Salvator Mundi

“Secularism is no friend of Christ.”
Melody Phillips, journalist for the London Times


(Salvator Mundi / Leonardo da Vinci cica 1500)

Salvator Mundi, or Savior of the world….

A haunting image is it not?
Soft, other worldly and ethereal yet also equally powerful.

Look into those eyes…

At first glance the sockets appear gauzy, almost empty or perhaps out of focus.
Yet upon further inspection, the eyes seem to be like a window, opening into a
different realm or dimension..as in, they invite the viewer to look further
and venture deeper to someplace else.

This particular painting by Leonardo just set a record sale at Christie’s Auction
House, fetching the highest amount ever paid for a single painting…
approximately 450 million dollars.
The buyer is so far undisclosed.

And there is an entire post alone waiting to be written about this particular painting,
of this particular version….but that is for another day—
for today we have more important issues to discuss.

Savior of the World—-
that is indeed, for the Christian believer, Jesus Christ.

He was not simply a moral teacher, a philosopher or Jewish rabbi…
He was, just as He said and just He remains today—
The Savior of the World.

He is of one point to the three pointed triangle of the Trinity.

It is through Him and Him alone that anyone is to be saved.

It is not through good works, it is not through thoughtful actions….
it is only through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Therefore to repent.

To die unto self.

To believe in His Resurrection and His saving Grace.

Grace.

As in nothing done by one’s self…for Grace is beyond self.

Saved from self, from sin, from death…..

That is the summation of the Gospel.

The Bible, particularly the New Testament is the Holy inspired, written retelling
regarding that summation—the Good News.

It is the lynchpin of Christianity.

There is no Heaven, no Salvation, no Grace, no Hope without Jesus Christ.

He is the only way.

And yet today we have mainline churches who are pushing, have pushed,
that one key integral component to Christianity to the side.

It has become secondary to their now all consuming main focus of secularism.

For those who adhere to the progressive Christian narrative,
they are the ones who have decided to make an alliance with those who
push for all things secular…

Progressive, uptick, Christians who now believe and embrace the stance that
the world would have them embrace….and that is to see Christianity in a 21st century,
more modern image.

Yet what they fail to understand is that such a “friendship” will be the death of the Christian Church as we know it.

In the latest interview of Gavin Ashenden on Anglican Unscripted, he makes this
point perfectly clear.

Bishop Ashenden notes that the “anti Christian Secular Narrative is being
swallowed whole as if it is Christianity—
and it is most certainly not”

That narrative being the open acceptance of same sex marriage, openly gay clergy,
the embracing of transgenderism, newly defined family units…
all the while making it clearly known that, anyone opposed to such, shall be
labeled as a hate mongerer…anti love, anti accepting, anti whatever…..
never mind that the lies offered up as a new progressive gospel run counter to
the actual word of God.

In steps a woman named Lorna Asworth.

Lorna is Saskatchewan by birth and was raised as a Mennonite.
But as Life has its way, she married a Brit who was Anglican and so
the UK and the Church of England have now been her home ever since.

That is until most recently.

Lorna has been an active member of the laity who works very closely with the clergy
as she has risen in the lay ranks within the working body of the Church of England.

Yet when someone like Lorna tenders her resignation from said working body of the
Church of England, such a resignation, one would dare assume,
would not, should not, be cause for some sort of henny penny
the sky is falling sort of reaction…yet that is exactly what has happened.

This mild mannered wife, mother and church lay worker who considers herself
a conservative Evangelical Anglican has been active on the Archbishop’s
Council as well as serving in the General Synod for the past 12 years,
has found herself at the center of a growing maelstrom and as somewhat of
a poster child if you will, for the Orthodox voice of the Church.

Lorna recently granted an interview with Anglican Unscripted where she explains her decision to ‘abdicate’ her position from the Church’s working body as
she explains what is currently happening to the Church.

She explains that the Church has lost its way.
It has left behind those who continue to claim the Gospel as the true teaching of the Church. “The Glory of the Lord has departed as the Church of England
is moving outside the presence of God.”

“There are now two different Religious communities.
One is rooted in Christ and its right to ask for the Holy Spirit.
The Second is not—and is where Glory has disappeared.”

Lorna verbalizes so clearly what so many others now feel.
“What am I to do?”
I didn’t leave them, they left me”

She spoke of meetings where those more conservative members would actually
cite scripture to reinforce a point only to be met by rolling eyes and even jeers
from the more progressive attendees.

She cites that the Church is no longer talking about Jesus and the saving message
of Christ as she actually uses the word heresy when describing what is taking place
within the Church.

And in order for the Church to save herself from the inevitable implosion,
Lorna warns that there must be repentance, from the top down.
“We have lost what it is to fear (respect in some translations) the Lord.
If you fear the Lord, you will fear nothing else…and we have lost that.”

And so we leave it to a Jewish woman, one who leans a bit right in her
journalistic style, to write an article for the London Times noting that the departure
of Lorna Asworth from the Church is putting the Church of England on a trajectory
involved in self destruction.

As in it appears everyone gets it but the Church herself….

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/17-november/news/uk/lorna-ashworth-resigns-from-general-synod-over-revisionism

something is definitely brewing

“Hier stehe ich.
Ich kann nicht anders.
Gott helfe mir.
Amen.”

(Here I stand.
I can not do otherwise.
God help me.
Amen)
Martin Luther

“Our leaders don’t believe the values of the New Testament take
priority over everything else.”

The Rt Reverend Gavin Ashenden


(the old Methodist Church in Cades Cove, TN / Julie Cook / 2015)

Yesterday I shared a heartening tale about a modern day take on Martin Luther’s
500 year old defiance against an ailing Church.

It appears that these 500 years later on … we are again ailing….
or perhaps we are simply still ailing, never having actually been healed.
I’m not so certain as to which it actually is.

Over the past decade or so, we have witnessed leadership within many mainline
Christian denominations yielding, be it willingly or by duress, to the whims,
nay demands, of a growing egocentric hedonistic society that claims everything
in the name of acceptance and love.

But what society fails to understand is that whereas God is indeed Love,
He is also a God of Order…His Order.

I have watched in frustrating bewilderment,
for more years now than I care to recount, church doctrine and or policy being
twisted and contorted to fit an ever demanding culture’s idea of order.
As society works to claim a new oddly fitting human behavior.

Almost 6000 years have passed since God spoke very specifically to Moses.
He issued a set of “rules” for human orderly living.
God had spoken and literally laid down the law.

Then several millennia past and God saw fit to send a proxy,
a stand in for man…one who was to take man’s place in the inevitable
eternal damnation that man had claimed for himself by imposing his own order while
ignoring God’s…

….That so whomever would believe, would be saved and would have eternal life.

It was straight forward…even simple really.
Yet man insisted on making it complicated.

So while Western Civilization marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—
as it matters not on which side of the fence you find yourself,
the Reformation is being remembered none the less…

However…me thinks there might be something new brewing about?
As in, might we be witnessing perhaps a new bit of Reformation taking shape?

I for one hope so.

Twice during the course of this past week,
I have found myself both hearing and reading the thoughts and sharings of two
very different men of the cloth concerning this “change in the air”—

Yet neither man has cited any particular change as they are merely working to share
the current state of affairs—the health of each one’s collective church body.

One is a Catholic monk who I’ve mentioned here before…Father Hugh—
who happens to be an ardent keeper of the faith and an Australian monk serving in
a monastery in the UK who is not afraid to speak Gospel truth,
even if that truth runs counter to that of Rome.

The other being a former Anglican priest and Chaplin to the Queen, who now is a
missionary Bishop of The Christian Episcopal Church–a ‘renegade’ break away of
Orthodox Anglican and Episcopal laity and clergy.

Both men have noted that our collective Church leadership has capitulated.
As the leadership has accepted false doctrine as some sort of new doctrine.
A form of “soft socialism” so says Bishop Ashenden.

Father Hugh has shared a letter written by a well respected American Theologian and Capuchin monk, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, regarding the dangerous position Pope Francis
appears to be placing the Catholic faithful.

Bishop Ashenden on the other hand in a recent airing of Anglican Unscripted, also
addresses this dangerous direction the current leadership of the Anglican Church seems
to be taking its flock…

I offer you the links below to Father Hugh’s posts regarding Father Weinandy’s
very public letter to Pope Francis.

It should be noted that since writing and having published his letter to the Pope,
the good Capuchin Father has been asked to resign his post as executive
director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Doctrine.

Just as I suspect those clergy who have tacked the Southwark Declaration to the doors
of various Anglican Cathedrals or who vocally support the Declaration from their pulpits
will eventually suffer reprimand and or repercussion or something even worse.

Just as I would expect to receive such should I tack the Declaration to any door of
any Episcopal Church here in the states—- I would be accused of hate mongering….
because that’s how we handle those who hold fast to the solemn Word of God—
for if you opt to follow the word of God as stated in the Gospel,
particularly when it concerns same sex unions, you are accused of bigotry and hate….
never mind what God has said about such.

Let us offer our prayers for such brave individuals who are not afraid, despite
common thought and new cultural norms, to share God’s truth…

Here I stand; I can do no other.

L’Affaire Weinandy: A Watershed?

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures and by clear reason
(for I do not trust in the pope or councils alone, since it is well known
that they have often erred and contradicted themselves),
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted.
My conscience is captive to the Word of God.
I cannot and I will not retract anything,
since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.
May God help me.
Amen.”

Martin Luther

Might a new day be dawning????

“When the church redefines sin and eliminates repentance,
it can no longer offer the good news of eternal salvation from sin in Jesus;
the church no longer remains distinctly Christian;
it is no longer salt and light in the world,”

(excerpt from the Southwark Declaration nailed to a Cathedral door)


(recent Southwark Declaration grievances nailed to the doors of Rochester Cathedral)

And so it has begun…

And I for one rejoice!!!

Almost 500 years to the day, over the course of the past 48 hours,
a band of “back to the Bible” disgruntled, dare we say it, Orthodox Anglicans
have followed in the footsteps of Luther and set about nailing,
or in most cases tacking or taping, a two page document of grievances
to the doors of Anglican Cathedrals across the UK.

The document is known as the Southwark Declaration named for the
Diocese of Southwark in which the original letter was composed.

According to an article in PJ Media written by Tyler O’Neil…
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, anonymous evangelical Anglicans posted
a 95 Theses-style complaint on the doors of five British cathedrals.
The first complaints went up on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting
of the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in Germany,
and the documents pinned to the doors referenced Luther in calling for the Church of England to follow the Bible on LGBT issues.

“500 years ago Martin Luther nailed 95 Theses to a church door in Germany,”
one document reads.
“He did it because the church had become corrupt.
Today a Declaration is being fixed to a cathedral door here in England because the Established Church in our land is becoming corrupt.”

“The Church of England claims it has not changed its doctrine but its practice
on the ground has already changed: clergy are adopting lifestyles which are not
biblical and teaching that such lifestyles are holy in the sight of God,”
the document explained.
“This revisionism is causing a crisis not only in Southwark Diocese but across
the whole of the Church of England.”

You can read the full article here:
https://pjmedia.com/faith/anglicans-pin-95-theses-style-complaint-on-lgbt-issues-to-doors-of-5-uk-cathedrals/

The Vicar of St. James’ Church of Westgate-On-Sea, The Reverend Stephen Rae, has
opted not to remain anonymous but rather has publicly admitted to nailing the
document to the doors of Canterbury Cathedral….the Cathedral at the very heart of Anglicanism and the Church of England.

“It is with great sadness that I posted the Southwark Declaration in Canterbury
Cathedral,”
Reverend Stephen Rae, vicar of St. James’ Church, Westgate-On-Sea,
told PJ Media in a statement.
“This building that stands sentinel over the Church of England has been a symbol of Anglican leadership with, perhaps, the greatest global reach for centuries.”

“Now it has become synonymous with abdication and dereliction of duty;
it stands accused as a distracted and negligent parent that has abandoned
its children,”
Rae added.
He quoted Ephesians, noting that the apostle Paul called “the faithful
under-shepherd” to “guard the flock against the wolves that would seek to
enter the fold.”

Citing the ordination oath the Church of England, Rae added,
“We are not merely to assert biblical truth.
We who have been entrusted with the precious gospel that speaks life into the
hearts of wretched sinners are also called to drive away anything that would lead the flock away and into judgment.”

“God never calls his people to innovate in matters of first importance,”
the vicar concluded.
“If a leader of the church does this, he has misunderstood his calling.
We are to hold out the radically inclusive gospel that leads to repentance and faith. Playing fast and loose with what God really meant when he said what he said never
turns out well.”

The Southwark Declaration

As clergy and lay people in the Diocese of Southwark:

We affirm the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and their supreme authority
in all matters of faith and conduct.

We affirm with Canon A5 that ‘the doctrine of the Church of England
is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers
and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.’’

We affirm, with Article XX, that ‘it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any
thing that is contrary to God’s Word written.’

We affirm the teaching of Scripture (Genesis 2.24, Mark 10. 7, Matthew 19.5),
the Book of Common Prayer, and Canon B30 (‘Of Holy Matrimony’)
that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life.

We affirm it is the one God-ordained context for sexual intercourse.

We affirm resolution 1.10 on human sexuality of the Lambeth Conference (1998).

We call upon all the Bishops, Archdeacons, and the senior staff of the Diocese,
alongside all clergy and licensed lay ministers, to affirm these truths,
live by them, and to teach in accordance with them.

We call upon the Bishops to appoint to positions of teaching authority
only those who hold to these truths in good conscience.

“Where leaders refuse to repent and submit themselves to the Word of God, the Lord raises up new leadership for His church and new structures: just as He did through Martin Luther 500 years ago.”
(closing excerpt from the “nailed up” Anglican Southwark Declaration)

More on all of this tomorrow but for now, let us allow all of this to sink in…
slowly…
as we pray for the brave vicar and others who are speaking up,
stepping up and letting it be known that the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and the Word of God will stand…despite man’s attempt to alter it or change it
to suit his or her desires….

quiet and still—allowing God to dwell within

The first stage of this tranquility consists in silencing the lips when
the heart is excited.
The second, in silencing the mind when the soul is still excited.
The goal is a perfect peacefulness even in the middle of the raging storm.”

St. John Climacus


(the beauty of the tiny shelf fungus scattered amongst the debris deep in the woods /
Julie Cook / 2017)

Yesterday I read the following words on an Orthodox blogging site and found them to be
both comforting and soothing…
while I also desperately recognized the need to seek that same sense
of hesychia
the seeking of an inner quiet and stillness…
both of which are of the utmost importance–

This as our times are crying so utterly loudly…screaming at us in such a way that
we are actually failing in our attempts at seeking a quiet inner stillness–
We are so full from the madness of our times, so much so, that the place that God
seeks to dwell within our very being is already so terribly full…

Hesychia, stillness [quietude], is essential for man’s purification and perfection,
which means his salvation.
St. Gregory the Theologian says epigrammatically:
“One must be still in order to have clear converse with God and to bring the nous
a little away from those wandering in error”.
Through hesychia a man purifies his heart and nous from passions and thus attains
communion and union with God.
This communion with God, precisely because it is man’s union with God,
also constitutes man’s salvation.

Hesychia is nothing other than “keeping one’s heart away from giving and taking and pleasing people, and the other activities”.
When a person frees his heart [nous] from thoughts and passions,
when all the powers of his soul are transformed and turned away from earthly
[corruptible / decaying / perishable] things and towards God,
then he is experiencing Orthodox hesychia.
St. John of the Ladder writes that stillness of soul is
“the accurate knowledge of one’s thoughts and is an unassailable nous”.
Therefore hesychia is an inner state; it is “dwelling in God”.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos.

inviting and yet locked

“By confronting us with irreducible mysteries that stretch our daily vision
to include infinity, nature opens an inviting and guiding path
toward a spiritual life.”

Thomas More

As polarized as we have been,
we Americans are locked in a cultural war for the soul of our country.

Pat Buchanan


(an inviting, yet closed and obviously shuttered, secluded entrance way / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

There is a lovely Orthodox Christian blog that I follow…
Where I often find the most beautiful wisdom presented in the simplest of fashions.
This morning was no exception.

https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/what-does-charismatic-despair-mean/

When I first read this morning’s posting’s title, with words such as Charismatic and despair…words that at first glance appear to be polar opposites of one another, I wasn’t prepared to find both a sweet reminder as well as an embracing
comfort all rolled into one.

I am reminded that as we each journey through this thing we call life,
we will each inevitably encounter times of great frustration, difficulty…
even overwhelming sorrow.

We will come to those places along on our walk where we find our pathway blocked
with the doorways, those apparent entrances beckoning us to continue forward, each shuttered and locked tight. There will be no obvious alternate path allowing for us
to continue onward, proceeding freely and unhindered.

It is at such a juncture on the path, where we are met by both doubt and despair.

Choice suddenly appears limited or even nonexistent.
Knowing we can’t progress forward and that we certainly can’t turn around,
going back from whence we came…for too much time has passed for turn arounds,
we are stymied. A rushing fear washes over us as we realize that we have
no other options, no choices.

And this is where we must look not obviously outward from ourselves
seeking our answers,
but rather we must look inward…traveling deeply within ourselves.

For it is in this very moment of inward verses outward, of how we will decide
to interact with the obstacles and locked doors,
which will eventually decide how we continue forward on our journey.

And so it is here, tucked gently away in this morning’s reading of simple words
offered by a simple monk, where we are gently yet profoundly reminded that
in our apparent despair, we are driven not by the seemingly overwhelmingness
of that very despair and its accompanying frustration, but rather by the divine interventions of the Spirit…
He who urges us, without our even being aware, to seek the only One who has
the key to unlocking those shattered doors, allowing for us to continue forward
on this odd little journey of ours.

It begins with a frustration or a pain or a sorrow and it ends with
an imploring prayer…


(the wisdom of Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex from the book Remember Thy First Love)

hanging…in the balance

“Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be,
since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.”

Thomas à Kempis

dscn4677
(Sweetgum balls hanging on the branches / Julie Cook / 2016)

Having read an interesting editorial type article this morning
(which was actually yesterday morning if you’re reading this on this particular morning)
I was struck by one sentence in particular, or actually just one part of the sentence…
Stuck such that it was one of those ‘the scales have fallen from my eyes and I can see clearly now’ moments…

…that God has given us over to ourselves…”

Wow!

There is so much truth and clarity in those 8 words that I immediately felt that these past
endless anguishing months of this election misery coupled by the feeling,
from what seems to be a decades long slow demise of our western society…
as in it’s all going to hell in a hand basket and why am I the only person
who seems to feel this way sort of thoughts,
that it all became amazingly crystal clear, snapping into a steely sharp focus,
the instant I read those words…

The article was actually a commentary, or perhaps more of a personal observation,
regarding this election business of ours…
written by Michael Brendan Dougherty, a correspondent at TheWeek.com.
I’d actually found his article posted on a blog post by an Eastern Orthodox monk.
Dougherty is a Catholic…and from reading his article, he’s my kind of Catholic—
as I tend to be a more orthodox Christian.

The entire article is on point, but it was that one sentence
“that God has given us over to ourselves”
which is what really jumped out at me…
like getting hit upside the head with a giant dose of Divine revelation.

And whereas I agree whole heartedly with the opinion of Mr Dougherty,
I know that there are a ton of folks who don’t or won’t and will pooh pooh the notion of
A) that there is a God, let alone one who is holding the balance of life in His hands
and
B) that that opinion is merely the ramblings of some rabid Christian xenophobe who doesn’t
know his a%# from a hole in the ground….

Yes, I’ve heard enough negative Conservative and Christian
bashing as of late to last me a life time….

But the fact that God has most assuredly handed us over to our own devices, or rather,
that He allowed us to hand our own selves over,
what with all that freewill of ours you know,
is so much more true than even most Believers will be able to grasp..

For we, the family of Believers, have tolerated far too much…oh so much…
more than we ever should have…
and for that…we are certainly now reaping what we have sat back and turned
a blind eye to for so very long.

We have tried to blend the world with the Word that was set upon this Earth to live amongst us..
The Word made flesh that came to set this world upside down upon its head…
yet we wanted things to be nice and calm while not rocking any boats..

We wanted to get along and not offend.
We wanted the best of both worlds…His and our own…
So we became hard headed and hard of hearing.
We became the masters of appeasement.
We played the games…
and now the game masters have mastered us…
as we are finding that we believe everything they tell us…hook, line and sinker…

We were told…
by The Divine Word…
how to live…
how to let live…
how to love…
how to behave…
yes, very much like children…
yet we chose not to listen…
trusting rather in our own empty self-centered ideas.

And now we are left wondering how, we as a society and as a people, ever found our way
to this point and this mess.

What mess you ask?

Just look around the globe…

From these two candidates being all we had to choose between…
to the Middle East which is boiling…
To Russia once again becoming our nemesis,
or perhaps we were only fooling ourselves as they’ve never not been our nemesis….

From the earth to which now grows heavy under the weight of our toxic living…
to a seething sea of mass immigration of epic proportions…
To our embracing a culture of death…

our messes are endless…

But as Mr. Dougherty reminds his readers at the end of his editorial,
he reminds us that God’s judgment is not to be infinitely bad
nor is it to be the end of the story…
for in that judgement of our having turned away from Him
is actually our story of Hope…

“But for those who can accept it, God’s judgment is a good thing.
The same fire that consumes the chaff is used to purify gold and silver.

Here’s the full article…
http://theweek.com/articles/659600/election-gods-judgment

And so today,this new morning, we see that life has taken yet another turn…
that perhaps not all have been prepared to take…
May we continue in our prayers for this Nation and her leaders—
that we will turn back to our Sovereign Lord…

If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored:
If you remove wickedness far from your tent

Job 22:23

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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