As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cool Christmas Icon

I came across this interesting illumination from the Paris Psalter which incorporates a lot of Greek mythological imagery in the service of a Christian meaning. Many thanks to Silouan who decoded most of this for me.

  • The lady in black is Nyx, which means night.
  • The man in the middle is Esaias (Isaiah). The iconograoher painted him to look like John the Baptist, though it makes sense.
  • The child with the torch is Orthros, which means daybreak (it's also the Greek name for the Matins service.)
  • The hand in the clouds is making a Chi Rho (the first two letters of Christ in Greek) which Orthodox priests use when blessing.
Thus, this picture is of Isaiah receiving his vision from the preincarnate Christ at the end of night and the beginning of a new morning - or at the end of an age and beginning of the next. Or, as Isaiah put it (9:2):
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
This is a really fascinating icon for another reason. Roman Mithras was depicted with his two companions, the young men called dadophores. One held his bright torch up and the other held his guttering torch down. This artist has borrowed that motif, though he's certainly put his own stamp on it.

The race that long in darkness pined,
Have seen a glorious Light;
The people dwell in day, who dwelt
In death's surrounding night.

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