguishes her amongst the Churches. No one can tell the importance which may result from our fidelity to this duty in days when the Churches of the land shall turn their attention to this vital point, or, more especially, when the Church first planted in the world, which is the real Church of the land, shall revive according to Christ’s promise; and the Church of the Hebrews shall recover her lost place in the sisterhood of Catholic Christianity.

There is another important cause, though secondary to that which I have just stated, which led to the erection of these buildings. It is certainly necessary that we should now transfer our work from hired houses to permanent buildings of our own. This bishopric, which has been so heavily weighted by the misgivings of churchmen and by party strife is being better and better understood throughout the Church at home. The Anglican bishopric in Jerusalem is one of the oldest of our bishoprics … and alas! one of the most backward. It is, however, thank God, no longer the “Dead See.” The clergy have more than doubled in number since its revival. They were twenty-five; they are now fifty-six; and the bishopric is ripe for subdivision, and we face interests ample and interminable. This alone necessitates permanent headquarters for our work, though I do state it as the least important of an hundred reasons. And we are thankful to have the holding of our own on the sacred soil of the common faith.

The marvelous growth of buildings connected with other churches evidences not only the religious, but also the political, interest of which Jerusalem is the center. I think I may fairly state that whilst the object of the Anglican Church is absolutely without political intention (there being no State support whatever behind us, since all that has been spent here has been raised by private benevolence and gifts), there is still a national interest in St. George’s Church, and the queen’s font in yonder baptistry is indeed a royal gift. We English people are somewhat slow to entertain a new idea, but tenacious of it when once it is accepted, and I trust that the growing intelligence of the mission of the Anglican mission in the East, and specially with regard to the coming of the Jews, and of their separate claim under our Lord’s commission as to missionary enterprise, will give evidence in days to come that our Communion desires to replace past neglect of our trust by attentive obedience to the full terms of our Lord’s missionary commission to the Church. …

The revival of national spirit amongst the Jews, their growing power in the world, the awakening of their ambition towards their own land, seem to herald days foretold by their own prophets as well as by their rejected Messiah, when the Spirit of God’s mercy shall react upon them from the mercy shown to the Gentiles on their fall. The ministration of this mercy is the gracious return appointed to the Gentile Churches for what we have received in their stead, that thus they may also at length inherit the mercy of Christ with ourselves.

Some Communion must first raise the protest against the long-maintained disobedience of the Church to the command of Christ with reference to them, so touchingly emphasized after his rejection, and on the eve of his Ascension. If we profess no political aim with regard to our presence in the Holy Land, let us give the lead in showing to them this mercy.

Let it be our ambition to show forth and to maintain our own Apostolic and Catholic position and our reverence for the same gifts as are common to sister Churches, not by standing apart and claiming to ourselves rights which are as common to the sisterhood of the Churches as were our apostolic founders several but equal in their unity, witnessing simply that the double missionary commission of Christ to the Jew and to the Gentile is the broad banner of life and of unity in the faith of Christ.

And as to this building which we consecrate today, should its walls cease to echo the plea for obedience to the double and perfect aspect of the Saviour’s command which the apostolic age first pleaded from this city, then must its proper mission lapse, for in that perfect obedience will revive the unity of the apostolic era. Hear the Saviour’s prayer for it, “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they all may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou has sent Me.”

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