Paul Griffin

The sea historically causes much separation. Hence perhaps, when we are assured in the Book of Revelation that there shall be no more sea, the reference is to Church unity. Those lines of Matthew Arnold sum matters up: ‘Yes, in this sea of life enisled, With echoing straits between us thrown, Dotting the shoreless watery wild, We mortal millions live alone.’ This is by the poet of an island nation: I wonder if it would mean as much to a Swiss or Austrian, or a resident in the American Middle West.

Is a nation’s religious bent so dependent on geography? The split between Catholic and Orthodox may suggest not, but that between the Church of England and the rest suggests the opposite. You may say that Greece, that great archipelago, should have dozens of Churches, whereas it has one. True, but the Greeks had to cope with the Ottoman Empire. Greek individualism shows itself in many other ways. There is a saying to the effect that one Greek is enough for a political party, two Greeks for an argument, and three for a cafe. Credit to the Greek Orthodox Church for holding such people together.

Matthew Arnold goes on to write that God ‘bade between their shores to be The unplumbed, salt, estranging sea.’ What a wonderful image, vast and bitter.

I choose to live by the sea, because, however devouring, it excites me. It abounds in natural food and exciting possibilities, swimming or messing about in boats. There is danger, of course: remember that epitaph in the Greek Anthology: ‘We are the graves of those who were shipwrecked in the great storm; but sail you on, for on the day that we died, the other ships sailed on.’ Remember what Red Sea did to Pharaoh’s cavalry, how the Mediterranean threatened yet saved Jonah and Paul. Remember Galilee, highway and source of food, yet terrible in a storm.