Weakness at the Beginning of Lent

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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’.

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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)

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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.

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“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.

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‘Dying Well’

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Paul Delaroche Cardinal Mazarin Dying

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The famous picture by Arthur William Devis showing a dying Nelson

 

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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

Illustrated by David Popiashvili

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Stories about Jesus Christ

The always thought-provoking Jesus Question website, which traces the identity of Jesus through history, art, and pop culture, featured today David Popiashvili – Date of birth 1969, Tbilisi, Georgia; graduated from the State Academy of Fine Arts; Georgia Commonwealth of Artists member since 1997. Their blogpost made me smile! What an artist! Such beauty, “naive art” and childlike innocence, such freshness of vision!   … “In 2002 the IBT published a Georgian edition of Stories about Jesus Christ, a children’s book based on the four New Testament Gospels. They commissioned Georgian artist David Popiashvili, who studied at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, to create thirty-one illustrations for it. People responded so well to Popiashvili’s images that IBT decided to create a digital version of the book that includes Russian and English translations as well the original Georgian. You can access this edition here.

 

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The Jesus Question

The Moscow-based Institute for Bible Translation (IBT) exists to translate, publish, and distribute the Bible in the 130-plus languages of the non-Slavic peoples living in the Commonwealth of Independent States (that is, in former Soviet Union countries).

In 2002 the IBT published a Georgian edition of Stories about Jesus Christ, a children’s book based on the four New Testament Gospels. They commissioned Georgian artist David Popiashvili, who studied at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, to create thirty-one illustrations for it. People responded so well to Popiashvili’s images that IBT decided to create a digital version of the book that includes Russian and English translations as well the original Georgian. You can access this edition here.

Annunciation by David PopiashviliThe Good News about the Birth of Jesus

Baptism of Christ by David PopiashviliThe Baptism of Jesus

Walking on Water by David PopiashviliJesus Calms a Storm

Good Shepherd by David PopiashviliThe Good Shepherd

Agony in the Garden by David PopiashviliJesus Prays in Gethsemane

Christ carries his cross by David PopiashviliCarrying His Own Cross

View original post 200 more words

A Kairos Life in a Chronos World

Christ’s Nativity in Eastern Byzantine Iconography and  Western Sacred Paintings

Living a Kairos Life in a Chronos World: The Three Main Differences 

The traditional Orthodox icon of the Nativity is one that many of us have venerated since our early childhood in the Orthodox Church. Yet for many of us, born and raised in the Western world, this icon may at times seem strange and different from the depiction of the Nativity as seen in the secular press, books, television, websites and other forms of media communication. Hopefully this short article will contribute to a greater appreciation of the Orthodox teaching of the meaning and significance of the feast of the Nativity as witnessed by the icon of the holy day.

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The first major difference between the Orthodox icon and the Western art depiction of the Nativity is that the main event, the birth in the flesh of Our Lord, is not depicted in the setting of a stable but in a cave immersed in a mountain. The “cave of Bethlehem”, is mentioned as early as the second century in the writings of St. Justin and by the fourth century, the site had become the place of a beautiful basilica in Bethlehem which was and is still today an important pilgrimage site for Christians. The cave itself in the icon is always depicted in dark colours or in black to indicate that the world that had plunged into the darkness of sin, through man’s fall, would soon be illuminated by the Nativity of Christ – “the light of the world” .

Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Lebrun, 1689

The new-born infant Christ is found always in the centre of the icon and cave, and as such is the true enlightener of mankind, through Whom a new era begins in the history of mankind. This same cave, also foreshadows the cave of “life giving tomb” that is found in the icon of the Resurrection. Christ thus begins and ends His earthly mission in a cave.

The cave in the icon of the Nativity is situated in a mountain, symbolic of the wilderness, which gives a place of refuge to the Son of Justice and Truth in fulfilment of the Old Testament pre-figuration. The Prophet Habakkuk states in a prayer: “God comes from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Covered are the heavens with His glory, and with His praise the earth is filled” (Hab. 3:3).

Christ, the fulfilment of this and other prophesies found in the Old Testament, is represented with His Virgin Mother – the Theotokos on a mountain, which emphasises their mutual unity. True manhood and the human nature in Christ is received from His Mother, the Ever-Virgin, and thus she figures prominently in the central scene of the icon.

The Mother of God is depicted always in a reclining position on a childbed with a tranquil and peaceful expression on Her face, and showing an absence of the usual suffering of child bearing. She is usually turned away from Christ, looking at the outside world, contemplating whether mankind will accept or reject the great mystery in which she plays such an important role. She as such has completed her unique role in God’s mysterious plan as the Birth-giver of God.

The Eve of the Old Testament was the mother of all living beings; in the New Eve, the Theotokos, we now have the Mother of all those that are redeemed. Thus she is the best example of the thanksgiving offering that mankind could make to the Creator, and serves us as an example of perfect obedience to the will of the Father.

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Christ is depicted in a manger or fodder bin, wrapped up in swaddling clothes. The manger symbolizes the altar upon which the supreme gift is brought to mankind, the infant Christ who is to redeem mankind. The swaddling clothes in which He is wrapped points to the winding sheet of another cave, the sepulchre, as depicted in the icon of the Descent of Christ from the Cross and His subsequent burial in the tomb.

The Gospels do not mention any attendants at the birth of Christ; however, the icon of the Nativity shows an ox and an ass either on the right or left side of Christ. These domestic animals are symbolic of faithfulness and devotion, as well as innocence in their relation to the Master. These animals are not important for their physical bulk, but their importance lies in the acceptance of their new Master. Thus it is not only the human world that accepts Christ but also the animal world that participates in the feast of re-creation.

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The second major difference between the Orthodox icon of the Nativity and Western art is the role and place of Joseph in the events. Western art always places Joseph in the centre of the event, close to Mary, a scene that as such depicts the “holy family”. The Orthodox icon of the Nativity does indeed include the figure of Joseph (lower right or left hand corner); however, he is far removed from the centre of the main event and finds himself in fact off the mountain or at the bottom of it. Joseph is depicted as an elderly man, sitting in a contemplative or meditating position, turned away from the main event of the icon. In our Orthodox tradition, Joseph is considered the guardian of Christ and His Mother, thus he is pictured as an aged man compared to the youthfulness of the Mother of God. In his pensive stature, Joseph seems confronted or plagued by doubts about the puzzling mystery of God’s incarnation from a Virgin. The pose of Joseph indicates that the true fatherhood of Christ is through the Virgin and the paternity of the Holy Spirit. This thus corresponds to the Nicene Creed’s verse: “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man”.

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Often Orthodox icons show Joseph confronted by an elderly shepherd or satan like figure, always depicted in dark colours. This figure is the tempter, tempting Joseph into not accepting the miraculous birth of the Saviour from the Virgin (as recorded in the Protoevangelium). This same objection has been raised throughout the history of the Church during the last two thousand years, in different forms and ways, by those who do not accept this miracle. These arguments, which ultimately did not cause Joseph to stumble, have constantly returned to trouble the Church, and are the basis of many heresies regarding Who Christ was and is. In the person of Joseph, the icon discloses not only his personal drama, but the drama of all mankind, the difficulty of accepting that which is beyond reason, the Incarnation of God. Thus Joseph is not the “father” of Christ while his struggle with the meaning of the virgin birth is symbolic of the struggle of all of mankind in accepting the “miracle of miracles”.

Between the two bottom scenes, the icon depicts a tree that runs up and points to Jesus Christ. This is the tree of the prophecy of Jesse, who was the father of King David in the Old Testament. This clearly marks the noble ancestry of Jesus who was born of “the tree of Jesse”.

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The third difference between the Orthodox icon of the Nativity and Western art is that the icon depicts as a composite image six difference scenes of the Nativity narrative surrounding the Infant Christ-child and His Mother. Western art usually depicts these scenes separately or in smaller groupings of two or three. Here are the six scenes:

  • At the top of the icon, on both sides of the mountain, are found two groupings of angels who often are looking downwards, sometimes to the side or upwards. They serve a two-fold role. First, they are the messengers of the spiritual world bringing glad tidings to mankind and secondly, they are the true adorers of Christ’s birth, the “marvel of marvels”. The angelic hosts as such unite heaven and earth and together glorify the “new born King”. The angel of the Lord, found on the top extreme right-hand side of the icon, is depicted looking down upon an amazed shepherd, announcing to him the good news of great joy.
  • A single shepherd or sometimes several are found on the right-hand middle side of the icon. These are the first of the Israelite people – the Jewish people, to accept and worship the Lord. These shepherds are simple, unsophisticated and ordinary citizens who hear the divine message in the course of their labours and fully accept the Virgin birth. In fact the shepherds are akin to the simple fishermen that Christ will call in the Gospels “to follow Him”.
  • On the opposite side, the left-hand side of the icon are found three figures of the Magi or wise men. They are depicted following the star, shining above the cave, and bringing their royal gifts to a Babe in a poor cave. The wise men represent the humanity that has not been exposed to the Old Testament – often referred to as the Gentiles. Yet they have a mission to find the “King of Kings” and have travelled far for this event. Their search reaches an end, “following the star of Bethlehem”, and they accept of the Son of Righteousness without hesitation. The three wise men are usually depicted in three different age brackets. The one of the extreme left is very young, the middle one is middle-aged and the one on the right is an elderly person. Thus all ages of humanity are called to accept Christ. The wise men were the first fruits of the Gentile world to venerate and worship Christ. In so doing they show that the ultimate sense of human knowledge is in the contemplation and worship of a Living God, “born unto us as a young Child”.
  • Below, on the left-hand side, is the scene of Joseph and the tempter (already discussed earlier).
  • On the lower right-hand side is depicted an important bathing scene. The origin of this scene is not Scriptural or apocryphal. The first mention of the bathing of Christ was made in the travelogue of a late seventh century pilgrim to Palestine, a certain bishop Arnulf. He relates that close to the Nativity cave in Bethlehem, he was shown a stone water basin which was believed to be the one in which the Divine Child had been washed after birth. Early art depictions of the bathing scene are found from as early as the fifth century. This bathing scene illustrates that Christ was truly a human being and had the fullness of human nature while at the same time he also had a divine nature and was the second person of the Trinity. Every young child has to be bathed, washed and cleaned, upon entrance into this world and Jesus was no different. This scene also serves as an argument against those heretics that did not want to acknowledge Christ’s full humanity and placed only emphasis on his divinity (At the IV Ecumenical Council this heresy, know as Monophysitism, was defeated). Thus the two bottom scenes complement each other, showing both the theological teaching of Christ’s full divinity (the pondering of Joseph of the miracle birth-incarnation of God, the second person of the Trinity – Jesus Christ) and His full humanity (the important bathing scene). Christ as such is truly GODMAN – in Ukrainian Bohocholovik, a term coined at the IV Ecumenical Council in 451.
  • The scene at the top center of the icon depicts the three divine rays of the triune God. In so showing this, the icon depicts that the Trinity – Father, the pre-eternal Son and Holy Spirit are at the heart of the event. The Incarnation is not only about the birth of the Son, but also involves the other two members of the Trinity because all three are of one and the same essence (the Greek word for this is “Homoousios”). In another way the rays are referred to also as the divine star of Bethlehem that shone and provided the direction for all the players of the Incarnation event. The divine light thus provides a canopy for the infant birth of the Saviour and lightens the universe for the proper understanding of the truth – that God became man so that man can become potentially God-like.

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The icon of the Nativity thereby harmonizes six separate scenes of the festal narrative. Their depiction produces a balanced and well organized theology of the Nativity feast. This icon, except for the bottom part, is truly a pictorial illustration of the KONTAKION (liturgical hymn) of the feast written by St. Romanos the Melodist which proclaims:

“Today the Virgin gives birth to Him Who is above

all being and the earth offers a cave to Him whom

no man can approach. Angels with shepherds give

glory and Magi journey with a star. For unto us

is born a young Child, the pre-eternal God.”

In conclusion, the icon of the Nativity, with its richness and theological content, relates the various scenes of the Incarnation narrative, overcoming both time and space limitations. Just as in the Orthodox liturgy we overcome linear time and space, so also the Nativity icon, as an integral part of the festal cycle, overcomes these limitations. In turn, the various scenes in the icon form an integrated and holistic unity to be contemplated and venerated in the ever present.

Jesus Christ as the Lord of Creation, entered the life of His creation and the life of human history as a newborn babe. He submits himself to the physical conditions and laws that govern the human race yet in his humbleness he continues to be the Saviour and the second person of the Trinity. (1)

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The very fact that in a single icon different scenes of the Nativity narrative coexist, although their historic, real time differs, such as Christ in the manger and at the same time in the stone water basin, or the Magi following the star, shining above the cave, and simultaneously offering their royal gifts to a Babe in a poor cave highlights the fact that time and space limitations are transcended when the Saviour and Lord of Creation enters the life of His creation and the life of human history, kairos in other words supplants chronos. (2)  And this is the real, mystical meaning of the kontakion “Today the Virgin gives birth to Him …” because the faithful may indeed literally participate in the Mystery of Incarnation in the liturgical “Now” and that very moment, in Church, Christ may be born in their hearts. (3)

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(*) Kairos Vs. Chronos: … When Jesus came, it was a fulfillment of promises past, a cosmic collision of the sacred and secular. It was an intersection of the holy will of God and the stubborn ways of man. It was a perfect moment.  John the Baptist said in Mark 1:15 that “time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” This godly kairos pierced its way into creation at just the right time, slicing through chronos with a cry of a baby in a manger. The cross was another kairos moment. Romans 5:6 says, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” Kairos moments then—and now—allow us to get a glimpse of the “other side.” We peek around the corner at eternity. We actually glimpse how God works. (3)

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(1)  http://www.uocc.ca/en-ca/about/education/nativity-icon.asp The Orthodox Icon of the Nativity of Our Lord And Saviour Jesus Christ, Dr. Roman Yereniuk, Associate Professor, St. Andrew’s College in Winnipeg.

(2) From “Living a Kairos Life in a Chronos World” http://www.thehighcalling.org/articles/essay/living-kairos-life-chronos-world

(3) Sophia Drekou’s insights and selection of icons and paintings at http://sophia-siglitiki.blogspot.gr/2013/12/blog-post_1453.html proved very stimulating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Christ’s Nativity” by John Milton and Wiliam Blake

A few decades prior to writing his famous epic, Paradise LostJohn Milton composed this thirty-one-stanza ode—his first major work in English. Written in 1629 when he was just 21, the poem examines the cosmic significance of the incarnation, celebrating Christ’s triumph over the gods of paganism from the manger.

Regarding the poem’s composition, Milton wrote to his friend Charles Diodati,

I am singing the King of Heaven, bringer of peace, and the fortunate days promised by the Holy Book, the wanderings of God and the stabling under a poor roof of Him who rules with his Father the realms above; the star that led the wizards, the hymning of angels in the air and the gods flying to theirendangered fanes. This poem I made as a birthday gift for Christ; the first light of Christmas dawn brought me the theme.” (qtd. by Walter Taylor Field, 1907)

Between 1803 and 1815, visionary poet and visual artist William Blake painted on commission two sets of watercolors to illustrate the poem—one for the Rev. Joseph Thomas (the “Thomas set”), and one for Thomas Butts (the “Butts set”). Each set contains six watercolors which are very similar to one another, though not identical. The list of illustrations is as follows. (You’ll notice that not all the stanzas are illustrated.)

  1. The Descent of Peace (stanzas 1-3)
  2. The Annunciation to the Shepherds (stanzas 8-12)
  3. The Old Dragon (stanza 18)
  4. The Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods (stanzas 19-23)
  5. The Flight of Moloch (stanza 23)
  6. The Night of Peace (stanza 27)

 

“On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”

THE HYMN

I.
It was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature, in awe to him,
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the Sun, her lusty Paramour.

II.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw;
Confounded, that her Maker’s eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.

III.
But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace:
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready Harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And, waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.

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The Descent of Peace (stanzas 1-3)

William Blake, “The Descent of Peace” (Thomas set), 1809. Watercolor on paper, 19.4 x 25.5 cm. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, England. Description: Peace breaks through the heavenly spheres, dispersing the clouds and waving her myrtle wand, while Nature (below) covers her nakedness with a snowy veil as she pays reverence to her Lord.

VIII.
The Shepherds on the lawn,
Or ere the point of dawn,
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they than
That the mighty Pan1
Was kindly come to live with them below:
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.

IX.
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet
As never was by mortal finger strook,
Divinely-warbled voice
Answering the stringèd noise,
As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air, such pleasure loth to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close.

X.
Nature, that heard such sound
Beneath the hollow round
Of Cynthia’s seat2 the airy Region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was done,
And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all Heaven and Earth in happier union.

XI.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
That with long beams the shamefaced Night arrayed;
The helmèd Cherubim
And sworded Seraphim
Are seen in glittering ranks with wings displayed,
Harping in loud and solemn quire,
With unexpressive3 notes, to Heaven’s newborn Heir.

XII.
Such music (as ’tis said)
Before was never made,
But when of old the Sons of Morning sung,
While the Creator great
His constellations set,
And the well-balanced World on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the weltering waves their oozy channel keep.

William Blake, "The Annunciation to the Shepherds," 1809. Watercolor on paper, 19.3 x 25.5 cm. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, England. The Annunciation to the Shepherds (stanzas 8-12)

William Blake, “The Annunciation to the Shepherds” (Thomas set), 1809. Watercolor on paper, 19.3 x 25.5 cm. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, England.

XVIII.
And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
The Old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurpèd sway,
And, wroth to see his Kingdom fail,
Swindges6 the scaly horror of his folded tail.

The Old Dragon by William Blake

William Blake, “The Old Dragon” (Thomas set), 1809. Watercolor on paper, 19.3 x 25.3 cm. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, England.

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The Beast and the Whore of Babylon, elsewhere associated with institutionalized religion by Blake, are here overthrown along with Satan

The Overthrow of Apollo by William BlakeThe Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods (stanzas 19-23)

William Blake, “The Overthrow of Apollo and the Pagan Gods” (Thomas set), 1809. Watercolor on paper, 19.3 x 25 cm. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, England. Description: Pagan worshipers burn an offering to Apollo as his spirit flees its statue in fear. (The statue depicts Apollo’s defeat of the giant serpent Python, who had tormented his mother during her pregnancy.) To the right, a disheveled Nymph hides in a thicket to mourn, while above her, a train of refugee gods and goddesses fills the sky.

XIX.
The Oracles are dumb;
No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the archèd roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
Will hollow shriek the steep of Delphos1 leaving.
No nightly trance, or breathèd spell,
Inspires the pale-eyed Priest from the prophetic cell.

XX.
The lonely mountains o’er,
And the resounding shore,
A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
Edgèd with poplar pale,
From haunted spring, and dale
The parting Genius2 is with sighing sent;
With flower-inwoven tresses torn
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.

XXI.
In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth,
The Lars3 and Lemures4 moan with midnight plaint;
In urns, and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
Affrights the Flamens5 at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.

XXII.
Peor and Baalim6
Forsake their temples dim,
With that twice-battered god of Palestine;7
And moonèd Ashtaroth,8
Heaven’s Queen and Mother both,
Now sits not girt with tapers’ holy shine:
The Libyc Hammon9 shrinks his horn;
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz10 mourn.

XXIII.
And sullen Moloch,11 fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
His burning idol all of blackest hue;
In vain with cymbals’ ring
They call the grisly king,
In dismal dance about the furnace blue;
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis,12 and Orus,13 and the dog Anubis,14 haste.

The Flight of Moloch by William Blake

The Flight of Moloch (stanza 23)

William Blake, “The Flight of Moloch” (Thomas set), 1809. Watercolor on paper, 19.7 x 25.7 cm. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, England. Description: Worshipers of Moloch clang together cymbals and blow on trumpets as part of their infant sacrifice ritual. As they do, Moloch’s winged spirit departs from the molded image. The advent of his enemy, Jesus, has scared him away.

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The winged figure of the accuser, so like the spirit of Moloch, cements that god’s identification with Blake’s Spectre

XXVII

But see the Virgin blest,
Hath laid her Babe to rest.
Time is our tedious Song should here have ending,
Heav’ns youngest-teemed Star [ 240 ]
Hath fixt her polisht Car,
Her sleeping Lord with Handmaid Lamp attending.
And all about the Courtly Stable,
Bright-harnest Angels sit in order serviceable.

blake6The Night of Peace (stanza 27)

Posted on December 14, 2012by Victoria Emily Jones

Also see “Winged Life” at https://orthodoxcityhermit.com/2015/09/12/william-blakes-mystic-visions-stunning-paintings/

 

 

Sir Stanley Spencer’s Burning Bushes

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Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

He was a visionary, a genius. Some said, a lunatic.

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Have a look at his ‘Biblical’ contemporary Zacharias and Elizabeth praying to conceive St. John the Forerunner:

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Or at his St Francis and the Birds:

St Francis and the Birds 1935 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1967 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00961

“St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscans, is popularly remembered for being able to talk to birds, and pray with them. Here he is shown as an old man, dressed in a Franciscan robe, talking to birds on a farm.” [Tate] Stanley Spencer intended to display this painting in his ideal gallery, which he called ‘Church House’, though it was never built. Admittedly, there is a certain “strangeness” in the painting, particularly in the way the saint separates the boy and girl. This painting was in fact rejected by the Royal Academy in 1935, interpreted as an offensive caricature. Spencer was eventually reconciled with the Royal Academy and was elected a full member in 1950; he was knighted in 1959.

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‘Understand. Spencer is not a fool. He is a damned good man’ one of his officers said. Spencer had just bandaged him and called for stretcher bearers because the officer was grievously wounded. Stanley Spencer had no idea that many people thought of him as an idiot.

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Spencer was other worldly. He was not run-of –the –mill. His genius as a painter imbued him with love for all of creation. He saw the redemptive force of love in everything, in everyday life, in hospitals ,on the battlefield, in the human body. His innocence and love of beauty could sometimes make him a victim. He thought he loved Patricia Preece, an artist of voluptuous proportions, whom he painted and who tricked him with many wiles into divorcing his wife and marrying her. Yet his childlike soul made him beloved of many. His daughters loved him and remembered his beautiful character and his redeeming love for all of nature.

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“Everything I do for anyone is as ointment poured forth and it is an exercise creating joy, which is eternal; and it is the army has caused me to learn that by being happy in the present state I am satisfied. But what is wonderful is that by praying for the power to love purely or absolutely you get that power. I feel ashamed of what I would do when I first came out here, compared with what I would do now. The army ought to make any man an artist, because it ought to give any man these feelings.”

Stanley Spencer wrote these words in a letter to friends when he was a soldier on the Salonika front during the First World War. He had been a hospital orderly but was then in active service fighting against the Bulgarians and the Germans. He was finally sent home in 1918 as a result of his frequent and debilitating bouts of malaria.

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Resurrection

His extraordinarily moving painting of Smol in Macedonia, Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia, showing an illuminated operating theatre with the wounded on stretchers outside drawn by mules, resonates with biblical undertones: the dressing station was an old Greek church which Spencer drew such that, with the animal and human onlookers surrounding it, it would recall depictions of the birth of Christ. Rather than showing the horror of war, the painting gives hope of continuing life.

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In the 1920s Spencer was asked by the Behrends family to do the murals for a memorial chapel for their brother Harry, who had died of malaria on the Salonika front. Spencer had always wanted to express his memories of the war and he spent six years on what are regarded by many to be his finest paintings, at the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere in England. Paul Mitchell says: “Perhaps one would expect scenes of death and destruction. But there is not a gun… and only one officer in sight. Entering the chapel you see ahead vivid white crosses tumbling from the sky and piling up around the altar. Soldiers are emerging from their graves in a Resurrection scene.

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The other walls depict the everyday life that Spencer himself experienced. Even with titles such as Sorting and Moving the Kit-Bags Spencer imbues the paintings with such beauty and meaning that as he himself says, “they don’t look like war pictures, they rather look like heaven”.The everyday activities of the soldiers are transformed from banality. Saint Augustine, whom the artist had read, believed that even menial work could be a way of glorifying God. He continues, “the picture is supposed to be a reflection of the general attitude and behaviour of men during the war”, when a soldier would fondly remember the “caress of a sweetheart” or “sitting in his doorway chatting to his neighbours”. For Spencer himself the five years it took to complete the works was a means to “recover my lost self”.

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Resurrection–Reunion

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Resurrection–Waking Up

They are highly personal paintings that go beyond the mundane, treating the great themes of death and redemption in an extraordinary vision of grandeur. Spencer went on to paint an amazing Resurrection painting with his home village of Cookham, and the local churchyard as its background.

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The Resurrection, Cookham 1924–7

“Spencer believed that the divine rested in all creation. He saw his home town of Cookham as a paradise in which everything is invested with mystical significance. The local churchyard here becomes the setting for the resurrection of the dead. Christ is enthroned in the church porch, cradling three babies, with God the Father standing behind. Spencer himself appears near the centre, naked, leaning against a grave stone; his fiancée Hilda lies sleeping in a bed of ivy. At the top left, risen souls are transported to Heaven in the pleasure steamers that then ploughed the Thames.” [Tate]

Dinner on the Hotel Lawn 1956-7 Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1957 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00141

Not that Stanley Spencer saw himself as a prophet. On the contrary, he believed that the divine was present everywhere, in everything in the world, that the transforming power of love could express the suffering of people and their desire for a better world. Tiny details of life and the human condition were the driving force behind his work. … Spencer’s works often express his fervent if unconventional Christian faith. This is especially evident in the scenes that he based in Cookham which show the compassion that he felt for his fellow residents.

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Christ Preaching at the Cookham Regatta

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«When I lived in Cookham I was disturbed by a feeling of everything being meaningless. Quite suddenly I became aware that everything was full of special meaning, and this made everything holy. The instinct of Moses to take his shoes off when he saw the burning bush was very similar to my feelings. I saw many burning bushes in Cookham. I observed the sacred quality in the most unexpected quarters.»

Artist : Sir Stanley Spencer (England, b.1891, d.1959) Title : Date : 1951-1952 Medium Description: oil on canvas Dimensions : Credit Line : Watson Bequest Fund 1952 Image Credit Line : Accession Number : 8702

Christ in Cookham (1951-1952)

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Christ Carrying the Cross 1920

Carpenters walking down Cookham High Street form a link with Christ’s carrying the cross through Jerusalem. The Tate Gallery originally mistitled this picture “Christ Bearing his Cross” which intensely irritated Stanley Spencer.  As he said, the false title implied:

A sense of suffering which was not my intention.  I particularly wished to convey the relationship between the carpenters behind him carrying the ladders and Christ in front carrying the cross.  Each doing their job of work and doing it just like workmen  . . . Christ was not doing a job or his job, but the job.

DACS; (c) DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Resurrection with the Raising of Jarius’s Daughter

*

Again, when Stanley Spencer’s dealer thought of cataloguing the painting as “Christ Carrying His Cross” Stanley was furious. The cross was for him universal. We all have to carry the cross.

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The moving series of paintings Christ in the Wilderness, were a product of a very difficult time for Spencer. He had been betrayed by Patricia Preece and left pretty much destitute. His wife Hilda and children were not with him. He worked in a bare studio in London. The depiction of Christ protecting the hen is incredibly moving.

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Spencer’s genius was his vision. For him all that was material was divine, imbued with “the grandeur of God.” Like Saint Paisios he could love the whole world. Saint Nectarios of Aegina said: “Our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor.” “The impulse for his creativity came out of his own idealistic efforts to articulate suffering humanity’s craving for a better world.” Paul Mitchell said.

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Spencer said: “Love is the essential power in the creation of art and love is not a talent.  Love reveals and more accurately describes the nature and meaning of things than any mere lecture on technique can do. And it establishes once and for all time the final and perfect identity of every created thing.”

*

“I love to dwell on the thought that the artist is next in divinity to the saint. He, like the saint, performs miracles.”

*

Spencer’s art is fascinating, bizarre, unworldly and yet too wordly. His life was more eccentric and not always so praiseworthy. In fact, he lived a pretty messy and imperfect life, and did not always live out his convictions very well. But this does not necessarily mean that he is to be judged and condemned together with his ‘art’. Isn’t he in a sense a fellow struggler rather than a role model, and doesn’t his honesty about his own personal battles make him that much more accessible to us today? Spencer felt compelled to record the truth of Christianity as he saw and felt it, and such art as his can reach places in the human heart that reasoned argument can never penetrate. “Where William Blake was aware of heavenly voices in the next room, Stanley Spencer was susceptible to visions of holiness along the Cookham lanes, … turning its streets into visions of holiness.” May he teach us to discover burning bushes all over the world.

*

For more, please watch a brilliant lecture by Richard Harries, The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Gresham Professor of Divinity, “Distinctive Individual Visions”, part of  Christian Faith and Modern Art Series http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/distinctive-individual-visions  “As at the end of the 18th century William Blake developed a highly individual style that did not fit easily into the categories of the age, so in our time artists like Marc Chagall, Stanley Spencer and Cecil Collins, in their very different ways, have sought to express an intense, highly personal religious vision of the world. …”

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16nov11richardharries_distinctiveindividualvisions

Each With His Own Brush

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Can you tell the difference between Sawai Chinnawong’s Nativity painting and Nyoman Darsane’s Christ?

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Although both are nonwestern, Asian Christian paintings, a western Christian could look at Chinnawong’s painting and easily tell what story it is depicting for all its Thai elements, whereas he wouldn’t really make much sense of Darsene’s work. Conversely, a Thai Buddhist might not grasp the meaning of Sawai Chinnawong’s painting, whereas the concepts/images in Darsane’s work would be familiar and easily recognizable to a Balinese.

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Sawai Chinnawong3

The difference I am alluding to is nothing other than that of two different visual contextualization art models, “the static Accommodation Model”, alias  the Kernel and Husk model, and “the dynamic Inculturation Model”, alias the Onion Model. For a full discussion go to Indigenous Christ blog at http://indigenousjesus.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/models-of-visual-contextualization.html

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Let us now have a closer look at Maria and Martha paintings by Darsane and Sawai Chinnawong respectively.

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Sawai Chinnawong1

Also, at the Ten Virgins parable paintings by Darsane and Sawai Chinnawong respectively.

In another instance we are drawn to the work of I Nyoman Darsane, another popular Balinese Christian artist. Darsane began with a traditional orientation. However, he then began working in more modern styles. As this developed much was written about the presence of traditional elements in his art. Darsane's work came to be described as 'contemporary.' Darsane utilizes a principle of realism in his paintings to create mythological figures or wayang that are usually seen in the Hindu world. However, these mythological figures he makes as characters from stories whose inspiration and substance is taken from the Gospel. And so emerge symbolic realist paintings like Sang pembebas (The deliverer), Sepuluh Anak Dara (the ten virgins) or the narrative of Mary and Martha.

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This brings up an interesting point about the contextualization of visual art. Which model of the two should be followed in indigenous Christian visual art? And what about indigenous iconography in particular? What type of icons should be used for church worship?

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Jonah by Sawai Chinnawong

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Adam and Eve by Abubakar

To give you just an example how complicated such issues can be/become, let us now turn our attention to Abubakar’s art. “Abubakar was born in 1930 in the Palmas region of South Sulawesi. He was born to a Moslem family but was educated at a Christian School. Genesis and its stories of creation were a popular subject for his art. In 1980, he painted the temptation of Adam and Eve on canvas and later a larger series on Paradise Lost . He sees the lost paradise as the result of our own deeds and not as a punishment from God. “It is the karma of our own deeds”, he says “to lose paradise or to regain it.” He experiments with several techniques including batik, woodcut, monoprint, watercolors and wood carving. He lives in Jakarta and assists church publishing programs. ‘I still see myself as a pilgrim,” he writes. “I am still seeking after truth and beauty, and how to show God’s love in my life and my art.’ (From Asian Christian Art Organisation at http://www.asianchristianart.org/art_abubakar.html )

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Jesus in the boat with fishermen by Chinese artist He Qi 

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Abubakar, a self-taught artist, he often used Christian themes as the only ones adequate to express his understanding of human suffering. I personally find this last point fascinating, because Sawai Chinnawong, the Thai Christian artist discussed above, once stated that “an artist in Burma taught me that I needed to include images that are uncommon in Thai art. Buddha is never seen suffering in our iconography, but as a Christian I have to depict the suffering of Christ, which is the hardest spiritual concept for us to understand or except”.

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Flight into Egypt by Indian artist Jamini Roy

So suffering is a difficult thing for Buddhist/Hindu-background believers to view or portray. Eventually, Chinnawong has portrayed Christ’s suffering in both figural as well as in more abstract ways but Indigenous Jesus is correct in pondering “what would it look like if Jesus were shown truly struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane, or bloodied and hanging on the cross, or angry with the money changers?” The idea of Christ’s suffering certainly doesn’t have to be the first image that an Asian Christian artist tackles, but it is something to think about and ponder, as to how it could be represented.” (http://indigenousjesus.blogspot.gr/2012/09/a-brief-history-of-visual_24.html )

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Creation by Sawai Chinnawong