Category Archives: icons

The Forerunner bows.


This 14th-century wall painting in Timios Stavros Church in Cyprus
shows the Forerunner John bowing before Jesus while yet in the womb.

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

-Luke 1:39-45

 

From the archives – 2013

Joachim and Anna, and Love.

In the Orthodox Church we commemorate the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos on December 9th. Following from the fact that Christ received His human nature from his mother, she is of supreme importance in our salvation history.

Father Thomas Hopko writes in The Winter Pascha: In the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved. If Jesus Christ is the Savior, Mary is, par excellence, the image of the saved. She is, in every aspect of her life, as Father Alexander Schmemann so often said, not the great exception, but rather the great example. From her conception to her dormition, that is, her true and real death, she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ.

I had to keep pushing that last sentence to the front of my mind as I tried to think and write a little more about the mystery of our salvation…

The icons of this feast tell the story of Mary’s parents Joachim and Anna, who had been unable to have children until late in life when Anna became pregnant with the child who would become the mother of our Lord. “Iconreader” has an article on the festal icon with links to related articles and discussion about its theology, and why the icon has been so popular in Russia.

From that article on A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons: The icon of the Conception of the Theotokos is very simple. Joachim and Anna tenderly embrace, standing before a bed. Without being explicit, it is boldly confessed that, whilst a miracle granted to a barren couple, the conception of St Mary happened through natural means. This can be compared with Icons of the Annunciation, which could be described as the Conception of Jesus Christ: in those icons Mary is not shown with Joseph; Mary remained a virgin.

And from the Orthodox Church in America , an excerpt from an article on the feast that discusses beliefs about original sin: The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although she committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, she would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibility of our salvation is in doubt.

There is so much to think about here! I would like to read these articles more carefully and thoughtfully, to stretch my mind toward the theology of “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us, through Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:7) Whenever I think about theology as a field of study, it brings to mind these words about theology and prayer from Bishop Kallistos Ware, and they help me refocus on the example of Mary, who said to the angel, “Be it unto me according to your word.”:

Theology, mysticism, spirituality, moral rules, worship, art: these things must not be kept in separate compartments. Doctrine cannot be understood unless it is prayed: a theologian, said Evagrius, is one who knows how to pray, and he who prays in spirit and in truth is by that very act a theologian. And doctrine, if it is to be prayed, must also be lived: theology without action, as St. Maximus puts it, is the theology of demons. The creed belongs only to those who live it. Faith and love, theology and life, are inseparable.

In the Byzantine Liturgy, the Creed is introduced with the words, ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity, one in essence and undivided.’ This exactly expresses the Orthodox attitude to Tradition. If we do not love one another, we cannot love God; and if we do not love God, we cannot make a true confession of faith and cannot enter into the inner spirit of Tradition, for there is no other way of knowing God than to love Him.

At Christmas, the Truth that ties everything together is (I John 4:19):

We love him, because he first loved us.

I throw snowballs and eat guavas.

I’m home again! I was so busy the last week of my stay with Soldier and Joy’s family, I didn’t finish my story of the Most Fun Day in Colorado: It was the snowy weather I’d mentioned was on the forecast, and I didn’t expect the quantity of snow that fell in the night. In the morning before the children were up I went out and took some pictures of the wonderland.

When the boys got on their unfamiliar jackets, snow boots and gloves, they began their happy discoveries. Brodie is only 2 1/2 and he was cautious. His brothers were kind and patient introducing them to the white stuff that they had just begun to explore themselves.

I went out to play with them, and it was such a joy. I also had my waterproof boots, and my down jacket. My gloves seemed to be waterproof. I showed them how to make snowballs and gave them permission to throw them at me! That they loved most to do, all three of the little cubs whom I’d been telling for two weeks that I so appreciated their affection, but they should not show it by pushing, pinching, or whacking Grandma as they passed by (their natural way with each other). Their parents and I tried to teach them to be gentle. Suddenly it was okay to pelt me with balls of cold fluff. We laughed and ran around and eventually built a snowman, and when I went indoors the older boys made a snow house.

A few of us went on another walk in Fox Run Regional Park and came across two teepees made of logs. Another group drove all the way to Boulder to the Celestial Seasonings factory and headquarters but that outing didn’t turn out quite as expected and I only got one picture, of the little room modeled after the Sleepytime tea box, featuring two of the boys instead of the sleepy bear.

One of the things I loved about being in Colorado Springs was attending Sts. Constantine and Helen/Holy Theophany Church. It felt a lot like home. The walls are crowded with icon murals, making it ideal for walking around and greeting all the many saints who are surrounding the worshipers like a cloud of witnesses. The first week I attended I went back into the building after the agape meal to take pictures. I look forward to visiting again whenever I travel to see my family who are hoping to settle there for a good while, God willing.

Today I flew home. It is such a short “hop” compared to what I’ve been doing the last many years; I arrived at midday, when the house was cold and the garden warm. I’d been thinking of my garden the last three weeks, when checking the weather report, and even into November there have been days over 80 degrees. I wondered if the pineapple guavas might even ripen this year — and they did!! At least, ten of them had doubled in size since I left, and dropped on the ground, and I ate one. It was ripe indeed, and scrumptious.

Lots of the dwarf pomegranate fruits have grown to be larger and redder, but still their dwarfish selves. The figs have continued to ripen, and olives to get color. The sunflowers finished drying up, but the irises and abutilon have not slowed down one bit! I turned on the fountain and marveled at my space. I am as happy as a hummingbird whose feeder has just been filled to the brim.

Christmas is always today’s gift.

P1120149

For Christmas decor, I give you these lighted redwood trees in my town.

Because at my house, there is a wreath on the front door, and one on the playhouse door, and that’s it! I am so busy planning and packing for a long trip, starting with Christmas at Pearl’s in Wisconsin, that I had no room in my mind or schedule for more than that.

I’m not even baking! Soldier and his family were just here for a couple of days and I found a Sugar Plum Cake from last Christmas in the freezer, to eat for breakfast. It’s a stöllen sort of bread, the recipe for which was handed down from my Aunt Bettie; the grandchildren particularly liked the little colored bits in it.

If I were going to be home this year, I’d certainly find a new cookie recipe in this book which was gifted to me by one of the children:

But I’m not, so I’ll share a few cookies and cookie stories from the past:

Two recipes from my cookie tray

A traditional seedy one

I don’t think I love Christmas as much as my late husband did, but I enjoyed all the aspects of preparing and shopping better when he was still around. And his voice leading us in carol-singing! Oh yes.

For almost twenty years I’ve been learning about the riches of the Orthodox Church, which include an appreciation for the Incarnation on a level I never found elsewhere. It’s thrilling to focus on Christ’s Nativity this month, but the story of a baby in a manger would become boring after a few years if it were merely a historic event to think about. The soul requires more than thought, more than history, and this holy feast is an event that we can abide in the way the branch abides in the Vine. It makes possible our participating in that Life, in the ever arriving Today.

What happens in the present is connected in lovely and helpful ways to the past by what we retain and remember. Here are two more articles from the archives, on Christmasy things:

What Christmas trees teach

Reading the Nativity icon

Tradition is a word that comes up a lot during holiday seasons. Some people find great comfort in keeping customs like baking cookies and visiting Santa, but at the same time try to craft their own individual version of fundamental human personhood. I found this little Facebook posting to be thought-provoking:

Every human being born into this world starts as a traditionalist. What we have, what we begin with, is handed down to us from everyone and everything that has gone before. The rejection of that tradition is not only absurd, it is ungrateful. [Tradition is] also inescapable. We cannot become self-created. What we have is a gift. What we are is revealed as we fulfill that gift.

Be thankful. You are God’s gift to the world.

-Father Stephen Freeman

From each Christmas to the next, and every day in between,
“God is with us!”