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Praying with Icons: Part 5

With The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan

 

October 24th, 2021

 
 

Processional Cross

Processional Cross

On this procession crucifix, Christ demonstrates that he is the victor of death. He does not hang from the cross, he stands and shows no signs of suffering. His eyes are open, his arms stretched straight out and his feet are parallel. His head inclines slightly to one side and his posture may be interpreted as a welcoming, inviting gesture. Such as interpretation reflects Jesus’ own words from the Gospel of John: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).


The inscription (in Hebraic, Latin, and Greek) which Pilate allowed to be fastened to the cross is reproduced in Latin: “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum” – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The title of king indicates triumph, but Christ’s triumph is a paradox and a mystery because it was won through suffering and death. The martyrs demonstrate this paradox when they gain life by losing it.


John who was an eyewitness to the drama on Calvary tells us that the wound in Christ’s side was inflicted after his death (John 19:33-37). Therefore, strictly speaking, it is historically incorrect to depict the crucified Christ with open eyes and a bleeding wound. However, by ignoring sequential time, the deeper meaning becomes more apparent. The cross is like an altar where the sacrifice was made, and Christ himself is both the sacrifice and the priest who brings the offering. When the crucified Christ is portrayed as awake and with an open wound in his side, it is a manifestation of Christ’s living presence in the Eucharist. It is the resurrected and living Christ who gives himself in the bread and the wine.

 

Just as God opened Adam’s side and formed Eve, so the Church, also called the second Eve and Christ’s bride, has its origin in Christ’s open wound. Through the act of suffering on the cross, Christ demonstrates the very essence of love. And the Church is called upon to pass on that divine love for “Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

-Source: The Mystical Language of Icons. 

 

The Crucifix

The Crucifix


(St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Bergen, Norway. It is the work of an icon painter. The following is taken from the church’s description of the crucifix.)

 

Christ is not portrayed [in this crucifix] with the harsh realism of Golgotha, but we see on the cross the Lord who, “lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to himself” (John 12:32). It is He who is and will be present in the eucharistic elements, and it is He who we receive at communion. The crucifix does not describe a definite historical event but recounts what happens in the mass. In the mass, we give thanks for God’s will to redeem us and are filled with gratitude for his boundless love, which through the sacrifice on the cross was given its unique manifestation. Therefore, we speak of the mass as eucharistic – as a thanksgiving.


Even so, the crucifix also holds memories of those hours of suffering at Golgotha. We see a Calvary group, a motif with long traditions in ecclesiastical art history. The group consists of the crucified Christ flanked by his mother, Mary, and John the disciple he loved. These two represent respectively the Church and all mankind. We remember the Gospel according to John, where Jesus from the cross says to Mary, with an eye to John: “Women, look to your son”, and to John: “Look to your mother.” [John 19:26-27] Thus, Jesus established a relationship between the Church and mankind, a relationship marked by the love he himself is
distinguished by. 

 

Mary is holding out the chalice to receive the blood of Jesus. This motif was chosen expressly to associate the crucifix with what happens at the altar during every mass, namely, that the bread and wine become the Lord’s body and blood, in remembrance of the sacrifice of the cross. As a congregation, we share in the fruit of that sacrifice, and become one in Christ, through this participation, through fellowship – that is to say, through the communion. Mary with the chalice symbolizes the Church, which through the mass mediates to new generations throughout the ages the radiant reality of the sacrifice of the cross. 

 

The crucifix thus gains a new meaning if we look more carefully at where it is placed. It hangs in the choir between two stained glass windows. And what do they portray? On the right Christ who holds the chalice, the king and high priest of The New Covenant, and on the left Melchizedek, the king and high priest of The Old Covenant who carried forth bread and wine and thus anticipated the sacrificial elements of the New Covenant. To portray a New Testament event and its Old Testament counterpart is a very old catechistic technique for illustrating how the Old Testament anticipates and gives notice of what will come to pass in the New Testament.


Between the stained-glass windows’ presentations of the eucharist in an Old Testament and New Testament perspective, the crucifix presents us to the Church: Christ’s mystical body” “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9). Thus, the crucifix with its motifs introduces a perspective of time which also includes us in the [twenty-first] century: “and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

-Source: The Mystical Language of Icons. 

 

“Praying with Icons”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2021.

Posted by Mark Hamby at 6:00 PM
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