Archive for April 24th, 2011

Redeemed by Beauty

My Great and Holy Saturday was a lot like the Apostles’, even though unlike them I knew how the story turned out. I was discouraged, disgruntled and feeling let down.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that; I had planned it so well. Scheduled off work for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I had taken a week’s vacation for Bright Week, the week after Easter. I had observed the traditional fast fairly strictly, though as my “Lenten Survival Tools” posts indicate, as a sensualist and a weak man I made sure my fare was as savory as possible (you will know I am serious about asceticism when I give up Papp’s Hungarian peppers).

And I was working daily on my icon of the Mother of God of the Sign, an integral part of my Lenten regimen.

Then it all fell apart. On Palm Sunday, after attending my son Joseph’s play, I began feeling ill. By Monday morning I was sick, but, thanks to my Calvinist ancestry’s overblown work ethic,  I made the mistake of going to work.  That was a rough day, and by Tuesday, fevered and aching, working was not an option.

Early Tuesday morning, my two year old, unsupervised for the moment, decided he would help with my icon, which was in its final stages. He smeared red paint all over it, and while I can probably repair it, I decided to simply start over. It had given me trouble at every step; I had to repaint the faces three times and still was not satisfied. So now my dilemma was solved by a mischievous child. While I have often remarked on the ways iconography parallels life, I decided that the only lesson here was about two year olds, and anyway I was not up to much but wiping the paint off and collapsing into bed.

By Wednesday evening I felt well enough to attend Great and Holy Wednesday liturgy, one of the most beautiful of the year, when the faithful receive the sacrament of anointing. I figured my illness had played itself out, but Thursday it had morphed into a raging cold. I went to work, but by evening was too sick to attend Holy Thursday liturgy. Not a bad one to miss, if one must, as it is long and trying even when rested and well.

Meanwhile, my work schedule was changed. I would have to work Friday and Saturday. I dragged my self through the work day, and off to the very beautiful Great and Holy Friday service, but by Saturday I was adrift. Apparently, I thought, I was doomed to face Pascha feeling like crap. Next year, I grumbled, I was just going to eat a hamburger, make love with my bride, and be done with it. It’s not like I was feeling all righteous; I did have some sort of sense of accomplishment for what I viewed as a good Lent, but that was tempered by my realization that I never would have gotten through it without red pepper flakes, bock beer and the other concessions to my weakness. And the icon? Well, maybe there was some message there. At first I said no, that would make Danny, my two year old, a symbol of evil, destroying the image of God, and he is a sweet and winsome lad. But if I saw it in another way, as him only destroying my distorted notion of God, well it looked different. And why had it proved to be such a difficult icon, anyway? I rarely have to retouch faces; I have always been pretty good at them, even before I had a clue about rendering robes, say, or making decent lettering. Well, my brushes are getting old; painting with old brushes is sort of like playing guitar with gloves on your hands. Well, not that awkward, certainly, but when brushes have lost their spring and shape it makes precision very difficult. But maybe it was more than that, some flaw in my vision?

So there I was, driving to Resurrection Matins Saturday evening, downhearted and annoyed with God. Sick during Holy Week. The words of St Teresa came to mind, to the effect that if this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few.

I worried that I was so exhausted by the week that I would not even be able to enter into the spirit of the Resurrection celebration.

Not to worry. As soon as Father Miron appeared, holding the icon of the Resurrection aloft and chanting “Christ is risen from the dead! By death He trampled death and to those in the tombs He granted life!” I was a goner, smitten by the beauty of the Resurrection. The whole service was ecstatic, and I left with a feeling of well-being, even thankfulness. There is nothing wrong with humiliation and suffering during Holy Week; duh. Of course I thought I had brought enough of that on myself with my abstinence, however savory I tried to make it. But Christ saw my need for something more, and gave that gift to me, however unwilling I was to accept it.

And in the end I stood in awe, redeemed by beauty.


Icon by Daniel Nichols

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I don’t have network TV, but if I did, this is what I would be watching tonight:


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