St. Athanasius – Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Icons

St. Athanasius of Alexandria was “the Lion” of the Council of Nicaea. He was instrumental in providing well argued testimony rebuking the heretic Arius during the Council’s debates. His verbal skills, as powerful and commanding as a lion, shredded Arius’ arguments. His eloquence convinced the assembled bishops of the correct dogma that Jesus Christ has two, separate and distinct, natures (divine and human), and that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. The heretic Arius insisted that Jesus was “just a creature” of God.

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A contemporary icon, completed in The Egyptian Christian Coptic style, of St. Athanasius of Alexandria standing on the back of the heretic Arius (seen in very dark colored clothing) at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). Athanasius is seen in front of the assembled bishops from the Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic Church. He is holding the Council’s accepted conclusions in the document known as the Nicene Creed. Notice that he does not have a bishop’s mitre on his head similar to the bishops sitting in attendance behind him, and is dressed in what appears to be a deacon’s dalmatic with cape. The style of this sacred icon is very similar to the style of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church’s sacred art; yet, the inscription above his head is in Greek rather than Coptic. Image found at churchofourladyofkazan.org; (thanks to them) throughWikipedia images.

The Council’s main purpose was to address the divine nature of Jesus Christ and the concept of HIs being the Son of God the Father. This had to be done in order to squash the Arian heresy once and for all. It was also to establish a date for the celebration of Easter, resolve organizational and clerical issues, and the development of Church law (what today is called Canon Law). They were also attempting  to settle a schism that had occurred in Egypt. That schism was being fomented by another bishop who had enlisted with the heretic Arius.

The Council was also tasked with development of a Christian Creed that would provide unity of belief for both the Eastern and Western Rites of the Church. This unity of belief was critical since the Church needed a formal set of beliefs  that could be used as a catechetical tool and a binder that kept all the cultural and geographical “Catholic” churches together.

The Council of Nicaea basically resolved all the main issues of its agenda. It was a stunning achievement. The priest Arius was banished for promoting heresy and his ideas declared anathema. Yet, the problem the Council still faced was convincing Arius’ followers of their heretical errors. Banishment or not, an unrepentant Arius continued to spread  his opinions fomenting confusion throughout the Empire.

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The above image is another example of a sacred icon, however, it is not completed in the Coptic style which originated in Egypt. It is an Eastern Orthodox icon (Greek, Russian, or one of the many other Eastern Rites of the Church), completed centuries after the Council ended in the summer of the year 325. It shows a non-heretical bishop castigating the heretic priest Arius (who is raising his hand in an attempt to stop the speaker). The bishop, because of his hat (mitre), appears to be labeled with Athanasius’ name found at the bottom); however, he is not clothed in a deacon’s dalmatic, nor did deacon’s wear that style of hat. It is believed that Athanasius was not ordained a priest and bishop until after the Council ended. The Emperor Constantine sits on the right dressed in imperial clothes and it may be surmised that it is Bishop Alexander of Alexandria (the bishop of Arius’ and Athanasius’ diocese) who sits to the immediate right of the Emperor.

The Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic and Orthodox Church have always believed that sacred icons and sacred images are always venerated by the faithful; they have never and are never worshipped.To worship sacred icons, sacred images, statues, and other visual reminders of the glory of God and His saints is against the 1st Commandment (confer Exodus 20: 2-17, and Deuteronomy 5: 6 – 21). If anyone worshipped those visual images they would correctly be called idolaters. Worship is for God alone, that is, the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Three Divine Persons in One God.

Our Savior Jesus Christ is One Person with two natures: human and divine; that is a state of being which is part of the great Mystery of the Incarnation of God into human existence.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, sacrificed in Jerusalem through His Passion, Crucifixion, and death. Jesus, following His Father’s will, suffered and died for us in order to atone for all of humanity’s sins (past, present, future). God the Father and God the Holy Spirit responded by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, ultimately enabling Jesus to interact and be seen by His Apostles and hundreds of disciples.

Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Love, incarnate in our Savior.

Thanks for stopping by.

May you continue to have a prayerful Holy Week and a joyous Easter Season.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

When People Or Governments Get In Our Face

Recently I received a rather funny email from a friend concerning a God loving Marine coming to terms with an atheist professor. It triggered, however, a serious reflection on how we, as Christians, are to confront those who “get in our face” about issues of spiritual beliefs, sacred art, religious freedom, and personal liberty.

The passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5: 38-42, on “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” gives us an insight into who Jesus is as God. The behaviors that He explains, and asks us to imitate, are actions that He would perform; so in this passage on “an eye for an eye” we are getting a glimpse into the personality of God.

Jesus explains that the old Jewish law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is no longer appropriate or virtuous in God’s eyes, it doesn’t reflect the behavior and actions that the Lord is trying to teach His people to follow, actions which reflect the Lord’s own mind and heart.

The following photo by talented photographer Kenny Lindstrom found at www.flickr.com/photos/kennylindstrom/ provides meaning, visual imagery, and the clarity of a typical traffic stop sign. We instantly recognize what the creator of this sculpture is trying to say (by the way, is this image done in sand, stone, or clay?). We get the message; but, as in all art, its interpretation depends on the values and beliefs of the viewer. Lindstrom’s photograph is a wonderful example of how a piece of art can display an impression that is both a teaching and reflective moment for the viewer.

The Holy Scriptures, however, are not to be viewed as artistic reflections or suggestions to the reader and listener. The Holy Spirit divinely inspired the Bible; thus, the faithful understand (sometimes better than many of the academics) that Jesus, as the Son of God, came to teach, preach, and heal mankind. His words are not suggestions, they are directions for living within His Sacred Heart; and that demands fortitude, perseverance, and most importantly, His grace.

Over the last two thousand years the Catholic Church has taught that we have a right to defend ourselves – a right to resist the evil that is done to us. But Jesus teaches that we should not resist evil with an evil response or by an evil means  – in other words we should not resist evil with a spirit of vengeance, rage, anger or with an unlawful or excessive physical or verbal response.

So, Jesus is teaching us that the tribal law of an “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is destructive and directly opposed to the Father’s plan of a loving spiritual family living within a shared community.  Yet, not everyone in the world is a Christian; and the 20th and 21st centuries are showing themselves to be much more personally and collectively violent than many of the other centuries combined.

So what do we do? Jesus teaches us that our response to evil and insult, as difficult as this may be, should be measured; that is, it should be filled with patience and grace. For if we confront and attempt to defeat evil with an evil or vengeful response, then, we are weakening ourselves and empowering that which we hope to defeat. This does not mean, however, that we are to deny a sense of righteous and justifiable anger over injustices that are done – the Lord Himself gave witness to that when He drove the moneychangers and polluters of His Father’s Temple into the street.

The world can slap us on the cheek, it can take our belongings, it can take away our religious, political, and artistic freedoms and prevent us from speaking out against injustice, and it can even take our lives, but it can never touch our hearts or souls because the Lord God Himself has forever claimed us as His own children.

Let us pray that when we do have to correct our own actions or those of another, we do it based on Jesus’ spirit of graceful moderation, love, and kindness.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved