Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Icons at Church

Knowing that some new iconography was going to be installed on the walls of our church last week, I took a few days off from work hoping to be able to watch some of this installation project up close, hoping to get some photos of the installation for the church's website photogallery, and hoping to be able to visit a little with the iconographer while he is in town.

I was fortunate to be able to do all of these things during those few days - YoungerSon came along each day and was as fascinated as I was. Six new icons now adorn the walls of our church, in the spaces between the windows. These new icons, in combination with the icon of the Theotokos over the altar, depict various verses of the Canons. Here are the new icons (forgive the glare from the flash of my cheap camera, and click on the images for a better look):

I was amazed at just how "at home" they looked, right from the minute they were put up on the walls - how the whole interior of the church was sort of tied together by the new iconography on the walls. It's almost as if the whole interior of the church is one large icon. The St. Paul paper wrote a little piece on the project in this past Saturday's paper.

What a good several days it was! A couple of folks from the church (including YoungerSon and me) assisted in various ways - and even though our tasks were quite small, it was a blessing to feel a part of the project. Iconographer Nick Papas was patient and gracious in the midst of his work to answer my many questions not only about this particular project, but about iconography in general - gave me lots of food for thought.

Now I'm off to assemble a couple of pages of photos of the installation for the church's website photogallery.

Thanks be to God for this wonderful work which will teach and inspire those who see it for many years to come!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tender Mercy

The icons of the “Tender Mercy” type show the Christ Child pressing his left cheek close to the right cheek of his Mother. Here the Theotokos again represents the Church of Christ, thereby displaying the fullness of love between God and man, a love that can only be achieved within the bosom of the Church, the Mother. Love here bridges heaven and earth, the things of God and the things of men; and this unity is expressed in the touching of the faces and the halos.

The Theotokos is pensive, as she presses her Son to herself. She envisions His way of the cross, His life full of sufferings. The almond-shaped eyes, the narrow nose, and the dark shadows in the face - all these features have a dematerializing effect, stressing the Divine.

(HT: a wonderful page of information about the various types of icons of the Theotokos)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dance Dance Revolution

For Bach lovers, like me!

HT: My friend, Dash

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Weekend Update

What a fine weekend it has been! Normally when it's been cold and rainy all weekend, I'd be inclined to whine about it, but it's been so dry here in recent weeks, that the rain this weekend has come as a welcome blessing.

Because of the rain, we busied ourselves indoors and got a few things done inside for a change, which was long overdue.

I spent some time working on an icon of the Theotokos, which is almost done. It needs some touch up, a couple of nimbuses/halos, some lettering, and a couple of coats of varnish. Because I'm a beginner when it comes to painting icons, I spend lots of time practicing, and I try to practice using materials that are inexpensive (until I feel ready enough to pony up and buy the $80 gesso board - maybe when I take another class.) But the board I used for this particular icon was the cheapest board I've ever found. And as soon as I started to lay paint on it I found out why it was so inexpensive...the board seemed to almost repel the paint. As if it had some slick coating on it. The packaging said that it had a gesso finish - I have my doubts. But I got off to a good beginning with it, so I didn't want to scrap it and start over. Yet the board and paint have fought me at every turn, and it has taken several coats of paint on everything to cover the surface.

Our older hens decided that it was time for a dustbath on Saturday - and because of the rain, their dustbath had turned to mud. No matter to them - they made it a mudbath and rolled around in the mud for almost an hour. By all outward appearances, they had the time of their lives, and they emerged as the sorriest looking wet and black chickens ever. Somehow, magically, when they came down from the coop this morning, most of the mud was off of them and they looked sorta fresh actually. (The hens pictured here are supposed to be red!)

Today is Pentecost in the Orthodox Church - and our church's parish feast. It was a beautiful liturgy. At the end of the service we had a procession around the church as it was blessed on it's feast day, then returned inside for the end of the liturgy and the kneeling prayers. After liturgy we had a celebratory potluck luncheon before heading home.

Here are a couple of photos from the blessing of the church building today:

The rest of these photos can be seen here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Not For Lightweights

A friend forwarded me a link to a great essay today. It's an essay about a Baptist pastor's first visit to an Orthodox Church. I'll cross-post it below:

Last Sunday was the 4th of 13 in my sabbatical time. Each of them is precious to me. Each week I am choosing a place and a way to worship. I’m not a church tourist, hoping to see new things. I’m seeking spiritual experiences. I want to worship. Saturday night Jeanene and I still hadn’t decided where to go. I experienced something common to our culture but new to me. The “Where do you want to go to church - I don’t know where do YOU want to go to church” conversation. I found the Saint Anthony the Great website. It's an Orthodox church that has beautiful Byzantine art in the sanctuary. We decided to go there.

Shelby and Lillian went with us. On the way we warned them that this was going to be different. “They might not have changed their worship service much in a thousand years or so,” I told the girls.

That was an understatement.

Saint Anthony the Great isn't just old school. It's "styli and wax tablets" old school. We arrived ten minutes early for worship and the room was already filled with people lighting candles and praying. There was one greeter. I said, “We don’t know what to do.” She handed me a liturgy book and waved us inside.

Pews? We don’t need no stinking pews! Providing seats for worshipers is SO 14th century. Gorgeous Byzantine art, commissioned from a famous artist in Bulgaria. Fully robed priests with censors (those swinging incense thingies). Long, complex readings and chants that went on and on and on. And every one of them packed full of complex, theological ideas. It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation. And just to make sure it wasn't too easy for us, everything was read in a monotone voice and at the speed of an auctioneer.

I heard words and phrases I had not heard since seminary. Theotokos, begotten not made, Cherubim and Seraphim borne on their pinions, supplications and oblations. It was an ADD kids nightmare. Robes, scary art, smoking incense, secret doors in the Iconostas popping open and little robed boys coming out with golden candlesticks, chants and singing from a small choir that rolled across the curved ceiling and emerged from the other side of the room where no one was singing. The acoustics were wild. No matter who was speaking, the sound came out of everywhere. There was so much going on I couldn't keep up with all the things I couldn't pay attention to.

Lillian was the first to go down. After half an hour of standing, she was done. Jeanene took her over to a pew on the side wall. She slumped against Jeanene’s shoulder and stared at me with this stunned, rather betrayed look on her face.

“How could you have brought us to this insane place?”

Shelby tried to tough it out. We were following along in the 40 page liturgy book that was only an abbreviation of the service were were experiencing. I got lost no less than 10 times. After 50 minutes Shelby leaned over and asked how much longer the service would be. I was trying to keep from locking my knees because my thighs had gotten numb. I showed her the book. We were on page 15. I flipped through the remaining 25 pages to show her how much more there was. Her mouth fell open.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah. And I think there's supposed to be a sermon in here somewhere.”

“They haven’t done the SERMON yet? What was that guy doing who said all that stuff about…all that stuff?”

“I don’t know?” I said.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. I looked around and saw the door at the back of the sanctuary swinging shut.

And then there was one.

I made it through the entire 1 hour and 50 minutes of worship without sitting down, but my back was sore. Shelby came back toward the end. When it came time for communion I suggested that we not participate because I didn't know what kind of rules they have for that. We stayed politely at the back. A woman noticed and brought some of the bread to us, bowing respectfully as she offered it. Her gesture of kindness to newcomers who were clearly struggling to understand everything was touching to me.

Okay, so I started crying a little. So what? You would have too, I bet.

After it was over another woman came to speak with us. She said, “I noticed the girls were really struggling with having to stand.”

“Yeah,” I said. “This worship is not for lightweights.”

She laughed and said, "yes," not the least bit ashamed or apologetic.

So what did I think about my experience at Saint Anthony the Great Orthodox Church?

I LOVED IT. Loved it loved it loved it loved it loved it.

In a day when user-friendly is the byword of everything from churches to software, here was worship that asked something of me. No, DEMANDED something of me.

“You don’t know what Theotokos means? Get a book and read about it. You have a hard time standing for 2 hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape. It is the Lord our God we worship here, mortal. What made you think you could worship the Eternal One without pain?"

See, I get that. That makes sense to me. I had a hard time following the words of the chants and liturgy, but even my lack of understanding had something to teach me.

“There is so much for you to learn. There is more here than a person could master in a lifetime. THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU ARE. Your understanding is not central here. These are ancient rites of the church. Stand with us, brother, and you will learn in time. Or go and find your way to an easier place if you must. God bless you on that journey. We understand, but this is the way we do church.”

I’m going back again on Sunday. I started to write, “I’m looking forward to it.” But that’s not right. I’m feeling right about it.

And feeling right is what I'm looking for.

Update: This was actually written on May 26 or 27. I went back to Saint Anthony the Great on Sunday. I found I was following along a little better. I'm REALLY getting a lot out of Orthodox worship. Shelby and Lillian declined to go with me this time.