Archive for March 20th, 2011

Modern Times

A short film by Graham Annable: 

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A great interview with Ben Hatke, author of Zita the Spacegirl: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2096

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“Seek nothing but to fear Him, to love Him, and to walk in all His ways. This is your boast, and this is your God.”

-St Gregory Palamas

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On St Joseph

Yesterday was the feast of St Joseph in the Roman calendar; in the East he is commemorated on the first Sunday after the Nativity.

I was born the son of a Josephine, great grandson of a Joseph, and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph. I absorbed devotion to St Joseph with my mother’s milk, literally.

One of the first things I learned after I began painting icons is that the image of St Joseph holding the Christ Child is frowned on by many Orthodox Christians. The reasoning, my teacher told me, was that St Joseph holding the Child implies a physical relationship that does not exist, and that such images would erode faith in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.

Because so many Catholic iconographers have offended not only Orthodox but basic Christian sensibilities over the years, I go out of my way to respect Orthodox canons on iconography (that two of the most offensive of these “iconographers” are Catholic religious who are not disciplined by their superiors is a scandal and a sin against unity).

So when I decided to portray the saint I showed him with, but not touching, Christ, on the model of the Kazan Mother of God (the image is above). Some time later I got into a long discussion on this matter and others on an iconography forum. I began with an open mind, but as we proceeded I became less and less convinced of the cogency of the arguments. First, there are other icons where people are touching Christ: St Simeon, St Christopher, the women bathing Him in the Nativity icon. And portrayals of St Joseph holding the Child, or carrying him in the icon of the Flight into Egypt, are not a recent innovation. Second, it became obvious that the folks I was discussing this with simply did not get the warmth of devotion to the saint that is common among Catholics. This is not a criticism;  western Catholics for their part do not share the closeness that Eastern Christians feel toward St Nicholas. Perhaps some of this springs from the presence of St Joseph in the corner of the Nativity icon, where he is commonly said to be doubting what has just occurred. Other commentators say he is deep in contemplation, which seems more in keeping with the Scriptural account, where St Joseph is shown doubting only immediately after Mary’s pregnancy is revealed to him. Who can blame him for  that?  But after the angel appears in a dream to reassure him, he never looks back and is the picture of fidelity, rising immediately to take the Virgin and her Child into Egypt when the angel tells him to. And thirdly, the portrayal of St Joseph holding the Child has been common in the western churches for centuries, with no weakening of belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity. On the contrary, some misguided Roman Catholics have asserted that Joseph was perpetually a virgin, contrary to the older tradition that he was a widower. I won’t even get into the heretical “seer” who had a “revelation” that St Joseph is the incarnation of the Holy Spirit!

I am happy to report that the lack of appreciation of St Joseph is not universal among the Orthodox, and I discovered this video yesterday which proves the point. The anonymous maker of the film has done extensive research and presents his case well. He has done a great service the Church.

As for me, I would not hesitate to paint the icon of St Joseph holding the Christ Child.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. While the US stood by as Congolese, Somalis, Sudanese and so many others slaughtered one another, suddenly we are struck by the need to intervene in oil-rich Libya’s troubles. No mention of a no-fly zone when Israel bombs Palestinians, mind you. Thankfully there are men of principle on the Left who rise to the occasion:

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