Meditation on Epiphany

Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost

Or Meditation on Light(s), Baptism(s) and Conversions in our inner life

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Epiphany is not only the feast of the waters. Ancient Greek tradition calls it ‘the feast of lights’. This feast brings us, not only the grace of purification, but also the grace of illumination (in fact baptism itself was formerly called ‘illumination’). The light of Christ at Christmas was but a star in the dark night; at Epiphany it appears to us as the rising sun; it will grow and, after the eclipse of Holy Friday, burst forth yet more splendid, on the morning of Easter; and finally, at Pentecost, it will reach its full zenith. It is not only the divine light, manifested objectively in the person of Jesus Christ and in the pentecostal flame that we are concerned with; it is also the inner light, for, without absolute faithfulness to this, spiritual life wold be nothing but illusion and falsehood.

God, who had sent the Precursor to baptise with water, had said to him: “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptiseth with the Holy Ghost”. The baptism by water is but one aspect of total baptism. Jesus himself says to Nicodemus: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. The baptism of the Spirit is superior to the baptism by water. It constitutes an objective gift and a different inner experience. …

 

One could say that Epiphany — the first public manifestation of Jesus to men — corresponds in our inner life to the ‘first conversion‘ (or ‘purification’). This must be understood as the first conscious meeting of the human soul with its Saviour, the moment when we accept Jesus as Master and as friend, and at which we take the decision to follow him. Easter (both the death and the resurrection of the Lord) corresponds to a ‘second conversion‘ (or ‘illumination‘) in which, confronted with the mystery of the cross, we discover what kind of death and what kind of new life this implies, and we consecrate ourselves more more deeply to Jesus Christ, through a radical change in ourselves. Pentecost is the time of the ‘third conversion‘ (or ‘union‘), which is the baptism and fire of the Spirit, the entry into a life of transforming union with God. It is not given to every Christian to follow this itinerary. Nonetheless, these are the stages which the liturgical year sets out for our endeavour.

 

By a Monk of the Eastern Church

The Year of Grace of the Lord

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On Earth As It Is In Heaven ❧

To forget this Beauty is to lose sight of the Heavenly Kingdom. Above all we must learn to desire Beauty. It was not for theology or propriety that the Byzantines so adorned their temples. It was for Beauty. In Beauty lies Truth, and by it we show our Love for God.

Hagia Sophia Interior (Ayasofya) - Istanbul

‘GOD DWELLS THERE AMONG MEN’

In 988, emissaries of Prince Vladimir of Kiev visited Hagia Sophia. They famously remarked, “only this we know, that god dwells there among men.” This statement highlights the attitude towards holy temples that was universal among ancient religions – that a god actually lived in the temple. Christianity has moved away from this belief, but Orthodoxy retains it as a liturgical concept. In an Orthodox church, Christ and the saints are present among the faithful. Prayers are directed towards their icons, not towards the sky. …

 

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… This is a great difference from Western architecture. A Gothic church is a monument offered up to God. It is an attempt by man to order and beautify all that exists in creation. It points upward to God the Father who is outside of it, and prayers are directed likewise. in contrast, an Orthodox church is introverted. The interior represents Heaven, and to enter it is to step into the New Jerusalem. God dwells there among men, and they have no need of the sun, neither of the moon, for the Glory of God illumines it (cf. Revelation 21 : 23).

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Light pours into a Gothic church through great decorated windows. Broken into dazzling colors, it overwhelms the materiality of the walls. The stonework itself magnifies the effect, as it is thin and delicate, and carven with most delicate tracery. The weight of the stone is denied. The worshipper is at once conscious of the awesome radiance and power of the light without and the tenuous structure of the material within. The light beautifies the structure by dematerializing it, even until the stone itself looks like rays of light.

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The walls of an Orthodox church are immensely thick and strong. The windows are small and up high, set deeply into the openings. The light is seen reflected off the thickness of the wall, rather than directly from the windows. In some Byzantine churches the window is translucent alabaster or marble, so that the light seems to glow from within the wall itself. Gold mosaics or bright frescoes play the light from many surfaces. Polished lamps and inlaid furniture reflect highlights from every direction. Deep aisles or side chapels behind arches appear as mysterious shadows in the distance, which make the church look brighter by the rich contrast. This is mass transfigured by light. It is the same light as in the icons, holy and all- pervading, the Uncreated Light which emanates from god to his creation. The stone and plaster glow from within. They do not seem transitory, but more real. Walls and piers seem as silent and as still as ancient mountains. They are bathed with the Light of Christ, and are sustained and strengthened by it as we are.

… A church building is the structure and organization of all the icons within it. As a unified edifice, these make up a single integrated icon which encompasses all the history and theology of the Church. The organization of the icons broadly follows three architectural axes.

The first axis is west to east. This is the liturgical axis. The narthex repre- sents the fallen world, and is used for preparation and exorcisms, for judg- ment is at the gates of heaven. The nave represents the redeemed world, or the Church, where the faithful gather among the saints for the worship of god. The sanctuary represents highest heaven; the altar is the throne of god and his tomb. (1)

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The second axis is vertical and can be understood as hierarchical. The Pantocrator is at the top of the dome with hands outspread, embracing the universe he created. Below are angels in their appropriate ranks, followed

 by the evangelists, representing the beginning of the church, and then the saints in their tiers below. To the medieval mind, hierarchy meant freedom; it was the mark of identity and security. This axis and hierarchy exist also in the iconostasis as a miniature version of the same concept. The vertical axis has another interpretation which is the approach of god and man. The dome, most brightly lit and filled with angels, is heaven. It touches the nave at the pendentives, where the evangelists are painted, because they record the meeting of god and man. alternately, some churches have four great feasts which are theophanies at the pendentives, for the same reason. The Theotokos of the sign in the apse represents the Church reaching back up to god. Christ appears in the sign before her, emphasizing that by the Incarnation He is already with Her.

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The third axis is circular and horizontal, the interplay of icons cycling around the nave and relating to one another across it. This axis often por- trays the flow of time, although it can express many other relationships as well. The great feasts may be ordered chronologically around the nave, or specific feasts may be combined or face one another to highlight theological connections. In a large church there may be hundreds of biblical and historical scenes, and their placement with respect to one another and to the principal feasts can suggest almost limitless depths of interpretation.

Historically, church builders have struggled with the interplay of these three axes. …

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THE TEMPLE AS COSMOLOGY

… Of all forms, the cube and the dome are the most sacred and universal in architecture. The cube or square represents the earth, while the dome symbolizes the sky. It was ever the desire of the Romans to combine these forms and represent the universe. They achieved this at Hagia Sophia. The square nave has the most water-like pavement in the world. Sheets of wavy blue-gray marble flow from the altar like the river of the water of life from the Throne of God. Rows of columns rise from the banks like trees. Amazingly, the builders abandoned the thousand-year-old tradition of the Classical orders, and crafted a new type of capital which looks like the fronds of palms blowing in the wind. The arches above the capitals are decorated similarly. The whole nave is like a walled garden of unimaginable scale, the very image of Paradise.

 

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ISLAM VS. CHRISTIANITY — MOSQUE VS. ORTHODOX TEMPLE

 

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In Islam they build mosques that have the quality of jewel boxes. They are ornamented with a tremendous richness and regal splendor, but are completely devoid of anything iconographic, anything representational. They seem like abstract spaces, as does the Muslim worship within these spaces — the bowing down toward a mihrab, which is, in and of itself, nothing, but only an abstract architectural gesture that indicates the direction of Mecca. And of course, the Islamic faith emphasizes that man is very low and that God is very high, and that, really, the two do not meet; they surely do not meet in the sense that they meet in Christianity. So regardless of how beautiful a mosque may be, mosque architecture has never sought to convey an impression that God is within the mosque. It only conveys the impression that man has attempted to dignify himself by beautifying the mosque to an extent that man might be found worthy to kneel before God (because, of course, one only kneels in a mosque). So, if it is true that the emissaries of St. Vladimir attended services in an Orthodox Church, a Catholic Church, and in a mosque, I think it’s very appropriate that they would have observed that only in the Orthodox Church does it seem that God dwells with men. The very specific and deliberate attempt of Orthodox liturgical art is to convey that impression, and this is, of course, the fundamental gospel of Christianity.

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… A good modern building flooded with white light can be beautiful and people will often call such a building uplifting or inspiring. But we need to remember that the purpose of liturgical architecture, of an Orthodox church, is not to uplift and inspire but to make us mindful of the presence of God and the saints. Traditional architecture does this iconographically by revealing the beauty of the uncreated light shining through the saints, through the icons, and by suggesting the veil of mystery and the cloud of witnesses around the altar. For this iconographic technology to be effective requires a certain dim and mysterious light so that the reflections of light off of the gilded icons can be seen as brilliant and even supernatural in the setting of a dark church. A church that is flooded with natural light robs the icons of their ability to shine more brightly than the sun.

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(1) For the full article “ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN ❧ Form and Meaning in Orthodox Architecture by ANDREW GOULD, go to http://nwbstudios.com/articles/On-Earth-As-Heaven.pdf

(2) For excerpts of the article “Mass Transfigured by Light”: The Iconic Vision of an Orthodox Church and ANDREW GOULD’s interview, featured in the current issue of Road to Emmaus Journal, go to http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/andrew-gould-featured-in-road-to-emmaus-journal/

Cosmic Dawn

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Cosmic Dawn: The Real Moment of Creation

Horizon reveals the real moment of creation – the Cosmic Dawn, the moment of first light. This is the scientific version of the story of Genesis.

Re-Creation

Beyond all things was God the Word

From the void of eternity

Time and space in creation heard

The Voice speaking infinitely.

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Spirit of God on the waters

Divine Word of life in the night

“Creatio ex nihilo”

Father said “Let there be light!”

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You divided light from darkness

You split the first atom to say

How we should separate evil

And distinguish the night from day.

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Lord, you brought chaos to order

Your great Wisdom cushioned the deep

Recording a holy cosmos

Awakening formless sleep.

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You placed the orbits and quasars

Winding the clock into time

The coherence behind the laser

The reason within the rhyme.

From ground-based telescopes, this cosmic object - the glowing remains of a dying, sun-like star - resembles the head and thorax of a garden-variety ant. This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, released on February 1, 2001, of the so-called

You bring pure joy out of sadness

You still bring life out of breath

Sanity in human madness

Gladdening sorrowing death.

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The real hub in revolution

The one who planted the Tree

Adam and Eve-lution

The One who caused things to be.

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The Great Mover pushed the button

Silence before seraphim sang

Infinite God formed the finite

The Big One made the Big Bang.

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By Father Jonathan Hemmings