The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls A Second Time

March 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

Artist: Linda Mason

How very human it is for the Son of God to fall—not just once, but twice. Twice, Jesus falls, brought down by the weight of His cross, His pain and suffering.

And if Jesus can be brought so literally low, if God can allow Godself in the person of Jesus to be brought down, to suffer, then perhaps we ought to reexamine our own views on suffering, pain, and hardship.

Christianity writ large has a bad habit of trying to justify suffering. Women suffer in childbirth and from patriarchal inequality because of Original Sin, from domestic violence because of poor interpretation of Ephesians 5. People with disabilities suffer because they haven’t been healed by God yet—and obviously are doing something wrong, or are sinful in some way. The poor are poor by their own fault—or are meant to learn something from the experience of being “the least of these.”

“But I would never think that way—about others or myself!” you may be thinking. It’s an insidious practice of self-hatred; our entire theology of redemption through the Christ event is centered on the need for a humanity that deserved to suffer because of its actions and, essentially, got lucky that the God of Israel happened to like humans and wanted some company and felt like grace was a good idea. So even when we don’t think we think like this, we do—about something. And justify it with religion more often than not.

I for one don’t think suffering is good or bad. I think trying to assign a moral weight to suffering and pain is destined for disaster. Call it good and you glorify the suffering of people who do not deserve it, abandoning them to their suffering without trying to do our Christian duty of spreading agape love in the world in the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Naming suffering an outright bad is just as dicey; condemning suffering leads to heresy almost any way you slice it. And on the more human level, condemning suffering as a moral evil leaves us unprepared to handle the trials and travails of human life.

Instead, I meditate on the suffering of Jesus and try to cultivate compassion rather than trying to theologically justify it or glorifying it. I mediate on Jesus falling twice—showing Himself to be so very human and so far from perfect and God-like—and find peace within myself as I navigate my own sufferings and hardships as I live a very human life, graced with the Holy Spirit and love of God, given hope through the life of Christ.

– Madeline Pantalena

A View from the Sacristy: Icon of Our Lady

March 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

I know we were going to look at St Luke as a painter this week, but first I want to explore another icon in the church. I want to look at our icon of Our Lady that hangs on the wall to the north of the High Altar and behind the votive candle rack. The author of our icon is Sister Dr. Ellen Francis, a life-professed sister of the (Episcopal) Order of St. Helena in Augusta, GA (founded in 1945 in Kentucky), and a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

What is an icon? To our Western eyes, an icon is a painting done in a somewhat archaic traditional style. The colors are bright, space is non-existent, movement is stilted, and forms are rigid. To the eyes of faith, an icon is the revelation of the Kingdom of God. It is a window in to creation as transfigured, renewed, and deified by the saving acts of Christ. So an icon is not just a painting, it is, as St. John of Damascus said, a “channel of divine grace,” the place where heaven and earth meet, so that we can have a glimpse of heaven. The icon which hangs behind the pulpit, above the rack of votive candles, is called Our Lady of the Sign. The image is based on the two quotes from scripture we see above.

The first is a prophesy from Isaiah where God promises to send a savior born of a young woman. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The original Hebrew text of the word for the young woman has traditionally been translated as virgin although modern scholarship has challenged that translation and it is now usually translated as you see it above. The icon portrays the Virgin opening herself up in prayer to reveal the Christ within. For the Virgin this is true in both a physical sense and a spiritual sense. The Virgin is often looked upon as a type for the Church and the individual Christian; in this icon she is the Church who reveal’s Christ to the world through its liturgy and sacraments and the individual who lives their life.

The second is Mary’s “yes” to the message of the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of Jesus as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Luke, actually, is all around…. “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38). The icon shows the Virgin at the moment she has conceived the Christ in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the stylized work of the iconographer we can see a fully formed Christ Child in the mandorola of his mother’s womb. A mandorola is an aureola or aureole, which depicts the radiance of a luminous cloud which, in paintings of sacred personages, surrounds the whole figure. The term mandorola is the Italian name for the “almond” nut, and refers to its usual shape of a vesica piscis, the intersection of two disks with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each disk lies on the perimeter of the other in the shape of an almond. The mandorola generally surround the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art. It is distinguished from a halo in that it encircles the entire body, and not just the head. It is commonly used to frame the figure of Christ in Majesty in early medieval and Romanesque art, as well as Byzantine art of the same periods. The mandorola is blue as a symbol of the earth where God, as Christ, has come down from heaven to dwell on earth. Yet, even while being in human form Christ is still supported by a seraph, the highest order of angel, who stand forever before the throne of God crying, “Holy, holy, holy!”

Jesus is most often shown as a miniature adult and not a child except in icons of the Nativity. This has to do with the Church’s understanding of the human and divine natures of Christ as defined at the Council of Nicaea and the iconographer’s attempts to portray that truth. Jesus is always shown with the clothing of an adult or dressed as a priest. He is usually shown with his hand raised in a blessing or teaching gesture.

Sacred tradition says that when the angel appeared to Mary she was in the midst of saying her daily prayers. Our icon continues in that tradition by showing the Virgin in the Orans position. The Virgin stands with her arms folded up at the elbow and her hands facing out. The Orans is an ancient attitude of prayer much older then the more recent folding of the hands in front of your chest that is so common today. We still see this gesture at the Holy Eucharist. See if you can notice it!

The Virgin Mary is dressed in a red mantle that covers her from head to toe; she is also wearing a blue inner garment since we can see the blue sleeves from her up turned arms.  The red is a symbol of divinity that overshadowed the Virgin and the blue is a symbol of her humanity. The mantle has three gold stars, one on the forehead and one on either shoulder, theses stars are a symbol of the Virgin’s continued virginity before, during and after the birth of Christ.

(This is an update to an earlier article from the St Luke’s Gazette.)

– Sean Scheller

Lenten Reflection: Poop or Get off the Pot / #LentUnEdited

March 21, 2017 § 1 Comment

Dear People of God … I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
The Book of Common Prayer, Proper Liturgies for Special Days, Ash Wednesday, page 265

The habit of consistently eating healthfully and making correct and positive choices for what goes in our body is good for us. Making sure that on certain days we come home from work and we, instead of flopping on the couch, put on some music and shake our booty, which provides us with consistent opportunities to achieve an invigorated circulatory system. Establishing and sinking in to some patterns and habits, though, can become anesthetizing, often to our detriment. Sometimes when we’re not in a positive space spiritually or psychicly, we can find ourselves taking comfort among the company of murmurers, people who just want to gnaw on bones, because it makes us feel less alone, and it sure does feel good to whine and wallow and really sink ourselves deep down in our misery, doesn’t it? A more appropriate and life-giving choice, however, is seeking wiser counsel among people who are dedicated to “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, [topics of] excellence and / worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes, however, it’s only easy to see that we’re in a rut in hindsight. Sometimes in counseling friends who act like this, it takes a while to realize that they don’t want to be helped out of their muddle, they just want company in it.

We read in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews that we are to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” to “provoke one another to love and good deeds,” and make sure “not to neglect meeting together.” That sounds encouraging, but it’s not such an easy practice, this meeting together. Following the teachings of Jesus as Christ is challenging enough, but putting together a service which will rejuvenate and elevate our bodies, minds, and spirits on a weekly basis has provided us with the state of the Christian church today: everyone has their own flavor. Some like laser shows and body stirring anthems, jumping up and down and spirited sermons; some like to sit quietly in a room in silent prayer; some like to hear an encouraging pep talk with poems but little Scripture; and some, like us, follow the structure and liturgy of the ancient rites.

The practice of following The Book of Common Prayer is not an easy row to hoe (so much flipping !) and it is my humble opinion we’ve strayed far from even knowing what’s inside it (#LetsMeetInThePrayerBook). We’ve really got to dig deep, ‘cause it may look like there’s not much there, but the simplicity of what’s recorded is powerful and life-changing and I don’t think we pay enough attention to it (and it’s pretty much the document which guides our journey as members of the Episcopal Church).

Thing is, you can come and sit and hear the pretty music and sing (or not sing) and stand and sit and stand and cross yourself and shake a hand or two and sit and stand and kneel (or not kneel) and have “your little cracker” and “your juice” and go on your way, probably rejuvenated, I’m not knocking it, but The Book of Common Prayer asks us to live a life in a consistent rhythm, to pray several times a day, to meet at least once a week, to observe the traditions of a cyclical calendar, and, most importantly, to delve into God’s Word and explore the Sacred Mysteries of the Good News that Jesus sacrificed himself as propitiation, once, for all, and the hardships are over and done, the Law has been fulfilled. We’re to come together to remember that, yes, but also to live in the joy of that Good News.

The bidding I led with is one of the two times in the church year that the priest comes down to the lip of the altar and addresses us personally, in the name of the Church. “~Do this. Observe a Holy Lent. Examine yourself. Turn from your inappropriate habits…and meditate on the holy writings.~”

Often people rush past the “self examination” part and go straight to the “self denial” part … “What are you giving up for Lent ?!” “Oh, I’m not giving up anything, I’m taking ON something!” … The choices people make for Lenten “self denial” has always just slayed me (#NoJudge). All I can ever think of is “reindeer games,” which refers to the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated Christmas television special “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which to me is a painful and personal documentary of school yard shaming and bullying, but that’s stuff I’m still trying to work through). The Urban Dictionary defines them as, “any fun activities which are enjoyed only by members of a clique, the fact of which is often purposefully made obvious to anyone existing outside of said clique in order to make them feel inadequate and left-out.”

I feel like the whole “giving up” and/or “taking on” aspect of the practice of Lent is such an enormous distraction from the first bidding, the deep “self-examination and repentance” we’re called to. If we “give up” chocolate, is that truly a soul-changing revelation and will we truly repent from ingesting it? I’ve heard of some people, and the lack of their understanding of cause-and-effect astounds me having worked in the service industry all of my 20s, who are going to forego dining in restaurants, and squirrel all that money away to donate it at the end of Lent. Meanwhile, there is some poor woman who works a second job as a waitress so that she can afford to get her kids new Easter outfits who is going without that tip. Wouldn’t it be more of a sacrifice, more of a gift, more in the vein of walking with Jesus, to go to that restaurant, have a cup of tea, and leave a crisp twenty dollar bill, just for satisfaction of giving and the benefit of a person working in service depending on those daily tips?

Self-examination is the first thing asked of us. In an age (or because of our chronologic age) where it seems as though we have no accountability to any presiding authority, it’s often difficult to know if we’re inside or outside appropriate boundaries. Here’s a boundary for self-examination: Why do we show up at church? What are we doing there? What are we contributing?

When we show up at church, do we swoop in with tales of woe, asking everyone to notice us, participate in the calamity of our day? “Oh, I’m so sorry I’m late! Oh, what happened to me! The horrors of my commute! Me, me, me!” Do we bring in troubles from the Outside? Or do we wipe Outside off our feet at the doors and come inside to settle in to the peace of the preparation of worship. I’m not talking about a fake smile and a, “Oh, praise Jesus, sister, I’m OK and I’m on my way!” but many of us want to spread our troubles around instead of being bearers of a Good Report. I gotta tell you, as a member of the Altar Guild? In the past? I’ve seen people treat the Sacristy like a Green Room backstage at a high school production of GODSPELL and I would just want to scream, “WHAT ! are you DOING ! here! This is a HOLY SPACE where people are preparing themselves to proclaim the eternal mysteries of GOD ! Why are you here ?! and WHAT are you contributing !” I’ve talked to people in the pews who only come on Sundays sporadically because they just need a “little church,” because “it’s always the same anyway.” Really?? Because the experience is not what’s being presented to us, it’s what we’re pouring in to it, it’s our collective concentration that turns this from a performance in to a Cosmic Mystery. We’re there to lay our lives down on that altar as a sacrifice, in tandem with Jesus’ sacrifice for us and for all, as we recall the preparation of Passover before the ultimate redemptive sacrifice.

Lent starts out demanding we contemplate our own mortality, too. Lent isn’t easy, Lent is a journey in a wilderness. As The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M.C. Kaeton posts on her blog telling-secrets, <Not The Wilderness.  A wilderness. A place we haven’t yet explored A place as yet unknown to us. A place where we may confront things we have not yet encountered. A place where we can explore our own vulnerability. A space where we might discover the limits of our spiritual endurance.  / Indeed, how does this ‘sacrifice’ which leads us to ‘charity’ actually underscore our privileged status and emphasize – but not bridge –the chasm between rich and poor. What if we came to our eight-week Lenten journey with a real sense of ‘poverty’, with a full sense of our powerlessness and vulnerability and no measurable goals?>

We’re almost halfway through. It’s not too late to take stock and really change our hearts, minds, and behaviours if we came at this year casually or carelessly. It’s also just Spring, a time to pray that God’s Holy Spirit will “Create in us a clean heart and renew within us a joyous spirit” (Psalm 51). A time to shake off what once was, and to make room for a new “me”. To make sure that, when we enter a room, we can give thanks to God, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of God. For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ which ascends to God, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing … an aroma from life to life, a vital fragrance, living and fresh.” (2 Corinthians 2). Let’s take up the practice of being a sweet fragrance, vital, living, and fresh, where ever God leads us, shall we?

– your pal, dasch

Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

March 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

Artist: Sylvia Duff

What I love about this Veronica, apart from the fact that she was painted by a young person, is that she herself looks young and approachable.  It is also notable that the artist chose to depict Veronica in the manner of many Greek Orthodox icons of Veronica, after she had already wiped the face of Jesus and, I’m sure unexpectedly for her, gotten her reward in the imprint of Jesus’s face on the cloth she used.  Since she looks so approachable, I can imagine asking her “Were you frightened, Veronica, when you stepped out from the protective anonymity of the crowd to perform an act of such compassion?”  How might she answer?  In my imagination, she is modest and matter-of–fact, replying that she did nothing special, only what needed to be done.  Moved by the blood and sweat of a very human Jesus, Veronica recognized that he might appreciate having his face wiped and did it.  She wasn’t expecting any lasting result.   What she got was proof that Jesus was not only man, but also God, as the image of his face remained on her cloth.  In traditional Western depictions of this station, we see Veronica doing the wiping of the human face of Jesus; in this one we see the divinity of Jesus.  It’s worth noting that Veronica is not named in Scripture and nothing is known about her life and death.  Her existence is preserved in sacred tradition.

What is the message of Veronica for twenty-first century Christians today?  Consider this:  Perhaps the message is that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and do what needs to be done, if you even remotely think whatever needs doing is in your power to do.  Think about what the implications might be, well beyond what you may at first imagine.  Does the legend of Veronica challenge you?  How might you respond to the challenge?  These are some of the questions that praying before this station raised for me.  What questions occur to you as you look at the image? The answers will be as varied as the people looking at Veronica as she is seen here.  That’s one of the wonderful things about art; it affects each person differently and individually.  May you each find your own message as you pray the Stations of the Cross this Lent.

– Julia Alberino

Composer Spotlight Lent III: Frei Manuel Cardoso

March 17, 2017 § Leave a comment

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Third Sunday in Lent (March 19th) will be:

  • Constanzo Porta – Oculi mei
  • Manuel Cardoso – Aquam quam ego dabo
  • G.P. da Palestrina – Sicut cervus/Sitivit anima

– Blog Editor


The Portuguese monk and composer Frei Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650) was renowned not only for his musical skill, but also for his humility, a fact the more noticeable on account of the close connections he maintained with the royal house of Braganza.  He was praised by Philip IV of Spain as well as the Duke of Braganza, the future John IV of Portugal (whose setting of Crux fidelis is sung each year at St. Luke’s on Good Friday), who may have been his student.  Aquam quam ego dabit is from a series of motets for various feasts preceding Easter, culminating in a series of responsories for Holy Week, found in the Livro de vários motetes, published in Lisbon by Craesbeeck in 1649, which the composer described as a “child of my old age”.  The text will be found in Sunday’s Gospel reading.

For more information about Cardoso and his style here:

Here is a link to his Requiem, unbelievably beautiful:

And his Lamentations:

– David Shuler, Director of Music

Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

March 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

Artists: Jacqui Taylor Basker and Ihsan Bandak

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” These famous words from Matthew 16:24-25 have become a kind of summary in the gospel. Jesus utters them in the gospel of John to a wide audience of followers, before the reality of Jesus’ own crucifixion has become clear to them.

It seems natural to think of this verse in connection to the fifth station of the cross: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross. Yet there a few important differences. First, this is not a matter of everyone taking up the cross; the burden in this scene is Simon’s to carry alone. Second, Simon is not carrying his own cross. He is carrying the cross of Jesus, which begs the question of whether Simon agreed to do this in the first place. Was this an act of charity? Of compulsion? The narratives in the synoptic gospels don’t give us these specifics.

There is a huge difference between taking up your own cross and taking on the cross of another. This is a central concern in the work of womanist theologian Delores Williams. In her book Sisters in the Wilderness, Williams highlights the dangerous implications embedded in our beliefs about the crucifixion of Jesus. If Jesus’ salvation operates through his suffering on the cross, what does that say about suffering? Do we run the risk of glorifying suffering when we celebrate the death of Jesus? And most importantly, what does this mean when certain people are made to bear sufferings in society more than others? For Williams, the weight of this burden falls most heavily on women of color, the perpetual surrogate mothers of American history.

Lent is a time when many Christians respond to Jesus’ exhortation to “take up your cross and follow me” with embodied action—giving up a beloved food, or taking on a practice that may seem initially like a burden. As we take on these extra burdens, I hope that we will remember those people who are carrying a heavy load this season, and not by choice. I hope we will remember the mother who stays late at work to pay for her apartment in a neighborhood where rents are steadily rising. I hope we will remember the refugees who have “given up” their homes because of the threat of violence.

For Delores Williams, the most important thing about Jesus’ life was not his death and suffering—it was his life. The same thing ought to be true for all of us as we take up our crosses during this season of Lent. Too often we fixate on stage of losing our lives and forget that the purpose of the cross is to find life. May we look for life this season, not only for ourselves but also for everyone who is carrying a heavy burden.

– Heidi Thorsen Oxford

A View from the Sacristy: St. Luke’s Chapel Altarpiece

March 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

In many churches, the chapel behind the high (main) altar is often called “The Lady Chapel” and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  We do not have that tradition at St. Luke’s, but perhaps we should!

This week I want to explore the altarpiece in our chapel.

“An altarpiece is an artwork such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject made for placing behind the altar of a Christian church. Though most commonly used for a single work of art such as a painting or sculpture, or a set of them, the word can also be used of the whole ensemble behind an altar, otherwise known as a reredos, including what is often an elaborate frame for the central image or images. Altarpieces were one of the most important products of Christian art especially from the late Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries) to the era of the Counter-Reformation (beginning with the Council of Trent in 1545 and ending with the close of the Thirty years’ War in 1648).” [wiki]

St. John of Damascus called an icon a “channel of divine grace,” the place where heaven and earth meet, so that we can have a glimpse of heaven. Iconographer John Walstead, late of Staten Island, created our altarpiece in the traditional style of the Eastern Orthodox church. The altarpiece is a series of five icons with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary as recorded in both the Gospel of St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These five events are only found in Luke’s Gospel: (1) The central panel is a depiction of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22-40); (2) the scene on the upper left is a scene from the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38); (3) below this is the Visitation (Luke 1:39-57); (4) on the upper right is the scene of the Disputation (a.k.a., The Finding in the Temple, and also called “Christ among the Doctors”) (Luke 2:41-52); and (5) the lower right is a scene from the Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). Let’s press in and take a closer look.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(1) Traditionally, the Feast of the Presentation is kept on February 2nd. At St Luke’s we celebrate it on the first Sunday of February since that is also the date of our parish’s annual meeting. Luke weaves a story of Mary and Joseph as faithful parents who bring their infant son to the Temple in thanksgiving to God for the safe delivery of the child. The Holy Spirit has moved two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who spent their whole life in and around the temple in Jerusalem waiting for what Simeon called the consolation and redemption of Israel, to meet Mary and Joseph in the temple where the two aged prophets say amazing things about the baby to his parents. (I always try to figure out which moment from the Presentation is portrayed.) In our icon we see the moment when “[Simeon] took [Jesus] up in his arms and blessed God and said…” (Luke 2:28) and will soon praise God with the words of the Nunc Dimittis (“Now you dismiss…”), which is also called The Song or Canticle of Simeon:

 Lord, you now have set your servant free * to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, * whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, * and the glory of your people Israel.

 We pray the Nunc Dimittis, appropriately, at the end of Compline (bedtime prayer) every day, and also as a choice of one of the 19 canticles recited at Evening Prayer. One of these canticles is said or sung after each reading.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(2) The next scene, the Annunciation, is the story of the Angel Gabriel coming to visit the Virgin Mary to announce to her that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. This Feast is kept on March 25th every year. It is appropriately nine months before Christmas and always falls during Lent. In Western Europe until the 15th Century, March 25th was New Year’s Day! We see the Virgin busy spinning yarn, being startled, and dropping her spindle in response to the words of the Angel Gabriel as he approaches from behind and says, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke1: 28). Many devotees of the Virgin Mary would argue that she was accustomed to visits by angels and it wasn’t the angel that startled her but the message the angel gave. In our icon, the response of Mary to the words of the angel is so human. I often think, does one hear an angel as he approaches? Or do angels just appear and that’s why their first words are always, “Fear not!”

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(3) Our eye travels downward and we see the scene of the Visitation. As the story goes, after the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth who herself is pregnant with her first child, even well after the time she should be able to conceive. (Elizabeth’s son will be John the Baptist.) Tradition tells us that the Virgin left right away, going “into the hill country…into a city of Judah”. The journey from Nazareth to Hebron is about 81 miles in a direct line, which is about 21 hours of easy walking. Elizabeth was in her sixth month before Mary came (Luke 1:36). The Feast of the Visitation is of medieval origin and was promoted by the Franciscans. It is now kept on May 31st, but for many years was held on July 2nd and in some places is still celebrated on that day. In most icons of this scene the two women are standing and greeting each other, but in our icon the Virgin is sitting and Elizabeth comes in to greet her. Perhaps our icon shows that moment in the story where Luke writes, “And Mary remained with her about three months” (Luke 1:56). Elizabeth does not hold a baby so we can assume that John the Baptist has not been born, and most scholars hold the Virgin stayed with Elizabeth through the birth of John. In this lovingly depicted scene, we have two very human mothers-to-be keeping each other company. Perhaps they are exchanging the miraculous stories of how each found her self to be a mother for the first time.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(4) The Disputation, or the Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple, has no appointed Feast day on the church calendar. It is, however, the Gospel lesson for the Feast of St. Joseph which occurs on March 19th, and one of the suggested Gospel lessons for the Second Sunday of Christmas (which, because of the calendar, happens rarely, so this is not a story we hear very often). Jesus is 12 years old and comes to Jerusalem with his family for Passover. As Jesus’ parents are on the way back home, they realize that Jesus is not with them. (This does not make them bad parents, it’s just that villagers often walked in packs, visiting here and there along the way, going from one group to another; we presume the kids would gambol and play, rushing ahead and lagging behind.) They return to Jerusalem and “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2: 46). This is the scene we see in our icon. The icon writer has used the traditional depiction of figures in the Byzantine style where the more important figures are larger, so the boy Jesus looms over the adult scribes. There is no confusion about the figure in the doorway since she has a halo and is identified as the Virgin above her head with the Greek letters “Mρ ΘY,” an abbreviation of Meter Theou (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ) – in Greek, the Mother of God. It is interesting that the icon writer uses perspective so that figures closer to the horizon appear smaller, as we see the Virgin coming through the doorway to find her son.

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Brome

(5) The final scene, on the lower right, is an icon of the goings-on from the Day of Pentecost. This is one of the seven major Feasts of the Episcopal Church (see pp. 15 – 17 in The Book of Common Prayer) and occurs 50 days after Easter on a Sunday, so that generally falls in late April or May.  Pentecost is the day the Church remembers the arrival of the Comforter, God’s Holy Spirit, which Jesus promised to send to his followers to give them understanding, boldness, and strength to help them spread the Good News. According to the First Book of Acts, the twelve were together in the Upper Room after the Lord’s Ascension and, “devoted themselves to prayer together with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Our icon is from the Second Book of Acts: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.” (Acts 2:1-3). We can see the flames coming down from the circle of heaven to rest on the heads of the Virgin and the apostles. The Virgin sits in the center of the apostles with six on either side. She is also portrayed a bit lager in size in the Byzantine style, so the viewer knows that she is the most important figure in the scene. The crowned figure in the darkened arch represents the world that sits in darkness waiting to hear the good news.

Well, I hope you had an interesting walk about the alterpiece with me and look forward to seeing it in person when the veils come off after Easter (!) for Luke, actually, is all around.

Next week we will think about St Luke in his role as “the painter”.

– Sean Scheller

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