Monday, May 5, 2008

Jesus in a Box

Like many converts to Orthodoxy, I am a little crazy about icons. I absolutely love them. Within a year or so of our return to the U. S. from the mission field, Jennifer and I had purchased about a dozen of them. Now, seven years later, we have about forty, and they are distributed all throughout our home. Over the last year or so, Jennifer and I have collected the entire “Twelve Great Feasts of the Church” series written by the late Greek iconographer Photios Kontoglou, available from Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Massachusetts. This series also includes about six other icons that depict events in the life of Christ not considered one of the “twelve” (the great feasts). Among these are four Paschal icons – Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (of which there are two). By the way, in case you are wondering why Pascha does not count as one of the twelve great feasts, it is because Pascha is the Feast of Feasts; it stands above the twelve.

We have a tradition in the Early household: We keep all fifteen of the festal icons (the 12 feasts plus three of the Paschals) on one wall in our bedroom, save one. We place the icon whose feast is currently being celebrated in a special place on the wall near our dining table. You might call it the “featured icon” or “current feast” display (kind of like the “now playing” display that they used to have in record stores). For example, the icon currently displayed is that of the Resurrection. It will stay up until the Feast of the Ascension, when it will give way to that feast’s icon, which in turn will be replaced on Pentecost Day. This has proved to be a great teaching tool to use with our children, as well as a way to remind all of us what time of the Church year it is.

About a week ago, I was doing a little cleaning in my bedroom, and Christine, my three-year-old, came in. All of a sudden, she started shouting “Jesus is in a box! Jesus is in a box!” I had no idea what she was talking about. When I turned to see what all the fuss was about, I saw that she was pointing to the “Extreme Humility” icon, which depicts Jesus’ burial (see above). This icon shows the dead body of our Lord Jesus being lowered into what looks like nothing more than a plain box. The box, of course, symbolizes Jesus’ tomb. As is true with all Orthodox icons, the point of this icon is not to show a realistic depiction of Jesus’ burial. Of course, we all know that Jesus was buried in tomb carved out of the side of a hill, not a box! The point, rather is to show (as the icon’s title says it) the extreme humility of Christ, who

being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:6-8, NKJV)

It was humbling enough for Jesus just to leave his exalted place in heaven and to come down to this sin-scarred planet. But he did even more than that: he allowed himself to be mocked, beaten, scourged and put to death by the one of the cruelest methods ever designed by man. No one forced him to do this. But he did it anyway, out of his great humility and his great love for us.

The wonderful thing about this, the thing that makes Jesus’ going into the “box” something more than a great tragedy, is what happened next, according to Christine. After she had directed my attention to Jesus in the box, she said with a big smile, “But he didn’t STAY in the box!” (Not bad for a little squirt, eh?) And this fact is what we began celebrating last Sunday, and what we continue to celebrate. Indeed, the fact that Jesus did not stay in the “box” is the reason for our hope; it is the reason that there even IS a faith called Christianity.

If I may paraphrase the angel at the tomb, “He is no longer in the ‘box;’ He is risen!”

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is risen!

By the way, here is a picture of the budding theologian, taken a few months ago on her third birthday.


Clint said...

Out of the mouth of babes...

that was great. I love it when the little ones come up with something profound. They always word it so much better than us big folks do.

Michael said...

Christ is Risen! Verily, He is Risen!

Not only was that profound coming from Christine, I am just knocked over by the cuteness.

The first time I saw the Extreme Humility icon was at Holy Archangels Monastery in Kendalia. I was standing right by it during their Feast Day. It was such a powerful icon in and of itself, and I think the angels flanking Christ, looking down at his condescension, made the scene even more potent. To me, they look like they are almost shrieking with tears.

Molly Sabourin said...

O.K., so it certainly is a tie! What a sweet little face your daughter has. I really liked this post and your family's tradition of rotating the Festal icons throughout the Church year. If you don't mind, I would love to include that suggestion in one of my book chapters and start implementing the practice in our own home.

Thanks, by the way, for your last comment!