A View from the Sacristy: Remembering Luke

April 12, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Remembering Luke

This Lent we have been looking at our patron saint, Luke, who is remembered as an evangelist, a painter, and a doctor. We have learned that the traditions of the church vary widely in relation to the hagiography of Luke. Was he really the author of the Gospel written in his name? Did he really paint the first Christian icons? For many Christians the answer is “yes” and it is really only in the last 100 years or so that these facts would even be challenged. The story told in Luke/Acts has formed centuries of Christian thought, theology, and the popular imagination and the style of Luke’s icons has set the standard for 1500 years of Christian art. What a gift Luke has been to the Church!

San Lucas Altarpiece, detail of central panel. Andrea Mantegna, 1453–1454, tempera on panel. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

On this Wednesday of Holy Week (known as “Spy Wednesday” since this is the day Judas agreed to betray Jesus) I want to look at how the Church remembers Luke.

As we have seen, the traditions of the Church are often contradictory. Most believe that Luke was born of Greek speaking parents in Antioch in Syria who were Gentiles; some believe that he was born of Hellenized Jews. Some believe that Luke was born a slave and that’s how he became know as a doctor since it was common for a Roman household to send an intelligent slave off to learn the healing arts so the house would always have a doctor on call.

October 18th is the Feast of Luke the Evangelist in both the Eastern and Western Church. We usually celebrate his feast day in our parish on the Sunday after October 18th and we call it “St Luke Sunday” as a combined service and a parish lunch. It is always a great festive day; a beautifully decorated church, wonderful music, and delicious food.

This day is Luke’s one feast day in the Western Church. In the Eastern Church Luke has a few more feast days. In the West we tend to think of Luke as a companion of Paul who came to the Christian faith through Paul’s teaching and encouragement. Paul mentions Luke by name three times: (i) Phil 1:24 “and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers”; (ii) 2 Tim 4:11 “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me”; and (iii) Col 4:14 “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you.”

In the Eastern Church, there are so many feast days because they have a different view of Luke and how he became a Christian. It is believed that Luke is one of the 70 Apostles sent out by the Lord in pairs as reported in Luke’s Gospel Chapter 10:1-12. The Orthodox Church remembers The Sending of the Seventy on January 4th. On April 22nd Luke is remembered with Apostles Nathaniel and Clement who were also part of the 70. So, instead of being led by Paul’s encouragement, in the Orthodox tradition Luke came to Christianity on his own and joined Paul as a companion to help spread the Gospel to the Gentiles. On June 20th, the Orthodox Church remembers the transfer of Luke’s relics from his tomb in Thebes to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople which we talked about last week.

Christ appears to the Apostles on the road to Emmaus. 6th Cent. Mosaic. Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna.

Personally, my favorite Orthodox tradition about Luke centers around the story told in his Gospel of the two disciples who journey to Emmaus on Easter eve. (Luke 24:13-49). This story is appointed for the Holy Eucharist on the evening of Easter Day and for the Third Sunday of Easter this year. One of the disciples is named Cleopas and the other disciple is un-named and tradition tells that this un-named disciple is Luke. Some say that this is obvious as, if the disciple were not Luke, the author of the Gospel would name him, but because of his great humility, Luke was reluctant to name himself.

As a final reflection, let’s look at this modern icon of Luke with scenes from his life. I bet you might be able to  recognize at least five of the scenes depicted here, since we have explored them this past Lent …

Modern Russian icon, 20th Cent.

Well, that’s it for another year. Tonight a bunch of Saint Luker’s are looking forward to The Office of Tenebrae at Saint Thomas Church, a rather monastic experience which seems to set the perfect tone to usher us in to the Triduum. I hope these walks with Luke have given us a greater appreciation for our Patron and our guide.

– Sean Scheller

A View from the Sacristy: Thebes and Padua

April 5, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Thebes and Padua

We have been looking at St. Luke, our patron, on Wednesdays this Lent. This week I want us to look outside the walls of the parish and travel to Italy and Greece to see what happened to Luke in his later years.

In the city of Thebes (the same city as the city of Oedipus) there is the Church of St. Luke. Tradition says that Luke died in Thebes, after having spent his life preaching the Gospel in Libya, Egypt and Greece, when he was 84 in the early years of the 2nd century. As we have seen in past posts, Christian traditions vary, so some believe that Luke was martyred by being crucified to an olive tree while others believe he died peacefully at home. (An olive tree still grows next to that very church.) Luke stayed in his tomb in Thebes, made in the traditional style of the first century in Greece, for many years where to this day a myrrh appears on the lid that is said to have healing powers especially for those with eye trouble.

In religion, a relic usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint or venerated person preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial. In 357AD the Emperor Conatantius had the relics moved to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. There they rested in Constantinople until either (i) the reign of Julian the Apostate in the 4th century, when the relics were moved for fear of being desecrated in the pagan revival of Julian’s reign, or (ii) during the 8th century when a Greek monk Urio is said to have fled to Italy with the relics to prevent them from being destroyed during the iconoclastic controversy, or (iii) by the Latins on the IV Crusade who stole the relics from Constantinople and brought them back to Padua in 1204. Either way the relics were in Padua by the 12th century. In the 14th century, a marble tomb was built for Luke and it still stands in a side chapel in the church of Santa Juistina in Padua.

There they rested until 2001 when the Orthodox Metropolitan of Thebes asked the Roman Bishop of Padua to return Luke’s body to its original resting place. DNA test were done and the results made international news.



The tests reveal that the remains are of a man who is from Asia Minor, of Syrian decent, and who died between the first and third centuries. It is the body of a man between 75 and 80 years old, of stocky build, who suffered from osteoporosis and arthritis.

Now, there is always a twist because God has a sense of humor, so we have two skulls for Luke, one in Rome and one in Prague. The Prague skull fits onto the neck of the Padua body and a tooth found in the coffin fit into the jaw. Another interesting point is that the coffin in Padua fits into the tomb in Thebes perfectly. To our 21st century minds this all makes perfect sense, so the remains could really be those of the man we know as Luke since DNA and other scientific evidence say it could be so. The Bishop of Padua sent the Metropolitan of Thebes one of St Luke’s ribs (the one nearest his heart) to place back in Luke’s tomb in Thebes.


Hanging over the tomb in St. Luke’s Chapel in Padua, one finds the image of Our Lady Hodighitria (which we met last week), supported by two monumental angels. In keeping with tradition, this image is reported to have been painted St Luke and was brought to Padua at the same time as Luke’s remains.

Next week some not so well know traditions about our Luke.


– Sean Scheller

A View from the Sacristy: Icon of St. Luke

March 29, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Icon of St. Luke

In our Lady Chapel there is an icon of St Luke. It is the only image of our patron saint that we have. It is a traditional style icon that replicates an actual 16th century Greek icon and was gifted to the parish by the Formation Class of Easter 2013. This icon shows Luke sitting on a bench, surrounded with tools of the painter’s trade (brushes, mixing bowls, and a storage box), and holding a small palette and paintbrush. He is in the process of painting a panel with the image of the Virgin and Child. This image is called Hodighitria (“She who points the way”) where both the Virgin and Child face the viewer and the Virgin points or gestures towards the Christ. The panel rests on an elaborate easel that features notches that allow the artist to adjust the easel to hold larger and smaller panels. Luke also seems to use the notches to hold brushes.

Paul calls Luke “the beloved physician” in his letter to the Colossians, so Luke has always been identified as a physician.  The tradition of Luke as a painter began in the Byzantine East during the iconoclastic controversy in the 8th century. In the ancient world and right into the Renaissance, a medical doctor was often also an artist. One of the reasons for this connection is that both the physician and the painter would rely on minerals and plants to create medical treatments and pigments as well. Whether doctor or painter, must time was spent searching nature or the local markets for these minerals and plants, and then even more time grinding and mixing them to concoct their own treatments or their own paints.

The icons that St Luke originally painted are always agreed to be three in number; in some traditions the three icons are all of the Virgin. The first is called Hodighitria as in our icon; the second is Umilenie (“Our Lady of Tenderness”) where the Virgin and Child are cheek to cheek, often reaching out for each other; and the third is of the Virgin without the Christ but by herself and similar to the Virgin from a traditional iconic representation Christ in Majesty flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist called Deësis or Deisis meaning “prayer” or “supplication.” Exhausted yet? There’s more! Another tradition holds that the three icons are said to be of the Virgin and Child (Hodighitria), the second is of the Christ, and third is of Saints Peter and Paul.


The Virgin of Vladimir

Modern Deisis, detail of Virgin



Regardless of what’s on the panels, there are also differing legends of the panels on which they were painted. One tradition tells that after Christ’s Ascension, when the Virgin went to Ephesus to live with Saint John, she took all of her household furniture with her from Nazareth that included a table made by her Son, the Carpenter. When Luke came for a visit, he offered to paint her portrait. Mary suggested that the tabletop be made into three panels so that Luke could paint three paintings. The tabletop was cut into three 5×3 panels. Still another tradition says that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Saint Luke, offering three heavenly panels to use to paint the three paintings.

Some people say Luke sent the three icons to Theophilus, the person to whom Luke dedicates his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Another tradition say that Luke kept the icons, the icons were lost, and then discovered by Saint Helen of Constantinople, title for Helena (empress) (c. 250 – c. 330), mother of Constantine the Great. In Constantinople there was a church and monastery built in the 5th century to house the Virgin Hodighitria that survived until the fall of the city to the Turks in 1453.

Wherever the panels come from or whatever they’re painting on, most traditions tell that, as Luke paints the Virgin’s portrait, they talk and she tells him the story of her life and, most importantly, the stories that we find only in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel which do not appear in the synoptic gospels. Luke not only paints a portrait of the Virgin in paint, but also with words in his Gospel. When Luke has finished his work and presented the icon to the Virgin, it is reported that she said, “Let the grace of Him Who was born of me, and my mercy, be with these Icons.”

St Luke Presenting the icon of the Hodighitria to the Virgin Mary, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

– Sean Scheller



A View from the Sacristy: Icon of Our Lady

March 22, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Icon of Our Lady

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

A View from the Sacristy: St. Luke the Evangelist Through the Symbol of the Ox

March 8, 2017 § 1 Comment

This week I want to explore Luke the evangelist through the symbol of the ox.

In the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Paul it seems that an “evangelist” was, in the early days of the Church, a traveling missionary who went about preaching the Gospel, the account describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  They often had a certain talent in preaching, and so would bring people to the faith and, once in the Christian community, the teachers and pastors would take on the work of explaining the mysteries of the faith. By the 2nd century, an “evangelist” came to mean what it means today – one of the writers of the four canonical Gospels.

In the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, and the fourth chapter of the Revelation to John, we can find the description of a vision of the Holy One. In the vision from Ezekiel, there are four living creatures who draw the chariot of God and have fantastic form: human, but with four wings and four faces: a human face, a lion’s face, the face of an ox, and the face of an eagle. In the vision from Revelation, the four living creatures have one face, and six wings with eyes all around, even under the wings. The Christian community took these four living creatures as symbols of the four evangelists and their associated Gospels. In the Christian West, these symbols for the Evangelists were well established by the 4th century since St Jerome speaks of them in his Commentary on Matthew; although not everyone agrees with Jerome’s symbols, they are the most accepted interpretation.

 The four living creatures are also symbolic of the message of the specific Gospels for which they have become the symbol: The human as a symbol for the Gospel of Matthew suggests that this Gospel stresses Christ’s humanity with its genealogy and its Jesus who reacts in very human ways. The lion associated with the Gospel of Mark is appropriate since this Gospel begins with a “voice crying in the wilderness,” just a a lion would roar, and it also speaks to resurrection. There was an ancient belief that lions were born dead and brought to life by the growling and caresses of their mothers, and the Gospel of Mark concludes with the resurrection of Jesus. The ox associated with the Gospel of Luke fits well since it speaks to the great sacrifice of Jesus, and the ox was an important animal for sacrifice as required in the Torah. The eagle associated with the Gospel of John speaks to the heavenly Jesus that has come from the Father to dwell on earth and who will one day return to the Father

There is another traditional way to look at the four symbols of the evangelists, where the symbols are the height of creation in their different species: human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and so are the height of creation; the lion is the best of the wild animals and often called the King of Beasts; the ox is the beast of sacrifice and the most revered of the domestic animals; and the eagle is the best of the bird kingdom.

At St Luke’s we have St Luke’s ox on many of our sacred objects. Many of the oxen are very small and might never be noticed with a casual glance. Some are big and bold – the St Luke’s banner is the image of a gold-winged ox and is very large; we use this banner on St Luke’s Day.

The processional cross used during Lent has the symbols of the evangelists on the ends of the bars of the cross. We never really see these, as it is always covered by the Lenten Array when used at services. The large silver salver that we use to bring the offerings to the altar during the 11:15 Rite II Choral Eucharist on Sundays and on major feast days has the evangelists symbols on the rim (ask one of the ushers, but you’ll have to wait until Eastertide as we do not use this plate during Lent).

The festive Gospel Book cover (it shines like gold!) also has the four evangelists’ symbols on it, and we use this on feast days and the Great 50 Days of Easter (something else to look forward to seeing!).

The symbols of the evangelists also appear on the John Walsted icon processional cross we use during most of the year, Luke’s ox is right below Christ’s left hand (and again, you will have to wait until the Sunday after Ascension Day to see this ox).

Stay tuned and WATCH THIS SPACE for more tales of our patron Saint! We’re going to have a walk around the chapel next time! For Luke, actually, is all around.

– Sean Scheller

A View from the Sacristy: Lent, 2017

March 1, 2017 § 3 Comments

Luke, actually, is all around

During this Lenten season, I’d like us to take a look at some of the images of our patron saint and his symbol on different sacred objects from the parish.

Who is Saint Luke?

The children’s prayer goes, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless the bed that I lie on,” which leads some people to think that Luke is one of the Apostles, but he’s not; he was a companion of Paul. We also know him as the author of one of the Gospels (an account of the life of Jesus, the Christ), and of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the founding of the Christian church and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire. We hear Luke’s lesson of Christ’s birth every Christmas Eve, and The Revised Common Lectionary of the Church uses The Gospel of Luke throughout “Year C” for the Sunday Gospel lessons; look for it in 2019!

So, Luke’s Gospel is well known to us.  During the Great 50 Days of Eastertide, we often listen to lessons from the Acts of the Apostles during the First Lesson on Sundays in Easter.  Luke is a wonderful storyteller. He knows how to weave a narrative, he is able to develop interesting characters, and he creates places and settings which work together to draw the reader into the story.  Jesus, as described by Luke, has a special concern for women, children, the sick, even tax collectors, and only Luke has the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son, as well as the narratives of the Annunciation, Visitation, the birth of John the Baptist, even the road to Emmaus. Some traditions say that Luke is one of the unnamed disciples from that very story.

Luke is known as a doctor. This tradition comes from Paul writing to the Colossians (4:14) that Luke, the beloved physician, is with him and sends greetings along with Demas. Luke’s Gospel is the only Gospel that recorded Jesus’ statements about physicians: “Physician, heal yourself!” (Luke 4:23); and “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31).  Our parish was founded by devout Episcopalians who wanted to escape the unhealthy conditions of 19th century New York City and spend time in what was then the country, all the way out at St Luke in the Fields. You can find hospitals and medical centers today are named for him.

Luke is also the patron saint of artists. According to tradition, Luke was able to visit with the Virgin Mary and, during that time, she told him the infancy stories we find in Luke’s Gospel. Luke was also rumored to have painted her portrait as they met. This tradition began in the Byzantine era in the east, spread to the west, and by the tie of the Renaissance there were many icons of the Virgin and Child attributed to St. Luke throughout Christendom. I  have seen two, one in Rome at Santa Maria Maggiore and the other at the Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus. These icons are considered so holy that you never can really see them because of the elaborate frames and the veils that cover them. It is only at certain great festivals that the icon is shown completely unadorned to the faithful.

More about St Luke next Wednesday.

– Sean Scheller

A View from the Sacristy: Skull and Bones

March 2, 2016 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Skull and Bones

icon crossI seem to be spending this Lent talking about our different processional crosses! This week I want to lift the veil on our Icon Cross for a quick peek.

During the first night of our Lenten adult education series, Contemplating the Cross, we looked at images of the crucifixion from different times during the 2000 years of Christian history. The task was to regard each of the works from the perspective of not being a follower of the Christian tradition, or being a person unfamiliar with the Christian story … not such an easy task.

The first image was a very traditional orthodox icon of the Crucifixion. We all agreed that the image of the figure who is crucified is the most important person in the painting. He is larger than the other figures, the other figures are all gathered around him, and they all seem to be very concerned about what is happening to him. One aspect of this icon that we all noticed was a small skull and crossbones in a cave at the base of the cross. It is a very strange image. What could it mean?

icon cross skull

In my studies in iconography, I have always been told that the image of the skull and crossbones is a reference to the first man, Adam. Our sacred tradition says that Golgotha (Γολγοθα ) is the site of the tomb of Adam. Golgotha means Skull.

This combination of symbols also reminds me of 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” Visually, the placement of the bones of Adam underneath the base of the cross signify that they have been sanctified by the sacrifice of Christ, and, as they reside in a tomb, will once again be fleshed and raised from the dead.

Just look at any orthodox icon of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and notice how he is always pulling Adam out of his tomb. Now that’s a far cry from the bones beneath the cross, but still …

I remembered during our meditation that we have a very similar image on our Icon Cross. My recollection was that it appeared in the same place below the image of the crucified Christ as the one in our meditation. I checked, but there is no Adam’s skull on the image of the crucified on our Icon Cross.  Then I looked on the other side and there it was right underneath the image of Jessie, the father of King David, and the ancestor of Jesus.

If we accept that the skull and bones are a symbol for Adam, then in our very own icon we have the whole history of salvation beginning with Adam, continuing with Jessie and ending with the Virgin and Child. This image is called a “Jessie Tree” that can be part of Advent celebrations.

– Sean Scheller

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Altar Guild category at Blog of St. Luke in the Fields.