Wednesday, December 31, 2008

With Stories Like These, Who Needs Videos?

The Holy Martyr Boniface

Commemorated on December 19

The Holy Martyr Boniface was the slave of a rich young Roman woman named Aglaida and he dwelt with her in an iniquitous cohabitation. But they both felt the sting of conscience and they wanted somehow to wash away their sin. And the Lord deigned to grant them the possibility to cleanse away their sin with their blood and to finish their sinful life with repentance. Agaliada learned, that if relics of the holy martyrs be reverently kept in the home, then through their prayers it becomes the easier to receive salvation, since under their graced influence sinfulness is diminished and virtues prevail. She arranged for Boniface to go to the East, where at the time there was a fierce persecution against Christians, and she asked him to bring back the relics of some martyr or other, who would become for them a guide and protector. In making his farewell Boniface laughed and asked: "And what if, lady, I do not find the relics, and instead I myself suffer for Christ, – wilt thou accept my body with reverence?" Aglaida took his words seriously and she scolded him, that he was setting off on a sacred matter, but he was not taking it seriously. Boniface pondered over her words, and the whole while of the journey he was absorbed in thought.
Having journeyed to Cilicia, to the city of Tarsus, Boniface left his companions at the inn and proceeded to the city square, where they were torturing the Christians. Struck by the beastly horrible torments, and seeing the faces of the holy martyrs radiant with the grace of the Lord, Boniface was drawn to them with sympathy in his heart, and he rushed up to them, kissed their feet and besought their holy prayers, that he also might be found worthy to suffer with them. The judge thereupon asked Boniface, who was he? Boniface answered: "I am a Christian", – and then refused to make the sacrificial offering to idols. They therewith gave him over to torture: they beat him so hard, that the flesh lay bare the bones, they stuck needles under his nails, and finally they poured molten tin down his throat, but by the power of the Lord he remained unharmed. The people round about the judgement-seat went into an uproar, they began to throw stones at the judge, and then they headed off for the pagan temple, to cast down the idols. On the following morning, when they had quieted down the unrest somewhat, the judge directed that the holy martyr be thrown into a cauldron of boiling tar, but this also caused the sufferer no harm: an Angel come down from Heaven moistened him, and the tar overflowed the cauldron, splattering and burning the torturers themselves. Saint Boniface was then sentenced to beheading by the sword. From his wounds flowed blood and a milky fluid; beholding such a miracle, about 550 men believed in Christ.
Amidst this the companions of Saint Boniface, waiting at the inn for him for two days in vain, began searching around for him, thinking that he had gotten caught up in some frivolous past-time. At first their search was without success, but finally they came across a man, who had been an eyewitness to the martyr's death of the saint. The eyewitness also led them to the place, where lay the decapitated body. The companions of Saint Boniface with tears besought of him forgiveness for their unseemly thoughts about him, and having ransomed for a sizeable sum of money the remains of the martyr, they brought them back to Rome.
On the eve of their arrival an Angel appeared to Aglaida in her sleep and bid her prepare herself to receive her former slave, now his own man and a patron, serving together with the Angels. Aglaida summoned the clergy, with great reverence she received the venerable relics, and then she built on the place of his grave a church in the name of the holy martyr and put there his relics, glorified by numerous miracles. Having distributed to the poor all her wealth, she withdrew to a monastery, where she spent eighteen years in repentance and during her lifetime she acquired the miraculous gift to cast out unclean spirits. She herself was buried nearby to the tomb of the Martyr Boniface.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

John of Antioch, also called Malala, from his Chronography concerning the "Woman with the Issue of Blood, who erected a Monument to Christ."

From that time John the Baptist became known to men, and Herod, toparcha of the Trachonitis region beheaded him in the city of Sebaste, on the eighth day of the kalends of June, Flaccus and Ruffinus being consuls. King Herod, Philip's son, in grief at this event, left Judea. A rich woman, Berenice by name, who was also living at Paneada, sought him out wishing as she had been cured by Jesus, to erect a monument to Him. Not daring to do it without the king's consent, she presented a petition to King Herod, asking to be allowed to erect a golden monument in that city to our Lord. The petition ran thus:--

To the august Herod, toparcha, law-giver of Jews and Greeks, King of Trachonitis, a suppliant petition from Berenice, an inhabitant of Paneada. You are crowned with justice and mercy and all other virtues. Knowing this and in good hope of success, I am writing to you. If you read my beginning you will soon be instructed as to facts. From child hood I suffered with an issue of blood, and spent my time and my substance on doctors, and was not cured. Hearing of the wonderworking Christ, how He raised the dead to life again, put forth devils, and cured the sick by one word, I also went to Him as to God. And approaching the crowd which surrounded Him fearing lest He should turn me away in anger on account of my complaint, and that I should feel it more, I said to myself, "If I could only touch the border of His garment, I should be cured." I had no sooner touched it than the hemorrhage stopped, and I was cured on the spot. And He, as if He had read my heart's desire, said aloud, "Who has touched Me? Power has gone out of Me!" And I pale and trembling, thinking to throw off my sickness the sooner, prostrated myself at His feet, bathing the ground with my tears, and confessed my action. He in His goodness compassionating me, assured me of my cure, saying: "Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith has healed thee. Go in peace!" Do you now, august ruler, grant my righteous petition. King Herod receiving this petition, was struck with wonder and in awe at the cure, replied: "The cure wrought for you, O woman, deserves a splendid monument. Go then and put up any memorial you like to Him, in praise of the Healer." And immediately Berenice the sick woman of yore, set up in the midst of her own city of Paneada a monument in bronze, adorned with gold and silver. It is still standing in the city of Paneada. Not long ago it was taken from the place where it stood to the middle of the city, and placed in a house of prayer. One, Batho, a converted Jew, found it mentioned in a book which contained an account of all those who had reigned over Judea.

Saint John of Damascus

"Be assured that any one wishing to pull down an image erected out of pure zeal for the glory and enduring memory of Christ, or of His holy Mother, or any of the saints, to put the devil and his satellites to shame,--anyone, I say, refusing to honour and worship this image as sacred--it is not to be worshipped as God--is an enemy of Christ, of His blessed Mother, and of the saints, and is an advocate of the devil and his crew, showing grief by his conduct that the saints are honoured and glorified, and the devil put to shame. The image is a hymn of praise, a manifestation, a lasting token of those who have fought and conquered, and of demons humbled and put to flight."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Matter Matters!

St John of Damascus
"Answer me this question. Is there only one God? You answer, "Yes, there is only one Law-giver." Why, then, does He command contrary things? The cherubim are not outside of creation; why, then, does He allow cherubim carved by the hand of man to overshadow the mercy-scat? Is it not evident that as it is impossible to make an image of God, who is uncircumscribed and impassible, or of one like to God, creation should not be worshipped as God. He allows the image of the cherubim who are circumscribed, and prostrate in adoration before the divine throne, to be made, and thus prostrate to overshadow the mercy-seat. It was fitting that the image of the heavenly choirs should overshadow the divine mysteries. Would you say that the ark and staff and mercy-seat were not made? Are they not produced by the hand of man? Are they not due to what you call contemptible matter? What was the tabernacle itself? Was it not an image? Was it not a type and a figure? Hence the holy Apostle's words concerning the observances of the law, "Who serve unto the example and shadow, of heavenly things." As it was answered to Moses, when he was to finish the tabernacle: "See" (He says), "that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shown thee on the Mount." (Heb. 8.5; Ex. 25.40) But the law was not an image. It shrouded the image. In the words of the same Apostle, "the law contains the shadow of the goods to come, not the image of those things." (Heb. 10.1) For if the law should forbid images, and yet be itself a forerunner of images, what should we say? If the tabernacle was a figure, and the type of a type, why does the law not prohibit image-making? But this is not in the least the case. There is a time for everything. (Eccl. 3.1)

Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, (Bar. 3.38) I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God's body is God by union (kaq upostasin), it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by a logical and reasoning soul. I honour all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulchre, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honouring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing is that which God has made. This is the Manichean heresy. That alone is despicable which does not come from God, but is our own invention, the spontaneous choice of will to disregard the natural law,--that is to say, sin. If, therefore, you dishonour and give up images, because they are produced by matter, consider what the Scripture says: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Behold I have called by name Beseleel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Juda. And I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom and understanding, and knowledge in all manner of work. To devise whatsoever may be artificially made of gold, and silver, and brass, of marble and precious stones, and variety of wood. And I have given him for his companion, Ooliab, the son of Achisamech, of the tribe of Dan. And I have put wisdom in the heart of every skilful man, that they may make all things which I have commanded thee." (Ex. 31.1-6) And again: "Moses said to all the assembly of the children of Israel: This is the word the Lord hath commanded, saying: Set aside with you first fruits to the Lord. Let every one that is willing and hath a ready heart, offer them to the Lord, gold, and silver, and brass, violet, and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen, goat's hair, and ram's skins died red and violet, coloured skins, selim-wood, and oil to maintain lights and to make ointment, and most sweet incense, onyx stones, and precious stones for the adorning of the ephod and the rational. Whosoever of you is wise, let him come, and make that which the Lord hath commanded." (Ex. 35.4-10) See you here the glorification of matter which you make inglorious. What is more insignificant than goat's hair or colours? Are not scarlet and purple and hyacinth colours? Now, consider the handiwork of man becoming the likeness of the cherubim. How, then, can you make the law a pretence for giving up what it orders? If you invoke it against images, you should keep the Sabbath, and practise circumcision. It is certain that "if you observe the law, Christ will not profit you. You who are justified in the law, you are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5.2-4) Israel of old did not see God, but "we see the Lord's glory face to face." (IICor. 3.18)"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christ Is Born!

The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

There is so much here! 

For starters, notice that Joseph is off to the bottom left. This is his proper position in the Nativity icon. Think of the Gospel account - Joseph is righteous and protects Mary and Jesus, but he is not involved in the miracle of the incarnation of the Son of God. The old man speaking to him represents the devil bringing new doubts to Joseph. Some angels are looking up- glorifying God. Some angels are looking down, tending to the action and ministering. The two women on the right are the midwives which our pious tradition says Joseph summoned. This is shown here to indicate that Jesus was born in the normal way and would have needed washing, as a regular human baby would.

Notice that the manger is like a casket, (He was born to die!) and his swaddling clothes are very much like the grave clothes shown in the icon of the myrrh-bearing women below.

The tree below the baby is the "Jesse Tree" from prophesy, which says that a shoot will sprout from the stump (tree) of Jesse (the father of King David) “A shoot shall sprout from the stump (tree) of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him” Isaiah 11:1-2

The ox and the ass are also from Old Testament prophecy, always shown near the Christ child, providing warmth from their breath: Isaiah (1:3) “The ox knows his owner , and the donkey his master’s crib”