Entries for our next caption-competition
picture (above) must reach us by Friday 4
by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
by post (postcards only)to: Caption Competition,
Church Times, 3rd floor Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London
HUMOUR sometimes requires closer examination. Not often: it
functions, like other human activities, on a set of shared
assumptions. The problem comes when these are not shared.
The last caption-competition photo was chosen from a batch sent
to us of a blessing of a Romanian radio studio by the head of the
Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Daniel. The combination of a
solemn act and a DIY implement invited your captions, we felt.
When the photograph was published, the editor received a letter
of complaint from the Rt Revd Dr Geoffrey Rowell, the former Bishop
in Europe. He wrote:
"The chrismation of an ikon is a solemn religious blessing,
and therefore a sacramental act. For a responsible church newspaper
to use it as an occasion to invite amusing, flippant, or sardonic
comment is both inappropriate and offensive to Orthodox believers,
and to the Romanian Orthodox Church, with whom we have enjoyed long
and close ecumenical relations.
"Having as Bishop in Europe enjoyed the personal hospitality
and warm welcome of Patriarch Daniel at the breakfast following the
midnight Easter liturgy, I am embarrassed by such
"We need to model sensitivity and understanding of the faith
and devotion of Christian brothers and sisters, and not hold them
up to ridicule. This can only reinforce suspicions that Western
Christian values have been subverted by contemporary culture which
holds little sacred, and where anything can become a
Private Eye satirical cover.
"Having published the picture in this context, I believe an
apology is owed to the Romanian Orthodox Church, and that there
should be no republication of the picture with a gallery of
comments thought to be amusing but compounding the
These were not objections that we could set aside lightly, even
though we received no others. They touch the essence of the caption
competition. There is an innate absurdity about most human
activity, and part of the enjoyment of our God-given nature is to
recognise this absurdity. It is what lies at the root of humility -
as can be seen when it is absent.
If the competition held people up to ridicule, as Dr Rowell
suggests, we should not run it. It is on this understanding that we
regularly extend an ecumenical welcome to subjects from other
denominations and other countries.
We do not believe that Dr Rowell is suggesting that members of
the Romanian Orthodox Church are humourless. We note, via the BBC,
that photos of the studio blessing have generated a humorous
reaction in the Romanian press.
This is not, of course, all that could be said in this matter.
For example, offensiveness can be funny: the best political humour
is often the most outrageous. We do not believe that this applies
to our competition.
AS FOR the entries, all our readers were on their best
behaviour. Our choice of winner may have been influenced by the
Bishop's objections. Thanks, once again, to Divine for providing
the Fairtrade chocolate prize (divinechocolate.com).
"Everyone agreed that the Bishop was a real Holy
Roller" (Diana Jones); "His birthday B&Q
voucher came in very useful for the ceremony" (Brian
Simmons); "The Orthodox band was limited to a bowl, one
maraca, and a large stick" (Peter Walker); and
"Aspergillums are for wimps - this is the way a real man
does it" (Paul Reynolds).
"'I just wanted an orthodox spring-cleaning service,'
complained Mandy" (Howard Reeve); "Mavis the
secretary looked on, bemused - aware that this was an unorthodox
approach to painting an icon" (Michael Foster);
"In his youth, the Patriarch had washed car windows at
weekends" (Patrick Irvine); and "Everyone was so
taken up with the patriarch and the painting that they completely
missed the murder with the maraca" (Corin Child).
When making comments, icon tact must be strictly