Friday, July 22, 2016

The Importance of Mary of Magdala according to Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Ohrid

Now as long as the living Jesus was with the first Church she was all right. His life was the source of her life; His authority and power meant her existence and unity. But when the Shepherd was smitten the sheep were scattered. When the followers of Christ saw Him powerless and dead they denied Him and fell back to their natural instinct of self-defence, and the first Church died with the death of Christ. It was like the green corn in the field smitten by a flail to the very root. The owner of the corn walks in the field and looks with despair on his perished corn. But it happens often that after a few days the field begins under the sunshine to flourish anew, and the corn grows beautifully and brings forth plenty of fruit.

Mary of Magdala and the other Mary brought this first sunshine over the smitten corn. "He is alive!" This was the tidings of the women on the second morning after His death. This tidings about the living Lord Jesus con-verted Peter and the other disciples again to Christianity. "He is alive"—that was the greatest word ever uttered by any human tongue since the Church was founded. Yea, through this very word the drooping Church was brought again to life. Whatever utterances Peter made during Christ's life were as dead as stone compared with Mary Magdalene's tidings of the living Lord after the catastrophe of His death. The beautiful and true words: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," had no meaning whatever for the future of Christianity in comparison with the certainty that the dead Christ had risen, i.e. that He was Lord even over death. Therefore if I could be convinced that a grain of good as small as the mustard seed should result from the strange quarrels about the primacy of this or that Church—or this or that bishop—I would be very sorry that there did not exist a Church founded upon the memory of Mary Magdalene. For Mary Magdalene, and not St Peter, expressed the first the absolutely decisive revelation, church making and world-changing. "He is alive" was this decisive revelation.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

An Uneven Square: A New Blog that will focus on Modern Greek Art

From studying the monuments of our religious tradition, I have drawn conclusions about the symmetrically unsymmetrical and about the fact that an uneven square may be geometrically more correct than an even one, about rhythm as the basic element explaining the world and human life… - N.G. Pentzikis

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Pantocrator of Gracanica by Fr. Stamatis Skliris

They painted a beautiful, robust Pantocrator, combining humanity and divine glory. But the look in His eyes has something special, which deserves special mention. The Pantocrator’s eyebrows are emphatically raised, so that Christ’s eyes are particularly focused on the believer, who converses in prayer with the God-Man. His raised eyebrows draw the facial muscles upward and create horizontal wrinkles which furrow the forehead. He “leans” over the viewer. He pays special attention to that person, not passing him over indifferently, but looking at him with wide-open eyes that raise the upper eyelids, wrinkling the forehead of the God-Man as if He loves man so deeply that He suffers with him, considering his plight, desiring to support him, to help him. Here we have the central idea and theological reality that characterizes the Astrapas school—God’s humanity. Gracanica’s uniqueness lies in the fact that the so-called Pantocrator, which inspires liturgical awe, is depicted not just as the God-Man—i.e., God who assumed human nature—but as Co-Man, identifying Himself with man in his suffering and helplessness, identifying Himself with human pain through His suffering on the Cross and His humiliating death. Through His philanthropic gaze, the majestic Pantocrator lowers Himself and meets His creation. The eternal and infinite meets the finite in a particular place and time, within history, where they reconcile within the same fate.

This composition, with its wrinkles in the forehead, was not repeated in other Byzantine churches, perhaps because its boldness brought it to the threshold of the psychologization of the divine drama. The drama of the Cross is not confined to the human emotions of pain and torment, but within the Church’s liturgy is illuminated by the overcoming of tragedy by the Resurrection of Christ, who thus becomes the Savior of both man and all creation. Gracanica’s Pantocrator is, therefore, truly unique, since it was not copied from anyone. It is original and loving, and for this reason it constitutes a portrait of God, as Christ’s wonderfully loving eyes have revealed it to human beings. The riddle of human destiny finds its solution in the Pantocrator’s theandric gaze.

The article comes from Fr. Stamatis' wonderful website:

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Paschal Homily by Professor Christos Yannaras

"Let him damn me a hundred, a thousand times, it is enough that he exists."
This sentence, placed in the mouth of a character in a theatrical work by Jean-Paul Sartre, is a mark and a measure (I dare to believe) of a revelatory metaphysical hunger.
Does he exist? The question lingers (and will always linger) unanswered. "If I must say whether or not God exists, I am closer to His truth when saying that He does not exist, since God is something entirely different from that which I recognize as existence." (A confession of great boldness from Maximus the Confessor)
If God were a given in Newtonian physics, there would not have been any rational human person. And this for the same reason that an infant will never enter the world of language and symbols, the human world, if its mother holds it day and night in her arms and gives it her breast. We are ushered into language and understanding because within the context of the care of the infant the mother is both the joy of presence and the pain of absence - because the need for food is a desire for relation. A God who gives himself as a matter of necessity would abolish the presuppositions for the transformation of need into demand, of desire into language and symbols, into reason and rationality.
Humans are rational because their being is erotic [by “erotic” Professor Yannaras means the love that takes us outside ourselves] and it is erotic because God is absence. But absence means vital lack, painful thirst, and distressing darkness. "I walk in your night," continues Sartre's character. "Give me your hand, tell me, you are the darkness, right? The night - harrowing, complete absence. You are the one present in the all-embracing absence, the one we hear when everything falls silent, the one we see when nothing is visible. Immemorial night, great night that precedes all that there is…"
This Absence humanizes us but we experience it as night and cannot bear it. The reasons for this are difficult to discern. In any case it is clear that instead of Absence we would rather have tangible fetishes, irrefutable evidence of existence and presence. We want to be in possession of certainties, private proofs, and from proofs to derive power. We are interested in ourselves only, God is simply an 'accessory' of our ego. We need Him so that He may lend us self-confidence, authority, social status; so that He may ease our difficulties in life, and be the psychological antidote to our phobias and panics; and finally so that He may 'save' us and guarantee our existence even after death, so that our ego will exist eternally, without end.
But consider now how the 'atheist' Sartre overturns our egocentric (supposedly 'religious') soteriology. "Let him damn me a hundred, a thousand times, it is enough that he exists." The 'atheist', in an unexpected leap, reaches the heights of erotic selflessness. If he exists, that's enough for me, even if I am damned. My foremost desire is Him. If He exists, everything has meaning: my existence and my damnation, the good and the bad, justice and injustice, the world and history. If He exists, everything begins from love and aims at love, everything is related to Him, everything is judged in accordance with the degree to which His manic love for His creatures is reciprocated.
Existence has meaning when life becomes relation - relation is not something that can be destroyed by death. If "even the hairs of your head are all numbered" (Luke 12:7, Matthew 10:30), if there is a Love which composes the miracle of the world, if the wisdom and beauty of creatures call forth in the fullness of relation, then the thirst of the human person has a vital purpose and his hope is realistic. We thirst for life - that is, to be related to Him, not to survive forever as an individual unit, not the hell of the endless loneliness of the ego.
With the brain nothing is explained, countless 'why's' remain unanswered. Why should death cut little children down, why the biological insanity of cancer, why injustice, and why do the unscrupulous come out victorious? Relentless, unbearable questions, without end, show up the human journey as a wild absurdity. And the 'answers' formulated by ideologically driven religions (the 'scientific' apologetics of their governing institutions) crudely offend against the intelligence and dignity of humanity. The blame, they say, lies with the 'freedom' of the human being, not that individual 'freedom' of ours which is ensnared by genetic and socio-historical factors, but rather some dilemma of choice symbolically figured in the 'first' human being (was he a cave man? an ancestor of homo sapiens?) and as a result of his actions we are now faced with the absurdity and horror of human existence.
If we want to get serious, answers might be forthcoming after the leap recommended by Sartre - the leap involved in renouncing egocentric soteriology. In the enthralling pictorial language of so-called 'Byzantine' iconography, by which means was expressed that ecclesiastical experience that is impervious to the uses of power, Christ crucified on the cross is the reality of the Resurrection. This is because death is "trampled upon" only "by means of death", only with the leap towards the height of erotic selflessness.

The 'gospel' of the church is not announced with the language of Apologetics, the language of ideology. It is proclaimed only with the language of the Feast, the language of color and music, of poetry and drama - a language that can be accessed only from within the battle of ascetic self-renunciation.