Category Archives: Sacramental and Liturgical Life

Encountering the Mandylion Icon of Christ

by V.K. McCarty | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Icon of Christ

“The indescribable glory of His face was changing through grace”—Menaion for August.

Since the feast-day of the Mandylion Ikon of Christ, memories of encountering it have been galvanizing my prayer, recalling an extraordinary encounter meeting it on pilgrimage many years ago. The Mandylion Icon “Not Made by Hands” occupies a central place among Orthodox images of Christ, although its origins are shrouded in mystery. The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 gave attention to it, and to commemorate the triumph of the holy images, it is this icon of Christ which is venerated at the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The expression “not made by hands” derives its meaning from its Gospel context: “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made by hands” (Mark 14:58). The term acheiropoietos in the Greek and spas nerokotvornyi in the Russian describes icons carrying the heritage of being created not by the mere agency of icon-painters, but by the tradition of direct impression of Our Lord’s body; they claim to derive from the first example and thus be genuine and pleasing to God.

The Mandylion Icon of Christ is displayed in a prominent place in the church, censed during the Liturgy, and often carried in procession. It is traditionally seen over doorways and gateways; and it is also often present, symbolizing Christ’s invisible presence, when the penitent and priest stand together in the church for the Sacrament of Repentance. Witnessing this icon for the first time was a jolting experience for me, at once unsettling and yet startlingly infused with love. One evening, during a memorable Russian pilgrimage, as we made the rounds of several Vespers services, we were joined by a Russian Orthodox nun, Sr. Galina. Even with no shared language, we became fast friends because we are both red-headed. Trailing behind her, I learned to circumnavigate the church and venerate the icons.

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Venerating the Transfiguration Every Day

by V. K. McCarty | български | ქართული | ελληνικά  | РусскийСрпски

Transfiguration icon

You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ God,
revealing Your glory to Your disciples as far as they could bear it. Let Your everlasting

Light also shine upon us sinners.
Through the prayers of the Theotokos,
O Giver of Light, glory to You!

(Troparion for Transfiguration—Tone 7)

During my Seminary days, walking into Chapel meant walking by, detouring around, the Icon of the Transfiguration. It was open on the back of a large Gothic Lesson lectern, standing in the wrought-iron entranceway to the quire in chapel, where we all sat to worship antiphonally. Day in and day out, greeting the icon and venerating it was part of my day, twice a day—even if, in my haste, I only saw Christ’s feet most of the time, as I bow with the Apostles. This simple gesture of faith was one of the ways we witnessed to our personal piety; and even, how we discovered other like-minded friends in each new class of students. I was actually there longer than most, because I worked on staff as a librarian for fifteen years and enjoyed the Divine Office, ordering my day with Scripture and praise through all of it. The sides of the icon were closed during the season of Lent; and seeing it reappear again in Easter Week, it was surprising how sweetly exhilarating it was to be bathed in its divine light again.

The light of the Transfiguration icon teaches us, as I kiss the feet of the Savior day after day, that Jesus Christ well-beloved by His Father in heaven, is always present, radiating glory into the complicated corners of our lives—not just on the feast-day, but every day. Indeed, the true astonishment about the Transfiguration scene with Jesus is that, in that moment, the Apostles are finally able to see the glory that Jesus always radiated; they are ready now in the progress of their faith to humbly receive it and participate in it.

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The Gospel of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

by V. K. McCarty | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | Русский | Српски

Duccio

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind. . .”*

The Pentecost feast-day reading from Acts (2:1-21) is absolutely galvanized with spiritual energy, isn’t it? It radiates with the brightness of faith coming into being in an extraordinary mystical experience including the whole community gathered in prayer; so that, in the words of Romanos’ Kontakion for Pentecost: “they glorified the All-Holy Spirit” (E. Lash, trans. 1995, 207). This abiding presence of God the Holy Spirit, revealed to us in Scripture, is a foundational treasure of Orthodox Christianity. It is the Holy Spirit who is leading us through the Liturgy, who gave courage to the early men and women martyrs, who guided the Ecumenical Councils, and who defined the Canon of Holy Scripture.

We are fortunate that the Acts of the Apostles was crafted so soon after the events it describes. While it is a story involving a whole panorama of remembered characters and beloved episodes contributing to the seeding and growth of the Primitive Church, it is the action of God—the living divinity of God we know as the Holy Spirit—which is most urgently, most excellently portrayed here. “It is no exaggeration to conclude that Early Christians looked upon the Holy Spirit as the chief external witness to the presence of Christ’s reign” (J.T. Koenig, Charismata: God’s Gifts for God’s People, 1978, 73). In fact, Acts might better be titled “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”

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The Sacrament of Adoption and the Orphan Crisis in Romania

by Petre Maican | български | ქართული | ελληνικά | Română | РусскийСрпски

Jesus blessing the children

Recently, a newspaper article brought to the attention of the public a rather unusual request made by an Orthodox believer to his bishop in Romania. The believer asked the bishop why the Church is not doing anything about the situation of the thousands of orphaned and abandoned children in the country. The believer even proposed a practical solution: to establish a sacrament of adoption as a precondition for receiving ordination. In this way, part of the problem would be solved. The hierarch answered by pointing to the philanthropic activity of the Church already in place and the difficult process that has to be followed for adoption, and for financial reasons, he excluded the possibility of linking adoption with ordination. The young family would not have the material resources to adopt a child straightaway.

Now, pause for a second and try to move beyond whatever you might think about the answer of the bishop or the initial impression of awkwardness the proposal elicits. The hierarch is right to reject conditioning the ordination on adoption, although for reasons other than the one he mentioned: not only that any sacrament should not be forced on anyone, but also that forcing someone to adopt a child to obtain a position might lead to instrumentalizing the child, and this would not necessarily improve the life of the little one. Still, there is much to be appreciated here. The proposal comes from a good place, burning with the care and compassion characteristic of the Christian ethos ever since the first centuries, when Christians adopted the disabled children abandoned at the side of the road by the pagans. There is also some truth in the assumption that if adoption were a sacrament, the practice would receive more visibility, and more Orthodox faithful might be encouraged to assume it. But, more importantly, the author of the letter invites us to reflect on a fundamental question: Is there any reason against considering adoption a sacrament? From the perspective of systematic theology, I am tempted to say no.

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