A Secret Code in a Secret Supper

Finished reading The Secret Supper yesterday, the sort of reading material I usually don’t bother with but I found it in the bargain section of Borders and decided to pick it up for some casual reading.  Though I can’t compare it to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, which I never read, according to some reviews (and one of the reasons I ended up picking it up), Sierra’s novel offers something that Brown’s lacked: it’s well-written.

The story, in a nutshell, is about a priest named Agostino Leyre who is sent from Rome to the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in present day Milan to investigate a certain Leonardo da Vinci as he works on a suspicious piece of art, his Cenacolo, the Last Supper. Rome has received anonymous tips from a Soothsayer who sends notes, riddles to the Holy See warning them that, for instance, if the Santa Maria della Grazie, while it was being built, should be finished it would bring calamities to the papacy.  And so Fr. Agostino is sent to solve a few mysteries: to solve this most recent code that was sent, to  figure out who the mysterious Soothsayer is and what exactly are the charges he has against Leonardo da Vinci.

In the book the suggestion is made that the famed painter was not a good Christian.  Moreover, he is depicted as one who is awaiting the coming of the church of St. John, part of the Cathar heresy and there is clearly a message he is trying to convey in his masterpiece. I suppose I shouldn’t spoil the end for anyone out there that wants to go out and read this book.  It’s a word. Jesus forms the obvious letter “A” in the center of the picture and now to figure out the other letters…In the end, the word is actually the name of a Cathar sacrament.

It’s fact mixed with fiction so that in the end one isn’t quite sure what part is history and what part, well, just casual reading.

A Contemporary Manner of Painting

A quote from Fr. Stamatis Skliris, priest, iconographer and medical doctor whose icons I’ve posted here in the past (here,here) from an interview I found in a recent issue of Pravoslavlje, the publication of the Serbian Patriarchate, when he was asked for his thoughts on the current state of iconography:

“I would begin with the words of one painter and professor at the Academy “Bozar” in Paris, who is not a member of the Church. When he came to one of my exhibits in Paris and saw my Theotokos of Vladimir, he said, “You know what, that you painted a copy of an icon from the 11th, 12th century, for me as a contemporary man, means nothing. It only means that people in the 11th century believed that the Theotokos gave birth to Christ. If you as a contemporary man want to preach Christ and the Theotokos, you have to find a contemporary manner of painting, so that we are convinced that that which you are preaching is true. Everything you transfer from the past, it is not real, that is, it’s not yours; those are others who lived that faith and you only show us that they had faith.

This was the essential question for me. Secondly, the late Fr. Porphyrios, at one time in Athens asked me: “Why do you iconographers put some sort of shadows on the faces, between the forehead and the nose?” My answer was that it was the Byzantine style. This holy man answered: “Do not stick to that! It is important that a Saint, when he is in the grace of God, is all in light and has no shadows. Please portray that in the icons. This is reality! That is the truth of the Saint!” And he himself (Fr. Porphyrios) resided in light…”.

A small snippet. If I get a chance I’ll translate more.

The Pursuit of Happiness

H/T: Fr. Ted’s blog (here):

It has been claimed that the happiness of the individual is the greatest good according to the American culture. The happiness of the individual is even part of the American Declaration of Independence and the rights of the individual are guaranteed and protected by a host of charters and documents not only here but also now-a-days through out the world.

The happiness and the rights of the individual seems also to imply that protection from the other is a fundamental necessity (Zizioulas, SVSQuarterly, Vol 8, No 4, 1994, p 349). In other words, apparently, if we are to be happy, we must always be protected from the other person who might somehow infringe upon our freedoms. In this system, the “other”, any other person to some extent is always an enemy to my freedom and happiness.We all are familiar with the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son and its lesson on repentance. I do not want you to forget or lose that lesson. The hymn of the prodigal which you can find in your bulletin reminds us of this lesson, it is a message of great significance as we prepare to enter into Great Lent, that prime season for repentance and confession.

I do also want to challenge you with the Gospel message that the “other,” the other person, all other people, are not our enemies when it comes to salvation. In fact, one common idea to all of the prelenten Sunday Gospel Lessons is that our neighbor is our salvation.

Today’s lesson, the Prodigal Son exercises his individual freedom and separates himself from the constraints of father and family. But, he becomes spiritual heroic only when he comes to his senses and repents and returns to his father to beg forgiveness. Then as the story continues the elder brother wants freedom from that no-good brother of his. But the father pleads for unity, communion, compassion, empathy, sympathy, love. All of these virtues are possible only when there exist others to love and be in communion with. The Lord’s teaching implies love for the other, not separation from them.

Last Sunday, we heard the Gospel lesson of the Publican and the Pharisee, again it was the story’s bad guy, the Pharisee who thanks God that he is not like the other. The Pharisee is glad that he is not like the Publican and that he has nothing to do with the Publican. Yet, according to our Lord it is not this Pharisee who God considers as righteous. Again, we have in God a responsibility to love the other, as God does love every one whom He has created.

Next Sunday is the Gospel lesson of the Last Judgement. Again it is the person who cares for and loves the other, who loves the least of the others, who is called blessed by Christ and who is welcomed into the heavenly joy of the Master.

So many other gospel lessons have a similar theme. The Good Samaritan. Jesus’ lesson when he washes the feet of his disciples. The neighbor, the “other,” is our salvation. Unity, communion with one another, love are all great goods in the Kingdom of God.

Now I know, like you know, that it is not always easy or the easy way to love others. It is not always easy to maintain community or communion with others. It is not easy to love those who make themselves unlovable in our eyes. We wish we could be free of those “others” who irritate us, fail us, hurt us, disappoint us, sin against us. It might be our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors, fellow parishioners. We have a parish meeting or an annual meeting and we get angry at the other, and we thank God that we are not like the other and wish we did not have to deal with the other.But our Lord, calls us to love one another, to maintain the concord and unity of peace in our marriages, families and parishes. We are taught to love one another even as He has loved us. We are both to repent of how we wrongly and selfishly separate ourselves from others, and we are to embrace and accept those who repent and come back to us.

The desert Fathers said that hell, the eternal death, is nothing more then isolation from the other (Zizioulas, p 351).

Communion, that reception of the life-giving Body and Blood of our Savior is that union not only with Christ but with all those who hear His voice and are united to the Savior of our Souls.

As we approach the Holy Chalice to receive that Eucharist, let us in our hearts unite ourselves to one another, in love, compassion, empathy, sympathy and in every virtue which binds us together in God. Amen.

Life is indestructible

This translation is not the best but the message is beautiful. Bishop Danilo (Krstic) of blessed memory is always a treat to listen to. Above is the short You Tube clip:

“…The  sky and heaven, we say heavens in the plural. Meaning God is not in heaven but in the heavens. This is outside of space. Time does not flow there and that’s why the Lord Jesus Christ again returns at thirty three years of age, the same age He was when He ascended.  And all of us old people will resurrect at thirty three years of age, we are rejuvenated. And even children will in seconds time, even that bullet size baby that was aborted by his mother. He too will resurrect in a second to that age of thirty three and will say to his mother, “Hello mama, you were able to steal from me my earthly life but you can’t steal from me the eternal, heavenly life. And this will be joy to the mother, for life is indestructible. God is the greatest sculptor who, through the love of mother and father, forms a new living statue. We were all living statues in the wombs of our mothers which God created. The love of mother and father works in cooperation with God’s creating love.”

Adam’s “infantile mind”

The Meeting of the Lord, which we on the old calendar celebrate on this 15th of February, is, similar to Theophany and the Circumcision, an event from the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ where He demonstrates His divine kenosis. Or, as Metropolitan Hierotheos says at one place, “Since the Word of God Himself gave the law to Moses, when He assumed human flesh He had to keep the law, so as not to be a law-breaker.” The metropolitan continues:

“By means of this infancy He cured Adam’s “infantile mind”. When God formed Adam in Paradise, Adam was an infant as to grace and sanctification. He did have an illuminated nous, but he had to be tested and attain deification. Since he was unshaped and an infant in spirit, because he had a infantile mind, he was easily deceived by the evil demon, who awaken him to sin and evil. Therefore Christ having the bodily age of an infant cured not only Adam’s infantile mind also his human nature and did what the first Adam failed to do. Thus, by the incarnation of His Son, God the Father made the deification of man more sure and effective. In Christ the devil could no longer deceive man’s human nature, as he had done with ease in the first Adam.”

The Feasts of the Lord
Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos
p. 80