Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A "Light of Revelation" For The World

Byzantine style icon of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem forty days after his birth, according to the Law.

Happy Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Today we celebrate the events that occur at the conclusion of St Luke's account of Christ's birth and epiphany. This feast marks forty days after Christmas (already?!) and a week before Lent begins this year.

Our brothers and sisters of St Nicholas Orthodox Church in U.K. have an explanatory chart for the classic Byzantine icon for this event (indeed, they have beautiful charts for icons of all twelve of the Great Feasts. Click the link above.)

Here is the classic icon for the Presentation and a helpful explanatory overview. (N.B. Westerners, "The Panagia" is an ancient Greek reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here we see it used as a proper name, "The All-Holy One.")

Western sacred painting follows a similar pattern as well. Here is THE PRESENTATION by the great early 14th century Italian painter Giotto Di Bondone.

By the way, bookmark the WEBSITE that I must acknowledge as source of the image above. Really, this site should be one of your "go-to" pages for all things Giotto.

CLICK HERE for Giotto, Giotto, Giotto!
Giotto's painting has the same basic iconic form that we saw earlier. Joseph has the doves. In Western tradition Mary has a blue mantle, while East usually clothes her entirely in red. Anna is at the far right. The Temple setting here is in the style of a Christian basilica.

It is significant, however, that here we see the beginning of a more realist style in the West, as Simeon and Anna are both drawn in profile. The Byzantine icon tradition continues to draw saints facing front with both eyes visible. (Note that Giotto still presents Mary and Joseph with both eyes in the classical iconic style.)

All through the world and in the many ancient Christian rites, this "Meeting of the Lord" is celebrated as an epiphany of God incarnate. We have returned one final time to the infant Jesus--the focus of much of our Christmas season meditation--revealed to the humble of Israel who awaited the fulfillment of God's promises with faith. Let us look at how many different traditions testify in images to this revealing event.

A Russian icon of the 15th century, by the incomparable master, Andrei Rublev:

Here is the "Meeting of the Lord" from the Armenian tradition:

The distinctive, almost childlike simplicity of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church:

Finally, a contemporary painting from sub-Saharan Africa:

We can hear the ancient Simeon speaking:
"My eyes have seen Your salvation,
which You prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for Your people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32).
A light of revelation for the Gentiles. The light still burns brightly in so many places.

Let us celebrate this feast with the light of Jesus in our hearts.