This is the earliest image of the “Madonna and Child,” the Virgin Mary holding her son. It’s found in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, and dates to the early 200’s. At the time this image would have been so new that people might have wondered what it was, so the artist depicted a prophet standing beside her, pointing to a star. Perhaps this is the seer Balaam, who said “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17-19). As familiar as the mother-and-child image is now, I was thinking how rare it would have been before Christ came. There’s usually no reason to depict a mother and nursing child. It’s not a heroic image, not particularly glorious or amazing; it’s as everyday as a mother kneading bread or hanging out the wash. And yet we put it in our worship
The “woman at the well,” that vivid figure in the 4th chapter of St. John’s Gospel (John 4:16-26), who converses with Christ beside the well of Jacob in Samarian, is known to the Church as St. Photini. She’s clearly an intelligent woman, and outspoken, though her irregular romantic life probably made her a figure of contempt locally.
Here’s an email I sent to someone who is exploring Orthodoxy, but having trouble with our devotion to St. Mary. *** I know what you mean about Mary. She is probably the greatest struggle Protestants have with Orthodoxy. But I think it helps to realize how much the excesses of Western medieval devotion (like viewing her as co-mediatrix with her Son) have made it hard for Protestants to think of her with biblical simplicity. There’s so much reaction against the medieval excess that it’s hard to see her in a normal way.
Back in my college days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a hippie and a spiritual seeker. The range of spiritual options on campus was broad, and I sampled a bit of everything: Hinduism, Ananda Marga Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation. I say I was a “seeker,” but that’s not exactly right; I didn’t expect to reach a destination. I was, more accurately, a spiritual explorer, always journeying toward a new horizon.
In church I stand up front, on the right, facing the icon of St. John the Forerunner. He is standing on a desert landscape, rainbow wings extending behind him, while a bowl at his feet displays his severed head. One hand is lifted imploringly toward Christ, and from the other a scroll tumbles open:O Word of God,See what they suffer, Those who censure the faults of the ungodly;Unable to bear rebuke,Behold, Herod has cut off my head,O Savior.
Dear Frederica, Thank you so much for coming with me to get the Cross tattoo, it was a blessing. Yes, a meaningless tattoo is a terrible idea, especially if it will take you away from the Lord. The tattoos we’ve gotten were Cross tattoos, which are meant to remind us of the Lord every time we look at them. Mine reminds me of the Coptic Church, which I love dearly. Reminds me of Egypt. Reminds me that when I set a foot in Egypt, I will be looked at, known, recognized and distinguished as a follower of Christ, the God.
[June 15, 2018] The latest installment of The Incredibles is incredibly good. To start with the film’s noisiest aspect, there are four major action sequences, and they’re terrific. I’m not a fan of action sequences; I usually just tune out till they’re over. But the scenes in The Incredibles 2 are so brilliantly executed that I was literally holding my breath. All the ways animation can be superior to live action were exploited brilliantly. The fourth such sequence begins with leaders from all the world’s nations meeting on an enormous ship to sign a treaty, already a promising situation. Then the host proudly announces, “This ship is the largest hydrofoil on the planet,” and you can only say “Oh goody.”
In the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete (written about 725 AD) there’s a break after the 6th canticle, and then there’s something labeled “Kontakion.” It’s memorable to anyone who’s attended the Great Canon (Orthodox sing it during Lent), because this verse breaks in and seems so different, like it comes from a different source. “O my soul, O my soul, arise; why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near and you will be confounded. Awake and watch that Christ God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.”
Frederica: Hi, Georgia! Let me introduce my granddaughter Hannah Parker, who is a senior in high school. She’s a consistent honor roll student, with a longtime interest in fiction, particularly YA [young adult] fiction, and she’s a real book collector. She must have all the YA fiction of the last few years in hardback. Hannah knows a little about publishing through me, and would like to be a book editor as an adult, editing in particular the YA fiction she loves. We hope to learn from you a bit about the process of writing, the decisions an author has to make when shaping a work of fiction, and if possible something about how an editor can help or hurt the process. Georgia: Hello, Frederica and Hannah! It’s nice to meet another fan of YA fiction! I have lost touch with the genre in the past couple of years (I don’t like to read anything similar to what I’m currently writing because my voice starts sounding like someone else’s), but now that I have more time for reading, I’m going back to that section of my library to look for books.
It’s that time of year again… Cheesefare Week, when Orthodox Christians start to ease into the Lenten Fast, giving up meat but still eating eggs, milk, cheese, etc. Here’s my son David Mathewes’ tender farewell to all that is dairy and glorious, “Let It Be Me.” Now that our time is waningOnly one day remainingWho’ll eat this ice cream?Let it be me.