Weakness at the Beginning of Lent

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

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

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

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And this changes everything.

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

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

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

By Father Seraphim Aldea

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”

THE HYMN

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

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

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

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The Descent of Peace (stanzas 1-3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Old Dragon by William Blake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flight of Moloch by William Blake

The Flight of Moloch (stanza 23)

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

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

XXVII

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

blake6The Night of Peace (stanza 27)

Posted on December 14, 2012by Victoria Emily Jones

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

 

 

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/

Sir Stanley Spencer’s Burning Bushes

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Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

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

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

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Or at his St Francis and the Birds:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Resurrection

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

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

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

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Resurrection–Reunion

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Resurrection–Waking Up

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

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The Resurrection, Cookham 1924–7

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

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

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

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Christ Preaching at the Cookham Regatta

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

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

Christ in Cookham (1951-1952)

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Christ Carrying the Cross 1920

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

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

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

The Resurrection with the Raising of Jarius’s Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16nov11richardharries_distinctiveindividualvisions

Each With His Own Brush

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

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

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Sawai Chinnawong3

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

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

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Sawai Chinnawong1

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

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

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

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Jonah by Sawai Chinnawong

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Adam and Eve by Abubakar

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

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Jesus in the boat with fishermen by Chinese artist He Qi 

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

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Flight into Egypt by Indian artist Jamini Roy

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

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Creation by Sawai Chinnawong

My Lungs Swell Like a Ship’s Canvas

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Listen! Can you hear? The music … I can hear it everywhere … in the wind … in the air … in the light … it’s all around us … all you have to do is open yourself up … all you have to is listen!

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Have you seen August Rush (2007), this modern Oliver Twist fairy tale, where an orphaned musical prodigy uses his gift as a clue to finding his birth parents? Most critics have denounced it as “syrupy”, “sappy”,  or “melodramatic”, yet I love its music, especially the opening nature scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bCRYdLmduY and the City Rhapsody scene that  takes place when August arrives to New York and “feels” the music in city life sounds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-Jf_SQaE-s   May we be blessed with such a savant-like ability to hear Music and discover Beauty, wherever, and follow them in our lives! Let us thus be deeply embedded in the Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints.

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“In the house of lovers, the music never stops, the walls are made of songs & the floor dances” (Rumi)

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“When I am silent, I fall into that place where everything is music”(Rumi)

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Music

By Charles Baudelaire

Music, like an ocean, often carries me away!
Through the ether far,
or under a canopy of mist, I set sail
for my pale star.
Breasting the waves, my lungs swollen
like a ship’s canvas,
night veils from me the long rollers,
I ride their backs:
I sense all a suffering vessel’s passions
vibrating within me:
while fair winds or the storm’s convulsions
on the immense deep
cradle me. Or else flat calm, vast mirror …

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To Music 

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Music: breathing of statues. Perhaps:

silence of paintings. You language where all language

ends. You time

standing vertically on the motion of mortal hearts.

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… You stranger: music. You heart-space

grown out of us. The deepest space in us,

which, rising above us, forces its way out,–

holy departure:

… pure,

boundless,

no longer habitable. …

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I want to be with those who know secret things. Or else, alone. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

The Colour of Love

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                                           Chagall’s wisdom

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love. All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.

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When I am finishing a picture I hold some God-made object up to it / a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand / as a kind of final test. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it is bad art.

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If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing. Will God or someone else give me the strength to breathe the breath of prayer and mourning into my paintings, the breath of prayer for redemption and resurrection?

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The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world. In this long vigil he often has to vary his methods of stimulation; but in this long vigil he is also himself striving against a continual tendency to sleep.

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Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love. 

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Marc Chagall (July 1887 – March 1985) was a Russian artist of a devout Jewish family, born in Vitebsk.

Source: http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2014/05/07/character-of-the-week-marc-chagall/

Balinese ‘Dancing’ Jesus

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I have long been eager to get acquainted with nonwestern Christian art, especially artworks representing Christ and Bible themes by Asian artists. So, I got very excited when I discovered the Asian Christian Arts Association or the ACAA, established in Bali, where Christian artists and theologians from all over Asia meet, exchange ideas and inspire each other. Nyoman Darsane, a fascinating Balinese artist who depicts Biblical characters as traditional Balinese dancers, employing various Balinese symbolisms in his images, was one of the first Asian ‘Christian’ artists to attract my attention. Then, I came across Victoria Jones’ post at The Jesus Question about him. Darsane is an incredibly talented painter who masterfully combines the joy of the Gospel with his Balinese culture, and Victoria’s post is thoroughly researched, offers excellent commentary and insights and does him justice!

The Jesus Question

Balinese artist Nyoman Darsane was born in 1939 and raised as a Hindu.  At age seventeen, he became a Christian and as a result was ostracized by his family and village community.  But because he so persistently strove, through his art, to give Christianity a Balinese shape, they eventually decided to accept him back in.  They saw that he still loved and respected the culture; he was still “one of them,” even though his religious beliefs took a different turn.  Does he feel that, as a Balinese Christian, his identity is divided, that he cannot fully embrace both at once?  Not at all.  “Bali is my body; Christ is my life,” he says.  In other words, Jesus Christ is his all, but can he not pray to and worship and express his love for Jesus Christ in a Balinese fashion?  And can he not picture Jesus as a fellow Balinese…

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In the Eye of the Storm

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“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” 

― William Shakespeare, The Tempest

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There was once a wave in the ocean, rolling along, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the swiftness of the breeze.

It smiled at everything around it as it made its way toward the shore.

But then, it suddenly noticed that the waves in front of it, one by one, were striking against the cliff face, being savagely broken to pieces.

‘Oh God!’ it cried. ‘My end will be just like theirs. Soon I, too, will crash and disappear!’

Just then another wave passing by saw the first wave’s panic and asked:

‘Why are you so anxious? Look how beautiful the weather is, see the sun, feel the breeze…’

The first wave replied:

‘Don’t you see? See how violently those waves before us strike against the cliff, look at the terrible way they disappear. We’ll soon become nothing just like them.’

‘Oh, but you don’t understand,’ the second wave said.

‘You’re not a wave. You’re a part of the ocean.’ (2)

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Katsushika Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa, also called The Great Wave has became one of the most famous works of art in the world—and debatably the most iconic work of Japanese art. The Great Wave is part of the legendary series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. (3) “The preeminence of The Great Wave —said to have inspired both Debussy’s La Mer and Rilke’s Der Berg—can be attributed, in addition to its sheer graphic beauty, to the compelling force of the contrast between the wave and the mountain. The turbulent wave seems to tower above the viewer, whereas the tiny stable pyramid of Mount Fuji—Japan’s sacred, national symbol of Beauty, Spirituality and Immortality–sits in the distance. The eternal mountain is envisioned in a single moment frozen in time.

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Hokusai characteristically cast a traditional theme in a novel interpretation. In the traditional meisho-e (scene of a famous place), Mount Fuji was always the focus of the composition. Hokusai inventively inverted this formula and positioned a small Mount Fuji within the midst of a thundering seascape. Foundering among the great waves are three boats thought to be barges conveying fish from the southern islands of Edo.” Nonetheless, “Hokusai has arranged the composition to frame Mount Fuji. The curves of the wave and hull of one boat dip down just low enough to allow the base of Mount Fuji to be visible, and the white top of the great wave creates a diagonal line that leads the viewers eye directly to the peak of the mountain top.”(4)

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To the Japanese eye, accustomed to reading from right to left—the great claw of a wave appears almost to tumble into the viewer’s face, the surging breakers may seem to swamp the boaters, even Mount Fuji appears fragile, about to be engulfed by the uncontrollable energy of the water, and still  the humans in their tiny boats “doomed” to perish in the sea do not look panicked! On the contrary, they look like hanging to their rows in full discipline. It looks like they are experienced and know how to cope with such a situation. (5)

 

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Jennifer Rundlett, a fellow blogger, sees “through” its art “the many trials of life and how overwhelming we often find them, being so focused battling our problems, and trying not to be consumed by them”, whereas “the wave is pointing our eye to [Mount Fugi] the focal point or meaning….that beauty and immortality is in how we ride out these storms.” (6)

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This Japanese painting brought to my mind an English Romanticist, William Turner’s famous seas, stormy skies, sinking ships and tempests studies, with a very different theme to Hokusai’s.

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The power of the storm versus man’s inabilities was a main theme in Turner’s work. Dreadful catastrophe was a common theme in English romantic art period and Turner specifically painted themes of shipwreck a number of times throughout his life, exploring the effects of an elemental vortex. The romantics had taken a liking to natural phenomena and shipwreck became a popular subject. 19th century Britain specifically was very familiar with shipwreck as it was a period of great English shipping.  … The craftsmanship of these ships did not deter the fact that the man made vessel was still at the mercy of the wind.

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Let us have a good look at Turner’s most famous storm painting: The Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842), http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00530 Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth shows a ship off the English coast struggling to persevere through a storm.  The steam-boat resides in the center of the vortex.   Turner’s untamed brushwork creates a swirling composition of chaotic colors and lighting. The swirling storm creates a composition that leaves the eye to circle around the canvas repeatedly. The black of the wind and the waves of the sea create a circle around the doomed ship. Through the windy peephole, the viewer can see the helpless ship at the mercy of nature’s violent motion. One can imagine the ship swaying to and fro as its crew desperately tries to take control of the sail and stay afloat. In this context the vessel can be interpreted as a symbol of mankind’s futile efforts to combat the forces of nature. 

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Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00530

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In Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth Turner uses a muted color palette. Pale blues and deep browns cover the canvas in swirling motions. Though the palette is predominately neutral, which usually creates a calming tone, the swirling motions and lighting create the chaotic effect Turner was going for. He wanted to simulate the true nature of a storm at sea. The bright white of the sail draws the eye directly to the ship, even amidst the swarming colors around it. Turner creates a pocket of light amidst a dark and shadowy canvas to illuminate the ship. Since he lights the ship in such a way, all focus is immediately drawn to the ship. The shadowing swirling winds only emphasize the ship more. The focus is relentlessly on the plight of the ship. This painting clearly invokes fear in a man or keeps him in his place as the weaker.  Here the emphasis is on the raw, merciless force of Nature and Man’s frailty and helplessness. (7)

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It is famously said that Turner conceived this image while lashed to the mast of a ship during an actual storm at sea to get a better account of the wind and ocean and what the ship must’ve felt like in the midst of it. This seems to be nothing more than fiction, but the story has endured as a way of demonstrating Turner’s full-blooded engagement with the world around him, and is stunningly dramatized in the famous Mast scene of the mesmerising, highly maginative and richly detailed 19th century period biopic Mr Turner (2014) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYN6HwLSvyg

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Khalil Gibran  makes ample use of the “storm/sea/wave” imagery in “The Prophet” and explains how we all are “travellers” and “navigators” in the sea of life, our “pain being the breaking of the shell that encloses [our] understanding”. (8)

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For an auditory raw, rough storm experience, let us not forget Aretha Franklin’s duet with Joe Ligon in the old time gospel  “I’ve Been In The Storm Too Long ” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUujg0BTIjk&list=PLkGwJ-k-JlPEDnwXWd5RDpNmjbUa0fi6y

“I’ve been in the storm… too long, Lord too long
mmmmm… I’ve been in the storm… too Long, Lord too long
Lord, please let me…have a little more time, I need a little more time to pray
Oooh…I’ve been in the storm too long…”

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Jesus walks on water, by Ivan Aivazovsky (1888)

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Yet, whether competent or helpless, I personally want to bring God in all these “storms”. So that I can walk on the water, towards Him, and when I see “the wind boisterous, … [am] afraid; and beginning to sink”, I can cry “saying, Lord, save me.” And He immediately will stretch forth His hand, and catch me, and say unto me, ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ (Matthew 14:29-31, KJB) And He will still the storm–within and without my mind–to a whisper and hush the waves of the ‘sea’  (Psalm 107:29) and (Mark 4:39).

 

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Christ walking on the sea, by Amédée Varint

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François Boucher Cathédrale Saint-Louis (1766) Versailles

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Walking on water, by Veneziano, 1370.

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Sources:

  1. “I Capture The Majestic Power Of Ocean Waves”, amazing collection of underwater vortex and wave photographs at http://www.boredpanda.com/moments-in-the-ocean-images-created-from-water-light/
  2. “The missing rose” by Serdar Ozkan, cf. Paulo Coehlo’s blog http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2014/03/21/30-sec-read-you-are-not-a-wave/
  3. For the full collection, go to http://Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji
  4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art at http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/JP1847 For more analysis, watch Thompson, curator of the Hokusai exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, delving into the story behind this world famous print  at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbPHPfVw6zQ
  5. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/art-japan/edo-period/a/hokusai-under-the-wave-off-kanagawa-the-great-wave and http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/24645 and http://www.artelino.com/articles/the-great-wave.asp
  6. For more details, go to her inspirational blog site, dedicated to sharing with insights of God’s love through meditations using art and music, at https://jrundlett.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/new-perspectives-god-given-problems/
  7. http://www.artble.com/artists/joseph_mallord_william_turner/paintings/snow_storm_-_steam-boat_off_a_harbour’s_mouth
  8.  Lebanese-American artist, poet (1883 – 1931), chiefly known in the English-speaking world for his 1923 book The Prophet, an early example of inspirational fiction, including a series of philosophical essays written in poetic English prose, and the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu or Lao-Tze.

Through the Eyes of a Child

 “The quiet art of Helen Cherkasova seems simple at first sight – simple even to the naivete. And for much it is true if we imply by naivete pure natural sources and the belief in the clear divine spring of any real creative act.  As usual, dimensions of her works are not great. Nevertheless, some of them bear evident epic traits that are inherent to such monumental arts as mosaic or fresco.” (William Meiland, March, 1998)

Helena Cherkasova was born in Moscow in 1962. Finished art school in Moscow. Painted icons for orthodox churches. Now she paints by oil landscapes, still lifes and compositions mainly with religious topics. Participant of exhibitions in Russia and abroad. Lives and works in Moscow.

Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem

Nativity

Blessedness of the meek

Wise virgins

The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

Psalm 127

Prayer for rain

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Angel speaks to the myrrh-bearin women

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A monk

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Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem
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the Tsar’s family

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Letters of St. John Chrysostom to Olimpiada
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Prophet’s Eliah’s day

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St. Seraphim of Sarov

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Prince Igor’s murder

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A bird from Heaven

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The righteous soul enters Heaven

Matushki and cats

Matushki and cats

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“103rd Psalm”

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“Eleazar and Rebekah”

( the Old Testament story of the marriage of Isaac)

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“Song of Songs”

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Annunciation

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“Teens in the furnace” Daniel

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“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God!”  “Psalm 41”

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“Nativity”

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“The Holy Family”

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“Marriage at Cana”

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Another option of the marriage at Cana

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Healing the Demoniac of the Gadarene

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“Healing the Blind”

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“The storm on the lake”(Mk . 4 , 35-41 )

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Doubting Thomas ( Jn. 20 , 24-29 )

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“Adam and Eve in paradise again”

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Way of the Cross

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The Resurrection of Christ

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Last (Final) Judgment — Day of Judgment

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The entry of a righteous soul in paradise

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The Holy Spirit – a timid bird

Photos by Michael Moiseev
Source: Pramvir