Tag: eastern orthodoxy

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Book Review: Memories of His Mercy

 

The name Peter Gilquist is incredibly well known in the Orthodox churches of America today. Father Gilquist, along with several other pastors, led a mass conversion of Evangelical churches into the Antiochian Orthodox Church in 1987, after nearly 15 years of searching for the historical Christian church as described in the book of Acts, and in the epistles of the New Testament. That quest is told in his more famous work, Becoming Orthodox, and in related works by others from that movement (I reviewed one such memoir, Surprised by Christ, late last year), but towards the end of his life, Reverend Gilquist wrote a different sort of work – personal memoirs of many of the key seminal moments in his life, ministries, and faith. Those memoirs were compiled and published several years after his death in the book Memories of His Mercy: Recollections of the Grace and Providence of God.  

In Memories of His Mercy, Fr. Gilquist tells stories of his upbringing within a devout Christian home, the men and women who mentored him in his family and beyond, and the courtship of the woman he would later marry. He later moves through some of his fondest memories, particularly of people whose lives touched his. His aim is not to write an overarching narrative, but a much humbler one of attempting to convey how faith, charity and empathy for others, and a strong work ethic tempered by consistent honesty can allow one, with the grace of God, to both be a blessing to others, and be blessed in turn.  

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 12: Ascension

 

The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen. To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 11a: The Theotokos

 

During this long break of the Paschal season, which ends with the Ascension, I thought I would turn to another iconographic theme post, similar to my essay on why we have icons in the first place, and specifically of Christ, and discuss what may be the most popular icon type (in terms of numbers of icons): The Theotokos, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Next to Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, no other person is so highly venerated within Orthodox or Catholic churches. Due to the length of this subject, this essay will be in two parts. In the first part, I discuss why she is so highly esteemed, from both historical / traditional reasons, and from experiential reasons. In the second part I will present a sampling of the major forms her icons take, and by what names they are called.

At the outset it bears noting that, outside of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Mary is rather a controversial figure. Within the Protestant churches, aside from the more liturgical Lutherans and Anglican / Episcopalians, Mary is rarely mentioned aside from Christmas, and traditional understandings of Mary (that she had herself no further children, that she was far younger than Joseph, and that she was taken up bodily like Enoch) are disputed. This is somewhat surprising as both Martin Luther and John Calvin esteemed her greatly, and for all else over which they broke with Rome, on these they remained in agreement. For inquirers into either Orthodoxy or Catholicism, the veneration of Mary remains stumbling block – not just for the imagery all over the churches, but for the liturgical prayers and entire feast days dedicated to Mary. For anyone coming from a church where In Christ Alone is a popular praise song, encountering Mary face to face is jarring, and may feel heretical or bordering on pagan. This need not be the case.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 11b: Icon Types of the Theotokos

 
Hodegetria icon on the iconostasis of my own church

In Part A I gave an overview of just why Mary is so highly venerated in the Orthodox Church. In this second part I will show some of the major examples of her icon types, and what they each represent. This will not be exhaustive, of course, for styles and types have changed over the centuries, and some nations and regions have seen the emergence of different themes that have not gained as much traction in the wider Orthodox world. Each major type has a different message to convey about both the Theotokos and Christ (for her importance is a reflection of Christ), and so each will be found in a different context within either church or home.

There are certain common elements to how the Theotokos is depicted in all of her different icons. The first thing any viewer should note is that Mary always has three stars (or star-like flowers) on her cloak: one on her forehead, and one on each shoulder. The origin of this theme is so old that it is unclear, being even seen in early Christian frescos in catacombs. On these early pre-iconographic depictions a great amount of what is shown is symbolic in ways that later icons would not do – this was done at a time when Christianity was still persecuted, and was moreover spreading through people whose only prior religious knowledge was of the Roman pantheon. Keeping the artwork symbolic and somewhat abstracted both aided in its teaching, and in evading scrutiny when caught. In these early works, for instance, one will often see Christ depicted as “the Good Shepherd”, a beardless young man tending or carrying sheep. The three stars on Mary are likely a holdover from that time. These stars represent her past, present, and ever-virginity.

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Member Post

 

Dostoevsky paid attention to the dramatic conventions of hagiography: A biblical parable would teach people more than any Cartesian meditation. The sayings of the Desert Fathers are part and parcel of Dostoevsky’s literary device. This is how Father Zosima is introduced in the book: as an elder surrounded by disciples, weak and strong, who are […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Pilgrimage

 

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

It was not to Canterbury I wended, but to rural Pennsylvania and the hills outside of Pittsburgh (distinguishable from the hills inside Pittsburgh primarily by the lack of buildings, roads, and navigable rivers). Nor was it in “Aprill” (though from the rain and the ambient temperature it was hard to distinguish the months) but in mid-June. Not all pilgrimages need be long and arduous, not in today’s world where everything can be reached by car — some need only the effort of a few hours, or a few days. Yet the trips are no less profound for being short in time, for what they lack in arduous work they provide amply in timelessness. In English, we have but one word for Time, and that is Time. We call it by other names, of course, mostly pejorative nicknames (The great thief, the destroyer, one damned thing after another, etc.) but we all know what we mean — The Clock. Yet other languages have multiple concepts of Time. Greek has Chronos-Time, which is The Clock, but they also have Kairos, which is time apart: eternal time, time perpendicular to our own. Chronos has little power here.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 10: The Harrowing of Hades

 

What is the full meaning of Christ’s crucifixion on the cross, and His resurrection? Was it an atonement for our sins? A payment for our sins? Or was it something else far deeper? What was it that Jesus actually did, and why does it matter? For Orthodox Christians, the focus of Great and Holy Pascha (their word for Easter), the Feast of Feasts, is about far more than the empty tomb or some sense of payment, but about Life itself. “Christ is Risen!” we will greet each other, “Truly He is Risen” we reply. Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti! And again and again we sing the Troparion:

Christ is Risen from the grave,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Member Post

 

At that time, when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two Disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Fifth Sunday of Lent: Saint Mary of Egypt

 

What is repentance? Can one truly repent if one has sinned greatly? Repentance is a turning back to God, and so long as we draw breath, no matter how low we may have sunk, we can turn back. But that turning back may be arduous and painful. On the final Sunday of Great Lent, we are reminded that, so long as we choose to repent, the door is open.

On the final Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate Saint Mary of Egypt. The account of Saint Mary comes to us through Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem (himself an interesting figure in his own right), which he transcribed as it has been verbally passed down for perhaps a hundred years at that point. Mary was from Alexandria and had lived as a prostitute for 17 years, from the age of 12. Moreover, she claimed that she lived that way as much for pleasure as for the money. Yet in a moment she changed.

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Member Post

 

Back in the mid-1990s when I lived in Southern California, I attended a non-denominational evangelical mega-church. During that time, while I was trying to get up to speed on evangelical Christianity, I would tune into the Bible Answer Man broadcast on my hour long drive home from work. Hank Hanegraaff was then and today still […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The 3rd Sunday of Lent: The Precious and Life-Giving Cross

 

In Paradise of old the tree stripped me bare; for by giving me its fruit to eat, the enemy brought in death. But now the Tree of the Cross that clothes men with the garment of life has been set up on earth, and the whole world is filled with boundless joy. Beholding it venerated, O ye people, let us with one accord raise in faith our cry to God: His house is full of glory. Third Kathisma for the Holy Cross

The 3rd Sunday of Lent is The Sunday of the Veneration of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross. We are now at the midpoint of Great Lent proper, and then at halfway through the week following the 3rd Sunday also halfway to Pascha (Holy Week is not considered part of Great Lent). In some outward respects, the purpose of the Sunday of the Cross is similar to the Elevation of the Cross commemorated in the early Autumn, yet it is also different. Christ is coming and will enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and as one writer expresses it, “…before the arrival of a king, his royal standards, trophies, and emblems of victory come in procession and then the king himself appears in a triumphant parade… so does the feast of the Cross precede the coming of our king, Jesus Christ.” (Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion, p79)  

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Can one know God? Can one experience God? Saint Gregory Palamas, an ascetic monk, priest, and later Archbishop of Thessalonica asked these very questions. His answers, based on centuries of understanding and experience, became the foundation of the final major dogmatic development in Orthodox Theology. For this, St. Gregory is commemorated on the second Sunday […]

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Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 8: The Annunciation

 

“Rejoice, O Theotokos, O deliverance of Adam from the curse! Rejoice, O chaste Theotokos! Rejoice, O living bush! Rejoice, O lamp! Rejoice, O throne! Rejoice, O ladder and door! Rejoice, O divine chariot! Rejoice, O bright cloud! Rejoice, O temple, O most-gilded jar! Rejoice, O mountain! Rejoice, O tabernacle and table! Rejoice, O deliverer of Eve!” – Orthros of the Feast, Tone 2​“

On March 25, in both the Orthodox and Catholic churches, The Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and of her assent to bear the Son of God is commemorated. This is exactly 9 months before the Nativity of Christ (Christmas). It is, on the Eastern calendar, the 7th Great Feast of the liturgical year. The primary Gospel account of this miraculous event is in the Gospel of Luke, but as with much else in the liturgical cycle, Church tradition, theology, and hymnody has so much more to say. In the centuries after the brief ministry of Jesus, succeeding generations of Christians had to come to terms with what, and moreover whom they had witnessed, and then work out and come to an understanding of the significance. Part of that reckoning was understanding who Mary was, and how profound her own role had been.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The first Sunday of Lent: The Triumph of Orthodoxy

 
The Triumph of Orthodoxy – Theodora’s restoration of icons. By Anonymous – National Icon Collection (18), British Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7306236

Great Lent is the most profound time of the Orthodox year. The rigors of fasting (to the extent that you can do it – not everyone can, and if you can’t it’s nobody else’s business), the added services throughout the weeks, the very special nature of those services, the change in the tones of chanting from major keys to more muted and plaintive minor keys, and the change in the vestments and various draperies, covers, and hangings to darker colors, all together carry the change of the season. There is also a cycle of Sunday services as Lent approaches, with each Sunday being set aside for something significant to the history of the Church, to remind the Orthodox annually of the commitment they have made to carry on with the living tradition and faith of nearly two thousand years.

Eastern Orthodoxy is sometimes called the Church of the Seven Councils, after the first (and only) truly Ecumenical Councils (“ecumenical” here meaning those councils which could be said to truly represent all of Christendom, and whose decrees were universally accepted by all of Christendom – though the Catholic Church numbers many more, the Eastern prelates were either not represented, or the decrees of these councils were never accepted by them). The first Sunday of Lent is called, variously, The Sunday of Orthodoxy, or the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and commemorates the Seventh and final such council and its aftermath. This final council settled the final major theological question of the ancient Church: the proper role and place of religious art. In so doing, it closed arguments that had ebbed and flowed for nearly 500 years, and had been the cause of riots, banishments, and wholesale destruction of art throughout all of the eastern provinces of Christendom (many early relics and works of art from the East were sent West during this time).

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Lent Part 2: The Triodion

 

In the first part I gave a brief overview of the services of the Orthodox Church that signal that Great Lent is not far off. But these were still basically “regular” services. In the three weeks and four Sundays before Great Lent, however, we enter into a new phase in the liturgy that carries all the way through Great And Holy Pascha (Easter), a phase that departs from the regular service orders and is called the Triodion (the canons chanted during this time originally had but three odes each, hence the term). In the Orthodox Church, this is the most sacred and special time of year, far exceeding Christmas in its significance, and in the physical and spiritual preparation we undergo. 

However, we’re not quite there… yet. There is something of a joke that I heard a priest say. If Lent is a preparation for Pascha, the three weeks beforehand are a preparation for the preparation. There are four rather special services, the first three of which each begin a week of this pre-preparation. First there is the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, then the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, followed by Sunday of the Last Judgement, and concluding with the Sunday of Forgiveness. As I heard another priest put it: these services are like your mother calling out to you to get inside as it’s getting dark.

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 7: The Presentation of the Lord

 

Behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s annointed. He came in the Spirit into the temple. The parents brought in the child Jesus in order to do according to the custom of the law concerning him. (Luke 2: 25-27, EOB)

On February 2, the Orthodox Church commemorates the presentation of the infant Jesus at the Temple, in Jerusalem. We are at the halfway point of the 12 Great Feasts of the Orthodox church, and already nearly halfway through the liturgical year that began on September 1. We have passed from the nativity of Mary, through her own presentation at the Temple, the Nativity of Christ, and now have reached the time when as an infant he was brought to the Temple (the Exaltation of the Cross and Theophany being of different arcs). The account for this is found solely in the book of Luke, and occupies the entire last half of chapter 2. 

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