The Little Orphan

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The Little Orphan

an autobiographical poem

by St. John Jacob (the Romanian)

Blessed John (Jacob) of Neamts, the New Chozebite

“the child of zero” who “followed the One”*

 

Resurrection Day!

The bells are ringing!

Old men sit at their verandas,

Others are at their doorsteps.

 

The young and the children

Go out in their best clothes

To meet their friends at the church

Of the cemetery.

 

This mystical fragrance

Of the Holy Feast!

They take it in … like incense,

From herbs and flowers.

 

The Fields are robed

In a beautiful dress

And everything looks now

Renewed on the earth.

 

Near the Holy Altar

Of the wooden church

A little child offers

Candles and oil.

 

He kisses the Holy Cross

In front of the fresh tomb

And kneels crying

With sighs.

 

When the bells are ringing

In a jubilant tone

Near the Cross the little orphan

Sheds tears with pain.

 

Suddenly, while absorbed in his tears

And his deep sighs,

At the ringing of the bells

A sweet voice he hears :

 

“Cry Not, my child, today

Feel not sad, because, look!

By your side am I

Christ is Risen!”

 

Was this his mother’s voice

Coming from the tomb

His sadness to dispel

From his broken bosom?

 

Immediately the orphan

Rises and ecstatically looks up,

Searching to find

Who was speaking to him.

 

Then, from the Altar most Holy

By the smoked wall

He sees the Risen Christ

Sweetly smiling to him.

 

His little heart is lit

His face calms

His pain leaves him

And such is his mind:

 

“If I see here

The Risen Lord

Then my mother too

Is risen with Him.”

 

Speaking thus to his mind

Humbly he bows

And kissing the tomb

Returns to his ‘home’!

 

Alone, lonely, he lives

At his earthly lodgings,

His poor father

Died at the war.

 

Often at nights he sleeps

By the tomb with them.

Crying in the morning he returns

Back to the deserted house.

 

But the bells ring!

Again at the cemetery

His mother’s voice

Is heard to say:

 

“Cry not, my child, today

Do not be sad,

Because, lo, I am with you

Christ is Risen!”

 

Since then our little orphan

Stopped sighing.

And whenever the bells ring

His heart is consoled!

 

* A Hermit from the Holy Land with complete Incorruptible Relics at the monastery of St. George Choziba! He was a great ascetic and a poet. He called himself “the child of zero” who “followed the One”. After his all night- vigils, he would briefly rest in the verandah of the monastery and write his so moving poetry, sadly not translated yet in English.
* The painting is by the Serbian artist Uroš Predić, Siroče (Orphan), oil on canvas, 1888. National Museum
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Nativity Paintings from Around the World

Christ is Born! Indeed He is Born!

 Χριστός Ετέχθη! Αληθώς Ετέχθη!

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Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

Jesus Christ was born for all people of all times. To illustrate this truth, Christians around the world often depict him as coming into their own culture, in the present time. The Italians, whose visual language was predominant during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, did it. In fact, when you think “Nativity,” you probably think of the church art from that age and country—not because it offers the most legitimate representations (they are no more “accurate” than the ones below), but because the Church held particular sway at that time, in that place.

Well, the center of Christianity has shifted; it is no longer in the West. And thus if we were to survey the Christian art being produced today, we would see that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the settings they inhabit, have a much different look. We’d see Mary dressed in a sari or a hanbok; we’d see Jesus wrapped in buffalo skin, or silk. We’d see lizards and kangaroos instead of oxes and asses.

Historical accuracy is not the point; the point is to see Jesus as the Savior of your own people, as incarnated very close to you, and relevant to life today.

Here are 19 contextualizations of the Nativity painted within the last century. Each work brings Jesus into a different place, in order to emphasize the universality of his birth.

USA:

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“Nativity” by James B. Janknegt
James B. Janknegt, Nativity, 1995. Oil on canvas, 57 x 82 cm.

Crow Nation (Montana-based tribe):

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Native American Nativity
John Guiliani, Mary Gives Birth to Jesus, 1999. From The Crow Series.

Guatemala:

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Guatemalan Nativity
John Giuliani, Guatemalan Nativity, 1990s.

Nicaragua:

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Nicaraguan Nativity
Leoncio Saenz, Nacimiento (Nativity), 1983. The banner reads: “I come to tell them that in Nicaragua the new man has been born.”

England:

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Nativity by Dinah Roe Kendall
Dinah Roe Kendall, The Shepherds Went to See the Baby, 1998.

India:

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China:

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Chinese nativity
He Qi, Nativity, 1998. Ink and gouache on rice paper.

Tibet:

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Tibetan nativity
A thangka (sacred wall hanging) given by H.H. the Dalai Lama to Fr. Laurence Freeman and the World Community for Christian Meditation in 1998.

Korea:

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Korean nativity
Woonbo Kim Ki-chang, The Birth of Jesus Christ, 1952-53. Ink and color on silk, 76 x 63 cm.

Japan:

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Japanese nativity
Sadao Watanabe, Nativity, 1960s? Stencil print on momigami paper, 58 x 78 cm.

Thailand:

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Thai nativity
Sawai Chinnawong, Nativity, 2004. Acrylic on canvas, 32 x 37 in.

Malaysia:

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Malaysian nativity
Hanna Varghese, God Is With Us, 2006. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in.

Indonesia:

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Indonesian nativity
Erland Sibuea, Nativity, 2008. Acrylic on canvas, 31 x 23.6 cm.

Philippines:

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Filippino nativity:
Kristoffer Ardena, The Meaning of Christmas, 1995. Oil on canvas, 62 x 46 cm.

Uganda:

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African nativity
Francis Musango, Christ in the Manger, n.d. Oil painting.

Cameroon:

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African nativity
Fr. Engelbert Mveng, Nativity, early 1990s. Central scene from church mural. Holy Angels Church, Aurora, Illinois.

Democratic Republic of the Congo:

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African nativity
Joseph Mulamba-Mandangi, Nativity, 2001. Peinture grattée, 70 x 50 cm.

Australia (Aboriginal):

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Australian nativity
Greg Weatherby, Dreamtime Birth, 1990s? 51 x 64 cm.

Tahiti:

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Nativity by Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin, Baby (The Nativity), 1896. Oil on canvas. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Posted on December 25, 2011 by Victoria Emily Jones

The Jesus Question

Four years ago on Christmas Day I posted a selection of nativity paintings originating mainly in non-Western cultures. Each year since then that post has ranked as one of the five most-read posts on this site, with over twelve thousand views to date. So I’ve decided to do a part 2.

My friend Scott Rayl shared a quote with me this week by S. D. Gordon: “Jesus was God spelling Himself out in language humanity could understand.” What a succinct summary of the Incarnation!

Today we celebrate the transcendent God made immanent, accessible. We celebrate his new name: Emmanuel, God-with-us. The artists here can aid us in that celebration.

 

Australia (Aboriginal):

First Nations of Canada:

Guatemala:

Nicaragua: 

India:

Thailand: 

China:

Japan:

Korea:

Vietnam: 

Philippines: 

Indonesia:

Nigeria:

Ethiopia:

Kenya:

Tanzania:

South Africa:

(Many of the Asian artworks in this post were found through the Asian Christian Art Association website. It’s a really rich resource…

View original post 3 more words

Why Discipline Our Eyes?

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Walking on Water by David Popiashvili

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western Religious Art

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Nikola Sarić , Parables of Christ, The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Popiashvili, Angel and Shepherds on Christmas Day

An Orthodox Aesthetic Counterpoint to a Protestant blog post on Holy Images 

 

This blog post will attempt to highlight the differences between Byzantine Iconography vs. Western Religious Art. It is only fair to point out from the very start that Victoria’s selection of works of Art in the 2nd part of her article,  “Disciplining our eyes with holy images“, is truly inspired.

Enjoy!

“I desire peace—and not just any old peace, but the peace that Christ gives, and not just for myself, but for the world.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

I desire to be an agent of healing,

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Julia Stankova, “The Healing of the Demon-Possessed Man” (Mark 5:2-19), 2010. Tempera, gouache, watercolors, and lacquer technique on wood, 40 x 31 cm.

and reconciliation.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Wisnu Sasongko (Indonesian, 1975–), Zacchaeus, 2005. Acrylic on canvas, 28 × 52 in.

I desire to touch Christ’s wounds.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Right panel of an ivory diptych depicting the Incredulity of St. Thomas, made in Trier at the end of 10th century. Bode Museum, Berlin.

I desire to serve.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Sadao Watanabe (Japanese, 1913–1996), Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet, 1973. Stencil print, 26 × 22.75 in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I desire to feed people,

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art
Isaac Fanous (Egyptian, 1919–2007), Jesus Feeding the Multitude.And to help people see.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Anthony Falbo (American, 1953–), The Healing of the Blind Man.

I desire to practice resurrection.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

The Resurrection (detail), ca. 1170–80, Rhine-Meuse region. Champlevé enamel on gilded copper. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

I desire Holy Spirit fire.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Pentecost, from the Benedictional of Archbishop Robert, New Minster, Winchester, ca. 980. Bibliothèque Municipale de Rouen, MS Y.7(369), fol. 29v.

I desire to preach truth.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Azaria Mbatha (South African, 1941–), Sermon on the Mount. Linocut.

I desire to bless.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Alphonso Arul Doss (Indian, 1939–), The Blessing Christ. Oil on canvas, 34 × 24 in.

I desire to suffer with dignity.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Angelo da Fonseca (Indian, 1902–1967), Ecce Homo, 1955. Watercolor, 9 x 6 in.

I desire to stand up for justice.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Alexander Smirnov (Russian, 1947–), The Cleansing of the Temple. Oil on canvas.

I desire to protect.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Kim Young Gil (Korean, 1940–2008), The Woman Caught in Adultery.

I desire to forgive.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Jacques Richard Sassandra (French, 1932–), Father, Forgive Them. Color woodcut.

I desire to weep with those who weep.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Daniel Bonnell, “Jesus Wept.” Oil on canvas, 34 x 46 in. Tags: Lazarus

I desire transfiguration.

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Attributed to Theophanes the Greek, The Transfiguration, 1408. Tempera on panel. State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

 

Let me repeat again here, at the end of this selection of works of Art, that Victoria Jones’ choices have warmed my heart and have been a delight to the eyes!

 

BUT

 

Victoria’s rationale for just  “gazing” at “holy (*)  images” in the first part of her essay feels too cerebral to me, limiting and stifling, so ‘Puritan’, so Protestant, if I may add.  Even if she did not mention this so explicitly–which she does–ie. that her attitude to “holy [sic] images” is derived from her “own Protestant theology [sic] of images”, still her Protestant  limitations, again if I may say so, are obvious to anyone with an Orthodox Christian sensibility.

Even the very title of her analysis is revealing: “Disciplining [sic] our eyes“. In my opinion, what we should all be targeting instead, is not to just the disciplining, but the healing, the sanctification of our eyes and all our senses. Indeed, Victoria herself feels the needs for “having right sight and desire restored” but her ‘solution to this problem’ is too cerebral and rationalistic in my opinion, not really a solution in the end, as it fails to embrace the whole of man, body and soul, heart and nous, and perpetuates the torment of a divided, conflicting, fragmented humanity.

 

Consider the following by Victoria:

“I use them [ie. holy images] as an aid to prayer, but I do not reverence them with actions like kissing or lifting—not necessarily because I’m opposed to such displays but more likely because I’m naturally reserved, and also I’m usually interacting with the images digitally. … Part of my private spiritual practice is to spend a little time each day gazing on a holy image. I’m particularly fond of ones of Christ. For me this gazing serves a centering function; it reorders my desires. Sitting still with an image of Christ reminds me of Whose image I bear, and I take that with me as I encounter other images throughout the day that try to tell me otherwise.” (Ibid)

 

No! This is so limiting! It is by far too cerebral, too rationalistic, too ‘mind-centred’, too ‘Western’ … Rather that entering into a Communion with Christ our Saviour Himself, we are limiting ourselves to ideas and concepts about Christ. Hugging and embracing and touching icons may indeed feel strange to those of a Protestant background, more so if “naturally reserved”, but matter is not evil! It was ancient Greek philosophy which believed that the body imprisons the soul, and thus it detested matter. But Christians respect the body and all its senses, since Christ made the flesh a source of sanctification, and matter (water, oil, etc.) a channel of divine grace.

 

In his writings, St. Gregory Palamas affirmed that man, united in body and soul, is sanctified by Jesus Christ, who took a human body at the Incarnation. “Thus the Word of God took up His dwelling in the Theotokos in an inexpressible manner and proceeded from her, bearing flesh. He appeared upon the earth and lived among men, deifying our nature.” … And he significantly adds, “When God is said to have made man according to His image, the word man means neither the soul by itself nor the body by itself, but the two together.” ((A Homily on the Dormition of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary)

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Rublev, Saviour

Conversely, see how Victoria continues:

“Orthodox believers developed the practice of icon writing and veneration to address this question—creating physical images of Christ to mediate his presence and to serve as an anchor in daily life. The Incarnation, they say, renders icons absolutely essential to the task of knowing God.

My own Protestant theology of images owes much to the Orthodox view but deviates from it as well. Although I acknowledge the revelatory potential of images, I do not regard them, as the Orthodox do, as on a par with scripture. Another key distinction is that I admit into my devotional life a range of sacred images, not just those that fall within the rigorously guarded canon of Orthodox iconography.”

I define “holy image” as any image that draws the viewer closer to Christ. The religious background of the artist is, to me, irrelevant, and what functions as a holy image to one person might not for another. You sanctify the image by letting it lead you into communion with God. ” (Ibid)

But specifically, how does all this mental activity lead you into communion with God? Let us study a concrete example, the Resurrected Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene as described in the Gospel of John “Touch Me Not, by  another Protestant scholar/ artist. See how rationalistically he too approaches the whole matter:

“I believe all of these works taken on the whole can help you begin to ask yourself the question, like an artist…”I wonder what it was like to see Jesus in in his newly resurrected form?” “I wonder how Mary felt as she approached the grave?” I wonder what the meaning of this strange encounter?” When you begin to picture the scene in your mind and make it your own, this is when the resurrection becomes real to you. In this way, all of these representations can help you as long as you keep going into your own thoughts.

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

 

See? Mind and thought, logical thinking, conceptualisation and deduction, the Western curse on Christianity. But Incarnation ‘allows’  an entirely different approach to “images” and “icons” to that of Victoria Jones’ and other Protestant scholars’ ‘guided meditations’.

What we want to avoid is an overemphasis of mind and its rational faculties at the expense of nous and man’s heart. The West, with its rationalistic tendencies, has associated the image of God with man’s intellect. Barlaam’s mind was full of rational arguments, but his heart was cold.

Certainly, life with God is not just information, but also experience. Our living God cannot be conceived and described only by study, but must be spoken about from experience. “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

 

Orthodox Theology is not cerebral, but empirical, and it cannot be acquired through study alone. Books and meditation, reflection may certainly help, but the true knowledge of God is existential. God reveals Himself as Light to the purified, and “through the Holy Spirit they know God and are able to speak of Him”. Philosophers speak reflectively through reason and imagination, which is why it is not possible for them to be higher than the prophets, who see God and speak of Him through the Holy Spirit.

 

See how ‘wholistic’ the Orthodox approach is:

“The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.”

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ 

 

Nikola Sarić, PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (LK 15:11–32)

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

 

 

 

(*) By the way, Victoria’s definition of what is a holy image is not correct in my opinion: “I define “holy image” as any image that draws the viewer closer to Christ. The religious background of the artist is, to me, irrelevant, and what functions as a holy image to one person might not for another. You sanctify the image by letting it lead you into communion with God.” [Bold type mine for emphasis] In my opinion, Victoria’s talking here about religious art in general, not sacred, and certainly not holy, at least for an Orthodox Christian’ understanding of these terms. Of course, anything can be perceived as holy and sacred in God’s Creation, but I do not think that this is how Victoria uses this word in her analysis above.

 

Byzantine Iconography vs. Western-Eastern Religious Art

Popiashvili, Zaccheus

 

For Victoria Jones’ full argument, go here

For an Orthodox Christian understanding as to what makes an image holy (even to, or better, especially to, a ‘convert’, a protestant brought to the Orthodox Church, as opposed to a ‘cradle Orthodox, born and immersed into Orthodoxy), go here

Nikola Sarić studied at the Faculty of Applied Arts of the University of Belgrade and at the Academy of Serbian Orthodox Church for Arts and Conservation in the department of church art, where he graduated in 2014. Nurtured in the practice of church art, his artistic expression is deriving from sacred Greco-Roman art and generally speaking the art of the classical antiquity and the medieval period. In his works, through the immediacy and simplicity of visual elements, he is conveying the intuition of a “transfigured world”. Using different techniques and materials, Nikola is trying to describe this unimaginable world. His interpretations reflect the personal spiritual experience as well as the tradition that breathes and evolves within the concepts of contemporaries.

For a representative sample of Nikola Sarić‘s artworks, go to Parables of Christ, to his website http://www.nikolasaric.de and his latest interview to the Orthodox Arts Journal

*

David Popiashvili studied at the Tbilisi Art School and at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts At faculty of the fine arts.

For a representative sample of David Popiashvili‘s religious paintings, go to London Art  AND  Stories about Jesus Christ, illustrated by David Popiashvili

The Altar and The Portico (I)

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Aidan Hart: Embracing a Eucharistic Lifestyle

Liturgical “vs.” Secular Beauty in Life And Art

 

Excerpts (I) from a masterpiece of a talk, given by the renowned iconographer Aidan Hart at Sacred And Secular In Life And Art seminar in Oxford University,  a workshop dedicated to the memory of Philip Sherrard. (Oxford, 14-17 July, 2016).

Analysis of Works of Liturgical and Secular Art — Beauty seen in the light of Orthodoxy’s ‘aesthetics’. Liturgical art exists to help us live our whole lives liturgically. Vignettes from house architecture and decoration, furniture design, hospitality, music etc. to express love for God’s creation in daily life and to live life gently upon His earth, aiming towards a Eucharistic vision of Life: wholeness, harmony, unity.  Culture as the Liturgy of Preparation “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” (Ode on a Grecian Urn, By John Keats). Indeed, Beauty will save the world (Dostoyevski). Needless to point out, both this Eucharistic vision of Life and the importance of Beauty/Truth in Art and Life have been central concerns of this little city hermit’s blog and his journey on the Way.

 *

… In my reflections I would like to regard the term secular not in its pejorative sense, as the bad world outside the Church, but rather in its earlier sense as the larger world in whose midst the Church is planted to transfigure that world.

In considering our subject of sacred and secular we may have the image of a splendid garden city expanding into a wild jungle, rather than a fortress sealed off against siege from the world. This city does indeed have walls to keep bad things out, but it also has gates, and from its heart flows a River that brings life wherever it flows, as the prophet Ezekiel tells us in his vision (Ezekiel 47).

 

Eden within the forest

St Cadmon’s hymn of creation. Aidan Hart, calligraphy Clive Tolley.. Vellum.aidan1.jpg

God creating Adam. Palermo, Sicily. 12th C. Mosaic.aidan2.jpg

God creating Adam. Palermo, Sicily. 12th C. Mosaic.

The sacred as source

The Tent of Meeting.aidan3.jpg

The Tent of Meeting.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has said that one is Priest (Christ);

some are priests (the clergy); all are priests (the priesthood of the laity).

Philip and Denise Sherrard’s Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Fresco.aidan10.jpgaidan9.jpgLion, below fresco of St Mary of Egypt. Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Frescoaidan8.jpg

Hare, below icon of St Melangell of Wales. Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Fresco.

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Chapel of the Life Giving Spring, Evia, Greece. Aidan Hart. Frescoaidan5.jpg

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…And so it is that I believe liturgical art exists to help us live our whole lives liturgically. A church temple, as St Maximus the Confessor affirmed, is an image of the whole world. This splendid earth was created by God to be our temple within which to worship Him.

 

 

… I experienced this “coming together” of heaven and earth personally when I was frescoing Denise Sherrard’s chapel at her home in Evia, the chapel of the Life Giving Spring that she and Philip had built. We wanted to reflect Philip’s affirmation that the material world is an integral part of the spiritual life,[2] so I painted a tree between each standing saint. Some of the saints are also accompanied by a creature associated with their lives: St Melangell with a hare; St Mary of Egypt with the lion which dug her grave; bees with St John the Baptist who ate honey while in the wilderness, and so on.

 

I modelled the frescoed trees on the trees that grew outside the chapel. As I worked many hours each day in the chapel the awareness grew that the world is indeed created to be a temple, designed to inspire us to praise and love its Creator. The vision of paradisiacal trees that began inside that small chapel’s walls continued when I continued my life outside. The sacred transformed the secular, paradise extended into the ‘jungle’.

 

… Importantly, this sense of continuum was supported by Denise’s attempt to express love for God’s creation in her daily life and to live life gently upon His earth. The food we ate was prepared with love, much of it grown in Denise’s own garden. Even the wine was homemade.  The chapel itself had been made of local stone.

Immersion in the paradise of church worship affects the way we design our day-to-day lives outside the services. The architecture of our houses, our furniture design, our hospitality, our music – all aspects of life – can take their inspiration from the Liturgy. The Liturgy is like our tuning fork, helping to keep our daily lives in harmony with heaven’s.

*

Heaven’s music

… Having this inner music we will create a culture that will not only function well but will delight the eye and bring forth the logos or character of each raw material.

…In fact, in these and in the carved wooden columns outside one can see the inspiration for the sculptures fashioned by the father of modern abstract sculpture, Constantine Brancusi.

…This relates to what St Maximus the Confessor wrote some fourteen centuries earlier:

Do not stop short of the outward appearance which visible things present to the senses but seek with your intellect to contemplate their inner essences (logoi), seeing them as images of spiritual realities…

… Once when his friend Petre Pandrea was praising his sculpture, Brancusi replied that all he had done was to set up a branch office of Tismana Orthodox Monastery in Paris.  He saw his sculptures as an extension of the worship and ascetical life of that monastery. The sacred informed the secular.

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Rumanian grave posts, 10th c.

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‘Endless Columns’, in Brancusi’s studio, Paris.

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Tismana Orthodox Monastery, Rumania.

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Culture as the Liturgy of Preparation

As we shall explore a little later, this transformative process also works the other way: the art of life lived outside the temple walls should act as a portico, preparing us for entrance to the inner sanctum.

Our daily life can be an extended beginning to the first part of the Holy Liturgy, the Service of Preparation.

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The New Jerusalem, on vellum, by Aidan Hart

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… Every aspect of our daily living can be seen as this same transformative process, culminating in the Holy Liturgy’s deification of the bread and wine. This is suggested by the etymology of the word culture, which stems from the Latin word colere, which means to inhabit, care for, till, worship. Culture then becomes cult, an act of worship. Culture is both tilling and working and worship.

Any failings in our modern culture are ultimately due to our failure to continue work into worship, to carry the cultivation of the land into the cult of the liturgy.

*

Sant’Apollinare in Classe apse (c. 534 AD). The Transfiguration; Paradise; the Second Coming; The New Jerusalem; Our Priestly roleaidan20.jpg

Sant’Apollinare in Classe

Creation transfigured. Sant’Apollinare in Classeaidan19.jpgaidan18.jpg

Portico and Nave

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In most of our churches today we have a rather rude transition from exterior to interior. But in most early churches it was not so. Most had a portico, a place colonnaded around, roofless yet walled.

 

… Walking along the busy street you would spy this little paradise courtyard and be drawn towards its coolness and stillness. Once within this portico, through the open doors of the church you would eventually see hints of some glittering mosaics or wall paintings, and pins of light from oil lamps. So you would be drawn further in.

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Portico with fountain, St Clement’s, Rome — Portico garden, St Cecilia’s, Rome.

 

…Once inside this exonarthex you would perhaps see images of the six days of creation, or the prophets, or, as in Iviron monastery,  the Psalms of Lauds illustrated, where all creation is praising God.

Aidan Hart Liturgical Art "vs." Secular Art Beauty as Truth and Truth Beauty

Exo-narthex, Iviron, Athos, with depictions of Psalms 158-150, all creation praising God

You might also see images of the day of judgement, reminding you that repentance and purification is needed to stand the glory of God’s light which can be experienced further inside.

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Narthex, with glimpse through to nave St Nicholas Anapafsas, Meteora.

After looking around these scenes you would see yet another door, and enter the narthex, where you would see perhaps frescoes of standing ascetics.

Eventually you would be drawn even further, into the nave. In this broad yet intimate place you find yourself surrounded by angels, saints, scenes in the life of Christ.

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…. But this journey began with the portico. Portico or threshold beauty draws us like the fragrance of a rose towards the rose. This threshold art and culture participates both in the hubbub of daily life and in the liturgical life of the Church. Culture should cultivate the soul in preparation for the seed of God’s word. …

Excerpts from Orthodox Arts Journal

Three Old Age Vignettes

Written at my refuge, the Mikrokastro monastery, under Our Lady’s Protective Veil . Watching my father die the last two weeks has been very painful and filled my mind with images of old age and decay.

 

Three Old Age Vignettes

 

 

 Terminal, Temporary, Transcending 

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 2

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.

 

1 Corinthians 3

  1. And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, …

3. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

 

I. Terminal

Three Old Age Death Vignettes orthodox city hermit

 

An Old Man by

C. P. Cavafys (1863-1933)

 

At the noisy end of the café, head bent

over the table, an old man sits alone,

a newspaper in front of him.

 

And in the miserable banality of old age

he thinks how little he enjoyed the years

when he had strength, eloquence, and looks.

 

He knows he’s aged a lot: he sees it, feels it.

Yet it seems he was young just yesterday.

So brief an interval, so very brief.

 

And he thinks of Prudence, how it fooled him,

how he always believed—what madness—

that cheat who said: “Tomorrow. You have plenty of time.”

 

He remembers impulses bridled, the joy

he sacrificed. Every chance he lost

now mocks his senseless caution.

 

But so much thinking, so much remembering

makes the old man dizzy. He falls asleep,

his head resting on the café table.

 

II. Temporary

 

Three Old Age Death Vignettes picasso old guitarist orthodox city hermit

 

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

 

III. Transcending

An Old Man in Christ

 

The royal doors are open, the great Liturgy is about to begin!

 

In the pouring rain, our fate

In Your hands, Lord brighten,

We make our way to meet you,

Beloved, across massive puddles

Rising with the tide of excitement.

 

“Ah, the blameless in the way. Alleluia”

 

Heart, body, mind and soul

Thoroughly cleansed and washed,

We are determined

To sprinkle Joy on your grey day,

Be your Guardian angels For a while

And hold off dark clouds

Of abandonment.

 

“My soul is worn with endless longing. Alleluia”

 

At the door, your quiet Strength surprises us!

An enchanting infant’s smile, behold!

You Beam our welcome,

Appropriately Toothless!

Are you, old friend, but a year old?

 

“Lord, I am become as a bottle in the frost. Alleluia.”

 

Head bent, hands crossed

The epitrachelion wraps gently

Emasciated shoulders, frail, stooped.

Humbly you whisper to Father

Your Confession, Taste Loyal Servant

The Fountain of Immortality

Invisible choirs accompany our poor hymn!

 

“Call me up to You, O Savior, and save me. Alleluia.”

 

You live alone, at your 93,

Even climb, dear, bedroom’s stairs steep!

Yet Angels and Saints keep you company

In the lonely path to Christ.
 
Christ before wife, mother and child, you put
 
Grace is free but discipleship is not cheap.

 

“The sheep that was lost am I. Alleluia.”

 

World wars have feared

Your Faith’s strong fortress,

Violently, you took the kingdom, by force.

Ravenous wolves failed

To lead you astray, the one pearl of great price

You unearthed, All that you had

You sold and bought.

 

“The Choir of the Saints has found the Fountain of Life.  Alleluia.”

 

What a living icon you are!

Like your faded with candles kissed

In your icon corner, full of Grace and Light

Painstakingly you commemorate,

Day-to-day, a long, tattered names’ list.

 

“Image am I of Your unutterable glory. Alleluia.”

 

You may be old, feeble and frail,

Yet your zeal and bright courage

Shames us all,

Amidst peppermint and cakes

His wonderful acts prophetically you proclaim,

The Spirit lifts you up,

To generations to come.

 

“Though I bear the scars of my stumblings. Alleluia”

 

Old Brother, toothless, we implore you in Christ,

Begging on your knees we sinful, beseech,

Under your roof, unworthy we pray

Just a little more while, abide with us,

Please stay, bless, to Heavens reach!

 

“Lead me back to be refashioned. Alleluia.”

 

Meek Humility, shine upon us,

Grace abundant your poor children enthuse!

What matters is the soul not the sole,

Bless us, Bless us, Guide us in judgment

You have inherited the Earth indeed.

Even if you’re wearing odd shoes!

 

“Into that ancient beauty of Your Likeness. Alleluia.”

 

 

Weakness at the Beginning of Lent

depression10

I am tired. I feel tired and afraid, with no control over anything. At my best moments, I realise that this is a gift – the gift of awareness, of truth. Because the truth is we are never in control over anything. We invent little worlds (our group of friends; our family; our parish; our monastery) over which we may claim some sort of dominion. We invent silly games (our careers, the rules of our society) which we can win. We upgrade or downgrade these games carefully, so that we are never pushed beyond what we feel we can control.

depression6

But look up, look beyond the borders of these silly little kingdoms where we rule. Lent is a horrid period. Year by year, Lent is when some force within me pushes me out of my comfort zones, and I find myself in a lions’ den, face to face with the beasts, utterly unprepared to fight, totally helpless, fully aware that the only possible outcome is to be slaughtered.

This is nothing new. This happens every year. Yet, I somehow survive, because the same Force that pushes me out of my self-created kingdoms, out of my self-created games – that same Force saves me from those wild beasts at the last moment.

depression7

And this changes everything.

Perhaps I should not share this with you. Perhaps it would help the monastery more if I kept my weakness to myself and pretended to be someone I am not. This would be the proper thing to do – but I have never tried to be proper; I have never cared to replace my honest, weak self with the false image of a man who is in control. Those who play this game are one step away from a type of suicide – not to allow yourself to be seen, to cover yourself under the expectations of others, to betray the feeble, yet precious being that you are out of fear that you will not stand up to the standards of others… This is the definition of hell, the betrayal of one’s deepest, most intimate self. I don’t want to leave this world having played a respectable part, yet knowing that who-I-am was never visible. What can be worse than to go though life as someone else?  What bigger failure than to sell out your own self?

depression8

If you don’t live as yourself – weak and fallen, as you are – how can you love? Whose love is it that you feel? With whose love do you embrace the world around you? Whose good deeds and whose sins are your good deeds and your sins? When you hide yourself under an image, you basically step aside and die – all that is left is the image you created. It is this image – not yourself – who loves and hates, who lives and dies. You will never experience love – your love – until you own up to your true self. You will never experience life – not even death, ultimately – until you settle down in your own life and accept yourself as you are. I don’t mean this in the sense of ‘this is who I am and there is no reason to change’, but in the sense of ‘this is who I am, this is the real starting point of any change’.

depression9

No healing is possible. No repentance is possible. No prayer is possible, until the heart that heals, repents and prays is your sinful, fallen, yet beating heart. False images do not have hearts. False images do not love. Most painful than all, false images will never reflect Christ, because there is nothing false in Christ, nothing common between Life and void. Prayer begins with pain at one’s fallen nature; it grows out of this pain, and its flowers bloom out of it.

By Father Seraphim Aldea

 

What is a Christian end to life?

When Breath Becomes Air

 

Final Hours and Death in Western Painting, Byzantine chanting and iconography, end of life care/ palliative care and … in my life.

The blog post which follows is  painfully relevant to me. I have seen some of this first-hand, and I do have very elderly and frail, ailing parents, nearing death and requiring constant one-on-one nursing care. Even for a poor ‘hermit’ as I am, their impending death is a difficult emotional time. The ‘bodies’ of both my parents, simultaneously, especially though my father’s, prepare themselves for the final days of life. Thank God they have both gone to Confession before and received Eucharist! Just in time! I believe my father is nearer to the ‘end’ than my mother and he will be the first to go. I am most impressed by his calmness and humility in accepting his “body’s process of ‘shutting down’, which will end when all the physical systems cease to function”. I am deeply moved by my father’s tender care to make sure we are all well, his attempts to resolve whatever is unfinished of a practical nature, and his silent seeking permission from us, family members to “let go.””. His eyes are so eloquent! He tries to hold on, even though this brings him a prolonged discomfort, in order to be assured that those left behind will be all right.

I have often felt these days that a family’s ability to reassure and release the dying person from this concern is the greatest gift of love they can give at this time. Saying Good-bye is also so important, so prolonged, so heart-rending, so personal! These last days are typically spent laying in bed with him and holding his hand, in tears.

“O my sweet springtime, O my sweetest Child, where has all Thy beauty gone?” (The Lamentations of the Tomb)

Alexey_Venetsianov_25

Administration of the Eucharist to a dying person (painting by 19th-century artist Alexey Venetsianov)

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This painting didn’t have the Expressionism Style. The girl in this painting is dying and Munch used light colors instead of a dark palette.

dying_child1.jpg

“Dying Child” by Edvard Munch. Everything in this painting is saturated in suffering, except the dying girl, who is fragilely posed (in repose) in a way that is heartbreaking.

595

‘Dying Well’

Cardinal Mazarin Dying.jpg

Paul Delaroche Cardinal Mazarin Dying

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The famous picture by Arthur William Devis showing a dying Nelson

 

IngresDeathOfDaVinci

The Death of Leonardo da Vinci is an 1818 painting by the French artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

 

elderly woman looking outIn the old days, she would be propped up on a comfy pillow, in fresh cleaned sheets under the corner window where she would in days gone past watch her children play. Soup would boil on the stove just in case she felt like a sip or two. Perhaps the radio softly played Al Jolson or Glenn Miller, flowers sat on the nightstand, and family quietly came and went. These were her last days. … spent with familiar sounds, in a familiar room, with familiar smells that gave her a final chance to summon memories that will help carry her away. …

You see, that’s how she used to die.

The essay is entitled “I Know You Love Me; Now Let Me Die” I saw it on Facebook, handed around the way that we do everything from meatloaf recipes to the greatest speeches in history, with the result that everything has the same value.

But considering the topic, I feel like this one deserves to come with a big label that says, “Read this. It actually matters.” The physician author of this article has first-hand knowledge of just what death looks like in the modern hospital room or elderly care facility. He approaches it from the medical professional’s point of view, and considers what happens to the theoretical dying woman whose gentler, old-fashioned death he sketched above. But these days …

Empty-hospital-bed-scale-300x200She can be fed a steady diet of Ensure through a tube directly into her stomach and she can be kept alive until her limbs contract and her skin thins so much that a simple bump into that bed rail can literally open her up …. She can be kept alive until her bladder is chronically infected, until antibiotic resistant diarrhea flows and pools in her diaper so much that it erodes her buttocks. The fat padding around her tailbone and hips are consumed and ulcers open up exposing the underlying bone, which now becomes ripe for infection.

I know these aren’t pretty things to talk about. But I have seen some of this first-hand; I think quite a lot of people my age have. When my father-in-law was in decline, he received end-of-life care that went on for about three years. When I blogged about it back in March 2014, in spite of the excellent hospice care Charles received, I had to ask:

Is this really the best we can do for Greg’s dad? Charles is on “palliative care,” and so the only medical concern is limiting suffering. But is an unsuffering death really possible? And if it is, am I wrong to think that it’s just not what I would want for myself?

… if it were my time to go, and I could see that it would be this creeping, sanitized kind of yearlong journey with caretakers trying to keep every little thing operating as if I were just a collection of little things … would I be just crazy to say that I’d like to opt out? …Wouldn’t I rather have a short end punctuated by intense focus than a protracted fugue state with no intensity and no humanity?

We go through it with our elderly parents and we have no way to change the current practices. But I hope that by the time I get there, enough of us will have spoken up to say that just because we CAN keep bodily functions going at maximum cost with maximum artificiality doesn’t mean we SHOULD. Because we aren’t just pumps and springs and tubes — we’re human beings made in the image of God.

We pray for “a Christian end to our life — painless, blameless and peaceful.” But what does that really look like? Can’t we see out our days better in the quiet corner that the author places his patient in than in the sterile, hopeless hospital beds that most of us are bound for?

What is “a Christian end to our life?” I really want to know.

Source: This Side of Glory