Category Archives: icons

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.

The Sunshine that ripens all.

PRAYER for DISCERNMENT

O Lord Jesus Christ our God, who didst lead the people of Israel in a land unknown, a land of drought and deep darkness, a land none may pass through or dwell in: do thou, the same Lord, lead me all the days of my life, giving me to discern the times and their signs, and to redeem time’s passage – for the days are evil – guiding me in the way that I should go, that I may ever say: I love thee, O Lord, for thou hast heard the voice of my supplication from my mother’s womb, yea, from all eternity, and thou art the Way and the Truth, and  the Resurrection and the Life, the Sunshine that ripens all who live and repose in thee, the Peace of God, and also our Peace with him: always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From Orthodox Christian Prayers

Christ Pantocrator, Decani Monastery, Serbia, 14th century.

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