Category Archives: Religion and the Arts

A Review of “Distant Relatives: Ancient Imagery of the Classical Pagan Past and Modern Byzantine Icons”

by Kassandra Ibrahim

Zavitsanos, Contemplating the Creation

This fall, Fordham’s Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art opened a new exhibition entitled “Distant Relatives: Ancient Imagery of the Classical Pagan Past and Modern Byzantine Icons.” The exhibition features large mixed media collages by artist Joni Zavitsanos, whose work combines the traditional aspects of Byzantine Christian iconography with motifs of modern society. I had the opportunity to explore the exhibit in depth and speak with Zavitsanos about the exhibition. Initially, some viewers may be offended by the artist’s choice to use elements of traditional Byzantine iconography in modern creations. Yet, Zavitsanos explains that her work can be seen as a break from tradition because of her drastic modifications to longstanding pictorial motifs. While Zavitsanos makes her own artistic interventions, it is not her intention to undermine the authority of Orthodox Christian imagery.

Zavitsanos’s artwork is heavily influenced by Byzantine iconography. She learned about this pictorial tradition early, since her father, Diamantis Cassis, was a Greek Orthodox Iconographer or painter of icons in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Orthodox Christianity holds certain modes for representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other saints to be authoritative.  Because of this, Orthodox icons feature a limited range of motifs leaving the iconographer with minimal room for individual interpretation. A Byzantine icon from the early centuries of Christianity can look much like one made today. The consistency of imagery invites viewers throughout time to understand the message that these icons are meant to communicate: the everlasting and the divine. Continue reading

The Flame in Our Lady’s Hair

by His Grace Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic)

Paris is not merely a place, it is also a “way of life,” said the Athenian theologian and philosopher Christos Yannaras. And the way of life is always the result of how (the manner in which) things exist. At the onset of this millennium, Catherine Dolez, a professor at the Alliance Française, persistently argued that the term laïcité has became a necessary complement to a tripartite motto liberté, égalité, fraternité, while I endeavored to make her consider koinos logos (Heraclitus’ “general, common cause”) as fundamental for the essential identity of the polis. How can a city be called a city unless it has a constant point of reference that brings all to the same place? In response, she wrote an entire essay on the back of my notebook claiming that the identity of Paris is exactly based on the absence of an underlying logos. On April 15, 2019, it turned out that this city nevertheless does have the fundamental point of reference that makes it coherent: a deep attachment to Notre-Dame de Paris. It was expressed unexpectedly, for a moment only, but quite strong enough to point to that forgotten way, un véritable mode d’existence. The French watched in horror as their magnificent and emblematic cathedral of Our Lady of Paris burned before their very eyes. They were scared of losing their own selves, their identity. The fire caught the Virgin’s hair, but, fortunately, it did not consume it. That fire, though, came at just the right time. Continue reading

Three Ways of Seeing

by Susan P. Bachelder

Rowan Williams has often said that many things are said in his name, so I claim full responsibility for what is a personal and subjective interpretation of the keynote address His Grace, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, gave this June at The Patterson Triennial Conference. Hosted by the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, the conference topic for 2019 was “Faith, Reason, Theosis.” His Grace’s was one of fourteen papers over the course of three days that explored the complex relationship between these terms.

As a practicing Episcopalian, the idea of hearing His Grace speak in the midst of this academic enclave of Orthodox Christianity that resides in the midst of Latin Catholicism was, for my way of thinking, the equivalent of extreme sport. The rigor of academic inquiry bumping into history, schisms, faith traditions, political assumptions and, in one paper, just who does have the last copy of a missing text in Syriac, led to some pretty intense intellectual explorations. As the keynote speaker, Rev. Williams, a thoughtful scholar, master of languages, a philosopher of history, and perhaps most importantly a poet in the service of God, spoke to the act of seeing. A concept as old as the ancients and as fresh as the morning light. Continue reading

Roma Inclusion in Romanian Orthodoxy: Too Little Too Late?

by Maria Alina Asavei

April 8 is celebrated worldwide as the International Roma Day. Romani people both honour their culture across the world and commemorate the centuries of persecutions and mistreatment in light of present Romaphobia and persistent discrimination against the most vulnerable ethic group in Europe. On this occasion, the Archbishop Andrei of Cluj-Napoca celebrated the liturgy both in Romanian and Romani language. Several daily magazines reported about what they call an “unprecedented event in the history of the Romanian Orthodox Church,” highlighting the fact that the Archbishop Andrei also held a religious memorial service that commemorated the Romani victims deported to Transnistria and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although in 2009 another Orthodox service has been celebrated in the Romani language in the capital of Romania (Bucharest)—by the Orthodox priest of Romani origin Daniel Gangă—the liturgy celebrated in Cluj this year, on the occasion of the International Roma Day, brings to the fore front a commemorative practice that nevertheless acts as historical consciousness. By commemorating the Romani victims of deportations in both Romanian and Romani, the Orthodox service revealed that the painful past is not covered in oblivion. The liturgy was celebrated by the Archbishop Andrei and other Orthodox clerics, including Marin Trandafir Roz (the first Orthodox priest of Romani ancestry from Cluj). Romanian press reveals that the Roma community attended the liturgy with enthusiasm, while children received candies and other goodies from the priests. Continue reading