Category Archives: Incarnation

Fort Lauderdale’s Attack on the Homeless

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In recent years, approximately 100 U.S cities have enacted laws targeting the homeless, and contributing to criminalizing the poor and homeless, and reducing them by law to something less than human.

Many of these cities have specifically targeted their food supply, enacting laws limiting or banning serving free food publicly. Houston, Pasadena, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and Philadelphia are among the many cities that have made news for their policies that sound good in closed door meetings, but don’t go over so well with the public.

Most recently, Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler has rankled many across the country when police arrested 90-year-old WWII veteran Arnold Abbott for serving food to the homeless outdoors. “’Drop that plate right there,’” Abbott claims an officer commanded him, as if he were wielding a weapon. Abbott has been serving the poor of Fort Lauderdale for more than two decades through his ministry, Love Thy Neighbor, and has no intention of stopping now.

Even comedian Stephen Colbert picked up the story on his late night comedy news show The Colbert Report, joking, “If George Zimmerman had fed a guy in a hoodie, he’d be in jail.”

Read the full post at Orthodox Christian Network.

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Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

Should Orthodox Christians Get Their Icons Blessed?

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It is no secret that icons are an important part of Orthodox faith and worship, covering the walls and ceilings and iconostases of our parishes, and most Orthodox Christians have at least a few icons at home. It also is no secret that the Orthodox Church practices blessings throughout the Church year—we start with the blessing of the waters at Theophany, and then we take that water and bless all sorts of other things, like our homes, each other, fruit, and even our cars.

In the past few centuries, it has become increasingly common to have icons blessed by a priest or bishop, either having them sprinkled with holy water or anointing them with Holy Chrism. Some pious believers will even refuse to display an icon in their homes until it is blessed, and I have even seen Russian icons come in the packaging “pre-blessed”! I’ve been told by a few Greek and Antiochian friends that icons may be taken behind the iconostasis and kept there for 40 days to bless them. For so many people, this is a special event, and a comfort.

It is as if the icon goes from profane to holy through the act of blessing. Last year, Fr. Steven Bigham addressed this issue head-on in the Orthodox Arts Journal, and I’ve seen the article making its rounds the past few weeks. Titled “Does the Blessing of Icons Agree with or Contradict the Tradition of the Orthodox Church?,” Fr. Steven’s article addresses the issue clearly and fully, sweeping history for a clear and definitive answer. The article begins with this paragraph:

Orthodox Christians routinely have their icons blessed by a priest or bishop. Bishops often anoint them with Holy Chrism. There are even special services for blessing different kinds of icons: of Christ, of the Mother of God, of feasts, etc. Most people would never imagine putting an unblessed icon in their houses; it would be a kind of sacrilege, but once the icon is blessed — whatever its subject, taste, canonicity, etc. — many think that what was a simple picture before the blessing becomes an icon after, because of the blessing. It becomes at least a “better” icon. Being only a “profane” image before, it becomes “holy” after, because it has been blessed. Very few Orthodox would question this practice which they feel is legitimate, traditional, and totally in agreement with Church Tradition. I hope to show that despite the widespread habit of blessing icons, this practice is not in agreement with Church Tradition, and that it is in fact contrary to it and based on a theology of the icons that is foreign to Orthodoxy.

The strongest argument seems to be the historical evidence. Put simply, Fr. Steven argues, there is no written evidence of icon blessings in the Orthodox Church until the 17th century. It does not exist.

Bolstering his case, Fr. Steven quotes a long section of the Second Council of Nicea. At one point, Nicea II explicitly argues that blessing icons is unnecessary:

[M]any of the sacred things which we have at our disposal do not need a prayer of sanctification, since their name itself says that they are all-sacred and full of grace…. When we signify an icon with a name, we transfer the honor to the prototype; by embracing it and offering to it the veneration of honor, we share in the sanctification.

He also addresses St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, who commented, “The holy icons do not need any special prayer or any application of myron (or chrism),” going on to strongly claim that introducing icon blessing into the Orthodox Church was due to Roman Catholic influence. “Do you see that the prayer which is read over holy pictures is a Papal affair, and not Orthodox: and that it is a modern affair, and not an ancient one?”

The skinny: icons are blessed already because of the figures depicted, and confirmed by the name of the saints on the images. Once an image is distorted or abolished, it returns to its former state of being simply wood and paint, and we dispose of them by reverently burning them. At the end of his article, rather than create another issue for people to argue about or fuss with their bishop or priest over, he suggests a workable solution to this innovative practice would be to replace the icon blessing with an icon dedication ceremony.

Read the whole thing here.

This post was originally run at Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy.

Page Divider for Author Bios

Jamey Bennett is curator of A Field Guide to the Orthodox Church and attends St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton. He lives in South Florida with his wife Alison and three beagles. You can follow him on twitter.

The Lord’s Prayer part three: Kingdom and Will

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

-Matthew 6:10

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.

– Opening for all Divine services in the Orthodox Church

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We are people of the Kingdom. We have a Lord, a Kyrios, a King. One Godhead in three persons: God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We are part of His Kingdom. Indeed the Kingdom is within us! “For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:20-21

For an interesting meditation on the idea of the Kingdom being “in our midst” and “within us” see my To Ponder on the word ἐντός.

Christ-PantokratorWhen we gather as church or when we pray alone in our closet we must make present the Kingdom of God. “Thy Kingdom come” is a petition for just this. It is a request to be a subject in the Kingdom – to be in the Kingdom of heaven here on earth and actualize it within our hearts.

This petition also has an eschatological character. In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, speaking of Christ we say “He shall come again with Glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” We are also looking forward to resurrection – to life eternal in the Kingdom.

Naturally coupled with our desire for the Kingdom is a desire for the will of God to be done. “Thy will be done.” Here we are placing ourselves personally in the Kingdom by aligning our will with the will of the Father. “Father…not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Christ the perfect man reveals in himself this perfect union of our will with the will of the Father.

“For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:40

Brothers and sisters let us always desire the Kingdom of Heaven, perfectly submitting our will to the will of the Father in the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

An Icon of Pentecost

MosesLawThe slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness,
Proclaimed the law written by God;
For shaking the dust from his mind’s eye,
He sees the One Who Is, and is initiated
Into knowledge of the Spirit, as he gives praise with songs inspired.
– Irmos from Pentecost
     Pentecost is the feast of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks in ancient Hebrew tradition. Celebrated fifty days after Passover – Pentecost is Greek for fiftieth day – it is the commemoration of the giving of the Torah. Moses, after leading the people out of bondage to Egypt, gives the Torah. The Passover and Exodus prefigure Christ’s Pascha, the new Passover. Christ has lead us out of bondage to death. He has passed over from death to life. On the fiftieth day after His glorious resurrection we hold festival. Instead of the giving of the Torah – the teaching or instruction – we are given, as Christ Himself says in the book of John, the “Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26
     The descent of the Holy Spirit upon those gathered in the upper room is the beginning of the Church. We are in the Church because of Pentecost. I will not reprint here the telling from Acts, but do urge you to read it and meditate upon it. Plum the depths of Luke’s account and you will find reward. Instead let us today ponder the icon of Pentecost in an effort to enter into the feast with more attentiveness and clarity.
     In my parish, this icon hangs on the back wall of the nave above the doors to the narthex.
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I would like to focus on two aspects of it. The first is the Theotokos at the center. The second is that she is flanked by Peter and Paul and the rest of the Apostles.
     Tzanfournaris_Emmanuel_-_The_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Theotokos at the center reveals a typological aspect of her life. She is many things to us, but here we see her as a type of icon of the Church. Through the Holy Spirit she brought Christ into the world: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Luke 1:35

     So too the Church in and by the Holy Spirit brings Christ into the world, in both a mystical and carnal sense. The Gospel of Christ is communicated by the Holy Spirit. Prayer for the world is accomplished in the Holy Spirit. The bread and wine – offered upon the altar on behalf of all and for all – at the epiclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit) becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The second element I wish to draw attention to is the Apostles and more specifically Peter and Paul. Obviously Paul was not with the disciples and the women at the Descent of the Holy Spirit. By placing Paul among those in the upper room the icon reveals the mystical reality of the church.  Paul is an Apostle. The Apostle to the Gentiles. Nearly half of the books comprising the New Testament are attributed to him. Here in Peter and Paul we see another image of the Church. Peter and the twelve represent the Israelites – Paul the Gentiles. Here is the Church – the fullness of humanity gathered in the Holy Spirit.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”         Romans 8:26-27

Oh Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,

Who art everywhere present and fillest all things,

Treasury of blessings and giver of life,

Come and abide in us, cleanse us from all impurity,

And save our souls, O Good One.

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Symbolism in the Iconostasis

The symbolism of the iconostasis

There are those among us who have put no real thought into what the iconostasis is. We know that it separates the altar from the nave, but what is it really?

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Using the image above, we will be focusing on numbers 1, 2, 5 and 9.

Number 1: This is usually the icon of the Theotokos. More accurately, this is an icon of the Mother of God holding the Incarnate Word, Christ.

Number 2: This is almost always an icon if Christ, enthroned in some variation; the resurrected God-man, holding the Gospels.

Number 5: These are the royal doors, the gateway to the Holy of Holies. The doors will normally contain icons of the four evangelists. And above them will be an icon of the Annunciation, the announcement of the virgin’s conception. This is the bridge between Number 1 and Number 2 as told by Luke (1:26-38 KJV):“ And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”

Number 9: This is the image of the Mystical Supper. The whole of the Church is built upon this belief; that what we partake of is in fact the body and blood of Christ. We are participants in His life.  As the priest says in the Eucharistic prayers: “Holy and most Holy art Thou in Thy glorious majesty, Who hast so loved the world That Thou gavest Thine only-begotten Son, That whosoever believeth on Him Should not perish but have everlasting life, Who, when He had come And had performed all that was appointed for our sakes, In the night on which he was given up, or In which, rather, He did give himself For the life of the world, Took bread in His holy and pure and sinless hands And when He had given thanks, and blessed it, and sanctified it, He gave it to His holy disciples, saying: Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you For the remission of sins. And in like manner, after supper He took the cup, saying: Drink ye all of this: this is my Blood of the New Testament, Which is shed for you, and for many For the remission of sins…..Remembering this commandment of salvation And all those things which for our sakes were brought to pass, the Cross, the Grave, the Resurrection on the third day, The Ascension into Heaven, the Sitting on the right hand, The Second and glorious Advent- Thine own of thine own we offer unto Thee, In behalf of all and for all…”

All of these icons, together, are reminders of the Incarnation of the Word. But, more importantly, for the faithful Orthodox, they are a reminder that we, the people, are living, breathing and experiencing, in this very day, and throughout all of time, the Incarnation.

“God became man so that man might become god.” -St. Athanasius

What are some of the ramifications of God becoming human?

When The Son became human and shared in our life, He shared His Life with us -the life of God. Sanctifying humankind by His incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension, Christ then sends the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life. We begin our prayers by calling on the Holy Spirit and stating He is “everywhere present and fillest all things.” If we were always conscious of this belief, what changes would be wrought in our lives?

We experience God in His Energies, not only in the spiritual realm, but in the material world. In the Church’s mysteries or sacraments (from the root word Sacred), such as the Eucharist or Baptism, we experience Grace in and through material means (oil, water, bread and wine). Following this same model, we venerate relics and take pilgrimages. We kiss icons and venerate the saints. As St. Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938) said “The Lord so loved man that He gave the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit man became like unto God. Those who do not believe this, and do not pray to the Saints, have not learned how deeply the Lord loves man and how He has exalted him.”

Through the Incarnation and the descent of the Holy Spirit we become partakers in the Life of God here in this world – in this body . “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” 1 Corinthians 6:19.

Let us remember Genesis 1:31 “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.”

– שְׁמוּאֵל