"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012
The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch
Friday, 20 January 2017
UNDERSTANDING THE THEOPHANY ICON plus SEVEN MIRACLES OF CHRIST INVOLVING WATER (Both articles thanks to St Elixabeth's Convent, Minsk)
From the first century of the Christian Church, there has always been “The Festival of Lights”. In the depth of Midwinter, this feast celebrated the advent of the Son of God’s coming into the world as Jesus Christ, and His early years up to and including His baptism in the Jordan, which heralded the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Over the centuries, the various aspects of Christ’s early years were separated into individual feasts on different days: His Nativity, the Visitation of the Magi, His presentation in the Temple, and His circumcision. But the principal event of the Feast of Lights – Christ’s Baptism – continued to be commemorated on the 6th of January. Why is this event so important?
The event depicted in the icon is that described in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; here is Matthew’s version:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)
This, then, is the Epiphany (revelation) of the Holy Trinity, otherwise known as Theophany which literally means a “revelation of God” in Greek (Θεοφάνεια; the Russian is Богоявление and means the same).
The paradox that Jesus Christ might be revealed as God through an act of submittal to a mere man, John, is shown well in the Icon. Though John is baptizing Christ, it is the former who is shown bent over in reverence to the latter. In other icons, John is shown with his face turned toward heaven and beholding the miracle of the Theophany; either way, despite being the baptizer, he is not central to the scene. Near to John is a tree with an axe laid at the root, recalling John’s own preaching to those who came to him: “And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt 3:10). Present in the icon, this shows that whilst the Baptizer must now “decrease so Christ may increase”, John’s teachings and role are not done away with now the Holy Trinity has been revealed. On the opposite bank to John the Baptist, angels wait invisibly to receive the newly baptized Christ and clothe Him. And so, on the left is the forerunner of Christ, John, with his sermon of repentance represented by the tree and axe; on the right, the angels wait with reverence to accept the newly revealed Son of God. In the middle – the moment of revelation itself.
Jesus Christ, despite being the one submerged in the Jordan, is shown as though standing up and staring straight at us. His body is depicted as strong and beautiful, as it is understood classically, and in older icons He is naked. Christ appears almost as wide as the river Jordan itself; indeed: it is as though it is Jesus Christ, rather than the river, which cuts a swathe through the rocky wilderness on either side.
The Icon of the Theophany, as well as depicting the Holy Trinity, also answers the question of John the Baptist: I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me? The answer is in what Jesus does with His hands. Whilst in Western art, like this painting by Da Vinci, Jesus is shown as submitting to John’s authority, in Orthodox icons Christ’s hands are not shown in prayer, but in a sign of blessing. Rather than the waters of Jordan cleansing Christ, it is Christ Who cleans the waters. This is why in the bottom of most Theophany Icons, little creatures appear to be fleeing from the feet of Christ. This is a reflection of the words of the Psalmist regarding the Messiah (Christ): “the sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back” (Psalm 114:3).
This is the depth and profundity of the Baptism of Christ; the feast of lights which revealed the Holy Trinity, and cleansed the waters of baptism so that we, like the fishes shown in the icon, may swim in pure waters.
Of old, the river Jordan
Turned back before Elisha’s mantle at Elijah’s ascension.
The waters were parted in two
And the waterway became a dry path.
This is truly a symbol of baptism
By which we pass through this mortal life.
Christ has appeared in the Jordan to sanctify the waters!
The transformation of water into wine at the Wedding at Cana
1. And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
2. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
3. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
4. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
5. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
6. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
7. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
8. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
9. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
10. And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
11. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
The first miraculous catch of fish at the lake of Gennesaret
1. And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
2. And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
3. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
4. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
5. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
6. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
7. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
8. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
9. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
10. And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
Healing of the man at the pool at Bethesda
1. After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
5. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
6. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
7. The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
8. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
10. The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
11. He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
12. Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?
13. And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
14. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
15. The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
16. And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
Calming of the storm on the sea of Galilee
23. And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.
24. And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
25. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.
26. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
27. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
Walking on water at the Sea of Galilee
22. And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
23. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
24. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
25. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
26. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
27. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.
29. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
30. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
31. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
32. And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
33. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.
34. And when they were gone over, they came into the land of Gennesaret.
The second miraculous catch of fish
1. After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.
2. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.
3. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
4. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
5. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.
6. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
7. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
8. And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.
9. As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
10. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.
11. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
12. Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.
13. Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.
14. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.
Healing of a man born blind
1. And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3. Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
4. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
5. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
6. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
7. And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
8. The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?