The Womb and the Tomb

 

Icon of the Nativity compared with the Icon of the Resurrection

Left: Christ in the manger; Right: the Empty Tomb

No description of the Nativity Icon would be complete without mention of Jesus’ appearance in the manger.

It should be never forgotten that Jesus came to us in order to die – this was known by Him, at least, from the very beginning. Therefore, in Iconography, the manger in the Nativity Icon deliberately resembles a stone coffin, the swaddling clothes resemble a burial shroud, and the cave itself can even be said to prefigure Christ’s tomb.

With the side-by-side comparison shown above of the Icon of the Nativity with the Icon showing the Myrrh-bearing women discovering Jesus’ empty tomb, no more words are necessary. (1)

The Passion of Nativity

… Let us look more closely at the child in the relief.  “His tight swaddling clothes are evocative of burial wrappings.  In the byzantine tradition, there is an intentional connection between the swaddling clothes of the infant in a Nativity icon and the burial clothes of the Epitaphios (epi– upon; taphos- grave or tomb) icon which is venerated and anointed during Great Friday Vespers.  Also on Great Friday, the “soma” icon on the crucifix is taken down from the cross and shrouded in identical wrappings before it is processed and reposed in the sanctuary.”

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“…Note, as well, that the “manger” is a cave, a small hollow in a rock formation that mirrors Jesus’ tomb in the gospels.  In many icons, Jesus’ cradle is a stone box.  Who would lay a child in a coffin? What macabre motive would make an artist paint a baby as a mummy and give him a tomb as his nursery?  Indeed, the motive is not macabre, but joyful and eschatologically triumphant: we only understand the significance of the incarnation if we hold it in tension with Jesus’ saving death; we may not separate the two.  This also reminds us that the liturgical year commemorates events in the life of Jesus but it never parses the paschal mystery.”

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Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem 

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world, and the oldest in the Holy Land (founded in 325)

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A virgin womb, conceiving thee, revealed thee;
a virgin tomb, receiving thee, concealed thee.

We glorify her from whom thou didst receive a beginning in time,
and we honour him that ministered to the end of thine earthly life for our sakes,
asking that through their prayers, O merciful Saviour,
we might be deemed worthy of thy Kingdom of the Heavens.

Theotokion on the Praises for the Feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea
Appendix to the July Menaion, Holy Transfiguration Monastery

 

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Church Of The Nativity Bethlehem Stable

All the eschatological themes of the Advent season converge in the Nativity tableau and are carried forward into Christmas.  This should not surprise us.  The birth of Christ and his salvific death form the cosmic fulcrum upon which the beam of human history rests, with creation and eschaton at each end.  In a nativity icon this is super concentrated.  Incarnation and eschaton are so ingeniously and inextricably intertwined that we might not even read “passion” in what is written in the icon unless we understand the symbolic significance of the iconographic elements.  The best known example of this is the gifts of the wise men: while gold and frankincense represent Jesus’ kingship and priesthood, respectively, myrrh, used for embalming, is a symbol of his death.

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When I look at a Nativity icon and I see a child embraced by death, and embracing death, I have at least an inkling of what Rilke was, perhaps, trying to convey in the first Duino Elegy:

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.” (2)

 

(1) Posted on by 

(2) Posted at https://memoriadei.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/the-ox-the-ass-and-the-passion-of-the-nativity/

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Drunk on Delusion, Sober in Despair

Die Before you Die

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“If you die before you die, you will not die when you die” (Greek Orthodox monastery)

*

“… This week, I noticed a pattern in popular music of our time that I had not noticed before. It was something I heard in song lyrics. I’ll quote some for you from a few different songs:

So cut me from the line / Dizzy, spinning endlessly / Somebody make me feel alive /
And shatter me. (Lindsey Stirling / Lzzy Hale, “Shatter Me”)

Don’t let me die here / There must be something more / Bring me to life (Evanescence, “Bring Me to Life”)

How can the only thing that’s killing me make me feel so alive? (Parachute, “She (For Liz)”)

I could lie, couldn’t I, couldn’t I? / Every thing that kills me makes me feel alive. (OneRepublic, “Counting Stars”)

Do whatever I’m yours / Do whatever I’m sure / Anything, anything, anything, anything to feel alive (Jhené Aiko, “Drinking and Driving”)

When everything feels like the movies /Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive (Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”)

Those are from six different songs. I could quote lots more like this, but this sample should suffice. These are all popular songs from the radio.

So what is the pattern? There are two things here. First, there is a cry out to be made to “feel alive” or to “come alive.” I did a Google search on a large popular song lyrics website, and there were nearly 1,100 songs that mentioned wanting to “feel alive.” Almost 1,300 used the phrase “come alive.” 100 used the phrase “bring me to life.”

I started clicking around when I saw this pattern and looked at the full lyrics to a few dozen songs. And the second pattern I noticed was that this language of wanting to feel alive was often paired with language about death and/or violence. For many of these lyricists, the key to feeling “alive” was first to die, to feel the pain of violence or to commit violence.

… So what is the point of this little tour through pop music? This is just one way of taking the temperature of our culture, of getting a sense of where we are as a people. There is a sort of anesthetization of life these days. We’re always trying to feel better, to feel entertained, to feel alive. And our pop songs sing about violence—even self-violence. And the movies and TV get more graphically violent. And the consumption of pornography is nearly off the charts. And we watch wars in other countries on TV as a perverse form of entertainment. …

Compare all this violence with Apostle Paul’s words: “I bear in my body the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” …  Into our culture of virtual violence and screaming out for the feeling of life come these words of the Apostle Paul: “But God forbid that I should boast, except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”

It’s not clear exactly what Paul means when he says that he bears in his body “the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.” But he is probably speaking of his own suffering, that he has been physically wounded for his confession of faith. Paul is no stranger to violence. He feels pain. He is beaten. He is thrown into prison. He will be beheaded. Paul knows about violence. He knows about death.

… Paul embraces the death of the world! And he embraces his own death. But not because he just wants to feel alive. He embraces death because he knows that in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is life. He embraces death because he knows that he himself must be crucified with Christ so that his death can be joined with Christ’s death.

This is the paradox of our great hope as Christians—that we seek life, just like the pop songs! And we seek death and even violence, just like the pop songs! But it is not just any death or any violence that brings us life. It is the suffering and death of Jesus, to which we join our own suffering and death by repentance, by confession, by the sacraments, by love.

… The pop songs get it right, but not quite right. There is more to life than merely “feeling alive.” Life is not found in mere violence and death. Life is found in sacrifice and resurrection. Life is found in Jesus Christ, and in His Cross we therefore glory. Like Paul, we boast. Like Paul, we are crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to us. And death is slain. And we are made truly alive. And with Christ we will rise from the dead.”

Source: Road from Emmaus blog

By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/roadsfromemmaus/2015/09/13/you-bleed-just-to-know-youre-alive/