Tuesday, June 19, 2012


This is the second image in the series. It's the Annunciation to the Virgin of the Divine plan. Gabriel's right hand shows only three fingers because it forms the name of Jesus Christ in the manner of the Orthodox priestly blessing. His fingers form the name for he is both pronouncing it and conveying the blessing but it is hidden because as yet the Virgin is the first human to hear it. His left hand holds the staff os his office as a messenger and servant of the Most High. 'Full of grace' he calls her. She who is sinless and devoid of any evil, is also full of merit and virtue. She is as humanity was meant to be and she through her 'yes' opens the way for what humanity will become. The little spool of thread in her hand is a reference both to the garment without seam that she will weave for her son but also to her weaving a body for him from her own flesh. From the very top of the icon the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove with rays of light flashing forth. He descends at the Virgins and as once He hovered over the waters at the creation of the Earth so He comes to dwell in her who is to be the Mother of God. The Virgin, in traditional inner blue and out purple, stands to receive God's message. The blue denotes her sanctified human nature while the purple refers to the Divine glory that overshadows her. He 'yes' makes our 'yes' possible. In this moment the road to Calvary and the empty tomb are opened. Her heart will be pierced by a sword of sorrow because it is utterly open to the will of God. One small note: the lights on Gabriel's robe are sometimes called 'lyric lights' as if the very poetry of his being were shining through his clothes.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Some years back two of my fellow Capuchins and I made a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the heart of Orthodoxy. We visited the monasteries of Xenophontos, Gregoriou, Dionysiou, Paulou, and the skette of Ayia Anna. It is a place to which we would like to return one day. While there and in Thessaloniki I collected as many prints of icons as I could and among my collection there are packs of postcards featuring icons. This is the birth of the Virgin. The virgin appears as a baby in the bottom left as she is prepared for her bath and in her crib at the feet of her mother, St. Anne. At the bottom right a young girl is weaving. St. Anne is the chief character of this icon robed in red and contemplating the extraordinary events that have accompanied the birth of her daughter. Behind her she embrace Joachim her husband ad reference to the conception of the Virgin. To the upper left Joachim is in prayer while at the top right the angel comes to tell him of God's favourable answer. Facing St. Anne the ladies approach with spools of thread and food near a table with seems set for a meal. The spool like the distaff in the hands of the girl at the lower right is a symbol of Anne's having 'woven' the flesh of Mary in her womb (Ps. 139). This icon celebrates the faith and courage of those who prepared the way for our Saviour. These are the grandparents of Christ and their struggles made the conception and birth of the Virgin possible which in turn led to the Incarnation of the Word. Christ was not born in vacuum but into the history of a family and a people, into the history of the world. God does not stand aloof. You will always find Him in the lowest place.


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