people of the book

“We are dealing with a nation of high culture, with ” a people of the book.”
Germany has become a madhouse–mad for books. Say what you will, I fear such
people! Where plunder is based on an ideology, on a world outlook which in essence is spiritual, it cannot be equalled in strength and durability…
The Nazi has robbed us not only of material possessions, but also of our good
name as “the people of the Book.” The Nazi has both book and sword, and this is his strength and might”

Excerpt from the the 1939 diary of Chaim Kaplan, a Jewish teacher in Warsaw


(an old friend’s family Hebrew bible / Julie Cook / 2014)

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the term “people of the book” is Islamic
in nature.

The Quran uses the term in reference to Jews, Christians and Sabians
(those from the land of Sheba) in a variety of contexts, from religious polemics
to passages emphasizing community of faith between those who possess
monotheistic scriptures.
The term was later extended to other religious communities that fell under
Muslim rule, including even polytheistic Indians.
Historically, these communities were subject to the dhimma contract in an
Islamic state.

In Judaism the term “People of the Book” (Hebrew: עם הספר, Am HaSefer)
has come to refer to the Jewish people and the Torah.

Members of some Christian denominations, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as Puritans and Shakers, have embraced the term “People of the Book” in reference to themselves.

Growing up in an Episcopal Sunday School, the only year I can remember really
delving into Scripture, other than later in high school during youth group,
was when I was in the 5th grade and the teacher had us memorize Bible verses.

This sweet woman was bound and determined that we would commit various pieces of
scripture to memory if it was to be her last act on this earth.
And unlike learning weekly spelling words for school, learning the verses was both
positive and fun as she made it game-like by “rewarding” us with various little
Christian trinkets.

That was the carrot for the 9 and 10 year old mindset—learn and recite a verse and
“win” a cool glow in the dark little plastic cross.

This was great for warding off vampires in the middle of the night as this was the time that most kids my age raced home from school to watch Dark Shadows—a campy daytime TV drama in the mid 1960’s about what else, vampires, werewolves and witches…
seems television just can’t get enough of the dark side…..

As I type this, I’m shaking my head as there is just so much wrong with that one memory from childhood that it’s almost comical.

Yet I am so appreciative for that 5th grade Sunday School teacher as I believe that
that was the year in which a true spiritual foundation was actually poured and made solid.

Now I’ve always loved singing hymns, even in “children’s church, as those lines,
stanzas and tunes have stayed with me for most of my life but those Bible verses
from 5th grade, with also having memorized the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s prayer,
The 23 Psalm, and the Agnus Dei….they have each played a pivotal role in my
spiritual growth.

I almost find myself laughing out loud over the thought of what if that Sunday School classroom experience was today…can you imagine how some parents would think such
practice would be considered extreme, cruel or perhaps harmful to the psyche
of the child!? They’d proclaim that every child should have a glow in the dark cross
just for showing up and why should it just be a cross, why not a crows foot lest we discriminate against the wickens…
on and on the 21st century dysfunction goes.

Over the years I have read many a harrowing account of those who were imprisoned in
various death camps, as well as accounts of those who have been held as prisoners
of war, who claimed that it was the memory and the ability to recall those once
memorized and recited scriptures and or hymns that they had learned as children which
was the key that helped to keep them not only sane but actually sustained their
will to survive.

For we are indeed a people of the Book.

A Book that is the divinely inspired words of a very real living God.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish
one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Colossians 3:16

apples are apples… yet sometimes they just might be an orange….

Keep me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of thy wings,
from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.

Psalm 17:8-9


(one of our two little apples on our four apple trees…Julie Cook / 2017)

Whereas an apple a day supposedly keeps the doctor away, historically apples have often
fallen in and out of favor….both literally and figuratively.
in part due to a loss of translation or simple miscommunication.

A member of the rose family, apples were most likely the first trees to be cultivated
by man.
Historical records have even credited Alexander the Great with most likely
discovering a dwarf variety of apples that he later brought to Macedonia from Kazakhstan.

And it was the early European settlers who are credited with having first introduced
cultivated varieties of apples to North America as the crab apple was the only native
“apple” species on the continent.

Thus having originated in central Asia, it is often speculated as to whether apples were
even known to exist as an actual fruit or tree in ancient biblical times.

And as any biblical translation scholar will tell you,
Hebrew translations may or may not always have a corresponding word in
English as an equivalent…
just as we observe with the use of the word apple in Psalm 17.

Verse 8 mentions “keeping me as the apple of your eye…”
Meaning that ‘I am to be held in the center of your heart and attention
I am your pride and joy…..”

As the Hebrew translation of the psalm does not use the word apple as we
know the word apple to be today, but rather it translates as “little man of my eye”
and refers to the pupil of the eye and not an actual apple because the pupil was
thought to be a round hard ball, much like an apple.

And yet it was the eye to which early civilizations looked as being key to the essence of a person.
So keeping one as the center of the eye is to have kept them at the heart of one’s being.

The word apple is laced throughout various verses and passages in the Old Testament
with a direct Hebrew translation often referring to pupils and or actual eyeballs…

So perhaps apple is wrongly transposed from the more accurate notion
of that of an aperture, with aperture being the center of the eye…
as an aperture is a hole in which light passes through, such as in a camera lens….
which in turn equates the pupil of the eye, which is the hole allowing
ligt to pass to the back of the retina….which is in essence how we see…
thus apple is meant as aperture.

And as we read the story in Genesis regarding the exchange between Eve and the serpent:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
but God said,
‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden,
neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”But the serpent said to the woman,
“You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened,
and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was a delight to the eyes,
and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate;
and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

We see the same sort of translation issue arising in this story as
the Latin translation of the word “apple” is closely similar to the translation of “evil”
“with the Latin words mālum (an apple) and mălum (an evil),
each of which is normally written malum.
The tree of the forbidden fruit is called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”
in Genesis 2:17, and the Latin for “good and evil” is bonum et malum.”
(Wikipedia)

So we see that the end result is often that time has a way of cementing
certain words to certain meanings.
While the gist and the story remains pretty much the same and understood…
the symbols of various words take on a variety of meanings.

As in these two examples with the word apple…
In the one instance it is seen as something ominous and wrong with a sinister
and evil connotation…
while next it is meant as something special, endearing and solely important…

And it is often here, in these confusions of translations and multiple meanings,
that skeptics often point…
as skeptics love to use perceived confusion as a smoke screen of defense.
Their’s is a very loud and very vocal piece of the hysterical….
“see, that isn’t right, that isn’t what was really intended….
so how do you, how can you, claim to even know what is right or what is wrong…
maybe you’ve just been misguided all these thousands of years…”

However as we often see in these sacred stories and narratives that although there
may be multiple words that are being used in a variety of different contexts…
the meanings and lessons conveyed are still always the same as originally intended…

It’s just that we may have exchanged an apple for an orange…
Which means that sometimes the words are defined as the same thing,
and at other times they are not…
perhaps meaning or relating to a variety of different things such as
feelings, thoughts and emotions….

….such is the joy of language…

But one thing is always certain…
God’s word will always remain the same…as well as unchanged…
God’s meaning, intent and His words are never altered or changed despite man’s
often erroneous and misguided attempts of expressing such…
For His words stand the test to both time and translation….

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete,
equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Awe

“The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.
Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.”

A. W. Tozer

francoisboucher_adorationoftheshepherds
(Francois Boucher / Adoration of the Shepherds / 1750)

Awe,
Awesome,
Webster’s dictionary defines awe as mingled dread, veneration, and wonder.
English Bible translations employ the words “awe” or “awesome” almost exclusively to
refer to the person or work of God.
While the word “awe” appears only rarely in the KJV,
modern English versions such as the NASB and NIV translate as many as six
different Hebrew words and three different Greek words as “awe” or “awesome.”
The most common Hebrew word, yare [עָרִיץ aer”y], occurs in various forms over
400 times in the Old Testament, and is commonly translated “fear.”
Both the NIV and NASB, however, often render “awe”

(e.g., Exod 15:11 ; 1 Sam 12:18 ; Psalm 119:120 ; Hab 3:2 ).
(Biblestudytools.com)

To stand in Awe…
to that which is awesome, wonderful, astonishing…
to be overwhelmed in its presence,
to be full and overcome with fear by the utter greatness,
to quake and stand trembling,
to be stuck dumb as in…
to be rendered speechless…

“That kind of worship is found throughout the Bible
(though it is only fair to say that the lesser degrees of worship are found there also).
Abraham fell on his face in holy wonderment as God spoke to him.
Moses hid his face before the presence of God in the burning bush.
Paul could hardly tell whether he was in or out of the body when he was allowed
to see the unspeakable glories of the third heaven.
When John saw Jesus walking among His churches, he fell at His feet as dead.”

AW Tozer

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants
of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33:8

Khesed

A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him
than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word,
‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.

C.S. Lewis

dscn4571
(rose of Sharon / Julie Cook / 2016)

“Khesed…mercy…love.
It’s God’s nature, His essence.
Don’t forget that, through all this, don’t forget that.
Judgement is His necessity,
but His nature and essence–
His heart–
is love.”

Jonathan Cahn
The Harbinger

sticky wickets

“Your Excellency, Sir William Morrison, and gentlemen. I am afraid tonight,
owing to the rain we have had in this island of Springs,
I am batting on rather a sticky wicket. We have just heard Sir William Morrison make,
in my opinion, a magnificent speech. I do not hope or think of living up to that.”

the Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner, April 1930:

dscn4491
(stem of my lovely bumpy pumpkin / Julie Cook / 2016)

Recently, having read an article about a school district ordering its elementary schools teachers
to immediately remove any and all references to Christianity from within their classrooms, sent a
familiarly eerie warning siren sounding within this old educator’s head….

No bibles were to be on their desks, no verses or images containing scriptures
were to be posted on the walls or in the halls,
there were to be no tag lines on their emails with any religious reference,
no mention of Christmas, or Easter…no religious images were to be displayed,
no references whatsoever of the Christian faith were to be evident…
end of sentence, period.

The district’s orders were indeed that, dictatorial orders.
No sort of explanation or conversation but rather strictly a “do as we say or else” sort of directive.
As an adult and educator, I always hated when the powers that be spoke down to their teachers as though they were, well yes, children.

It’s one thing for those in charge to say, “hey, we’ve received some complaints, or even a threatening law suit, etc, so we are asking that you please refrain…”
Instead it is the dictatorial command from up above…
laced with a threatening tone as well as a heavy dose of fear mongering.

Teachers were however told that they could continue wearing religious “trinkets”,
i.e. a cross necklace,
but anything that was considered too showy or attention grabbing or
blatantly displayed was strictly forbidden.

I can remember several years ago when I was still in the classroom and many of the current music entertainers had taken to wearing large crosses and rosaries…so our students, ever the fashion conscious, were quick to sport their own versions of the large showy crosses and rosaries around their necks.

To say that I was disappointed seeing prayer beads worn around ones’ neck as
something urbanely trendy was an understatement
as I’ve always felt prayer beads were just that…
for prayer….
but I digress.

I wonder if this particular school district, which just so happens to be in my own state,
has issued letters home to their parents asking that their children refrain from
bringing anything Christian related to school or wearing such…
or even that of the soon to be Christmas fashion world?
Or heaven’s forbid anyone talk about what happened at Wednesday night church…

Yet there was no mention as to removing anything Jewish nor was there
mention of anything of the Muslim faith..
no removing any stars of David, no removing prayer rugs,
no removing the kippah from the heads of young Jewish boys…
no removing henna tattoos from the hands of young Muslim girls,
no forbidding of any reference to Rosh hashanah or Yom Kippur
or Ramadan or Eid…
strictly a Christian sort of edict.

As a long time educator, I understand full well the whole concept of the separation of church and state…as we don’t want our schools endorsing or promoting any set religion…
for schools are simply to educate by following a set curriculum…I get that.

But as an educator, I also understand the undeniably woven nature of the
Christian faith in our history as a people of Western Civilization.
It is in the history of our DNA…whether we like it or not—
and no matter how hard we try to erase it from our very being as a people…we simply can’t.

There are very appropriate times when Christianity, and or the study of such,
is very much a part of a lesson.

I find it almost comical when our society tries to neuter the Christian faith.

Dare we not talk of the Pilgrims offering thanks that first Thanksgiving,
thanks to God that, quite frankly, they’ve actually survived thus far,
let alone why they came here in the first place…
to worship freely?

Dare we not speak of the Judaeo / Christian tenants which are the
basis of our own laws and legal system as we look at
the role the Ten commandments have played.
That whole thou shall not murder thing…

Dare we not look at the treasures offered to us artistically,
culturally, musically and even architecturally in the artwork, literature,
music and architecture which has reflected the endearing faith of Western Civilization…

Who among us didn’t read Pilgrims Progress or the Canterbury Tales, or works by
JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or even Martin Luther in a lit class?

What of the music of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven?

As an art teacher, my room was rife with images of the Renaissance.
Images from both Latin West and Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Images from Africa, Asia, Native American….
along with the images of the importance spirituality played in each culture…
because like it or not spirituality and man have always been linked…
and from that came man’s desire to create, encapsulating that spirituality…
and that might be good spirituality or bad…
but such is to the eye of the beholder…

We explored the written words of the Latin, Hebrew, Cyrillic, Greek,
indigenous Indians, Arabic, and even Druid societies
as we looked at the history and relationship the
written word has to our visual understanding.

‘Over the top’ is the best way to describe how I often feel school systems
react when they feel threatened in some way…
They will bend over backwards, at the expense of their personnel,
good well trained personnel, if they feel that they might be sued,
cited or possibly lose critical funding…
should they not bow to the pressure of a few.

Sadly it is the local, state and even federal governments
who are putting the pressure on their own school systems to conform to
this current trend of across the board neutering…
Neutering of not all religion, but blatantly to just one…

It would be one thing if they had said absolutely no to all references to each and every religion,
but this district was very specific in referencing the Christian faith only.
For that, I cry foul.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/10/04/school-orders-teachers-to-remove-religious-items-from-classrooms.html

Then shortly after having read the first article, I next came across the following article
citing the current persecution of Christian believers taking place in Uzbekistan…
over the possessing of any and all Christian material…
and to the extreme measures the Uzbek Government is taking to
curtail and punish all offenders..

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christian.persecution.on.the.rise.in.uzbekistan.where.just.owning.a.bible.is.illegal/97157.htm

As I am left to simply scratch my head as to why Governments and Nations and even
School districts fear
the mere visibility of Christianity….

May we be mindful of our past…

In the field of education, everything was done to ensure that the youth of Germany was brought up in the atmosphere of National Socialism and accepted National Socialist teachings. As early as the 7th April, 1933, the law reorganising the Civil Service had made it possible for the Nazi Government to remove all ” Subversive and unreliable teachers “, and this was followed by numerous other measures to make sure that the schools were staffed by teachers who could be trusted to teach their pupils the full meaning of National Socialist creed. Apart from the influence of National Socialist teaching in the schools, the Hitler Youth Organisation was also relied upon by the Nazi Leaders for obtaining fanatical support from the younger generation. The defendant von Schirach, who had been Reich Youth Leader of the NSDAP since 1931, was appointed Youth Leader of the German Reich in June, 1933. Soon all the youth organisations had been either dissolved or absorbed by the Hitler Youth, with the exception of the Catholic Youth. The Hitler Youth was organised on strict military lines, and as early as 1933 the Wehrmacht was cooperating in providing pre-military training for the Reich Youth.
Excerpt from the Nazi Jewish Party
The Nazi Regime in Germany
The Jewish Virtual Library

For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens,
to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Matthew
24:24

Defining Definitions

For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.
(Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV)

DSCN3156
(a cold puffed up Mockingbird perched in the barberry bush / Julie Cook / 2014)

Covenant: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement

Law: a binding custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or
formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority

Ten Commandements: A covenant document

Testament: Latin for Covenant

Oath: a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of
what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says

Rebellious: showing a desire to resist authority, control, or convention.

Disobedience: refusal or failure to obey rules, laws

Willful: obstinately and often perversely self-willed, refusing to change your ideas
or opinions or to stop doing something

Obstinance: the trait of refusing to repent

Adonai / Yahweah: Lord. Used in Judaism as a spoken substitute for the ineffable
name of God.
A name of the Hebrew God, represented in Hebrew by the tetragrammaton (“four
letters”) יהוה (Yod Heh Vav Heh), transliterated into Roman script Y H W H.
Because it was considered blasphemous to utter the name of God it was only written
and never spoken. This resulted in the original pronunciation being lost. The name
may have originally been derived from the old Semitic root הוה (hawah) meaning “to
be” or “to become”.

Child: An offspring. A member of a tribe; descendant

I / Me: Metaphysics– the ego.

Grace: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

Mercy: compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender

Savior: one that saves from danger or destruction

Deliverance: the action of being rescued or set free.

Jesus: The name “Jesus” is an Anglicized form of the Greek name Yesous found in the
New Testament, which represented the Hebrew Bible name Yeshua (“Jeshua” in
English Bibles; Ezra 2:2; Neh 7:7). Yeshua, in turn, was a shortened form of
the name Yehoshua (“Joshua” in English Bibles).

“Yehoshua”
“Yehoshua” is a compound name consisting of two elements.

(1) The prefix “Yeho–” is an abbreviation of the Tetragrammaton, God’s Four-
Letter Name: Yod-He-Vav-He or YHVH.

In the Hebrew Bible “Yeho-” is used at the beginning of certain proper names:
Jehoshaphat, Jehoiachin, Jehonathan (the “J” was pronounced as “Y” in Medieval
English). The suffix form of the Tetragrammaton is “-yah” (“-iah” in Greek,
as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, or Halleluiah).

(2) The second element is a form of the Hebrew verb yasha which means to
deliver, save, or rescue.

Thus, linguistically, the name Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus conveys the idea that God (YHVH) delivers (his people).

What defines you?

Pantocrator

“According to greek mythology, humans were originally created with 4 arms, 4 legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
Plato

DSCN3122

I don’t know what first drew me to this particular image, or more aptly put, Icon. Oh I’ve written about Icon’s before, quite some time ago, which means I don’t want to rewrite a post (see “What is an Icon” dated 3/1/13) however there is a little background necessary in order for one to fully appreciate the image accompanying this particular post.

An Icon, which translates to “image” is just that, an image. A bit of an artistic photograph if you will. It should be noted that Icons are not considered paintings at all, but rather are referred to as written images– as in the artist is not painting but actually “writing,” what I like to describe as, a love letter.

Now back to this particular image.
No doubt you have seen it at some time or other as it is quite notable as far as Icons are concerned. It is an image of the Christ, or Pantocrator as He is known in Greek/ Παντοκράτωρ—–meaning Divine (translated from the Hebrew El Shaddai). This particular image dates to the 6th century–let’s say 500 years or so after the death of Christ. It is considered to be the oldest known image of Christ or as He is known to many, as the Chirstos.

I don’t want to give an in-depth mini history lesson today regarding icons, or of this particular image, as there is so very much out there in the form of books or on the web for the curious to discover. I simply want to share with you something that is very meaningful to me. I think it is important to share with others the things that significantly impact our own lives as those are the things that make us who we are.

As a person who grew up with Western Christianity, or that of the Roman or Latin branch of Christianity, I was always accustomed, as no doubt you were, to what typically is considered to be images of Jesus. Benevolent images of a young man of fair skin complexion, soft brown hair and beard who most often had blue eyes. But the problem with that stereotypical image is that Jesus was not European. He was a Middle Eastern Jew. Therefore that meant he most likely had a more dark or olive skin tone, with a thicker head of very dark hair. He was an orthodox, meaning devout, Jew, so it is theorized that he most probably wore the hair ringlets as do the modern day Hasidic Jews. His features were not as close to ours in the West but rather he was closer in appearance to those currently living in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, etc.

Knowing all of the geographical information of Jesus, I’ve never gravitated to the images depicted in much of our Western Culture’s art and literature regarding Jesus, as I just didn’t think it a true likeness. I knew he didn’t look like me– as he grew up in an entirely different area of the planet that does not have many light haired, blue eyed folks running about. I wanted to see Jesus for who is was, not some stylized image.

And so it was when I first saw this image—I was truly taken by this image. The question of whether or not I was glancing at the closest image of the man who has had the greatest impact on humankind–let alone my life, resonated in my head.

This particular image is considered to be the benchmark for all other artistic images of Jesus—that is until the expansion of the Christian Church in the West, meaning Europe and eventually the new continent of the Americas.

This Icon is located in St Catherine’s Monastery in the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula. St Catherine’s is located at the foot of the mountain, Mt Horeb, in which it is believed that God spoke to Moses in the form of the burning bush. It is also within these mountains that Moses later received the Ten Commandments. St. Catherine’s has been in existence as a practicing Monastery since the year 564—making St Catherine’s Monastery one of the oldest practicing monasteries known in all of Christendom.

It is troubling, given the current political crisis in Egypt, that St Catherine’s has had to shut its doors to pilgrims most recently as the safety of Christians, particularly in Egypt, is a perilous situation. I’m attaching a short nice informative link to a Youtube clip concerning a brief overview of St. Catherine’s as narrated by the monks:

There is also a most fascinating book based on the travels of two of the first Western woman, sisters from Scotland, who journeyed to St Catherine’s in the mid 1800’s. The Sisters of the Sinai by Jancie Soskice– Theirs was a journey of the discovery of ancient manuscripts. A most interesting true tale.

To the casual observer the life and worship at this most ancient of monasteries is something of another world and time—And so it is—yet it must be understood that the monks at St Catherine’s have been practicing these rituals since the year 500 with little to no change. . . so if anything, it is our worship today that is otherworldly and foreign. It is on my bucket list to one day travel to St. Catherine’s. The original burning bush is purported to be within the walls of the monastery as the bush in question actually does date to the time of Moses. The library is full of ancient texts as well as the largest collection of original ancient Icons all of which are housed within St. Catherine’s fortified walls. It is said that the aired conditions have helped to preserve these ancient and holy relics with many dating to the birth of the Christian faith.

The story goes that a cloth was found just at the inception of the monastery, buried within its walls, which was purported to have been part of the burial cloth of Jesus—not the Shroud but rather the face cloth that was customary of the time to be placed over the face of the deceased before being wrapped in the burial shroud. This cloth, or what the Eastern Church refers to as a napkin, Holy Napkin, is said to have, just as the shroud, held the image of a man—-of what the faithful claim to be that of Jesus. It was shortly after the discovery of this cloth that this particular image of Jesus, the Pantocrator of Sinai was created—making it the first known artistic image in existence based from something that is said to be the original image of Jesus—making this image to be the closest thing Christian followers would have to an exact image of Christ. Some stories even attribute the Icon’s creation to St Luke as he was considered an artist as well as a medical doctor.

But it is the facial features of this particular image that draws me from mere observer to that of one of awe and worshiper. The duality of God rests in this image–the Deity as well as the Human–two separate entities, yet united in one face. If an image of the face from the Shroud of Turin is laid over this image, the two faces are proportionate, lining up equally. If you split in half the face of this Icon’s image you will note that both halves of the face are vastly different, making this image asymmetrical rather than symmetrical– as we consider the human face to be–more equal than different.

One side of the face is that of a tender and loving man–that of pure-hearted love, that of Savior. The other side is a man harsh and stern–that of Judge of Mankind. I am reminded of the verse in Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples that at the time of Judgement He will separate the sheep form the goats. The sheep on the right having done the acts of kindness during their lives of clothing the naked, feeding the poor, visiting the sick and imprisoned will all see Glory. On the other hand are the goats, those to His left, who did not do the act of kindness to the strangers throughout their lives—they will be cast away to eternal damnation –the Savior vs Judge–the two compelling actions all within one individual.

I first saw this image, oddly enough, in a store specializing in Icons on a street corner in Rome. In the shadow of the great Latin Roman branch of Christianity, that of St Peter’s, exists an Eastern Orthodox store of Iconography. The irony was not lost on this little pilgrim. The store clerks spoke only Greek and no doubt Italian. There were reproductions of many Icons, but it was the Pantocrator of Sinai which truly spoke to me. It is said that one does not choose an Icon, but that the Icon chooses you. I brought home a copy that I eventually framed–later purchasing a mounted image from St Isaac’s Skete–a wonderful small orthodox Skete located in rural Wisconsin which offers a beautiful selection of mounted Icons as well as commissioned Icons by the trained monks. (http://www.skete.com )

And so it is, as I stand in my kitchen, just on the counter above the sink, sits a small collection of Icons. As I spend countless hours in the kitchen, I am afforded time to ponder these images—pondering the significance they play and have played in my life as well as the cascading significance they have played throughout the existence of humankind. I marvel and stand in awe of the duality of God. I am drawn to the face of both Grace and Judgement. At times I am compelled to look away, as I feel so unworthy, so less than, so dirty by the weight of my sins—and just when I feel defeated and worthless, less than— the face of Love draws me back–

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned

Song of Solomon 8:6-7

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