Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fun Facts: Orthodox Christian Icons

Orthodox "Fun" Facts, if you will: explaining certain aspects of Orthodox iconography. Icons depict people and events of Christian history.

As a Youth Director, I find myself often using Orthodox icons as a main focus when teaching.  Examples include our Church School/Sunday School lessons for our High School Juniors and Seniors, Family Night Program Teen Discussion Series, JOY Club activities, and OCF & YAM lessons.

I usually prepare hand-outs with a printed copy of an Orthodox icon, whether it be a lesson on a Feast in the Life of the Church, Life of an Orthodox Saint, or parables and events during the Life of Christ and His Ministry.  While the use of an icon is proposed as one aspect of the lesson; it seems to take on a life of its own when I'm teaching.  During our Church School lessons, the teens main questions or comments relate to the icon shown in class or on our hand-outs.

One such lesson dealt with the Great Feast of Theophany (Baptism of our Lord).  I was holding an icon of Theophany and one of my teens asked "who/what are the figures at the bottom in the water under Jesus?"  Turning the icon in my hand for a better look, I had a genius moment thinking to myself: I HAVE NO IDEA!

Theophany of our Lord
I decided to do some research and found out that in the bottom of most Theophany Icons, little creatures appear to be fleeing from the feet of Christ. This is a reflection of the words of the Psalmist regarding the Messiah (Christ): "the sea saw and fled, the Jordan turned back" (Psalm 114:3).

The Icon of the Nativity of our Lord:

Nativity of our Lord
In this icon is depicted St. Joseph the Betrothed conversing with an "old man" in the bottom left corner.  This old man represents the devil and his attempt at confusing and tempting Joseph of this great miracle, the birth of the Son of God.  He is beset with new doubts regarding this birth, and these doubts are delivered to him by satan in the form of an old man, as recorded in the Protoevangelium. The devil suggests that if the infant were truly divine He would not have been born in the human way.

The Icon of Ascension:

Ascension of our Lord
In this icon depicting the Ascension of our Lord (40 days after His glorious Resurrection), our Lord was taking into Heaven. As the Acts of the Apostles tell us, "...He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 'Men of Galilee,' they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, Who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven."

This icon is truly a "double icon" meaning that it depicts two events: the Ascension and also the Second & Glorious Coming of our Lord. Our clue to this meaning is the fact that one man who is depicted was not actually present at the Ascension. In the lower right, up front of the icon is the Apostle Paul (dressed in blue and red next to the Theotokos). We know from Scriptures that St Paul was not part of Jesus' following during His earthly ministry, but converted later on in the Early Church.

Icons of Martyr Saints:

St Barbara
St Catherine

St Edward
Saints who have been martyred are usually depicted holding a cross in their hand to symbolize and relate their
strong defense of their Faith even in the face of death.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Tim Tebow Effect

As a Steelers fan, this post sure aint easy to write. Denver just beat Pittsburgh and knocked them out of the playoffs, ending their season. But alas, the show must go on:

It's TEBOW time, if you ask football players, coaches, analysts, and of course fans. But if you ask Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, it's BRONCO time - alluding to a team effort on the field that has led to a winning way these past weeks that Tim Tebow was named the starting quarterback in the NFL.

His name, his play on the field, his determination to win, and his God are all the talk now on the public scene. Commentators and analysts continue to discuss and discuss this recent phenomenon. There are those that are simply loving the fact that Tim Tebow is winning and of course there are those hating it, not simply because they aren't Denver Broncos fans, but because of all the "God talk" that is accompanying his recent success on the field.

Everyone has their own opinions on the subject. Many are baffled about the play on the field and the final outcome - he plays horrible for 3 quarters, but when its crunch time in the 4th, he finds a way to put a W on the scoreboard.

Some claim divine inspiration, others a winning mentality, and some just can't find words to express the "miraculous" (for lack of a better word). Like any public figure, when it comes to his or her personal beliefs, there is a great deal of scrutiny. He's a faithful Christian; giving thanks to God on and off the field. But instead of embracing his outlook on life, many simply aren't comfortable with someone openly giving credit where credit is due - God!

I recently read this one article (one of many being written about Tim Tebow), and one quote in particular really hit home with me. You can read the whole article HERE. The quote is as follows: "Tebow is proof that God goes comfortably into whatever arena of your life you wish to take Him."

While most don't need Tim Tebow as proof to know this fact already, it was a great reminder to me personally. This is how we are called to be Christians! Not to force Christ upon anyone, but to treat everyone as Christ. Don't shy away from your Faith; truly make it your own! Allow room for God in your life.

As Orthodox Christians, we are called to "give glory to God for all things." Our skills, abilities, talents, life, and breath are all gifts given to us from God, and we should not shy away from using them and giving thanks to the One Who gave them to us.

Do I think God has blessed Tim Tebow? Actually, yes! But not just Tim Tebow, He has blessed all of His creation. It's just our responsibility to realize these gifts and give glory to God for them. Would I say God has blessed him if he were losing games? Actually, yes! Tim Tebow may win or lose, but he's still blessed because he remembers to give thanks and glory to God for his talents. But if he were losing, I doubt so many people would be discussing him.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Our Lord's Baptism in the River Jordan

The Gospel account of the Baptism of our Lord according to St Matthew 3:13-17:

"Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?' But Jesus answered and said to him, 'Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he allowed Him. When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'"

The Great Feast of Theophany (a manifestion of God) or Epiphany (a manifestion or revelation) is celebrated on January 6 in the Life of the Church. This Feast has its name because the event of the Baptism of our Lord reveals the great mystery of the Trinity: the Father speaks, the Holy Spirit descends, and the incarnate Son is baptized.

Baptism of our Lord
Image Source

For an interactive lesson explaining the Icon of Theophany, visit HERE.

The Troparion below is one of my favorite Orthodox hymns. I have fond memories of watching my parish priest chant this hymn while swirling the water of the baptismal font with a hand-held blessing cross during the Service of the Great Blessing of the Water (which is celebrated during this Feast).

Troparion (Tone 1) of Theophany:
When Thou, O Lord was baptized in the River Jordan
The worship of the Trinity was made manifest
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee
And called Thee, His beloved Son.
And the Spirit, in the form of a dove,
Confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ, our God, Who has revealed Thyself
And enlightened the world, glory to Thee!

Following the celebration of this Great Feast is the Service of the Great Blessing of Water. We receive Holy Water to take home with us for use throughout the year. Fr Thomas Hopko explains this experience in his book, The Winter Pascha:

"The rite of the Great Blessing of Water begins with the chanting of special hymns with the incensing of the water, and concludes with biblical readings, petitions, and prayers. Since the Son of God has taken human flesh and has appeared in the world, manifesting Himself in His baptism in the Jordan, all flesh and all matter is sanctified. Everything is made pure and holy in Him. Through the "prime element" of water on the feast of the Epiphany the entire creation is shown to be sanctified by God's Word through the same Spirit of God who "in the beginning... was moving over the face of the waters" (Gen 1:2).

May our Lord who deigned to be baptized by John in the River Jordan for our salvation...have mercy upon us and save us!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director