Wednesday 3 August 2016


The way I see it, all the Patriarchates in question are "perfect" each in their own unique way and therefore are at liberty to reject the falsity of political exigencies that have nothing to do with Christ: The Moscow Patriarchate, for bringing the light of pascha to her newly liberated peoples; and, the Ukrainian Catholic Church for being recognised as a Patriarchate by his Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, which may be understood as the "firstfruits" of the Council of Crete.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Icons and liturgy: windows of transfiguration

Figure 1: The liturgical calendar in icon depicting all 12 feasts 
of the early church.

(Photo: Author on 3rd September 2013)

Following on from my previous blog post which touched upon the subject of the nature of mankind and how he or she derives meaning in the world; Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia offers some quiet words of wisdom to the reader:
Remember God more often than you breathe says St Gregory of Nazanzus (d. 389). Prayer is more essential to us, more an integral part of ourselves, than the rhythm of our breathing or the beating of our heart. Without prayer there is no life. Prayer is our nature. As human persons we are created for prayer just as we are created to speak and to think. The human animal is best defined, not as a logical or tool-making animal or an animal that laughs, but rather as an animal that prays, a eucharistic animal, capable of offering the world back to God in thanksgiving and intercession [1].
Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia
The raw simplicity of liturgical prayer in the early church offers a direct and unobstructed route into  "transfigured time", that is, time that has been "assumed into God, renewed, (and) sanctified". Based on Barberini Codex 336 [1] dating from the late eighth century, this delightful work offers an authentic "window" into the eight daily prayer services typical of the Byzantine commonwealth devotions; the Kursk Root Icon  being the best known example in the Eastern Church [2]. It is a variation of Our Lady with the Child Jesus icon found in the sanctuary.

These prayers (Figure 2) point to the central liturgical events in "transfigured time, from the divine liturgy of ordinary time to the holy supper that transcends Golgotha. [3], [4]

[1] The Barberi Codex 336 consisted of six-daily services. A further two were added later.
[2] Obolensky, Dimitri, The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe, 500-1453. (1971)
Byzantine commonwealth is a term coined by 20th-century historians to refer to the area where Byzantine liturgical and Byzantine cultural tradition general influence was spread during the Middle Ages by Byzantine missionaries.
This area covers approximately the present day countries of Bulgaria, Greece, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, southwestern Russia, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus. Like the Byzantines of the 8th Century, the commonwealth spread through devotion to the Mother of God. The Kursk Root Icon is probably the best known example of devotion in the present day commonwealth. Her feast is celebrated with particular vigour on September 8th and 27th November. In Malta the feast day of "Our Lady of Victories" is held on September 8th, as is the feast of the Kursk Root Icon.
[3] Praying with the Orthodox Tradition pp. vii - viii
[4] Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand. Liturgical Renewal. Accessed on 3rd September 2013

Sunday 1 September 2013

Understanding icons in their eschatological context

According to tradition, the icon of Our Lady at the Sanctuary was written by St Luke (icons are written) on the rock face of what was a cave formation at the summit of Mellieħa ridge, around A.D. 60. These cave formations are typical of the karst landscape of the Mediterranean. 

Two attempts at restoration and a single incident of wilful damage, the most recent event taking place in 1614 have been recorded

By what of the earlier years? The iconoclastic controversy which plagued the early Church years, goes some way towards explaining what might have happened before the matter was finally resolved in A.D. 843.
The subject of iconography initiates the longest running (approximately 120 years) and the most violent of theological debates to shake the internal life of the Byzantine Church, known as iconoclastic controversy. This event, which occurs into two phases, also triggers ‘one of the greatest political, cultural, and religious upheavals of the Middle Ages’. [1] The first period opens in 726 when Leo III takes steps to implement imperial sanctions ordering destruction of religious images in the Byzantine Church [2] and ends in 780 when the Empress Irene suspends the persecutions of defenders of images. The Iconophiles position is uphold by the seventh and last Ecumenical Council (787), which assembled as the first has done, at Nicaea. The second iconoclastic period starts when Emperor Leo V the Armenian openly declares his iconoclastic views in 815, [3] and continues until 843 when the icons are again reinstated, this time permanently, by the Empress Theodora. [4]
Icons were subject to sanctions issued by Pope Leo III (between A.D. 726 and 780) and by Emperor Leo V (between A.D. 815 and 840). Scientific analysis of pigments suggest that the present icon was drawn sometime between A.D. 1100 and 1200; some pigments may date back to A.D. 800 [5].

The theological argument of the iconoclasts goes as follows:  
One of the main iconoclastic arguments is based on their comparison of Christian images as pagan idols, thereby denouncing idolatry, which iconoclasts believe to have entered Christian practice through the worship of images.[6] In addition to this theory, the iconoclasts also place their emphasis on what constitutes nature of true worship. They argue that God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,[7] rather than worshipping God through images made of matter.[8] Furthermore, the iconoclasts hold the view that every image must necessarily be identical and have the same essence with its prototype. Consequently, an icon of Christ or a saint is, according to the iconoclasts, a material and inanimate and therefore can not have the same essence as their prototype.[9] The iconoclasts claim that consecrated elements in the Eucharist are the only licit non-anthropomorphic 'form' of Christ’s body’[10], depicting his flesh in image‘not made by hands’.
The narrow view of the early iconoclasts is contrasted with the position taken by the Church at the seventh and last Ecumenical Council of Nicaea held in A.D. 787 which has its roots in the writings of Origen; [11] an idol paints a figure of something which does not exist while an icon points to an extant archetype. Similarly, Theodoret of Cyrus viewed an idol as a form of something without substance, for example tritons, centaurs or indeed the Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel (Figure 1). An image, on the other hand is a form of subsisting things, for example, the stars, moon, and human persons [12]. Icons are natural images which serve as reminders of intelligible realities [13] an idea based on the Platonic view. This view would seem to fly in the face of the fantastic creatures encountered by the Prophet in Chapter 10 of the Book of Ezekiel; the winged creatures and wheels, each with four faces, synonymous with the glory of Yahweh (again we are confronted with the Hebrew "galgal": the "rolling thing" see Further note: "a"). [14]

St John of Damascus develops the Platonic view where natural images are seen as reminders of intelligible realities emphasising the biblical view that God is known through creation. [15] Underlining the so-called ‘representational theory’ is the idea that while between image and archetype are of different essences (ousia) the veneration of images is legitimate, worship can indeed be transferred to prototype.[16]

Further distinction is made in classic Byzantine image theory between thesis and physis, i.e. between imitation by art and natural or supernatural generation; this being a synthesis of the Platonic-Aristotelian-Patristic view. [17] 

This is the starting point of iconography. Icons themselves always point to the Easter experience. In doing so, they have the capacity to make real that which is represented within. When we light a candle in front of an icon, we make the light of Easter to shine in space and time. 

Figure 2: The dappled horses of Peche-Merle of the 
Gravettian Period c. 25,000 B.C.
(Photo: Phaidon Press Limited 2007)

Figure 1: The Lion Man of Hohlenstein-
Stadel Aurignacian period c. 28,000 B.C.
(Photo: Phaidon Press Limited 2007)

The Easter experience is the means by which mankind transcends the beginning and end of space and time. This is why the Church has (wisely) promulgated a theology of icons. At Easter, we are joined to our first Ancestors and this includes the artists who carved the Lion Man in Hohlenstein-Stadel during the Aurignacian period (c. 28,000 BC), the horsemen of the Peche-Merle in the Gravettian epoch (c. 25,000 to 21,000 BC) and the Argentinian hunter gatherers of the late Pleistocene early Holocene period (c. 11,000 to 7,500 B.C). (Figures 1-3). [18]

Figure 3: Cave art Late Pleistocene, early Holocene hunter
gatherers of Argentina. Hand stencils in Cveuas de las
manos (Cave of the hands). Both left and right hand are
represented and point in all directions.
(Photo: Phaidon Press Limited 2007)

In Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl sums up what he calls man's existential vacuum:
At the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animal's behavior is embedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like Paradise, is closed to man forever; man has to make choices. In addition this this however man has suffered another loss in his more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism). [19]
To be sure, it is this vast inner emptiness that is addressed in the Easter experience. There are certain qualities to existence and being that are revealed only at Easter. The icon of Our Lady points to the one who is mother of all [20].


Note: References [1] to [4], [6] to [13], [15] to [17] are attributed to Professor Anita Strezova: paper titled Relation of Image to Its Prototype in Byzantine Iconophile Theology 

[1] B. Nassif, ‘The Semantics of Image and Idolatry in the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy’, Parergon, no. 6 (1991) 21-25 
[2] There have been serious scholarly debates as to the causes of Iconoclasm, which was the first major internal battle faced by Byzantium. For this issue see J.H. Haldon, ’Some Remarks on the Background to the Iconoclastic Controversy’, Byzantinoslavica vol. 37-8 (1976-77) 161-89; also A. Schmemann, ‘Byzantium, Iconoclasm and the Monks’, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, vol. 3, 3 (1959) p. 18-34 (18); W.E. Kaegi, ‘The Byzantine Armies and Iconoclasm’, Byzantinoslavica vol. 26-7 (1965-66) 49-71
[3] P.J. Alexander, ‘The Iconoclastic Council of St. Sophia (815) and Its Definition (Horos)’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, no. 7  (1953) 35-57; also M. Anastos, ‘The Ethical Theory of Images formulated by the Iconoclasts in 754 and 815’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, no.8 (1954) 154-160
[4] L. Ouspensky, ‘Icon and Art’, trans. L. Pavear, Christian Spirituality: Origins to the Twelfth Century, vol. 16 (1985) 382-393; p. 388
[5] The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieha - Malta,  booklet published by the Church, p. 3-4
[6] J.D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, vol. 12-13 (Florence 1767 repr. Graz 1960); English trans. of sixth session, D. Sahas, Icon and Logos: Sources in the Eight Century Iconoclasm (Toronto 1986) Mansi XIII, 268C, 353B
[7] John 4, 24; quoted by Epiphanius of Salamis, Treatise against images, ed. H. Henneohof, Textus Byzantinos ad Iconomachiam Pertinentes, in usum academicum, Byzantina Neerlandica, series A, texts, fasc.1 (Leiden 1969) p. 50
[8] This iconoclastic supposition is indicative of Platos’s observation on man-made images in Cratylus; Plato, Cratilys 431-32, ed. E. Hamilton, and H. Cairns, The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton University Press (Princeton 1961) p. 496-97
[9] A. Besancon, The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm, trans. J.M. Todd, University of Chicago Press (Chicago 2000) p. 125
[10] Fragment 21, 22; Nikephoros of ConstantinopleAntirrhetici Tres Adversus Constantinum, Migne, Patrologia Graeca, vol. 100-534 (Antirrheticus I, 205-328; Antirrheticus II, 329-74; Antirrheticus III, 375-534); Nikephoros, Antirrheticus II, 3; PG 100, 337A, 337CD
[11] Origen, Homiliae in Psalmos, PG 12, 353-354 and 17, 16c
[12] Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Quaestiones in Octateuchum, PG 80, 263
[13] Ps. Dionysius the Areopagite, De Ecclesiastica Hierarchia I, 2; PG 3, 373AB
[14] Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 10, TNJB
[15] John of Damascus, Contra Imaginum Calumniatores Orationes Tres, ed. B. Kotter, Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos, vol. 3 (Berlin 1975); Oration I, 11; Kot. 3, 84-85;
[16] John of Damascus, Oration I, 16; PG 94, 1245AB; III, 6; PG 94, 1325AB; III, 34; PG 94, 1353
[17] Plotinus made this distinction clear when he spoke of images of art as analogous to corporeal things, which had reality in so far as they were in conjunction with the intelligible images of the unimaginable unity, the One; Plotinus, The Enneads, trans. S. MacKenna and J. Dillon (London, 1991); Plotinus, Enneads V, 9, 5; cf., 2,1, V, 3, 7
[18] 30,000 Years of Art, Phaidon Press Limited (2007) p. 4.5, 6.7, 16.17.
[19] Frankl V.E. Man's Search For Meaning (2004) Ebury Publishing, p. 111-112
[20] Book of Revelation, Chapter 12: 1-18, TNJB

Friday 30 August 2013

Icon and motif [part 2]

In typical Eastern fashion, the icon known as "She who is more spacious than the heavens" (Greek: "Πλατυτέρα" or translit: Platytera Ton Ouranon” or simply "Platytera"is found in the most prominent position at the Sanctuary, overwhelming the worshipper and overshadowing all other icons and sacred art (Figure 1). 
Figure 1: "She who is more spacious that the heavens" 
or the "Theotokos of the Sign" a reference to Isaiah 7:14: "
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, 
a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his 
name Emmanuel.” [1]
(Photo: Author on 17 ‎August ‎2013)
Set against a gold background within two round arches under which hang the seven lampstands (aesthetically these are censers); in the Sanctuary they are represented as having gone out into all the earth. [1], [2], [3]. In the Platytera we see more than in any other, the icon's true function: to make real that which is represented: 
The architectural placement of the Platytera,  between the ceiling and the floor powerfully illustrates that she is the person through whom heaven and earth are united. She is called in our Hymnography; “the heavenly ladder, whereby God has descended” and as “the Bridge leading those on earth to heaven”[....] Her icon unites Christ’s ceiling icon of  the “Pantocrator” with those of us below. The Mother of God, stands between the heavens and the earth and serves as a bridge. [1]
In the interpretation of the Sanctuary, it is the Resurrected Christ (not the Child Jesus) who bursts forth from the womb more spacious that the universe, with the radiance of the divine energies. The visual representation of the energies tell us in no uncertain terms that this is Jesus Son of Mary, incarnate of the Holy Spirit. The outstretched and raised arms ("Orans") is a familiar motif in the catacombs of both Jew and Gentile, depicting Old Testament saints as intercessors and asking the Lord to deliver the soul of the person on whose tombs they are depicted:
Among the subjects depicted in the art of the Roman catacombs [4] one of those most numerously represented is that of a female figure with extended arms known as the Orans, one who prays. The custom of praying in antiquity with outstretched, raised arms was common to both Jews and Gentiles; indeed the iconographic type of the Orans was itself strongly influenced by classic representations [....] But the meaning of the Orans of Christian art is quite different from that of its prototypes. Numerous Biblical figures, for instance, depicted in the catacombs — Noah, Abraham, Isaac, the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, Daniel in the lions' den—are pictured asking the Lord to deliver the soul of the person on whose tombs they are depicted as He once delivered the particular personage represented.[5]
In this New Testament idealisation, these figures also assume the same "ancient attitude of prayer" but are depicted as the prototype of the deceased's (resurrected) soul in heaven:
 But besides these Biblical Orans figures there exist in the catacombs many ideal figures (153 in all) in the ancient attitude of prayer, which, according to Wilpert, are to be regarded as symbols of the deceased's soul in heaven, praying for its friends on earth. This symbolic meaning accounts for the fact that the great majority of the figures are female, even when depicted on the tombs of men. One of the most convincing proofs that the Orans was regarded as a symbol of the soul is an ancient lead medal in the Vatican Museum showing the martyr, St. Lawrence, under torture, while his soul, in the form of a female Orans, is just leaving the body. An arcosolium in the Ostrianum cemetery represents an Orans with a petition for her intercession: Victoriæ Virgini . . . Pete . . . [5]
It is in the testimony of the saints that we see the idea of the soul as having a more direct lineage to Mary (the true virgin prototype):
The Acts of St. Cecilia speaks of souls leaving the body in the form of virgins: "Vidit egredientes animas eorum de corporibus, quasi virgines de thalamo", and so also the Acts of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus. Very probably the medieval representations of a diminutive body, figure of the soul, issuing from the mouths of the dying, to be received by angels or demons, were reminiscences of the Orans as a symbol of the soul. The earlier Orantes were depicted in the simplest garb, and without any striking individual traits, but in the fourth century the figures become richly adorned, and of marked individuality — an indication of the approach of historic art. One of the most remarkable figures of the Orans cycle, dating from the early fourth century, is interpreted by Wilpert as the Blessed Virgin interceding for the friends of the deceased. Directly in front of Mary is a boy, not in the Orans attitude and supposed to be the Divine Child, while to the right and left are monograms of Christ. [5]
It is not surprising that the Sanctuary should serve as a kind of giant reliquary, with the remains of ancient parishioners, functionaries and saints held (and displayed) awaiting the great day of their awakening and redemption (Figure 2, 3, 4).

Figure 2: One of two ossuaries in the Sanctuary. The glass 
lid was removed when this photo was taken. This one being 
in the corridor that connects the sacristy to the Sanctuary, 
the other being in what is now the museum housing 
mementos of Blessed John Paul II's visit on 26th May 1990.
(Photo: Author on 17 ‎August ‎2013)

Figure 3: The skull and other relics of Saint Vincent are 
displayed in the altar.  The altarpiece (oils on canvas) depicts
the Assumption.
Photo: Author on 17 ‎August ‎2013

Figure 4: The tomb of Fr. Paulus Lebrun who served as 
the parish priest of the Sanctuary between 1844 and 1849. 
His tomb lies in front of the relics of St. Vincent.
(Photo: Author on 26 ‎August ‎2013)
The Sanctuary combines the symbology of worshippers in the modern era. In a more recent interpretation, we see the prominent display of the "M" who begot God and who serves as bridge between the highest heavens above (Figure 5) and the earth below (Figure 6).

Figure 5: Stainless steel motif 
symbolising Mary ("M") inset 
within a motif of the Sacred, 
Immaculate and Glorious Heart.
(Photo: Author on 17 ‎August ‎2013)

Figure 6: The bishops of Ephesus in mid-relief
(Photo: Author on 17 ‎August ‎2013)


[1] Rev. Fr John Mefrige. Saint Ephraim Orthodox Church

[2] Blue Letter Bible: Tyropoeon Valley. In ancient Israel the use of the arch in architecture is almost unknown. Nonetheless, this example reminds us of the arch (q.v.) of the bridge between Mount Moriah and Mount Zion (called "Robinson's Arch"), where it projects from the sanctuary wall. It was discovered by Robinson in 1839. This arch was destroyed by the Romans when Jerusalem was taken. The western wall of the temple area rose up from the bottom of the valley between Moriah and Zion to the height of 84 feet, where it was on a level with the area, and above this, and as a continuance of it, the wall of Solomon's cloister rose to the height of about 50 feet, "so that this section of the wall would originally present to view a stupendous mass of masonry scarcely to be surpassed by any mural masonry in the world." Accessed 31st August 2013. 

[3] Revelation 4:5; Exodus 25:31-40 

[4] Waal, A. (1908). Roman Catacombs. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved August 31, 2013 from New Advent:

[5] Hassett, M. (1911). Orans. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved August 31, 2013 from New Advent:

Wednesday 28 August 2013

The Metaphysics of Easter

The lush valley facing the Chapel of Our Lady of Itria, known as the "Jewish Caves" (Maltese: "Gherien L-Lhud", so called because caves in the area were historically associated with burial practices of early Jewish communities in Malta), bear a strong physical resemblance to the Golgotha of scripture (see Further note: "a") [1]. The tombs also display features identified in scripture with the sepulchre of Christ. [2]
Figure 1: The south facing escarpment of Gherien Lhudi 
is a honeycomb of caves.
Photo: Author, August 28 2013
The toponymy of the caves suggests a historical connection to the Jewish catacombs that formed part of the hypogea of Saints Paul and Agatha in the nearby town of Rabat rediscovered at the end of the 19th century and which have been dated back to the late Roman period between A.D. 300 and A.D. 500 [3], [4].

Figure 2: The spatial orientation of the upper and lower cave systems differ
due to topography.
Photo: Author, August 28 2013
As is the case with their biblical counterparts, many of the burial chambers have recesses into which stone slabs would be rolled to seal off the tomb. This fine example (Figure 3) has two trapezoid niches for oil lamps to the left and right, above the recessed entrance [2].
Figure 3: A recessed tomb entrance within a cave situated
at the lower level , about 3 metres above the valley floor.
Photo: Author, August 28 2013
A regular shaped cross (centre in Figure 5) suggests that Gherien Lhudi had developed into a Christian burial site at a later stage or perhaps in parallel, the shape of the cross here suggests that this particular example dates back no earlier than the late 4th Century. The letter "M" (lower centre in Figure 5) and "A" (lower right in Figure 5) suggests Roman origin [5],[6].

Figure 4: The Christian cross and the
letters "M" and "A" are visible on what
appears to be a tomb stone. 
Photo: William Attard McCarthy, 2008
Figure 5: The view of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Way 
from the Jewish caves.
Photo: Author, August 28 2013
Further notes

a. Golgotha (Heb. גֻּלְגֹּלֶת pronounced gol-go-thä') is a proper locative noun derived from Gulgoleth (Heb.גֻּלְגֹּלֶת pronounced gul·gō'·leth) a feminine noun which means (i) head, skull or (ii) individual head, in the context of a census. A more primitive root galal (Heb. גָּלַל pronunced gä·lal') means to roll away. The stone that was rolled away from the mouth of the well to water sheep (Gen 29:3; Gen 29:8). Jacob upon seeing Rachel, rolls away the stone from the mouth of the well to water her father's sheep (Gen 29:10).
b. The Eastern Orthodox Tradition venerate the Kiev Monastery of the Caves on the 28th August. Also known as Lavra, it has been a preeminent center of the eastern spirituality since 1051 and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Lavra also houses relics (the head) of Pope Clement I (Saint Clement of Rome), the first of the successors of St. Peter of whom anything definite is known, and the first of the Apostolic Fathers. His  feast is celebrated on the 23 November in the Roman Catholic Tradition. His remaining relics were taken to San Clemente in Rome by Sts. Cyril and Methodius. [7],[8] The Kiev Monastery of the Caves was founded by Saint Anthony of the Caves who had originally joined a monastery at Mount Athos [9]. 
c. Two kilometres north of the caves we find the Parish of Mġarr with Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin which is closely modelled on the Mosta dome, albeit on a smaller scale. The basilica is distinguished by its unusual oval shaped dome (Figure 6) and imposing classic portico (Figure 7) [10].

Figure  6: Unusual oval shaped dome at the Basilica of the 
Blessed Virgin in Mġarr.
Photo: Daniel Cilia, 2011

Figure 7: Foundation stone laid of the Basilica was laid down
in 1912. Works were completed in 1946. [10]
Photo: Daniel Cilia, 2011


[1] Matt 27:33, Mark 15:22 John 19:17

[2] John 20:1

[3] Jewish bones in Rabat are ours by Kurt Sansone Sunday, February 22, 2009. Accessed on the 29th August 2013.

[4]  Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Diaspora, By Rāḥēl Ḥa̱klîlî, p. 273-274. Accessed on Google books on 29th August.

[5] Photo by William Attard McCarthy (2008). Accessed on the 29th August 2013.

[6] Buhagiar M (1998). Four new late Roman and Early Byzantine sites on the island of Malta p. 34. Accessed on the 28th August 2013.

[7] Magocsi P.R. A History of Ukraine. University of Toronto Press: Toronto, 1996. p 98. Accessed via Wikipedia article on the Kiev Monastery Caves on the 28th August.

[8] New Advent: The Fourth Pope.  Accessed on the 29th August 2013.

[9] Internet Encyclopedia of UkraineKiev Cave Monastery. Accessed on the 29th August 2013.

[10] Mgarr Parish ChurchAccessed on the 29th August 2013.

Monday 26 August 2013

Orthodox roots [part 2]

According to tradition, Bishops on their way to the Council of Ephesus convened at the Sanctuary of Our Lady at Mellieħa. Whether the Malta visit happened before or after Ephesus is unclear, but documentary evidence in the form of a stone fragments and more importantly, the iconography of the Sanctuary, affirms the tradition (Figure 1).

The third ecumenical council held in Ephesus in A.D. 431, was an attempt to retain doctrinal boundaries set by earlier councils whose integrity was being threatened by the teachings of NestoriusPatriarch of Constantinople. Nestorius proclaimed that the Blessed Virgin should be titled Christotokos ("she who has begotten Christ") rather than Theotokos ("she who has begotten God"); the latter being a term that had begun to be used by Egyptian Christians in the third century. The Bishops met in June and July A.D. 431 at the Church of Mary in Ephesus in Anatolia and subsequently declared Mary Mother of God [1].

In a letter published in L'Osservatore Romano on 4 December 1996, Pope John Paul II (who incidentally prayed at the Sanctuary in May 1990, see Figure 9), shines light on the chronos of Marian dogma:
In the first Christian community, as the disciples became more aware that Jesus is the Son of God, it became ever clearer that Mary is the Theotókos, the Mother of God. This is a title which does not appear explicitly in the Gospel texts, but in them the "Mother of Jesus" is mentioned and it is affirmed that Jesus is God (Jn 20:28; cf. 5:18; 10:30, 33). Mary is in any case presented as the Mother of Emmanuel, which means "God with us" (cf. Mt 1:22-23).[1]
In the bema of the Sanctuary, four unsigned paintings thought to date back to the 18th Century celebrate the life of Mary as she appears in scripture.

Figure 1: Convening Bishops on domed roof above the Ascension (left) 
and Marriage (right) of Our Lady.

Figure 2: The Marriage of Our Lady and Saint Joseph with High Priest in 
attendance. Joseph's rod blossoms [2]

Figure 3: The Annunciation, oil on canvas

Figure 4: The Ascension of  Our Lady, oil on canvas

Figure 5: The Nativity, oil on canvas

Walking in the footsteps of his 5th Century predecessors, Pope John Paul II prayed at the Sanctuary (Figure 9) and celebrated mass in the open square outside its entrance. He visited other places in Malta and Gozo, during the first Papal visit on 25th-27th May 1990.

From the Sanctuary's museum.

Figure 6: John Paul II visit to Malta
on the 25th to 27th May 1990. 
Shown here is the design motif of 
the"Holy Spirit Symbol" and 
"Spirals" signed by Richard 

Figure 7: Papal stole with design
motifs by Richard England.
Figure 8: Design of Papal podium by Richard England.

Figure 9: Blessed John Paul II prays 
beneath the icon of Our Lady 
and Sts Michael and Gabriel

Kairos scenes at the Sanctuary.
  Figure 9: Holy Communion and a Wedding

Figure 10: A nun clears the conciliar 
Altar after mass


[1] CHURCH PROCLAIMS MARY MOTHER OF GOD by Pope John Paul II (accessed 27th August 2013)

[2] Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (accessed 27th August 2013)