The Word as Image: Paschal Iconography

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord, Redeemer, God and Only True Savior,

CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!

RESURRECTION ODE

Let us who have beheld the Resurrection of Christ, worship our Holy Lord Jesus, Who is alone without sin. We worship Thy Cross, O Christ, and praise and glorify Thy Holy Resurrection. For Thou art our God, and we know none other beside Thee, and we call upon Thy Name. Come, all ye faithful, let us worship Christ's Holy Resurrection, for behold, through the Cross, joy has come to the whole world. We praise His Resurrection, and forever glorify the Lord. He endured the Cross for us, and by death destroyed Death. Jesus, having risen from the grave, as He foretold, has given to us Eternal Life and the Great Mercy.

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TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):

On April 28th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Nine Martyrs of Cyzicus; Theognis, Rufus, Antipater, Theostichus, Artemas, Magnus, Theodotos, and Philemon; our Righteous Father Memnon the Wonderworker; Holy Martyrs Vitalis and Valeria of Milan; our Righteous Father Cronan, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Roscrea in Ireland; our Righteous Father among the Saints Cyril, Bishop of Turov; our Righteous Father Cyriacus of Kargopol.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Wonderworkers, Holy Egoumenoi, Holy Bishops, O Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

THE HOLY NINE MARTYRS OF CYZICUS. These holy Martyrs, who were from various regions, suffered martyrdom together when they were beheaded in Cyzicus, a city in Asia Minor on the southern coast of the Sea of Marmara.

TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:

Holy Epistle Lesson: Acts 8:5-17
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 6:27-33

INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY FATHERS AND HOLY MOTHERS OF THE CHURCH:

"Although He is so great that He can hold all creation in His palm you can wholly embrace Him" (Saint Gregory of Nyssa)

THE WORD AS IMAGE: PASCHAL ICONOGRAPHY

By Father John Breck, Professor of New Testament and Ethics at Saint Vladimir's Seminary. (Source: The Power of the Word in the Worshipping Church)

"No one could describe the Logos (Word) of the Father; but when He took flesh from you, O Theotokos, He accepted to be described, and restored the fallen image to its former state by uniting it to divine beauty. (Therefore) we confess and proclaim our salvation in Word and Images." --Kontakion, tone 8, Sunday of Orthodoxy

As the sacred image of Orthodox tradition, the icon exercises a twofold function in the life of the Christian community: it serves both as a medium of revelation and as channel of saving grace. Through it, the Word of God comes to expression in form, color and light.

On the one hand, the icon gives dogmatic expression to divine truth; on the other, it communicates that truth to the worshiper by uniting him in faith to the subject it depicts: the incarnate (and therefore visible and representable) Word of God, His Virgin Mother, Angelic beings, or the Saints. Blessed and sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit, the icon renders present in the liturgical worship of the Church the archetype that stands behind it. It creates a mystical communion between the image and the believer, between heaven and earth, and thereby it enables the worship to participate in transcendent, divine life. It is the latter, grace-transmitting aspect, known in the experience of the Church above all through miracle-working icons, that constitutes the "sacramental" nature of the Sacred Image.

This dual revelatory, grace-communicating function can be illustrated by comparing the icon to a window. Many interpreters have viewed these painted panels, frescoes or mosaics as hallowed casements that open out upon eternity, revealing to mortal eyes a glimpse of the invisible world and granting to the limited mind an intelligible conception of transcendent reality. Yet a window not only looks out upon a distant horizon. It also permits light to enter and to fill the room, illuminating everything within it. In similar fashion, the icon offers a vision of the Divine Glory that lies behind every horizon; and it allows that glory to pass through its inherent transparentness to fill and enlighten the lives of those who pray before it.

This iconographic penetration of divine grace and glory into the created and fallen world is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the several icons that depict the mystery of Holy Pascha. Pascha is both the event and the celebration of our salvation, accomplished by the self-abasing love of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Christ. Its theme is given eloquent expression in the familiar "Christ-hymn" of Philippians 2:6-11. Retaining His full divinity yet abandoning every claim to Divine Majesty, the Son assumes in kenotic obedience "the likeness of men, the form of a servant." As the Servant of servants, the Lord of those enslaved by sin and death descends to earth, to take upon Himself the suffering of the lowly and the shameful, agonizing death of the outcast. Descending into the uttermost depths of fallen creation, He bursts asunder by the power of His immortal life the portals of hell that enclose the first and every Adam in the darkness of death. There He banishes the darkness of the paschal dawn He reaches out to grasp the outstretched hand of fallen man, raising him with Himself and enabling him to partake of the glory of His Divinity.

"Thou hast descended into the depths of the earth, O Christ, and hast broken down the eternal portals which imprison those who are held captive; and after three days, like Jonah from the whale, Thou hast risen from the tomb."

"O my Savior, Who as God hast offered Thyself of Thine own will to the Father as a living and unslain sacrifice, by rising from the tomb Thou didst raise up Adam and all his race." --Paschal Canon, Ode 6

This image of the descending-ascending Son of God is beautifully and poignantly depicted in the traditional paschal icon entitled "The Descent Into Hell." Unlike Western art that proclaims the resurrection by showing Christ rising victoriously from the tomb, Orthodox iconography preserves a paradoxical yet vital balance between suffering and joy, humiliation and victory, death and life. "Through the Cross joy has come into all the world," declares the Troparion of the Resurrection. Because of the fall of man, by which the first Adam willfully rejected grace and with it life, the Author of Life must enter by His Own Free Will into the realm of death in order to release Adam from captivity and united him to Himself, thereby imparting to him the gift of eternal, divine life. "What is not assumed," the Holy Fathers affirm, "cannot be saved." Therefore "our Lord Jesus Christ, the Logos (Word) of God, of His boundless love, became what we are that He might make us what He is"; "The Logos (Word) became man in order that we might be made divine."

In becoming man, the Son not only assumes the earthly limitations of human existence, exposing Himself to the conditions of space and time, temptations and bodily need. He must also descend with man into the depths of his nothingness, the abyss of annihilation where the flame of the divine image within flickers with threatened extinction. The full extent of Christ's voluntary self-emptying only becomes visible, therefore, upon the Cross. For this reason, the "icon of the Resurrection" never depicts the event of the resurrection as such. Rather, it takes up the theme of the descent into hell, mentioned only in passing in the Scripture, but known in the experience of the Church to be the very cornerstone of redemption. The paschal icon thus proclaims to eyes of faith that Life itself has penetrated into the realm of death to perform a new act of creation: a transformation of the Old Adam into a perfect likeness of the new man, the glorified Son of God.

"O Christ our Defender, Thou hast put to shame the adversary of man, using as shield Thine ineffable Incarnation. Taking man's form, Thou hast now bestowed upon him the joy of becoming Godlike: for it was in the hope of this that of old we fell from on high into the dark depths of the earth." (cf Gen 3:5).

Paschal iconography, however, embraces themes other than the descent of Christ into hell. The paschal motif itself is implicitly expressed by festal icons of the Nativity and of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, as well as by the more obvious images of the Raising of Lazarus and of the Myrrhophores or Spice-bearing Women.

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Please note: Once again you are taught the significance of the sacred iconography within the Holy Orthodox Church. How the Orthodox theology is revealed through it and how "as hallowed casements that open out upon eternity, revealing to mortal eyes a glimpse of the invisible world...the icon offers a vision of the Divine Glory that lies beyond every horizon..."

It is time now for all to begin to think, feel and act as Orthodox Christians who appreciate the Holy Orthodox Tradition and Faith.

 

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CHRIST IS RISEN! TRULY HE IS RISEN! ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ! ΑΛΗΘΩΣ ΑΝΕΣΤΗ!

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George