Easter as a specific annual festival was celebrated, almost from the beginning, for a period of fifty days. This is attested by writers in the second century. The church marked this period by standing for prayer and by a prohibition of any fasting. It was like a fifty day Sunday. The first week of this Easter period had assumed some importance by the fourth century. The closing of the fifty days of celebration was marked with a feast by the end of the third century. There are various references to the observance of the Day of Pentecost from the early fourth century. By that time, any connection with the Jewish festival of Pentecost, as a celebration of the wheat harvest, had been lost. Later in the fourth century, Egeria tells of the celebrations in Jerusalem to mark the end of the Easter festivities. The account from the Acts of the Apostles of the day of Pentecost was read in the morning, and in the afternoon everyone went to the Mount of Olives, where the story of the ascension was read.
Although Jerusalem clearly celebrated Pentecost and Ascension on the same day, other churches were already beginning to observe them after the pattern in Acts, that is, observing the Ascension on the fortieth day after Easter and Pentecost on the fiftieth. It is not clear exactly when Pentecost became the special feast of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and of the missionary task of the church, but there are references to those elements from the end of the fourth century. Also by then Pentecost was being recognized as a time for the baptism of those unable to attend the Easter baptisms. Attempts by bishops to confine baptisms to these two days became increasingly difficult with the growing prevalence of infant baptism in local churches.
Although the church has followed the pattern of the Acts of the Apostles in its formation of the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, the rest of the New Testament is much less in-clined to distinguish the events from Easter itself either in time or in significance. In John’s Gospel there is no suggestion of an ascension separate from the resurrection, and the outpouring of the Spirit is a feature of the evening of the day of the resurrection (John 20:22). Paul makes no distinction between the resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation to heaven (e.g. Philippians 2:8,9), and no trace of such a distinction is to be found in the Letter to the Hebrews. It is not surprising, however, that the church has found Luke’s chronology to be a useful way of giving specific focus to the conclusion of the celebration of Easter.
There were Christians in Britain when it was part of the Roman Empire, and this laid the foundations for an English church. Plagued by both external pressures and internal dissension, the Roman Empire effectively lost control of Britain by the end of the fourth century. The Saxon invasions of the fifth century submerged the earlier Celtic culture. The Celtic church was more and more confined to the west of Britain. They found missionary work among the invading Saxons extremely difficult and they became increasingly isolated. It is Augustine therefore who is known as the apostle of the English for his missionary work among the Anglo-Saxons. He became the first archbishop of Canterbury in 597.
It was Pope Gregory the Great who conceived the idea of a mission to the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, having seen, according to Bede, some fair-skinned slave boys in the market-place, and on discovering that they were Angles remarked on their angelic faces.
In 596 Gregory sent a team of monks from his own monastery in Rome under the leadership of their abbot, Augustine. They nearly turned back, daunted by the prospect of living in what must have appeared a barbarous and dangerous outpost. However, they eventually landed in Britain in 597.
Kent provided the obvious place to establish the mission as it was the part of Britain most in-fluenced by the continent of Europe. The local king, Ethelbert, whose wife Bertha was a Christian, tolerated their mission and allowed them to establish themselves at Canterbury, using the old Roman Church of St Martin.
The historian Bede notes:
Here they first assembled to sing the psalms, to pray, to say Mass, to preach, and to baptise, until the king’s own conversion to the Faith gave them greater freedom to preach and to build and restore churches everywhere.
Ethelbert accepted Christianity and was baptised, as were a great many of his subjects. Augustine could now go to Arles, where he was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. So successful had Augustine been that in 598 he sent to Rome for more monks.
Augustine continued to seek the advice of Gregory on even quite small matters. It was Gregory who gave him the following famous counsel over the variety of religious practices in England:
If you have found customs, whether in the Church of Rome or of Gaul or any other that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make careful selection of them, and teach the Church of the English, which is still young in the Faith, whatever you have been able to learn with profit from the various Churches. For things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things.
Gregory empowered Augustine to appoint another archbishop in York and to ordain a dozen bishops in southern Britain. Augustine did not carry this through. Gregory also appointed Augustine archbishop of all the bishops in Britain, meaning the successors of Celtic bishops from Roman times. Augustine made efforts to contact these bishops and establish his primatial authority over them, but understandably, as he represented the newer Anglo-Saxon culture, they regarded him with great suspicion, and attempts at ecclesiastical unity in Britain at that time came to nothing.
By the time of Augustine’s death in 604 or 605, the Anglo-Saxon church was well established in eastern and southern Britain.
The Venerable Bede is remembered principally for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. His talents reached far beyond that however, though it remains his outstanding work and most significant contribution to the story of the church.
Bede was born about 673 near Sunderland. At the age of seven he was placed in the monastery at Wearmouth under the care of Benedict Biscop. Biscop had become the founder and abbot of Wearmouth in 674, and developed there a great centre of art and learning, based on the enormous collection of books he gathered from his visits to Rome and elsewhere. In 682 he founded the monastery of Jarrow and placed Bede there under the abbot, Ceolfrith. Bede spent the remainder of his life at Jarrow, never travelling further from it than, perhaps, Lindisfarne or York. Probably because of exceptional progress in his studies, he was ordained deacon at the age of 19. He was ordained priest about 703 at the age of 30.
Bede used the library gathered by Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrith to the full, and became the greatest scholar of the western church of his time. He wrote extensively on chronology and on the lives of the saints and on the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and provided extensive commentaries on Scripture, based on earlier patristic writings. His works on chronology are of significance because they helped to establish the custom of dating events from the birth of Jesus. The crown of his work was his Ecclesiastical History. It is an outstanding work because of Bede’s careful attention to sources and his judicious and charitable treatment of contentious points. It is, within the limits of the information available to him, reliable and accurate. For the sixth and seventh centuries it remains the major source of English history.
The character of Bede is evident in his works: he was an ardent and careful scholar. He did his work, he says, “amid the observance of monastic discipline and the daily singing in church”. He remained a devout scholar to the end, dictating his vernacular translation of John’s Gospel on his death-bed. He died in 735. The title “Venerable” (meaning “revered”) was ascribed to him more than a century later and indicates the respect with which he was regarded.
Edith Mary Mellish was born on the island of Mauritius on 10 March 1861 to Edward and Ellen Mellish. Her father was a banker and businessman in Australia and then in Mauritius from 1859. Later he was stationed in China and England, where Edith attended a boarding school. Edith’s mother died when she was two, and Edward’s second wife, Sarah Waterworth, had been a CMS missionary. She encouraged Edith’s religious development, and Edith wanted to be a missionary. As the oldest child, Edith took on the responsibilities of helping with the children of her father’s second and third marriages. Only when the children were old enough could she follow her own plans. First of all she undertook some parish work. Then, seeking training, she joined the Deaconess Community of St Andrew, London, in 1881 and became a deaconess in 1891.
The nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of new roles for women in society. In the Church of England this was reflected in the re-establishment of the order of deaconesses and in the growth of religious communities for women. Deaconesses tended to work in parishes, but the religious communities were more independent. These two strands over-lapped, as can be seen in the Deaconess Community of St Andrew.
The same year in which Edith became a deaconess, the bishop of Christchurch (Churchill Julius) wrote to the bishop of London (Frederick Temple), asking that a sister be made avail-able for work in the Christchurch Diocese. Bishop Temple agreed to the request, provided that the sister who was sent should build up a community for other women workers. Emerging social problems in Christchurch had led a number of women to express an interest in church work and in forming a community. In January 1892 Bishop Julius admitted Frances Torlesse, Mary Anne Vousden and Mary Pursey as probationary deaconesses. Other women shared in the work done and were to become the nucleus of the first religious community in New Zealand.
In 1893 Churchill Julius attended the Lambeth Conference and followed up his request to Frederick Temple. Sister Edith was chosen to go to New Zealand and establish the community. She arrived in Christchurch in August 1893. The members of the community were heavily involved in ministry to women in Christchurch and beyond from their base in Gloucester Street. They soon moved to George Street, and then in 1895 to Barbadoes Street. The sisters worked with unmarried women, cared for orphans, taught, did church embroidery, visited hospitals and prisons, as well as developing community life.
Things were far from easy for these women, and the community grew slowly under difficult circumstances. The original name of the community was “The Sisters of Bethany”, a name chosen by Sister Edith. In 1911 the name was changed to “The Community of the Sacred Name”, as there had been another group called “The Sisters of Bethany” in London since 1866. It was from 1911 that Sister Edith was called Mother Edith.
Mother Edith’s outstanding characteristics were generosity, compassion, humility, fearless-ness, and a loving concern for all. For her nothing was too difficult. She had a capacity for work that was unbounded, and a multitude of activities and varied works were carried on under her leadership as the community grew. Although some Anglicans in Christchurch regarded the community with suspicion as “popish”, the sisters won wide admiration for their work. Mother Edith had some very strong and definite views about the position of women in the world and in the church. She could blaze out at injustice or contempt shown to girls or women, especially the weak and defenceless.
All the original members of the community were deaconesses, but the emphasis gradually shifted more and more to the religious life of prayer and the conduct of quiet days and retreats. Mother Edith maintained that the root of the religious life is the worship and service of God in prayer, meditation and self-sacrifice. As the links with the original deaconess order faded, Mother Edith took great trouble over the structure and patterns of the order along the lines of a traditional religious community.
Mother Edith had not enjoyed good health, and in 1915 she travelled to England to take a complete break and to see her family. She also took the opportunity to note developments in women’s religious orders in Britain. She put some of these into practice after her return in 1916 in her revision of the rule of the order and of the statutes governing it.
Frederick Augustus Bennett was born on 15 November 1871 at Ohinemutu, Lake Rotorua. His mother was Raiha Ratete (Eliza Rogers), a high-born woman of Ngati Whakaue in Te Arawa, and his father was Thomas Jackson Bennett, a storekeeper who had emigrated to New Zealand from Ireland in 1849.
His early years were spent in Maketu, where he was baptised by S. M. Spencer. In 1883 he gained a scholarship to St Stephen's Native Boys' School in Auckland, and in 1884 he continued his studies at Te Wairoa Native School at Lake Tarawera. Around this time Bennett met with Bishop A. B. Suter of Nelson. With the consent of his parents, the Bishop took Bennet to Nelson to continue his education at Bishop's School where he was a prefect.
In 1893 Bennett accepted a post at Putiki, Wanganui, as lay reader at the M?ori mission, but by the end of 1895 he had returned to Nelson to engage in further study. He was ordained deacon in 1896, completed his licentiate in theology and was ordained priest in 1897. As assistant curate at All Saints' Church he organised the choral singing, and was influential in building a church at Motueka, and a school at Whangarae Bay.
In 1905, Bennett moved to Rotorua superintendent of the Maori mission. His area extended from Rotorua to Taupo and south to Tokaanu. After serving in Rotorua for 13 years, Bennett moved on to Hawke's Bay to carry out further mission work. In 1917 he was installed as pastor at Waipatu, and his mission area extended from Nuhaka to Waipawa. He was elected a member of the standing committee for the diocese of Waiapu, and served on the Te Aute Trust Board.
In 1925 it was suggested at General Synod that a Maori diocese be established with its own bishop, partly in response to the formation of the Ratana church. On 2 December 1928 he was consecrated bishop of Aotearoa, the first Maori bishop in New Zealand's history.
In 1935, Bennett was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.In 1948 he attended the Lambeth Conference in London, and during this visit preached at Westminster Abbey. In the 1948 New Year Honours he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George.
Frederick Augustus Bennett died at his home at Kohupatiki, Hawke's Bay, on 16 September 1950, survived by his second wife and 18 children. He was buried beneath the sanctuary of St Faith's Church, Ohinemutu.
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May 28 - The Day of Pentecost
May 28 - About Pentecost
May 28 - Daily Offices
May 26 - St Augustine of Canterbury
May 25 - The Venerable Bede of Jarrow
May 24 - Mother Edith
May 23- Frederick Augustus Bennett
May 21 - 7th Sunday of Easter
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