Posts Tagged ‘Shekinah’

Uncreated Star of Bethlehem

Five years ago I alluded to this, but I’ve just seen concise discussion of it from no less than the Father of the Church St. John Chrysostom, and from certain Old Testament prophecies ‘in its Light.’

It also makes me think of how some non-Orthodox “got saved” by God….  The Apolytikion (a hymn) given on this page brings home the point.  The Magi are commemorated as Saints on Dec. 25.  (Recall that Orthodoxy commemorates the Magi’s Adoration of the Incarnate YHWH not on Jan. 6 but at Christmas; our Great Feast of Theophany [Epiphany] focuses on His Baptism in the Jordan by St. John the Forerunner [Baptist].)  OrthodoxWiki mentions the memory of their eventual baptism by St. Thomas the Apostle to the Indo-Iranians, and service to The Church as Bishops.

What about the mentions of an angel?  Readers of this blog may recall our discussions of the uncreated Logos-Angel from many Old Testament theophanies … highlighted in the writings of Greek-American theologian Fr. John S. Romanides (†2001) … so this need not be a problem, especially because Orthodoxy reminds us that the Divine Hypostatic Logos is not circumscribed by His Incarnation, ie, not ‘completely contained’ in or limited by His Human Body.  Could He appear as Infant and “Angel” at the same time?  Unusual perhaps, but I don’t see why not, although I must confess I haven’t seen this explicitly discussed anywhere yet.

One Web source I read said Western European pagans, even before Christianization, appreciated this, as it were their ‘cameo’ appearance at the very beginning of Christianity’s New Testament.  Similarly, I can say that even as a blond Western Catholic child here in the States, I was fascinated by and appreciated my family’s small wood-and-hay(?) Nativity set featuring non-Mediterranean-looking “kings”: a blond, an African, and an East Asian!*  I also read that extracanonical accounts ‘internationalizing’ them are quite old indeed.  Well, they do “represent the Gentiles,” and foreshadow many more of our ancestors’ conversions to the Faith….  For some reason I thought of the “White” one as some aged King of England — I didn’t know then that that title and State didn’t exist during Christ’s life on Earth!

I couldn’t leave this off without a plug for Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s “Christmas Star” (or another picture of it).  One night during college, around 1985-86, I was driving around town lost (though sober)** and someone told me I almost knocked it down or something!  It sits atop Wyandotte Hill/South Mountain, one of Penna.’s many long, skinny, relatively-low,*** ridge-like mountains, that divides the Lehigh Valley from the main Philadelphia area, as well as from my undergraduate school campus just south of Bethlehem.

And, twelve “kings”?  Catholic priest / sociologist / novelist Andrew Greeley’s Russian (Orthodox) lay student / artist / mystic / beauty / love interest in his 1997 Christmas / spiritual classic Star Bright! (available here) alludes to a 12-magi tradition, without many details except to say something I haven’t encountered personally in Orthodoxy yet, that “We Russians know there were 12 kings” (or words to that effect).  But an English translation of the apocryphal Syriac Revelation of the Magi has recently come out, and it names twelve.  Furthermore, if one Amazon reviewer reports correctly, if you have any Western European ancestry, you may have one or more Magi in your family tree.  How’s that for Gentile foreshadowing?!  Other reviews lead me to doctrinal caution about the Revelation [Apocalypse??] of the Magi, but also hint (seemingly unknowingly) at o/Orthodox Uncreated Energies Theology perhaps.  But some of the kings named by the Armenian reviewer have names or associations I might have encountered a long time ago while tracing my Norman Irish ancestors (Hibernicized McCoogs) into traditional medieval West European royal and noble genealogies … the kind today’s experts say are dubious, but were part of our cultures for most of the last thousand years if not longer … and geneticists now say we might all share in some way.  (Something like some Assyrian kings back there too, being Semites, traditionally then Kin of God!)  (This is another review I saw of it, from a Catholic perspective.)

PS: Many Years to Fr. Greeley!  Glad to see he’s doing better some!  Thank God!

(*–The one with the wind-up music box playing “Silent Night.”)

(**–If you can read and comprehend this without getting a headache, you’re a better driver than I was!)

(***–Compared to, say, the Adirondacks, or the Rockies.)

I contributed this to a Catholic Answers forum thread while looking for something else over there:

Originally Posted by Jimmy B
What is the difference between Catholic Salvation and non-Catholic Christian Salvation? Is there Salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church?

I can’t speak with authority about Eastern Catholics. But the Latin Church teaches that salvation is to see God’s Essence – the Beatific Vision – after one’s death. The normal way is considered to die in good standing with the Latin Church, without any unabsolved mortal sins on one’s soul, and spend some ‘time’ in purgatory being “purged” of unabsolved venial sins and the residue of absolved venial and mortal sins, before entering heaven. (Forgive me, I forget the normal terminology for the ‘residue’. Also, “time in purgatory” is not understood as ‘temporal time,’ since it’s outside the space-time continuum so to speak. Nevertheless…) One’s time in purgatory may be shortened by the prayers of the living (also their difficulties, good deeds, Masses, or Communions, offered up for them) and by partial indulgences obtained by oneself before death or by survivors after one’s death, or abolished by a plenary indulgence obtained by oneself near one’s death or by a survivor afterward. Any good deeds, prayers, extra sacraments received by one[, as well as the use of priest-blessed ‘sacramentals’ such as medals, rosaries, relics, etc.,]* are technically optional and considered signs of ‘extra’ – desirable but superfluous – holiness, although they are also considered means of acquiring created grace from God, a substance in one’s soul to help one resist temptation in the first place. But if you die with one unabsolved mortal sin on your soul, you go directly to hell for eternity. Persons who are not visibly in “full communion with Rome” may be saved if they have not with full knowledge and culpability rejected this communion, and have lived their lives following their best lights or conscience in good faith, avoiding or turning back from sin and doing good.

The Orthodox Church (which originally included the Patriarchate of Rome) teaches and has always taught that salvation is to see and participate in God’s Uncreated Energies – in which He is fully present – hopefully even in life – because His Essence is neither visible to nor participable by creatures, ever, because the Uncreated is so far beyond the created. The normal way is to believe right doctrine, be joined to the Orthodox Church, and follow its way of Purification, Illumination, and Glorification (theosis, aka “deification” or divinization, but not apotheosis), including resisting and repenting of sin, partaking of the Mysteries (“sacraments”) of the Orthodox Church, prayer and worship, fasting and self-discipline / self-restraint / asceticism, almsgiving, following Holy Tradition and the Canons of the Church, practicing co-suffering love / charity / philanthropy, etc. (These things are not considered optional.) Purgatory, created “grace,” indulgences, a visible Divine Essence, and differentiating mortal and venial sins, are doctrines which became part of the tradition only of the Patriarchate of Rome subsequent to its original embrace of o/Orthodoxy. God’s Energies are what the Apostles Peter, James, and John saw as Light emanating from the Lord’s body at his Transfiguration, and many others from the living bodies of the Saints since then, and what were seen as “divided tongues as of fire” filling the Church at the first Christian Pentecost in Jerusalem, among many other instances (including the face of the Holy Patriarch Moses after his theophany on Mt. Sinai). God’s Energies are His activities and attributes, Uncreated Grace, seen by the Orthodox Saints as the Glory of God, the fire in Moses’ Burning Bush, the smoke that covered Sinai at the giving of the Law and the Temple after its construction (“Shekinah”), the fire/cloud that led the Israelites for 40 years, etc. Everything that exists has essence and energies, but the (o/Orthodox) Fathers of the Church learned this about God first not from human philosophy but their own vision of God’s Glory, their own Glorification. Theosis / glorification is becoming like God, though Energetically, not Essentially; reacquiring the God-like-ness our first parents lost (the “likeness” in Genesis’ “image and likeness”): “God became human so humans could become God,” as more than one Father of the Church expressed it. Glorification, ie, salvation, cannot be earned or deserved, but God bestows it freely on those who prepare themselves as described above. We will all see God in His Energies after the Last Judgment, the saved as Light, the rest as painful purifying fire for eternity. God in His Love does not force Himself on anyone. If anyone outside the Orthodox Church is saved – which may be possible – it’s because of God’s Grace through the Orthodox Church, His Body (which is not the same as Fr. Rahner’s “anonymous Christians,” nor according identical regard for other Christian groups’ rituals as for the Holy Mysteries of Christ’s Orthodox Church). The fact that non-Orthodox, even non-Christians, have sometimes seen actual Uncreated Light, is proof of this for faith … although some “light visions” may be demonic in character, as “Even the devil can appear as an angel of light,” so one really needs an Orthodox spiritual father or mother to help discern it.

How the Patriarchate of Rome’s teaching changed from the latter to the former, I’m not certain.

(*–Material in brackets disallowed by CA’s time limit on editing your own posts. Whatever.)

is the name of this entirely Orthodox icon.

If she kind of looks to you like Jesus’ twin sister if he would’ve had one, you’re not far off! The “IC” and “XC” at the top are abbreviations for Iesous Christos, Jesus Christ in Greek, meant to leave no doubt as to the iconographer’s intentions. But why feminine, why the wings, and what does any of this have to do with “Stillness”?

There’s alot of theology packed into this particular icon. Some like it because it strikes them as feminist (even though it predates modern feminism by centuries!), especially when they learn about the tie-in with Sophia, Greek for Wisdom, ie, the Wisdom of God, which as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:24, is none other than Christ. The word Sophia is feminine in Greek, a tradition entirely supported by Proverbs 9:1-3, where Wisdom is said to have prepared her feast for people. For that matter, “He Hagia Hesychia,” the inscription in the bottom of the frame of this version of the icon, is also feminine; it means “Holy Stillness” (sometimes “Silence”).

This Christ-figure is also an Angel, hence the wings. Several times in the Old Testament, an Angel appears to a Prophet or Patriarch. Except that sometimes the Angel says “I AM the Lord/YHWH” (Christ is YHWH), or is identified as the Lord (Genesis 18), rather than “the Lord says.” Now, since nothing created directly reveals the Uncreated, ie God, that means at those times it wasn’t really a created angel, but GOD Godself! When the Word of God is heard, that’s the Pre-Incarnate Logos, the personal “Word of God”…one of whose Messianic titles in the Septuagint* Greek version of Isaiah 9:6 is “Angel of Great Counsel [sic].” Hence the figure in this icon is also sometimes referred to in theology as the Logos Angel. (This is also a good time to bring in the fact that the Hebrew word for the glorious appearance of God in His Uncreated Energies, Shekina, is also feminine.)

(*-The Septuagint Greek Old Testament is about a thousand years older than the Masoretic Text Hebrew on which most Christian Old Testaments used in the West today are based.)

“Stillness” comes in, in this way. The form of spiritual practice incorporating the Jesus Prayer I’ve mentioned before is called Hesychasm, from the Greek Hesychia. Whether one uses the Jesus Prayer or some other short prayer, and whether one is in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or later on in Orthodoxy, its goal is purification/self-discipline, Stillness of soul, to experience the appearance of God in Glory, W/wisdom, the revelation of God, etc….all embodied, as discussed above, by this feminine, winged Christ-figure.

God doesn’t necessarily appear in this way ever, but the icon is evocative (as well as provocative!). And since it’s based on the Incarnate Jesus Christ, it’s not at all blasphemous.