Posts Tagged ‘Uncreated Light’

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.)

This is common and EXTREMELY IMPORTANT ADVICE for Orthodox, seemingly paradoxical considering all the talk about Uncreated Light, angels, theophanies, visions, etc.  “Even the devil can appear as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  We’re even supposed to avoid visualization-meditation of any kind, which he can make use of.  And if we do see some apparition, we’re not to trust it or obey it, but consult our spiritual parent or priest or bishop.  This is not the same as Western skepticism toward “private revelation” or needing to get “ecclesiastical approval.”  It’s checking your experience with someone who traditionally knew from his or her own confirmed experiences and Divine Gift how to “discern spirits.”  The reason for this is how easily we can delude ourselves regarding spiritual things, in severe form known by the Slavonic word prelest, in Greek plani.  And it’s dangerous because we can be spiritually mis-led and imperil our salvation.  Holy Tradition is full of stories of the greatest Saints and Fathers of the Church who were temporarily deceived or even deluded.

All we do, then, is struggle with life on the Orthodox Way, in The Orthodox Church if available, aided by God’s Energies and an Orthodox spiritual parent.  Purification, period.  Illumination and Glorification / Theosis are in God’s hands and Mercy and Love.

If that doesn’t sound like much, remember this(!), and the great Saint or Father who, as he lay dying in the Monastery, had his brethren around him.  They saw his lips moving, though they couldn’t hear what he was saying, so they asked him.  He said he was seeing an angel, and asking for more time to repent.  They were incredulous: ‘If anyone has purified himself of all his sins and readied himself for God’s Glory, it’s you.’  But he countered, “I’m not sure I have even begun to repent.”  This isn’t “poor self-image;” even my Latin novice-master told us, “The closer you get to the sun, the more cobwebs you see.”  Hence Orthodox prayer asks God ‘merely’ to help us “make a good start.”

From St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ’s Sake, courtesy of this blog:

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear; and what energy!

And a well-known story about advice from St. Macarius the Great about indifference to praise and insult, ‘Insult the Dead.’

Every time I made it to Divine Liturgy while he was with my parish, or just about,* the priest who Chrismated me, preceded Communion with a collective reminder about the o/Orthodox understanding of the Mysteries (sacraments) as special encounters with God’s Uncreated Energies.  I can’t remember it verbatim, but he said Communion is like a fire that risks consuming the unprepared, but purifies those who receive it with preparation, including prayer, fasting, repentance, Confession if necessary, reconciliation with others if necessary, reverence, etc.  I also remember either hearing or reading somewhere – not from him IIRC – a story about someone who once received Communion without preparation, and immediately fell down dead.  I’m reminded of St. Symeon Metaphrastes’ Prayer of Thanksgiving After Communion.  I’m also reminded of Fr. John Romanides’ words about how we will all see God’s Glory in the end, but for those who haven’t struggled for Purification, God’s Energies won’t be experienced as Uncreated Light, but purifying fire: IIUC this fire’s job of purifying is never completed because God is infinitely better than we are, whereas if you’ve at least tried to put yourself on the right trajectory in life, God may, as Orthodox constantly pray, “have mercy.”  And my own conclusion: Created light burns up close but lights at a distance, whereas Uncreated Light lights up close, but burns at a distance.

PS: Nobody’s “worthy” to receive.  The best we can do is prepare, and hope in God’s Mercy.

(*–My health usually prevents me, so I don’t know if he does this all the time.)

NEOPHYTE OPINION ALERT

Numerous Orthodox hymns and prayers include the past tenses of the verb to shine, referring in one way or another to light, often God’s Uncreated Energies as Light, as frequently discussed in this blog, whether directly from a Person of the Trinity, or indirectly through a Saint, Angel, or the Theotokos (God-Deliverer).

Allow me to suggest that in English we prefer shined over shone.  Both are considered valid forms grammatically.  But since shone rhymes with shown, and often in Orthodox contexts the two could be easily confused aurally (e.g., “saints who have shone/shown forth in this land”), shined might be better for us.

In any event, we can remind ourselves when praying, worshiping, singing, etc.

An Akathist (sometimes spelled Akafist or Acathistos, etc.) is a poetic or quasi-poetic devotional service dedicated to a Saint or God Himself, or themed around a Feast day, a need being prayed for, possibly other things.  It’s divided into stanzas, each of which is called an Ekos (Ikos, Oikos) or a Kontakion.  Several times during the year an Orthodox parish might serve the Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, including during the Great Fast as now.

  1. Ekos 7 of this Akathist reads, “The Creator showed us a new creation when He appeared to us who came from Him. For He sprang from a seedless womb, and kept it incorrupt as it was, that seeing the miracle we might sing to Her….”  This “new creation” echoes 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ – Behold! A new creation!”  Never have I associated St. Paul’s “new creation” with Christ’s own Incarnation as in this Akathist, but usually with Genesis and some relatively vague renewal of prelapsarian Creation.  But as o/Orthodox Christianity is about joining energetically with Christ, then linking us even with His miraculous Incarnation is totally appropriate and mind-blowing!  It’s even bigger than renewing Genesis!  Actually Quaker founder George Fox had an expression about a potentially two-stage perfectibility, first “to the state Adam was in before he fell,” and from there “to the state of Christ that never fell.”  Pretty wild.  (Not that God literally becomes incarnate in us of course; something like that is the heresy of Appolinarianism.)  It also underlines the importance of the Incarnation for Orthodoxy; it’s not merely a prelude to Calvary or even Pascha, but wholly part of Christ’s saving activity, uniting created nature to Uncreated in Himself, and human and Divine natures in Himself, in fact making salvation possible … and “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
  2. Kontakion 11 reads, “Every hymn is defeated that trieth to encompass the multitude of Thy many compassions; for if we offer to Thee, O Holy King, songs equal in number to the sand, nothing have we done worthy of that which Thou hast given us who shout to Thee: Alleluia!”  This is a poignant image of how far and different God is from created things including ourselves; how nothing we do can save us or raise us to godhood by ourselves, yet how hard we must work to collaborate with the only real God; perhaps even why encountering His Uncreated Energies without sufficient Purification in life will feel like a painful, purifying fire, which however will never lead to perfection, ie, the fires of “hell,” because of the infinite separation between us and Him.

Orthodox prayers are highly “theological,” not in the first place sentimental like Western prayers, because “we do not know how to pray as we ought.”  There’s feeling also, but it takes second place to theology – as it should in life.

Italy’s former Orthodoxy is attested by the ancient icons and Greek icon-style murals and mosaics to be found in many old Latin churches there to this day.  Rome itself has at least one icon said to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist (like a few in Orthodox hands, or rather, graced to Orthodox churches and/or persons), called the Hodegetria style meaning the Mother of God holds and points to the Child Jesus, in the famous St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore in Italian*) basilica, to which ancient miracles are attributed like many icons in Orthodoxy.  Its traditional account is here, but none of the images on that webpage are it.  This page of a scandalized Protestant seems to bear a copy of the icon, as well as a couple links to the University of Dayton (a Catholic school despite the name!).  The icon is nicknamed in Latin Salus Populi Romani, literally “Health of the Roman People” – that’s people in the singular, aka nation or populace – although often rendered “Salvation of the Roman People,” even more scandalously!  Don’t tell him that the icon itself may be what is called that, not just Mary!

In his diocesan newspaper column this week, Philadelphia Catholic Cardinal Justin Rigali notes that after Rome was spared heavy World War 2 damage, this icon was brought out and processed around the streets in thanksgiving.  (Rigali served 24 years in the Vatican curia in Rome. NB: He’s Italian [and Irish] American, not Italian-born.)

As noted on the linked pages, she and it are also called “Our Lady of the Snows,” for the miracle – a 4th century August snowfall – that inspired the construction of the original church on St. Mary Major’s site.

Despite the quote from a very old and prejudiced (iconoclastic) Protestant source, I’m pretty sure most Latin Rite Catholics don’t think of Mary, angels, saints, statues, or icons the same way they think of God, and certainly Orthodox don’t, even if sometimes flowery, devout, theologically imprecise, nonpedantic language is used.

As for iconography itself, Orthodox traditionally have preferred painted icons to statues because statues are incapable of representing the person or scene ‘in Glory,’ that is, radiating God’s Uncreated Energies or Divine Light, like icons do in rays (which is what haloes are, and why they properly surround the head or body, not float above it like the mystical bowl of oatmeal in that old TV commercial!).  If you tried to have a three-dimensional statue with rays, they’d obscure the image itself.

I’m not aware that iconostases – the icon screens that separate the altar area from the rest of an Orthodox church – were ever used in most of Western Europe, though older Episcopal churches at least (speaking of here in the U.S.) preserve the traditional “rood screen” enclosing the altar, from which was sometimes hung the cross (the “rood”) and possibly one or two other things.

Finally, traditional Orthodox icons are heavy in gold coloring, covering not just haloes but also the space surrounding the holy persons depicted.  Some Slavic traditions have incorporated Western influences different from this, including some icons indistinguishable from Western “naturalistic” paintings of holy persons and scenes, with little of the traditional Eastern indication of Uncreated Light.  But the late Fr. Seraphim Rose, a California convert revered by some Orthodox but who is not uncontroversial, counseled against what might be called neo-iconoclasm:

“There is a case (one of many) in which a church had old, original Russian icons—some good and some in rather poor taste, painted in a relatively new {ie, Western} style—and a zealous person took them all out and put in new, paper icon prints in perfect Byzantine style. And what was the result? The people there lost contact with tradition, with the people who gave them Orthodoxy. They removed the original icons which believers had prayed before for centuries.”

At the same time, Greek / Byzantine-style iconography is starting to be seen more among Latins and even Protestants, in what some Orthodox consider a mixed blessing – though I can’t remember why, and can’t find it again on the WWW.

(*–“Major” refers to the church; it’s dedicated to the Theotokos, not to some saint named Mary Major.)