Tag Archives: glory

The almond, the light and the glory.

christ forgiving resurrection 2Until a recent vocabulary expansion, I knew little Italian beyond pizza and zucchini. Now I know mandorla, which means almond. In the language of iconography, it means a background shape, often an almond shape but not always, which conveys meaning having nothing to do with the nut.

In this article “Within a Mandorla” I read that “Revealed in the context of a mandorla is that which we know by the revelation of Scripture but which might not have been witnessed by the human eye – or – if witnessed – somehow transcended the normal bounds of vision.

“Mark says that [Christ] was “carried up into heaven and seated at the right hand of God.” This last formula is a creedal confession – but not an eyewitness description. That Christ was taken up and that He is seated at the right hand of the Father is the faith and dogma of the Church. But the Church knows this in a mystical manner and not in the manner of a newspaper reporter.”

And from a different source:

“Sometimes a star – but the usual elliptical shape gives it the name mandorla, which is Italian for the nut. The almond tree is the first plant to flower in Greece, sometimes as early as mid-January, and as such is a symbol of new life and fertility. Ancient Greek myths also link almonds, and the almond-shape, with new life; yet preceding all these in time, and succeeding them in importance, is the story of Aaron’s rod, which blossomed forth not only flowers, but almonds (Numbers 17:8)”

The mandorla can represent light that was actually seen by those present at an event, but it often also symbolizes the majesty and glory that is beyond our earthly vision or ability to put into words.

From Wikipedia: “These mandorla will often be painted in several concentric patterns of color which grow darker as they come close to the center. This is in keeping with the church’s use of apophatic theology, as described by Dionysius the Areopagite and others. As holiness increases, there is no way to depict its brightness except by darkness.”

The story of what the disciples of Jesus saw with their own eyes is told in the first chapter of the Book of Acts:

“So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’”

  This year we Orthodox celebrate the Ascension of Christ on June 6.

The Lord has ascended into heaven
that He might send the Comforter to the world.
The heavens prepared His throne, and the clouds His mount.
Angels marvel to see a Man high above them.
The Father receives Him Whom He holds, co-eternal, in His bosom.
The Holy Spirit commands all His Angels:
“Lift up your gates, ye princes!
All ye nations, clap your hands:
for Christ has gone up to where He was before!”

The glory of wetness and a black mark.

“It is a bleak sort of day, but I’m glad to be out walking.” Something like that was my thought as I set out on my creek path this morning. A white shape caught my eye, silently winging down the creek, and within two seconds it passed by me close enough to see that it was egret. Then, gone behind the trees.

I had read a poem by Wendell Berry about mud in January, and I looked at the muddy creek, stirred up and deep from recent rains. It wasn’t photogenic, but it was briefly captivating. Flowing streams are good to look at for a few minutes, but there is too much busyness there, and I get restless.

When I pulled my eyes away and to other things, I found an unusual depth to even the neutral colors, from all the leaves and bark and needles being entirely wetted. I have walked by these trees for almost 30 years now ! but this is the first time I noticed their massiveness. As I studied the chunky patterns on their trunks of pines, it took me a long time to notice another design style in the spider’s web.

I ran across a wide road to get nearer the fields, and on the faraway other side of those hayfields and pastures whiter clouds hung in drifts on the hillsides, below the gray sky. This is a day between rainy days; those clouds may be forming into bringers of rain by now, but then they were waiting and still…

Wherever redwood trees towered above me on the path, thousands of their little cones littered my path. How many are lying on the ground just in this neighborhood? And each one a wonder. I stuffed my pockets with them.

After my camera battery was spent, I watched fat robins bathing in the creek’s muddy overflow, their wings fluttering and splashing. Today some Orthodox are celebrating the Nativity of Christ, and yesterday was our (new calendar) feast of the Baptism of Christ. Water is the joyous theme, as it is a fundamental substance of our life, and a fitting symbol for all of creation. Christ baptizes the earth with His baptism, sanctifying it, filling it with Himself. The days on this earth can only be bleak inasmuch as I am not noticing the glory. Why do I forget this reality? I can’t remember ever finding a bleak day out of doors; even when my mood is low, the glory lifts it and comforts me.

This evening, water was sprinkled all over my house, as we walked around singing about our Lord’s baptism, by which he revealed Himself and the entire Holy Trinity. At the end, my priest surprised me when he reached up with the snuffed-out candle and painted a waxy cross on the ceiling near the front door. I had never seen this done before! It feels like a resurrectional form of the Israelites marking their lintels with blood. I am in awe.

The day has been a complete blessing.

Glory in the cloud, and from His face.

You were transfigured upon Mt. Tabor, O Jesus,
And a shining cloud, spread out like a tent,
Covered the apostles with Your glory.
Whereupon their gaze fell to the ground,
For they could not bear to look upon the brightness
Of the unapproachable glory of Your face,
O Savior Christ,
our God Who are without beginning.
You Who have shone upon them with Your Light,
Give light now to our souls.