Tag: orthodox Christianity

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As the birthday of the impudent Heron was being kept, the object of the termagant dancer’s oath was achieved; for the head of the Forerunner was cut off and offered on a charger, as food for those reclining. What a loathsome banquet, replete with wickedness and horrible murder. As for us, we bless the Baptizer, […]

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Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Post of the Week Created with Sketch. On Hagia Sophia and Spiritual Reclamation

 
Hagia Sophia without the minarets

As of Friday, July 24, 2020, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has been put back into active use as a mosque. As a Christian, I of course mourn this deeply. As a historian, however, the move does not surprise me. Many are the religious sites around the world today that were once worship sites for other deities, for other peoples, and for other mysteries, some barbaric. That historian in me says we should temper our outrage that the conquerors of a land would choose to make what use of that land that they will, for we have done the same ourselves. We should be wary of venting too much indignation over the status of a building lost ere Columbus sailed the ocean-blue and started a chain of losses for the peoples who once dwelt where we now live. In a way, Erdogan was right in his contempt for a foreign opinion on this matter; the Turks rule the roost in Turkey (would that Turkey respected others’ borders and rights as vehemently as he demands for his own country, however, as Cyprus, Syria, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Greece can all attest).

The world is littered with buildings and sites that once belonged to others. Sometimes those others stubbornly remain. More often they have faded away. In many cases, we should be very glad there are no such troublesome “old ritualists” about. I do not care to see the Aztec sun temples be anything but museums or out and out ruins – theirs was a cult of pure evil and industrial levels of human sacrifice. The Phoenicians were likewise a sacrificial cult whose old worship sites should never be given back. I do not think anyone is longing for a return of the Roman or Norse gods either. Christians largely knocked down or re-purposed the old temples and should be under no modern obligation to give them back, despite what the neo-pagans insist. To the victors go the spoils, especially after the lapse of a sufficient period of time. For many buildings, the time is long indeed since they served their original purposes.

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 13: Pentecost

 

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? “And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” (Acts 2: 1-13, NASB)

Ten days after Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit descended on the Disciples, and they began to “speak in tongues”. From this point forward they are no longer the Disciples, but the Apostles. This is the beginning of the Christian Church.

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.

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.

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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Father Michael Oleksa is a retired Orthodox priest in Alaska, but he’s not actually from there – he’s from Allentown, Pennsylvania. How he came to Alaska, what he found there, and why he stayed are just a few of the many subjects he covers in his delightful collection of stories that he has compiled here […]

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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)  

Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Book Review: Surprised by Christ

 

How does a Hasidic Jew, the son, and grandson of rabbis, become an Orthodox Christian? The journey is a fascinating one, as A. James Bernstein relates in a book that is one part personal autobiography, and the other part his spiritual journey from the Judaism of his youth through what he describes as the return to the fulfillment of Judaism’s promise in the Orthodox Church. In his tale, Father Bernstein takes readers from his initial discovery of Christianity as a young man, through his years as an Evangelical street preacher in Berkley, and back to Israel both past and present as he seeks to re-find the ancient Jewish connection to Christianity.

Bernstein begins with a vivid recollection of when a drunk anti-semite threw a brick through his father’s storefront in the middle of the night in Queens, NY. Though James was born in the US during World War II, his parents had wed in the early 1930s, and had fled Jerusalem (where his father was from) for the US (his mother was from Pittsburgh) out of fear that the Muslim Mufti of the region would ally with the Nazis. The horrors of the war and the revelations of the Holocaust broke much of his father’s faith, and though trained as a Rabbi in his youth, in America he instead chose to run a candy store.

Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Icon, Part 5: The Nativity of Christ

 

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath given rise to the light of knowledge in the world; for they that worshipped the stars did learn therefrom to worship Thee, O Sun of Justice, and to know that from the east of the Highest Thou didst come. O Lord, glory to Thee. Apolytikion of the Nativity of Christ

The Orthodox icon of the Nativity is jarring to our western eyes. We are accustomed to seeing Joseph and Mary in a warm-looking and very clean wooden barn, each about the same age, kneeling before a wooden manger that has a glowing Christ-child within, while angels shout triumphant above, shepherds approach, and the Magi, newly arrived, kneel with their gifts while the star that guided them shines brightly above the entire scene. Look closely at this scene, though, and things seem off. There is no warm and clean wooden barn, but a jagged mountain with a dark yawning cave. The Christ-Child is within, but He’s wrapped up in bandages? And is the manger really a stone box that looks more like a coffin? Mary is laying out on a blanket, dominating the scene, while Joseph (an older Joseph) is down the mountain looking forlorn while a very strange and sinister figure talks at him. What is happening here? This is not the quiet and happy Nativity we know and cherish in our candle-light caroling, nor is it the Stille Nacht we envisage while the snow quietly falls.