Papist Orthodoxy

November 3, 2009

THE DOMESTIC CHURCH (PART 2): THE UNIVERSAL CALL TO RELIGIOUS LIFE

Filed under: domestic church, Liturgy, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 12:56 am

According to Christians of the East, both Catholic and Orthodox, the Domestic Church is the Christian family comprising the smallest unit of the Christian community based upon the dictates of Our Lord as found in St. Matthew’s Gospel (18:20): “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Based on this, logic clearly shows that essentially the Christian home is the gathering of two or more people because of and in the name of Christ. As the smallest extant example of the Church, it has in its microcosm the same general duties of, let’s say, a parish church: worship, Christian fellowship, charity, education in the faith, growth in virtue, evangelism, hospitality and works of mercy.

It is here that the notion of the “universal call to religious life” is to be understood. Too often Christians misinterpret this “universal call” as a universal call to some version of monasticism or priestly (ministerial) life, as if this is all that comprises what is “religious” or what is Christian. The laity, by this mindset, are relegated to something that has to be tolerated — as a group that should show up and shut up — “pay, pray, and obey” — for the laity are “weak” since they did not follow the “universal call” but instead accepted the barely tolerable state of the lay, family life. This attitude is regularly conveyed if not outright spoken. This attitude, my friends, is nothing short of CLERICALISM and is condemned by the Church. In spite of the efforts of various Popes going back to Bl. Pius IX to curtail this error, it seems that many Catholics embrace this attitude and dub it as “traditional”. “Traditional” because of what –it’s antiquity? Heresy is ancient too.

Further, some of my friends and I have been told that we must have a vocation to the ministerial priesthood because we pray, read the Bible, and go the Divine Liturgy/Mass regularly. The normal has become mistaken for the extraordinary (and folks, I’ll be the first to admit that I could afford to spend more time praying — so in this I do not feel I even meet what should be the “norm”), and the universal call of the Christian is mistaken for the special call to the ordained life. Fulfilling the basic norms of the Christian, whatever his state, is not a sign of a special calling to the priesthood or monastic life.

The universal call to the religious life is nothing more than what is fulfilled in a loving and devout Christian home, the Domestic Church: worship, Christian fellowship, charity, education in the faith, growth in virtue, evangelism, hospitality and works of mercy. St. Benedict, the Father of Western Monasticism, even says that the Christian home, too, is to be “a school for the Lord’s service”. We are ALL called to the religious life; however, NOT ALL  are called to be monks and nuns. Yes, shocking as it may be to some…marriage is a VOCATION and a SACRAMENT.

The universal call to the religious life is best exemplified in prayer; and in the Domestic Church, it is the prayer of the family. What prayer? Which prayers? Well, any really; but if you want to “bring the Church home”, as it were, then bring the prayer of the Church home as best epitomized in the liturgies. The most ancient practice of this, both East and West, was the praying of the psalter as a family around the house shrine, the icon corner, the home altar.  St. Hippolytus as far back as the second century makes reference to its common practice among the laity. The psalter, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours as it is more commonly referred to today, is the official liturgical prayer of the Church, second ONLY to the Divine Liturgy/Mass due to its sacred origins. The Psalms are divine poetry composed by God through human instrumentality and directed back to God. Who better to praise God than God? Who better to instruct in Wisdom and show us the prophecies than God? So, instead of the smorgasborg of personal, private devotions for one’s morning and night prayers, why not pray Prime or Lauds for morning prayer and Vespers or Compline for night prayer? Why not pray it as a family? This is the Devotio Antiqua. If you do this, then those artificial distinctions between “lay spiritualities” and “monastic spiritualities” and “clerical spiritualities” disappear, for the spirituality simply becomes a scriptural and liturgical spirtuality — the spirituality of the Apostolic Fathers, the Desert Fathers, and the Fathers of the Church.

Yes, be a religious, for we are all called to pray and perform works of mercy. Some of us are even called to be monks, nuns, and priests.

October 29, 2009

ICON CORNER: A Beginning

Filed under: Sacred & Liturgical Arts — Tags: , , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 5:41 pm

Below are some images of the beginning of our new “icon corner” or “icon wall”. These icons were blessed and heard the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Solitude Cloister & Retreat, a Melkite monastic foundation in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. These new “portals to heaven” are replicas of classic Greek icons.

Most of those who read this blog (all 6 of you) are Latin Rite Catholics and might be unfamiliar with the whole notion of the “icon corner” or the “icon wall”. They might even be unfamiliar with the theology of the icon. As a preface I have excerpted some articles on icons, iconography, and the icon wall.

The New Icon Corner

With an Italian iconographic crucifix, Christ the Life-Giver, and the All-Holy Theotokos.

From Orthodox Wiki via Agios Icons.

Iconography (from Greek: εικωνογραφία) refers to the making and liturgical use of icons, pictorial representations of Biblical scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, historical events in the life of the Church, and portraits of the saints. Icons are usually two-dimensional images and may be made of paint, mosaic, embroidery, weaving, carving, engraving, or other methods. A person who practices the art of iconography is called an iconographer.

Images have always been a vital part of the Church, but their place was the subject of the Iconoclast Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries, especially in the East. The Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of the Great Fast (Lent) every year celebrates the reestablishment of the Orthodox veneration of icons. The use of iconography is considered one of the most distinctive elements of the Byzantine Rite.

History

From the first centuries of Christianity, icons have been used for prayer. Orthodox Tradition tells us, for example, of the existence of an icon of the Christ during his lifetime, the Icon-Not-Made-With-Hands, and of the icons of the Theotokos immediately after him written by the All-laudable Apostle and Evangelist Luke.

Egyptian death masks

Historically, the icon is thought to be a descendant of the Egyptian death masks that were painted on mummies wrapped in strips of glue and powered gypsum soaked linen. This led to the traditional icon painting technique of gluing linen on a board, gessoing it, and painting on it. The Christian icon also inherited the cultic task of the ritual mask and exalted this task. The task that revealed the deified spirit of the deceased resting in eternity. The spiritual essence of the old Cult was transfigured into a new cultural image manifesting itself more perfectly than the old.

Unlike the mask, the Christian icon is not part of a mummy or sarcophagus, it does not need to connect to a saint’s body. No matter where on earth the saint’s remains are, and no matter the physical condition, his resurrected and deified body lives in eternity, and the icon that shows him forth does not merely depict the holy witness but is the very witness. It is not the icon, as art, that tells us anything, it is the saint, through the icon that is teaching. This window, to the resurrected, breaks when the icon itself is separated by the observer, from the saint it depicts. At that moment the icon just becomes another thing of this world. The vital connection between haven and earth disintegrates.

“Written” or “painted”?

The most literal translation of the word Greek: εικονογραφία (eikonographia) is “image writing,” leading many English-speaking Orthodox Christians to insist that icons are not “painted” but rather “written.” From there, further explanations are given that icons are to be understood in a manner similar to Holy Scripture—that is, they are not simply artistic compositions but rather are witnesses to the truth the way Scripture is. Far from being imaginative creations of the iconographer, they are more like scribal copies of the Bible.

While the explanation of the purpose and nature of icons is certainly true and consistent with the Church’s Holy Tradition, there is a linguistic problem with the insistence on the word written rather than painted. In Greek, a painted portrait of anyone is also a γραφή (graphi), and the art of painting itself is called ζωγραφική (zographiki) while any drawing or painting can be referred to as ζωγραφιά (zographia). Ancient Greek literally uses the same root word to refer to the making of portraits and the making of icons, but distinguishes whether it is “painting from life” (ζωγραφιά) or “painting icons” (εικονογραφία). Thus, from a linguistic point of view, either all paintings—whether icons or simple portraits—are “written” or (more likely) “painted” is a perfectly usable English translation, simply making a distinction between the painting appropriate for icons and that appropriate for other kinds of painting, just as Greek does.

Some have suggested that icon writing be used because of the fact that for many centuries, (whether the early Church, the persecutions against the Christians by the pagan authorities, or more recently around the Orthodox World when the faithful have been subjected to non-Orthodox authority), icons were the books of the illiterate and through the depiction of an often simple image refer to and confirm the fundamental belief of the Church; the Incarnation. God’s becoming human, his undertaking and sanctifying of human nature and matter in general means that He can be depicted using matter.

The New Icon Corner

A close view of the icons with a traditional lantern.

And now an article on the “icon corner”. This also comes to us from Wikipedia via Agios Icons.

The Icon Corner (Greek: εικονοστάσι) is a small worship space prepared in the homes of Eastern Orthodox or Greek-Catholic Christians.

The Book of Acts and the Epistles of the Apostle Paul record that in the early Church, Christians used to meet in the homes of the faithful. (Acts 2:46, Acts 20:7-12, I_Corinthians 16:19, etc.) This tradition of the “House Church” continues to this day in Eastern Christianity. The home is considered to be a microcosm of the Church. The parents (both the husband and the wife) are the “clergy” of the house church, and the children are the “laity.” The wedding ceremony (“crowning”) is analogous to Ordination, and the house is blessed with a rite that is based upon the Consecration of a Church. Once a year, the priest will come to bless the house with Theophany Water.

An Orthodox Christian is expected to pray constantly. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, “[I]n Orthodox spirituality, [there is] no separation between liturgy and private devotion.”[1] Thus the house, just like the Temple (church building), is considered to be a consecrated place, and the center of worship in the house is the Icon Corner.

An Icon Corner is normally oriented to face east. It is often located in a corner to eliminate worldly distractions and allow prayer to be more concentrated. Here is where the icons that the family owns should be located, normally including at least icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the Patron Saint(s) of the family. An oil lamp normally hangs in front of the icons. The careful trimming of the lamp to keep it burning at all times is interpreted as symbolic of the attentive daily care faithful Christians should take over their souls. Relics of saints (if the family possesses any) and a Gospel Book and a blessing cross would be kept there, as well as incense, holy water, palms and pussywillow from Palm Sunday, candles from Pascha (Easter), and other sacred items, as well as a personal Commemoration Book (containing the names of family and loved ones, both living and departed, to be remembered in prayer).

Ideally, the Icon Corner is located so that it is visible when one first enters the house from the main entrance. Traditionally, when first entering the house, an Orthodox Christian would venerate the icons before greeting the members of the house.

A traditional Orthodox family will gather together every day for morning and evening prayers. Sometimes, at the end of the prayers, the head of the household will take the hand censer and cense the icons and all of the members of the household.

Often, in addition to the Icon Corner, a family will hang a small “Portal Icon” (usually of the Virgin and Christ Child) by the door, which is venerated by family and guests whenever going in or out of the house.

Notes

1.^ Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, London, 1964, ISBN 0-14-020592-6), p. 310.

With the lit lantern and the smoke of the incense rising with our prayers.

With lantern lit and the smoke of the incense rising with our prayers.

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