Tag: orthodox icons

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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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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.

Each of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church is important, and each marks something else for us to learn about Christ, but there is something qualitatively different about Pentecost. Christ’s death and resurrection were world-changing, but it was from the event of Pentecost that the Apostles, one might say, “found their voice” through the Holy Spirit, and took the message of the Resurrection out into the world. For the three or so years of Jesus’s earthly ministry, His message and His Disciples stayed largely within Judea and Samaria (though holy tradition does speak of journeys and correspondence further afield), but after Pentecost the faith and message of Jesus spread rapidly throughout the entire Roman Empire (which it would fundamentally change over the next 300 years), the Persian Empire, beyond there into India, southwards into Ethiopia, and to points further beyond.

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.

And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.1 — Acts 1: 11, ESV

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.

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.

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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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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.

The Feast

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.

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. 

The Feast