Tag Archives: Jesse

Jesse — root and windows.

Today is the Sunday of the Forefathers of Christ, His ancestors according to the flesh. We remember these who lived “before the Law and under the Law,” especially the Patriarch Abraham, to whom God said, “In thy seed shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, 22:18).

I brought an icon of the Prophet David to stand up on the table in my church school class, and we talked about David as a shepherd boy, his killing of a lion who was threatening the sheep, his composing songs, and his anointing by the Prophet Samuel. (But first, we must chat about St. Nicholas and Santa, because he was strongly on the minds of the four- and five-year-olds.)

When I took the icon out of my bag again at home, I set it up downstairs, and lit a candle to help me keep remembering for the remainder of today. Maybe I will leave it here through next Sunday, when we remember more of these saints; the next church school lesson will focus on the Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace.

One thing I didn’t discuss with the children, but would be fun to teach older students about, is the Tree of Jesse, a visual depiction of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Jesse was the father of King David; his roots extend down and back to his own forefathers including  Abraham, the Father of the Faithful; and Jesse was himself the root, or progenitor, of David’s line, which culminated in Christ the Messiah.

Jesse Tree icons must necessarily include so much information, they somewhat overwhelm me. When looking at them I tend to concentrate on Jesse himself, lying at the base of the tree, with its trunk growing out his very body.

Jesse Window detail, Dorchester Abbey
Wells Cathedral Jesse Window

Stained glass windows portraying the Jesse tree, which abound in Britain, are also a bit much for me to take in. Often they are in tall cathedrals and extend up a whole wall, the figures distant and their names unreadable. As I was looking at some online I was happy to find Val Stevens talking about the Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral, which I no doubt saw when I visited there with daughter Pippin, but I don’t remember.

It’s a very short video (which ends with a request for contributions which are no longer needed, because the repairs have been completed), and she speaks for only two minutes, but she made me laugh with joy when she began to speak about the rare crucifixion scene that is in that window, which dates from the 14th century. The stem turns green, and takes the form of a cross, on which the Savior hangs. When she got to the part about the meaning of the green wood, or what it meant to the medieval mind, my heart leapt to hear it, and to see the change in her body language as she moved from purely artistic ideas, to the more compelling realities of the heart: Jesse Window of Wells Cathedral

Ansgar Holmberg

Also I want to share a quote I have posted before, more than once, because it pulls together several of these images, metaphors, and real people in our salvation history, in our cultural tradition. This is about a different sort of tree, the more familiar and ubiquitous Christmas tree! From Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos:

“I suspect that the custom of decorating a tree at Christmas time is not simply a custom which came to us from the West and which we should replace with other more Orthodox customs. To be sure, I have not gone into the history of the Christmas tree and where it originated, but I think that it is connected with the Christmas feast and its true meaning.

“First, it is not unrelated to the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah: ‘There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots’ (Is. 11:1). St. Cosmas the poet had this prophecy in mind when he wrote of Christ as the blossom which rose up out of the Virgin stem from the stump of Jesse. The root is Jesse, David’s father, the rod is King David, the flower which came from the root and the rod is Theotokos. And the fruit which came forth from the flower of the Panagia is Christ. Holy Scripture presents this wonderfully.

“Thus the Christmas tree can remind us of the genealogical tree of Christ as Man, the love of God, but also the successive purifications of the Forefathers of Christ. At the top is the star which is the God-Man (Theanthropos) Christ. Then, the Christmas tree reminds us of the tree of knowledge as well as the tree of life, but especially the latter. It underlines clearly the truth that Christ is the tree of life and that we cannot live or fulfill the purpose of our existence unless we taste of this tree, ‘the producer of life.’

“Christmas cannot be conceived without Holy Communion. And of course as for Holy Communion it is not possible to partake of deification in Christ without having conquered the devil, when we found ourselves faced with temptation relative to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, where our freedom is tried. We rejoice and celebrate, because ‘the tree of life blossomed from the Virgin in the cave’.”

-Excerpt from: “The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the 12 Feasts and Orthodox Christology” by Metropolitan of Nafpatkos Hierotheos Vlachos – November 1993. 

I’ve known families who used a Jesse Tree along with their Advent wreath as helps in Advent. But oh, my, out of curiosity I just looked at some current Pinterest-era examples, and had to abort that browsing quick; it was plenty for a Sunday afternoon to look at stained glass windows.

My daughters and I have been sharing memories this month, from our homes scattered across the country; posting photos of past and current Christmas trees, reminiscing about Christmas caroling, and recalling their father’s voice and his Christmas joy. This year I will have neither a Jesse nor a Christmas tree, but I feel rich with history and symbols and family. There’s my earthly family, and there is the heavenly family into which I’ve been adopted by the Father. Today I’m especially grateful for all those patriarchs and prophets who have gone before and who encourage me by their lives of faith.

By faith You justified the Forefathers,
when through them You betrothed Yourself beforehand
to the Church of the Gentiles.
The saints boast in glory,
that from their seed there is a glorious fruit:
she who bore You without seed.
By their prayers, O Christ God, save our souls.

-Hymn for the Feast

Rambling from roots to rest.

On the tail of my recent mention of trees and their strength, I was impressed by the tree roots in this collection of photos in The Guardian, “Root Force.” My wandering mind led me from there down this bloggy path to make the kind of word-thing that is too long because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.

Italian cypresses and giant oaks, pine trees with thick trunks arching over lawns — the neighborhood in which I’ve been walking the last few days is a good one for a tree-lover, but it’s fairly new (not 50 years old yet) and manicured, not the kind of place where one is likely to see trees who have managed to exert their wills in the way of this example from the article.


This photo is compelling, and led me to search and find online many more cases of invasive tree roots, and I also know one firsthand. At my husband’s childhood home a steel post had been stuck in the earth to stake a young tree that, presumably while everyone was watching (whether out of the corners of their eyes, or faster than they could blink their eyes, I can’t say), grew up and around to swallow its supporting rod. But not completely; the top of the stake appeared to grow ungracefully out of the huge trunk.

Does it seem off topic, my telling you about  the tree trunk, not the root? We must remember that all the parts are connected.

What occurs to me is that to live on a piece of land, to have a house or gate or sidewalk which you essentially give over to a living plant, is to show a deference to nature or at least a willingness to co-exist even in the likelihood that you, the human, will be the one to relinquish something. Or does it show that everyone was too busy or lazy to care? Many times I have let smaller plants in my garden have their way, but I somewhat regret that I haven’t had enough trees in my life, or lived ages in one place, for this to happen with great woody specimens.

All the roots and trees passing by my eyes and through my mind this week bring me around to the Incarnation, the birth of Christ which we are celebrating. That’s because the most persistent and enduring life system, if you will, is the Root of Jesse, and the Branch that sprouted, mentioned in Isaiah 11. Iconographers have painted this flowing of our salvation history, and it is the inspiration for many other types of illustrations, like this dramatic interpretation by Ansgar Holmberg:

  Jesse tree rj- ansgar

Some excerpts from the passage in Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

I am pleased to have arrived at a Christmastime theme, a history and reality that leads many of my friends to put up a Jesse Tree decoration during Advent. Christ is somehow the Root and the Branch and the whole Tree of Life. It’s just one of the ways that the metaphor of trees and roots and branches is used in the Bible to reveal God’s plans and ways to us. No wonder I love trees: I admire them for their strength and grace, but I am myself alive with the same sap that is the Source of all root and tree life.

My own preference for letting trees take over is a romantic and privileged one; I don’t live where hardwood forests perennially compete with farmers for every plot of soil, or where such things as Weed Trees can be talked about knowingly. We were told via Adam and Eve to have dominion over nature, which at the least means conserving it and managing it. A gate that can’t function as a gate because some roots have essentially ruined it is not a sign of good husbandry after all, though it makes a pretty picture. Other clashes that come to mind involve roots doing bad things to pipes; the play of humankind with  trees is not always artistic, because the design elements are always in flux.

Time is a factor you don’t want to ignore in this sort of interplay. So many people disregard it, not imagining what a nursery sapling might become in 20 years, roots and branches reaching out and down and to the sky. Living in the  moment doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to plan for the future, taking into account the nature of living things to change and grow.

Even God plans, and caused His good will to be planted especially in the family of Jesse, the father of King David, from whose tribe our Savior blossomed forth. He had a very long-range perspective and intention, and we haven’t seen the end of it.

The imagery in The Guardian, and the language that connotes for me destruction and relinquishment, seem to contrast with the words of Isaiah quoted above. Nature will be at peace in the day of which the prophet speaks, and a great order will prevail because of the knowledge of the Lord. It will be a large space where all of God’s creation can function as intended, with plenty of room for partnership and concord between mankind and the rest of creation. What struck me most was that last line above: “His rest shall be glorious.”

I’ve been wanting to post again a link to the carol Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, in which we are appropriately encouraged in Christ to “sit and rest awhile.” I think it’s what I’ve been longing to say — and for that we don’t have to wait until Christmas.