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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Spiritual Reading

An Introduction to the Art of Reading God’s Word accompanied by some of the most beautiful medieval manuscripts

Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Black Hours (M. 493 › Morgan Library & Museum)

The Black Hours is a product of unequalled luxury. All 121 vellum folios are stained in black. To make the writing stand out against the dark background, only white lead and opaque paints were used for the miniatures, and gold and silver ink for the script. Only three of these black parchment manuscripts survive to this day.
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WE BELIEVE THAT THE SCRIPTURES constitute a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God’s revelation of Himself – in creation, in the Incarnation of the Word, and the whole history of salvation. And as such they express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience.

We may distinguish four key qualities that mark an Orthodox reading of Scripture, namely

Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Prayerbook of Claude de France (MS M. 1166 › Morgan Library & Museum)

In the words of Roger Wieck, curator of manuscripts at the Morgan Library: “An artistic triumph…” The personalized prayer book of the French queen Claude de France enchants us especially by its delicate paintings in a charmingly small format of 69 x 49 mm, and even more so by the unusual wealth of illustration it contains.

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Reading the Bible with Obedience

FIRST OF ALL, when reading Scripture, we are to listen in a spirit of obedience. The Orthodox Church believes in divine inspiration of the Bible. Scripture is a “letter” from God, where Christ Himself is speaking. The Scriptures are God’s authoritative witness of Himself. They express the Word of God in our human language. Since God Himself is speaking to us in the Bible, our response is rightly one of obedience, of receptivity, and listening. As we read, we wait on the Spirit.

But, while divinely inspired, the Bible is also humanly expressed. It is a whole library of different books written at varying times by distinct persons. Each book of the Bible reflects the outlook of the age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author. For God does nothing in isolation, divine grace cooperates with human freedom. God does not abolish our individuality but enhances it. And so it is in the writing of inspired Scripture. The authors were not just a passive instrument, a dictation machine recording a message. Each writer of Scripture contributes his particular personal gifts. Alongside the divine aspect, there is also a human element in Scripture. We are to value both.

Each of the four Gospels, for example, has its own particular approach. Matthew presents more particularly a Jewish understanding of Christ, with an emphasis on the kingdom of heaven. Mark contains specific, picturesque details of Christ’s ministry not given elsewhere. Luke expresses the universality of Christ’s love, His all-embracing compassion that extends equally to Jew and to Gentile. In John there is a more inward and more mystical approach to Christ, with an emphasis on divine light and divine indwelling. We are to enjoy and explore to the full this life-giving variety within the Bible.

most beautiful medieval manuscripts lindisfarne gospels

Lindisfarne Gospels (Cotton MS Nero D IV › British Library)

The Lindisfarne Gospels doesn’t need many words of introduction: it’s one of the finest works in the unique style of Hiberno-Saxon or Insular art, combining Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic elements.

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Because Scripture is in this way the word of God expressed in human language, there is room for honest and exacting inquiry when studying the Bible. Exploring the human aspect of the Bible, we are to use to the full our God-given human reason. The Orthodox Church does not exclude scholarly research into the origin, dates, and authorship of books of the Bible.

Alongside this human element, however, we see always the divine element. These are not simply books written by individual human writers. We hear in Scripture not just human words, marked by a greater or lesser skill and perceptiveness, but the eternal, uncreated Word of God Himself, the divine Word of salvation. When we come to the Bible, then, we come not simply out of curiosity, to gain information. We come to the Bible with a specific question, a personal question about ourselves: “How can I be saved?”

As God’s divine word of salvation in human language, Scripture should evoke in us a sense of wonder. Do you ever feel, as you read or listen, that it has all become too familiar? Has the Bible grown rather boring? Continually we need to cleanse the doors of our perception and to look in amazement with new eyes at what the Lord sets before us.

We are to feel toward the Bible with a sense of wonder, and sense of expectation and surprise. There are so many rooms in Scripture that we have yet to enter. There is so much depth and majesty for us to discover. If obedience means wonder, it also means listening.

Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (Acc., No. 54.1.2 › Metropolitan Museum of Art) 

All miniatures are in demi-grisaille, a painting technique using mainly shades of grey and coloring for the figures’ face and hands. The surprising amount of details that can be fit in such small space is outstanding.

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We are better at talking than listening. We hear the sound of our own voice, but often we don’t pause to hear the voice of the other person who is speaking to us. So the first requirement, as we read Scripture, is to stop talking and to listen – to listen with obedience.

When we enter an Orthodox Church, decorated in the traditional manner, and look up toward the sanctuary at the east end, we see there, in the apse, an icon of the Virgin Mary with her hands raised to heaven – the ancient Scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. This icon symbolizes the attitude we are to assume as we read Scripture – an attitude of receptivity, of hands invisibly raised to heaven. Reading the Bible, we are to model ourselves on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she is supremely the one who listens. At the Annunciation she listens with obedience and responds to the angel, “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). She could not have borne the Word of God in her body if she had not first, listened to the Word of God in her heart. After the shepherds have adored the newborn Christ, it is said of her: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Again, when Mary finds Jesus in the temple, we are told: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:5l). The same need for listening is emphasized in the last words attributed to the Mother of God in Scripture, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee: “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5), she says to the servants – and to all of us.

In all this the Blessed Virgin Mary serves as a mirror, as a living icon of the Biblical Christian. We are to be like her as we hear the Word of God: pondering, keeping all these things in our hearts, doing whatever He tells us. We are to listen in obedience as God speaks.

Westminster Abbey Bestiary

Westminster Abbey Bestiary (Ms. 22 › Westminster Abbey Library)

Out of all the Bestiaries, the Westminster is considered to be one of the most beautiful and richly decorated bestiaries in the world, and is full of all kinds of incredible descriptions, legends and myths.

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Understanding the Bible Through the Church

IN THE SECOND PLACE, we should receive and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is not only obedient but ecclesial.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture. A book is not part of Scripture because of any particular theory about its dating and authorship. Even if it could be proved, for example, that the Fourth Gospel was not actually written by John the beloved disciple of Christ, this would not alter the fact that we Orthodox accept the Fourth Gospel as Holy Scripture. Why? Because the Gospel of John is accepted by the Church and in the Church.

It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, and it is also the Church that tells us how Scripture is to be understood. Coming upon the Ethiopian as he read the Old Testament in his chariot, Philip the Apostle asked him, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And the Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:30-31). We are all in the position of the Ethiopian. The words of Scripture are not always self-explanatory. God speaks directly to the heart of each one of us as we read our Bible. Scripture reading is a personal dialogue between each one of us and Christ – but we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church. We make full use of our own personal understanding, assisted by the Spirit, we make full use of the findings of modern Biblical research, but always we submit private opinion – whether our own or that of the scholars – to the total experience of the Church throughout the ages.

The Orthodox standpoint here is summed up in the question asked of a convert at the reception service used by the Russian Church: “Do you acknowledge that the Holy Scripture must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which has been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, our Mother, has always held and still does hold?”

We read the Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We read as the members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. When reading Scripture, we say not “I” but “We.” We read in communion with all the other members of the Body of Christ, in all parts of the world and in all generations of time. The decisive test and criterion for our understanding of what the Scripture means is the mind of the Church. The Bible is the book of the Church.

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Godescalc Evangelistary (Ms. Nouv. acq. lat. 1203 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France)

Why is this manuscript so important? In the words of Godescalc himself:

Golden words are painted [here] on purple pages,
The Thunderer’s shining kingdoms of the starry heavens,
Revealed in rose-red blood, disclose the joys of heaven,
And the eloquence of God glittering with fitting brilliance
Promises the splendid rewards of martyrdom to be gained. 

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To discover this “mind of the Church,” where do we begin? Our first step is to see how Scripture is used in worship. How, in particular, are Biblical lessons chosen for reading at the different feasts? We should also consult the writings of the Church Fathers, and consider how they interpret the Bible. Our Orthodox manner of reading Scripture is in this way both liturgical and patristic. And this, as we all realize, is far from easy to do in practice, because we have at our disposal so few Orthodox commentaries on Scripture available in English, and most of the Western commentaries do not employ this liturgical and Patristic approach.

As an example of what it means to interpret Scripture in a liturgical way, guided by the use made of it at Church feasts, let us look at the Old Testament lessons appointed for Vespers on the Feast of the Annunciation. They are three in number: Genesis 28:10-17; Jacob’s dream of a ladder set up from earth to heaven; Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; the prophet’s vision of the Jerusalem sanctuary, with the closed gate through which none but the Prince may pass; Proverbs 9:1-11: one of the great Sophianic passages in the Old Testament, beginning “Wisdom has built her house.”

These texts in the Old Testament, then, as their selection for the feast of the Virgin Mary indicates, are all to be understood as prophecies concerning the Incarnation from the Virgin. Mary is Jacob’s ladder, supplying the flesh that God incarnate takes upon entering our human world. Mary is the closed gate who alone among women bore a child while still remaining inviolate. Mary provides the house which Christ the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) takes as his dwelling. Exploring in this manner the choice of lessons for the various feasts, we discover layers of Biblical interpretation that are by no means obvious on a first reading.

The Grimani Breviary

Grimani Breviary (Ms. Lat. I, 99=2138 › Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana) 

A monumental witness to the splendor of Flemish art produced during the Renaissance. Perhaps an outstanding features of this manuscript is the choice of motifs, which alternate between religious and lay themes.

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Take as another example Vespers on Holy Saturday, the first part of the ancient Paschal Vigil. Here we have no less than fifteen Old Testament lessons. This sequence of lessons sets before us the whole scheme of sacred history, while at the same time underlining the deeper meaning of Christ’s Resurrection. First among the lessons is Genesis 1:1-13, the account of Creation: Christ’s Resurrection is a new Creation. The fourth lesson is the book of Jonah in its entirety, with the prophet’s three days in the belly of the whale foreshadowing Christ’s Resurrection after three days in the tomb (cf. Matthew 12:40). The sixth lesson recounts the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites (Exodus 13:20-15:19), which anticipates the new Passover of Pascha whereby Christ passes over from death to life (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7; 10:1-4). The final lesson is the story of the three Holy Children in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3), once more a “type” or prophecy of Christ’s rising from the tomb.

Such is the effect of reading Scripture ecclesially, in the Church and with the Church. Studying the Old Testament in this liturgical way and using the Fathers to help us, everywhere we uncover signposts pointing forward to the mystery of Christ and of His Mother. Reading the Old Testament in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the, Old – as the Church’s calendar encourages us to do – we discover the unity of Holy Scripture. One of the best ways of identifying correspondences between the Old and New Testaments is to use a good Biblical concordance. This can often tell us more about the meaning of Scripture than any commentary.

In Bible study groups within our parishes, it is helpful to give one person the special task of noting whenever a particular passage in the Old or New Testament is used for a festival or a saint’s day. We can then discuss together the reasons why each specific passage has been so chosen. Others in the group can be assigned to do homework among the Fathers, using for example the Biblical homilies of Saint John Chrysostom (which have been translated into English). Christians need to acquire a patristic mind.

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Morgan Crusader Bible (Ms M.638 › Morgan Library & Museum; Ms Nouv. Acq. Lat. 2294 › Bibliothèque Nationale de France; Ms Ludwig 16 83. M.A. 55 › Getty Museum)

In this manuscript history is depicted in great detail, without any text and recalls the Creation of the world, the Righteous Wars and the deeds of the most important characters of the Old Testament. The Crusader’s Bible fascinates through its rich and refined gold embellishment which comes to enhance the luminosity of the colors.

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Christ, the Heart of the Bible

THE THIRD ELEMENT in our reading of Scripture is that it should be Christ-centered. The Scriptures constitute a coherent whole because they all are Christ-centered. Salvation through the Messiah is their central and unifying topic. He is as a “thread” that runs through all of Holy Scripture, from the first sentence to the last. We have already mentioned the way in which Christ may be seen foreshadowed on the pages of the Old Testament.

Much modern critical study of Scripture in the West has adopted an analytical approach, breaking up each book into different sources. The connecting links are unraveled, and the Bible is reduced to a series of bare primary units. There is certainly value in this. But we need to see the unity as well as the diversity of Scripture, the all-embracing end as well as the scattered beginnings. Orthodoxy prefers on the whole a synthetic rather than an analytical approach, seeing Scripture as an integrated whole, with Christ everywhere as the bond of union.

Always we seek for the point of convergence between the Old Testament and the New, and this we find in Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy assigns particular significance to the “typological” method of interpretation, whereby “types” of Christ, signs and symbols of His work, are discerned throughout the Old Testament. A notable example of this is Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who offered bread and wine to Abraham (Genesis 14:18), and who is seen as a type of Christ not only by the Fathers but even in the New Testament itself (Hebrews 5:6; 7:l). Another instance is the way in which, as we have seen, the Old Passover foreshadows the New; Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh at the Red Sea anticipates our deliverance from sin through the death and Resurrection of the Savior. This is the method of interpretation that we are to apply throughout the Bible. Why, for instance, in the second half of Lent are the Old Testament readings from Genesis dominated by the figure of Joseph? Why in Holy Week do we read from the book of Job? Because Joseph and Job are innocent sufferers, and as such they are types or foreshadowings of Jesus Christ, whose innocent suffering upon the Cross the Church is at the point of celebrating. It all ties up.

A Biblical Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, on every page of Scripture, finds everywhere Christ.

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Vienna Genesis (Codex Theol. Gr. 31 › Österreichische Nationalbibliothek)

It is the most ancient purple manuscript surviving today. The fragment of the Genesis (from the Greek Septuagint translation) is compiled in golden and silver ink, on a beautifully purple-dyed calfskin vellum. Each page contains a lavish miniature depicting the text, for a total of 48 well-preserved images.

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The Bible as Personal

IN THE WORDS of an early ascetic writer in the Christian East, Saint Mark the Monk: “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor.” As Orthodox Christians we are to look everywhere in Scripture for a personal application. We are to ask not just “What does it mean?” but “What does it mean to me?” Scripture is a personal dialogue between the Savior and myself – Christ speaking to me, and me answering. That is the fourth criterion in our Bible reading.

I am to see all the stories in Scripture as part of my own personal story. Who is Adam? The name Adam means “man,” “human,” and so the Genesis account of Adam’s fall is also a story about me. I am Adam. It is to me that God speaks when He says to Adam, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). “Where is God?” we often ask. But the real question is what God asks the Adam in each of us: “Where art thou?”

When, in the story of Cain and Abel, we read God’s words to Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?” (Genesis 4:9), these words, too, are addressed to each of us. Who is Cain? It is myself. And God asks the Cain in each of us, “Where is thy brother?” The way to God lies through love of other people, and there is no other way. Disowning my brother, I replace the image of God with the mark of Cain, and deny my own vital humanity.

In reading Scripture, we may take three steps. First, what we have in Scripture is sacred history: the history of the world from the Creation, the history of the chosen people, the history of God Incarnate in Palestine, and the “mighty works” after Pentecost. The Christianity that we find in the Bible is not an ideology, not a philosophical theory, but a historical faith.

Then we are to take a second step. The history presented in the Bible is a personal history. We see God intervening at specific times and in specific places, as He enters into dialogue with individual persons. He addresses each one by name. We see set before us the specific calls issued by God to Abraham, Moses and David, to Rebekah and Ruth, to Isaiah and the prophets, and then to Mary and the Apostles. We see the selectivity of the divine action in history, not as a scandal but as a blessing. God’s love is universal in scope, but He chooses to become Incarnate in a particular comer of the earth, at a particular time and from a particular Mother. We are in this manner to savor all the uniqueness of God’s action as recorded in Scripture. The person who loves the Bible loves details of dating and geography. Orthodoxy has an intense devotion to the Holy Land, to the exact places where Christ lived and taught, died and rose again. An excellent way to enter more deeply into our Scripture reading is to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Galilee. Walk where Christ walked. Go down to the Dead Sea, sit alone on the rocks, feel how Christ felt during the forty days of His temptation in the wilderness. Drink from the well where He spoke with the Samaritan woman. Go at night to the Garden of Gethsemane, sit in the dark under the ancient olives and look across the valley to the lights of the city. Experience to the full the reality of the historical setting, and take that experience back with you to your daily Scripture reading.

Then we are to take a third step. Reliving Biblical history in all its particularity, we are to apply it directly to ourselves. We are to say to ourselves, “All these places and events are not just far away and long ago, but are also part of my own personal encounter with Christ. The stories include me.”

Betrayal, for example, is part of the personal story of everyone. Have we not all betrayed others at some time in our life, and have we not all known what it is to be betrayed, and does not the memory of these moments leave continuing scars on our psyche? Reading, then, the account of Saint Peter’s betrayal of Christ and of his restoration after the Resurrection, we can see ourselves as actors in the story. Imagining what both Peter and Jesus must have experienced at the moment immediately after the betrayal, we enter into their feelings and make them our own. I am Peter; in this situation can I also be Christ? Reflecting likewise on the process of reconciliation – seeing how the Risen Christ with a love utterly devoid of sentimentality restored the fallen Peter to fellowship, seeing how Peter on his side had the courage to accept this restoration – we ask ourselves: How Christ-like am I to those who have betrayed me? And, after my own acts of betrayal, am I able to accept the forgiveness of others – am I able to forgive myself? Or am I timid, mean, holding myself back, never ready to give myself fully to anything, either good or bad? As the Desert Fathers say, “Better someone who has sinned, if he knows he has sinned and repents, than a person who has not sinned and thinks of himself as righteous.”

Have I gained the boldness of Saint Mary Magdalene, her constancy and loyalty, when she went out to anoint the body of Christ in the tomb (John 20:l)? Do I hear the Risen Savior call me by name, as He called her, and do I respond Rabboni (Teacher) with her simplicity and completeness (John 20:16)?

Reading Scripture in this way – in obedience, as a member of the Church, finding Christ everywhere, seeing everything as a part of my own personal story – we shall sense something of the variety and depth to be found in the Bible. Yet always we shall feel that in our Biblical exploration we are only at the very beginning. We are like someone launching out in a tiny boat across a limitless ocean.

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 118 [119]:105).

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Lectio Divina  is a four-part way of reading Scripture:
Lectio. Read. God is speaking, so I listen intently to what he says.
Meditatio. Engage. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally.
Oratio. Pray. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally and reply personally in prayer.
Contemplatio. Live. God is speaking to me, so I listen personally and reply in prayerful living.

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By Bishop Kallistos Ware: “How to Read the Bible” at http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/11/1/4.aspx#obedience

 

Source: MEDIEVALISTS.NET, “Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts” http://www.medievalists.net/2015/10/03/top-10-most-beautiful-medieval-manuscripts/

An Icon Making An Icon!

Christ Pulls St-Peter from the Waters. Jonathan Pageau

Christ Pulls St-Peter from the Waters. Linden and gilding. 4′ x 5′. Carved by Jonathan Pageau.

Since I began icon carving full time 4 years ago now, I had a secret list of the things I wanted to make, certain objects and images that were dear to me.  To my own joy and surprise, I have been progressively checking off items from that list with ongoing commissions, making even those objects and icons I did not think could find patrons such as complex reliquarieswedding crownsopus sectile icons or the image of the Holy prophet Jonah.

One of the images I had secret hope of making is Christ pulling St-Peter out of the water. For those who have read some of my writings one can quickly see how it encompasses so much of my vision of the incarnation, of death, resurrection and the pastoral reminder on where to focus our eyes when advancing into the chaotic world.  So last year, when a patron commissioned this icon at a size of 4’ x 5’ for St. Peter Orthodox Church in Bonita Springs, Florida, I was ecstatic.   This is the biggest icon I have carved to date.

In working out the drawing for the icon carving, I based the composition on my favorite version of this event, a 12th century mosaic from Sicily.

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Many details are different, but the basic composition is the same. I reduced the size of the boat to make it less overwhelming and to fully have St-Peter under the boat.  I also wanted to make sure we could see at least the eyes of all the Apostles.  I changed Christ’s left hand so that instead of holding a scroll, it was placed in a position suggesting the upcoming motion, the rising of St-Peter.  I also added a few details, such as a dragon head on the boat and I changed the shape of the mast and sail to suggest a Chi-Ro.

Drawing process of St-Peter on water

One of the things that kept changing as I worked on the drawings was just how deep Peter was in the water.  The priest of the parish, fr. Hans Jacobse, commented that he really wanted the water to be high up on his body to give that sense of sinking, but this created some challenges for me because I still wanted us to see St-Peter.  Wood is generally opaque to say the least. In the mosaic version, there is wonderful use of transparency and so I began pondering just how it could be possible to at least suggest transparency in wood.

Final scaled drawing. The level of water on St-Peter will still change in the final carving.

Icon in process, attempting to find ways to show the transparency of water.

I wanted the composition of the water to say something about the event and so beyond suggestions of transparency to show that St-Peter is actually in the water, I also designed it so to have a wave wrapping around his right foot in an image of the Psalms:

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. (Psalm 116:3)

The water under Christ’s feet in contrast seems to shoot out from under them, organized by their contact with them. I gilded some of the water to add to this sense of the organizing and transfiguring effect Christ has on creation.

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Visually, I was looking forward to taking further the experimentation in carving water I had begun in my icon of Jonah. I wanted to create a sense of almost overwhelming movement which would contrast with the vigorous yet safe relationship established between Christ and St-Peter. Christ holds St-Peter by a firm grip, reminding us of the grip Christ has on Adam in the icon of the resurrection. Their gazes are fixed on each other, Peter with a hint of surprise and Christ with calm compassion.

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When Christ appears to the Apostles floating at sea, the waters are rising in a tempest. Christ approaches them above the flood, mastering the chaos, the chaos of the primordial waters, the chaos of the passions, of doubt, of all that is in the world of death. St-Peter is the only one to dare walk out with Christ, but because of this boldness, when peering into the storm he panics and sinks. Which one of us has not experienced this? We can imagine St-Peter crying out:

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. (Psalm 69: 1,2)

But the face of Christ appears to him through the waves and his hand reaches to catch him. We can hear St-Peter confess:

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. (Psalm 40:2)

This is St-Peter, the son of Jonah, both the stable “rock” and the one who sinks, the bold fisherman who finds the gold coin in the fish’s mouth, but also that one in constant danger of being swallowed by the sea.

This is his story repeated over and over in the Gospels, the story of the one who recognized Jesus as Christ then immediately called out by Christ to “get behind me Satan”, the one who tells Christ he will never deny him then deny him three times as the three days of Jonah in the fish, the three days of Christ in the grave. To meditate on this cycle in the story of St-Peter is to pierce so many mysteries of the Church, so many signs of the times and so many cycles in our own lives.

What is the end of this, what is the end of this story? When Christ appears to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection (John 21), it is the same sea in which St-Peter sank when attempting to walk on water. St-Peter recognizes his Lord on the land, and this time he does not walk on the water. This time his boldness leads him to dive into the deep, to put on his garment and voluntarily plunge, then to be asked three times by Christ: “Peter, son of Jonah, do you love me?” It is not when we walk on the water that we are closest to Christ, but it is when our boldness serves humility. It is when our boldness leads us to die that we are closest to the image of Christ. What impossible thoughts to consider, what scandal it is to fathom such things?

Coming back to our icon, we can say without hesitating that the image of St-Peter being pulled out of the waters is an image of our salvation in so many ways, and I find great joy in having made it.  I hope it will be a blessing for the parish to which it is headed.

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Process of Icon Carving

 

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CommentsAndrew Gould A masterpiece of the highest order. Astonishing! My favorite detail is the Viking-like prow on the ship – a pagan monster fleeing the sanctification of the waters. And a bit of an iconographic curiosity – a wood carving depicting a wood carving.” John Tkachuk  An icon making an icon!

Source: Icon Carving of Christ Pulling St-Peter from the Water by  Orthodox Arts Journal http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org

Photis Kontoglou: A Greek Dostoevsky

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And  a Charles Dickens too

Alexandros Papadiamandis was not a bishop. He was not priest. He was not a monk. He was a simple yet genuinely Orthodox layman who observed those who seized upon the great opportunity and those who failed to do so. His observations, in turn, became the heart of his fictional, but not fictitious, writings. As a layman and as an artist, he had the freedom to explore the great opportunity from every angle and the boldness to point out the obstacles to that opportunity, which are created when the misguided misunderstand the eucharistic and liturgical aspect of ecclesial life that makes that opportunity possible and act on that misunderstanding. … Papadiamandis’s profound understanding of what liturgy is and what liturgy can do enables Papadiamandis to initiate others through his writings into the mystery of this great opportunity. …

[For those in a hurry, you may skip the brief analysis, and go straight to his short story link at the bottom of the page]

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… Papadiamandis opens another window by letting us see how the liturgy flowers, in all its manifestations, under the right conditions such as those that were present on his native island of Skiathos, and how it withers when fallen human interests deprive it of its proper soil and care. What makes this vision of Papadiamandis so compelling is that he does not merely offer us another philosophy of the liturgy or a new ideology for conservative or liberal reform. Instead, he offers us human examples taken from the experience of day-to-day life in Christ. His priests and lay folk are people with whom we can identify and to whom we can turn for guidance as we enter the same struggle to offer God the worship He is due.

Non-Orthodox readers might well be mystified by the importance of hymnography, architecture, iconography, and ecclesiastical music as sources of life and wisdom for Papadiamandis. They may be tempted to view Papadiamandis as a mystic or, even worse, as a religious fanatic.Such a view would greatly diminish the value of Papadiamandis’s observations and could not be further from the truth. Papadiamandis was a normal, healthy Orthodox Christian. He was a realist and, one could say, an empiricist. By experience, he knew the transfiguring power of the ecclesiastical arts in the Orthodox Church, and the wisdom he gained therefrom entered his fiction in a most natural way.

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St. Nikolaos Planas and Papadiamandis

…  Art is used to instruct the believer in a concrete Orthodox Christian approach to life in its manifold dimensions. The modern term for this ancient teaching technique would be the “multimedia experience,” with visual, musical, linguistic, and even olfactory dimensions. Each sense receives impressions that direct the entire soul to glorify God and repent for its own estrangement from the divine beauty that envelopes the soul during divine worship. Art is used not merely to educate the mind but, more importantly, to shape the heart and redirect its desires and ambitions.

In other words, the liturgical arts are the time-tested tools that the Church uses to heal the faithful and direct them to Christ. In Orthodoxy, the arts are not intended to provide religious entertainment for the senses but to purify them. The theological essence of Orthodoxy is quite precise, and the forms that protect the essence are necessarily precise as well. Those who attained to union with Christ either produced the liturgical arts or affirmed the fact that their use helps lead others to that same union. These artistic creations are the precious fruits of life in the Holy Spirit that lead those willing to be led to the spiritual life of Paradise. They have the purpose not only of opening the heavenly world of God’s glory to the believer, but also of opening up the believer’s own inner world so that he can see his passions and deceitful desires and, by God’s grace, defeat them.

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One hymn in the veritable sea of liturgical texts has the faithful chant (and thus confess), “many times when I am chanting hymns I am also committing sins; for while my mouth utters songs of praise, my soul is pondering unseemly things.”Even the modern psychologist would agree that this brutal honesty about our fallenness and recognition of our hypocrisy is the first step to overcoming them both.

Another aspect of Papadiamandis’s vision that may seem strange in the West is the absolute centrality of the Church as experience. The liturgical life consists of more than a Protestant Sunday worship service or even a Roman Catholic daily mass. It is the oxygen that infuses the atmosphere of the believer’s entire life, enabling him to breathe. The texts from the divine services are what help him make basic decisions in his daily dealings with others. The liturgical life gives meaning to the most basic aspect of created life – time, the coming of day in Matins and the coming of night at Vespers. Simultaneously, it takes the believer beyond time in the Divine Liturgy to the uncreated reality of the glory of the Holy Trinity. Each day in the liturgical cycle is a unique gift of God, a unique opportunity to approach Him in thanksgiving and repentance. This is also reflected by the central icon of the Saint whose memory is celebrated on any particular day as well as by the liturgical texts that change with the hour, the day, and the season.

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In the Orthodox Church, worship is a source of joyful sadness that clears the mind and heart with a sober optimism. It is also a real struggle of body and soul. This athletic aspect of Orthodox liturgical life may also perplex the non-Orthodox reader. Although the importance of pilgrimage is a common theme in the religious texts of Western Christendom, the importance of vigils, which are also associated with pilgrimage, may not be so readily apparent. Vigils enable the believer to give his entire self over to the liturgical life of the Church for an extended period of time. The night hours during which visibility is lessened, enable the believer to focus on turning inward. By devoting these hours of darkness to prayer, although they are the customary time for sleep, the believer offers a small sacrifice to God. In spite of the real struggles a vigil requires, the believer who turns to God for such an extended period of time does not feel as though he is offering God anything of particular significance, but that he is the fortunate recipient of mercy from God. The many blessed hours at prayer humble the soul, soften it, make it less selfish, and thus open it up to the grace of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing gloomy about these vigils. They are illumined by another light and quite naturally become a source of great joy; for, through such vigils, man can find his true self by finding the God of his heart.

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Kollyvades Fathers

… What makes Papadiamandis’s treatment of religious themes unique, apart from the use of the modern novel and short story as a medium, is that his vision is formed by the truly praiseworthy, though much-maligned, Kollyvades fathers. These modern fathers, devoted to the tradition of the Philokalia, refused to separate liturgical practice from dogma and spiritual endeavor for the sake of secondary expediencies of convenience or practicality. They understood that the true goal of liturgy, dogma, and spiritual endeavor is union with Christ. All the details in the rich tapestry of Orthodoxy must serve that goal, or they fray into an incoherent tangled mass of strands leading nowhere at all. The Kollyvades fathers were Papadiamandis’s teachers, and by experience he knew the benefits of following their guidance. …

For Papadiamandis, the way the divine services are conducted and the texts and actions called for by these services form a unity. In particular, humility rather than ostentation is the guide for how the priest should serve, how the chanters should chant, and how the Church should be adorned. This humility is not a forced posturing but the natural outcome of serving the Eucharist with awareness that Christ is the One offering and being offered. … the point of Papadiamandis’s narratives is that the downtrodden, wounded, and despised can be transfigured into the glorious people of God through the Church’s divine worship.

… Humility in liturgical celebrations enables the priest to be shepherded with his flock by Christ, the One True Shepherd. Humility enables the priest to console the suffering. Humility encourages the priest to be dedicated to the divine services and to celebrate them with the fear of God and precision [akriveia]. This precision and fear of God in serving the services as the typicon and sacred canons prescribe, in turn, sanctify the priest, crowning him with the wisdom and understanding needed to be a good physician to the souls under his care.

… A long-hidden literary treasure of Orthodox Greece, the early twentieth-century writer Alexandros Papadiamandis has often been called “the Greek Dostoevsky.” Like his Russian counterpart, Papadiamandis gave a realistic view of contemporary lives nourished with the rich springs of Orthodox spirituality. However, Alexandros Papadiamandis may not only be considered a “Dostoevsky of Modern Greece”, but one can argue, he is a “Charles Dickens of Modern Greece” as well.

“The main difference between the two great writers is, apart from the fact that Dicken’s childhood was much more painful than Papadiamandis’, that while Dickens got married, had a big family, made a fortune out of his writing, won high praise by his contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic and enjoyed publicity, Papadiamandis remained a single, lonely, poor man, despised by most of his peers and avoided being in the public eye at all costs.” (*)

“The closest parallel to Papadiamandis’s short stories and novels is found in large sections of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which are likewise saturated with Orthodox teaching taken, in many instances, from texts read during the liturgical services. … Like Dostoevsky, Papadiamandis looked deep into the human soul and found that its beauty and nobility depend not on the power of its intellect, or on the intensity of its desire, but on its genuine relationship with God.”.

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To read the full article “Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis, A Unique Witness to a Unique Opportunity”, The Foreword by Hieromonk Alexis (Trader), The Sacred Monastery of Karakallou, The Holy Mountain of Athos, go to: http://orthodoxinfo.com/phronema/greeces-dostoevsky-the-theological-vision-of-alexandros-papadiamandis.aspx

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For more insights, read Dr. Andrew Herman Middleton’s interview of Dr. Anestis Keselopoulos, professor of Ethics, Pastoral Theology and Orthodox Spiritual Life at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and author of Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis at http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_34/Greeces_Dostoevsky.pdf

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(*) Mystagogy, The Weblog of John Sanidopouloshttp://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/12/gleaner-christmas-story-by.html

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Alexandros Papadiamantis’ work is seminal in Modern Greek literature. … It is a body of work, however, that is virtually impossible to translate, as the magic of his language is founded on the Greek diglossia: elaborately crafted, high Katharevousa for the narrative, interspersed with authentic local dialect for the dialogue, and with all dialectical elements used in the narrative formulated in strict Katharevousa, and therefore in forms that had never actually existed. 

Unfortunately not many of his stories are online, but I found one titled “A Village Easter”, Memories of Childhood at http://www.roadtoemmaus.net/back_issue_articles/RTE_34/A_Village_Easter.pdf

A Greek Dostoevsky (I)

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.. and Charles Dickens

One of the greatest figures in modern Greek literature, Alexandros Papadiamandis was born on the Greek island of Skiathos on March 4, 1851, “the second Sunday of Lent and the feast day of Gregory Palamas, while they were singing the triadiká in church” (as we are informed by his fellow countryman Papa-George Rigas, distinguished scholar of folk traditions and specialist of the liturgical typicon).

[For those in a hurry, you may skip the short biography, and go straight to his short story link at the bottom of the page]

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While this first intimation of God’s favor appeared during Papadiamandis’s birth, the second took place during his Baptism:

“He was baptized on the Monday of Bright Week and named Alexandros. Something unusual happened while the priest, Papa-Nicholas, performed the Baptism; as he poured the oil in the baptismal font, the oil immediately made the form of the cross on the water. Papa-Nicholas interpreted this strange phenomenon, saying, “This child will be great.”

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His father was the pious priest Adamantios Emmanuel. Papadiamandis writes that he was “a beneficent guide in all ecclesiastical questions and a sublime adornment of ecclesiastical celebrations” in the church of the Three Hierarchs and in the country chapels of Skiathos.

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From an early age, Alexandros followed his father around the island helping him, sometimes in the altar and sometimes at the lectern as chanter. With his exceptional sensitivity, Alexandros treasured his experiences of sharing this liturgical service with his father. His heart was filled with and his nous was instructed by images from the priestly life and the Church’s services. He was so influenced by them that most of the scenes he chose to paint as a child were taken from the life of the Church. Reflecting on this time, he writes in his autobiographical memoir, “When I was young I would paint Saints, or I would write [hymnographical] verse.”

From his childhood years, Alexandros had the opportunity to live the tradition of the Kollyvádes fathers (those Greek Orthodox Athonite elders involved in the eighteenth century movement that inspired spiritual renewal and a return to more traditional liturgical and spiritual practices). This tradition had been preserved on Skiathos through the presence of a monastery built by the Kollyvádes, the Monastery of the Annunciation. Although the monastery was in decline during Papadiamandis’s later years, the diligently preserved kollyvadian tradition remained alive in the inhabitants of the island. He would later write, “In this small monastery [of the Panagia of Kounistras in Skiathos] at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, six of my relatives were priest-monks.” Papadiamandis gives an account of the monastery’s spiritual life and foundation on Skiathos:

Papa-Gregory…the ascetic, descended from the heights of Athos(7) together with his elder, Papa-Niphon, and thirty other monks. They sailed to the island of Gregory’s birth [Skiathos], and there, in the gorge of Angallianous, they built a beautiful, awe-inspiring monastery—patriarchal, Stavropegic, and coenobitic—with an exquisite, very fine church, built with great care. It was so beautiful that during those years, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was famous and enjoyed great respect among the monasteries of Athos. These ascetics…were the so- called Kollyvádes, who were under persecution on the Holy Mountain, as they insisted on precisionx (regarding frequent communion), and on many other things.

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The renowned Elder Dionysios was a distinguished spiritual father and learned priest-monk who lived on Skiathos, whose roots were in the kollyvadian tradition. Papadiamandis knew him personally and did not hide his admiration for him. He was “the inspired spiritual father in the small monastery of the Prophet Elijah.” Papadiamandis had such monks and monasteries in mind when he wrote, “the rule of prayer should be complete, following all the old typicons, with the vigils and pre-dawn Matins, with all the appointed verses and readings from the Psalter.”

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Papadiamandis was initiated into this kollyvadian—the genuine Orthodox—tradition, in his own home by his father, Papa-Adamantios, and by the broader world of the Church in Skiathos. In an unsigned obituary for his father, he wrote that

Papa-Adamantios, like all of the older priests of the island, was taught how to celebrate the Mysteries(12) by those venerable Kollyvádes (http://orthodoxwiki.org/Kollyvades_Movement), who, at the end of the last century, established the Monastery of the Annunciation…which became a seedbed of humble priests for our island, priests who were lovers of the divine services. Simple and virtuous, they enjoyed the love and respect of the inhabitants, having no affectations or hypocrisy, and displaying no vanity as they lived their lives as priests.

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Seeds of spiritual struggle that had been planted in Papadiamandis during his childhood and adolescence at home and in the wider environment of Skiathos were brought to fruition when he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain for a few months at the age of twenty-one. In one of his stories, we read about some of the events of his visit, mainly at the Skete of Xenophontos, and we perceive how the charm of the Holy Mountain was an inspiration for him. While there, he met many ascetics and hesychasts and became familiar with the liturgical life of the monks. He was enthralled by the vigils of the monastics and recorded in his heart not only the strict typicon and the Byzantine melodies but also the spirit that governed it all. In this way, Athos and its traditions affected the path his life took and enriched it with unforgettable memories.

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Given his rich spiritual upbringing, experiences, and heritage, it is only natural that Papadiamandis would choose to spend his life within this rich Orthodox tradition, preserving the Orthodox liturgical ethos through his writings and life. The critics of his age believed that there was little value in a detailed description of “how a village priest went to celebrate the liturgy in a country chapel for a little community of peasants or shepherds, who and how many took part in the festival, and what their customs were like.” Papadiamandis, however, did not regard the celebrations as mere holidays, but himself lived the events and the life of the Church as the center and foundation of all events and all life.

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Papadiamandis moved within this ecclesiastical environment and within the wider Greek tradition. He lived both aspects of this tradition, Ancient and Byzantine, in a diachronic unity, which spanned the ages. He had utter integrity, both as a person and as a Greek, within whose Hellenism was Byzantium and in whose love for Byzantium might be discerned Hellenism. In his texts, Ancient Greece resembles a flower that, wilting from its desire for the truth, then bears great fruit in the warmth of the Sun of Righteousness [Christ]. When history is viewed as a progression toward the discovery of the fullness of the truth of Orthodoxy, tradition truly lives, and history is kept from being fragmented. Other important figures in modern Greek literature such as Photios Kontoglou and, even more so, Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis would act from this perspective later on, with both their pens and their brushes. Together with our author, they are regarded as solid links in this tradition.

God favored Papadiamandis with many gifts, and he struggled to use them in a way that would bear the most God-pleasing fruit. The reverent and liturgical ethos expressed through Papadiamandis’s writings and life bear witness to the successful cultivation of his gifts.

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Papa-Nicholaos Planas

“It was in 1887 that he found what could be described as his spiritual bolt-hole in the turbulent and often harsh world of the metropolis: the small church of the Prophet Elisha, set in the courtyard of a private house in the old part of the city, under the rock of the Acropolis. There Papa-Nicholaos Planas, a simple priest born in the same year as Papadiamandis, a man of prayer and of great spiritual gifts, would regularly hold vigil services, gathering people from all walks of life into the crucible of the little church. Papa-Nicholaos was canonized in 1992.

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Papadiamandis never married. He was a shy and retiring man, as the few extant photographs of him testify, a man seemingly not of this world despite his acute observations of it. He also had to provide for his unmarried sisters at home. But despite his introspective nature he had a small circle of close friends, including Pavlos Nirvanas and Yannis Vlachoyannis, well-known Athenian men of letters who on various occasions undertook the role of literary agents and helped him during hard times.” (http://deniseharveypublisher.gr/people/alexandros-papadiamandis)

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Papadiamantis’ longest works were the serialized novels “The Gypsy Girl,” “The Emigrant,” and “Merchants of Nations.” These were adventures set around the Mediterranean, with rich plots involving captivity, war, pirates, the plague, etc. However, the author is best remembered for his scores of short stories. Written in his own version of the then official language of Greece, “katharevousa” (a “purist” written language heavily influenced by ancient Greek), Papadiamantis’ stories are little gems. They provide lucid and lyrical portraits of country life in Skiathos, or urban life in the poorer neighborhoods of Athens, with frequent flashes of deep psychological insight.

Papadiamantis’ deep Christian faith, complete with the mystical feeling associated with the Orthodox Christian liturgy, suffuses many stories. Most of his work is tinged with melancholy, and resonates with empathy with people’s suffering, regardless of whether they are saints or sinners, innocent or conflicted.

His work is seminal in Modern Greek literature. … It is a body of work, however, that is virtually impossible to translate, as the magic of his language is founded on the Greek diglossia: elaborately crafted, high Katharevousa for the narrative, interspersed with authentic local dialect for the dialogue, and with all dialectical elements used in the narrative formulated in strict Katharevousa, and therefore in forms that had never actually existed.

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Papadiamandis desire to glorify God is shown even more in the way he ended his life and in his attitude toward death. In a prayer he offered at the end of a poem entitled, “To the Little Panagia in the Turret,” he beseeches her, “comfort me, as well, my Panagia, before / I depart and will be no more.” In a letter written by Papa-George Rigas, we learn about the last moments of Papadiamandis’s life on earth:

His repose took place as follows: He became ill on the 29th of November 1910. On the third day of his illness, he fainted. When he revived, he asked, “What happened to me?” “It’s nothing, a small fainting spell,” his three brothers who were at his side told him. “I haven’t fainted,” Alexandros said, “in so many years; doesn’t it seem that it’s a prelude to my repose? Get the priest immediately and don’t delay.”… Soon after, having been called [by his brothers], the priest and the doctor arrived at the same time. Papadiamandis was, above all things…a pious Christian. So, as soon as he saw the doctor, he asked him, “What are you doing here?” “I came to see you,” the doctor told him. “Keep quiet,” the sick man told him. “I will first follow the ecclesiastical path [and call upon the help of God], and then you can come later.”…

He had control of his faculties until the end and wanted to write a story. Until the end, his mind was dedicated to God. On his own, a few hours before his repose, he called for the priest to come so he could partake of Holy Communion. “Perhaps later on I won’t be able to swallow!” he explained. It was the eve of his repose and, as irony would have it, it was the day they told him that he would receive the medal of the Cross of the Savior. On the eve of his repose, the second of January, he said, “Light a candle [and] bring me an [ecclesiastical] book.” The candle was lit. The book was about to be brought. However, Papadiamandis wearily said, “Don’t worry about the book; tonight I will sing whatever I remember by heart.” And he began to chant in a trembling voice, “Thy Hand Touching” [a troparion from the Hours of the eve of Theophany].

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Papadiamandis sang this final hymn and, as day broke between the second and third of January of his sixtieth year, he wearily fell asleep. After passing through the furnace of pain and trials and tasting many of the bitter dregs of life while faithfully living the liturgical life of the Church, he now stretched out his strong wings to fly to the upper chapel of the angels, toward which he had oriented his whole life. It snowed on the following day and, like Uncle Yiannios in the story, “Love in the Snow,” Papadiamandis lay down his worn-out body, presenting himself, his life, and his work before the Judge, the Ancient of Days, the Thrice-Holy. This was, finally, the only judgment with which he was concerned as he passed through life. Though his life and struggle in this world have ended, his work will continue to give witness to his devotion to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church for generations to come.

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A Short Biography of Alexandros Papadiamandis, From the First Chapter of A. Keselopoulos, Greece’s Dostoevsky: The Theological Vision of Alexandros Papadiamandis (2011)

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Unfortunately not many of his stories are online, but I found one titled “The Gleaner: A Christian Story” from 1889 at http://deniseharveypublisher.gr/assets/0000/0372/PAPADIAMANTHS_-_The_Gleaner.pdf

 

St. Petersburg’s Jaw-Dropping Wonder

Ana Paula Hirama, Flickr

Al and Marie, Flickr

You know the Sistine Chapel and the Notre Dame in Paris, but do you know the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood? Because it’s one of the most beautiful churches in the whole world. Located in St. Petersburg, Russia, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is a Russian Orthodox church that was built in the late 19th century under the direction of the Russian imperial family. It is built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally injured in March of 1881. It is full of bright colors, twisting spires, and floor to ceiling icons.

Here’s what it looks like on the outside:NoPlayerUfa, Wikipedia

And if you walk inside and look up, here’s what you see:

Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr

See what I mean about being jaw-droppingly beautiful??

And yes, this place really exists.

Unfortunately, it is not used as a full-time church. During the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the church was looted and damaged. The Soviet government closed the church in the 1930s. It suffered further damage during WWII.

Since 1970s, it has been used as a museum, even after a major restoration of the church in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

But it can still inspire people’s faith with its beauty!

Here are more pictures of both the exterior and interior. Enjoy!

Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Ana Paula Hirama, Flickr
Justin Kaplan, Flickr
grizzlee9129, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Saint-Petersburg orthodox theological academy, Flickr
Ana Paula Hirama, Flickr
jaime.silva, Flickr
Diego Sáez Contreras, Flickr

Source: http://www.churchpop.com/2015/09/02/the-jaw-dropping-wonder-of-st-petersburg-the-church-of-the-savior-on-spilled-blood/