Category Archives: feasts

They become resplendent.

At the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, we bless candles in church. I liked this letter from Abbot Tryphon in which he reminds us that the Light of Christ is what our lamps and candles represent, and what makes the saints shine:

“Vigil lights are placed before the icons of the saints, according to Saint Symeon the New Theologian, as a way of showing that without the Light, Who is Christ, the saints are nothing. It is only as the light of Christ shines on them that they become alive and resplendent.

St. Symeon the New Theologian

“The saints show us what a glorious destiny we have in God, and through the example of their lives, point the way to our becoming “partakers of divine nature.” The saints, as the cloud of witnesses in heaven, are present in the divine services, worshiping the Holy Trinity with us. They, as our friends, intercede before the Throne of God on our behalf, having won the good fight, and we are encouraged by the memory and example of their lives, as we struggle on our own path to God.

“It has been said that there are two kinds of people in the world: sinners who think they are saints, and saints who know they are sinners. A saint is a Christian who lets God’s light shine through, and whose life has been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“We venerate the saints as we seek their intercession with God, but we adore and worship only God in Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We venerate the images (icons) as well as the relics of the saints and martyrs. Yet according to the decisions and Canons of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, this veneration relates not to the icons as such, but to their prototypes, or to the persons whom they represent.

“The interior walls of our temples are adorned with the icons and frescoes of the saints as a reminder that we are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses, the saints, and that the Church Militant (here on earth) is not separated from the Church Triumphant (in heaven). In Christ, death does not divide us, for the saints are not dead, but alive in Christ Jesus.

“Glory to Jesus Christ, Who is glorified in His saints.

“With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon”

Powers at work.

The Beheading of John the Baptist

From Mark 6:

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Now King Herod heard of Him [Jesus], for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”
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Others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.”
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But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!”
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For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her.
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Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
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Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not;
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for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him. And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
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Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee.
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And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.”
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He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
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So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!”
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Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
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And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.
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Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought. And he went and beheaded him in prison,
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brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.
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When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.
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Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.

Story of a Transfiguration icon.

Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ

This mosaic dating from the 6th century is in the apse of the great basilica at St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, built by Emperor Justinian before 565. I found it when I was looking at icons on the internet of Christ’s Transfiguration, which we commemorate today.

I also watched a fascinating video, the Conservation of the Transfiguration Mosaic, featuring an informal and entertaining lecture by an eminent Italian archeologist, conservationist and expert on mosaics, Roberto Nardi. It is informal in that he does not read a paper, but gives the best kind of commentary on the extensive video footage shown. The video is from 2012, so maybe I am one of the last to see it.

He starts with the history of the monastery, which he admits goes back to Moses and the burning bush, on through St. Helen and St. Justinian; the mosaic was installed soon after the church was built. In 1847 a Russian monk named Samuel did a huge amount of restoration work on the mosaic, and in 1957 archeologists sounded an alarm about its deteriorating condition, but it lasted 50 more years to the point where this 5-year project began. By then, 20,000 tiles were missing (though of course monks had saved them in boxfuls), which equaled 4% of the total, and a great number of the remainder were no longer actually attached to the base layer.

I could watch this video over and over, all the tedious detail work so well documented. What they did about the missing tiles (shown as white spots in the picture just above) was the outworking of a series of complex deliberations.  I hope you will check out at least a bit of the video, because I don’t know where to stop, telling you all the things about this long project that impress me. How the conservators came to learn to appreciate the experience and perspective of the monks — the ones who live with the icon and pray with it every day — was a touching part of the story. The pictures I show you are just teasers, blurry because I took them of the video on my desktop computer monitor.

Back in the U.S.A., our parish celebrated the feast with all the important elements intact. If you want to read more content on the feast itself you can find a lot from past years here. I don’t always get to be part of the procession through the church vineyard, and sometimes I have forgotten to bring a basket of fruit, but today I managed both!

The monks celebrating the Divine Liturgy under the icon of the Transfiguration at Mt. Sinai, and the Orthodox parishioners in California — we are all singing this hymn of the feast:

O Lord, we will walk in the light of Thy countenance,
and will exult in Thy Name forever.
(Ps. 88:15)

Icon of the Transfiguration, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai