In Your Midst

IMAGE OF THE DIVINE
A MEDITATION ON CATHEDRAL ART

Nov 2002

In This Issue:
“He who humbles Himself to descend from the heavens is in you, wholly contained, yet unchanged; Hail, O Bride and spotless Maiden!” (The Office of the Akathist.)

Mary carries Christ; but this is not the newborn baby of the stable. Instead, we see the child Jesus set in a circle of gold over Mary’s breast. It is almost as if Mary's heart is a window, through which we glimpse the Christ child, fiery in red and gold. Far from being an obstacle or a veil between us and Christ, Mary functions rather as a kind of telescope, “magnifying” the image of Christ for us. The child carries a scroll—even in the womb, the icon suggests, he is teaching us, blessing us.

A transparent mother, a wise child: the image is challenging, if not paradoxical, and that is exactly the point. The early Church fathers loved to dwell on the paradox of Mary. St. Ephraem the Syrian wrote, “Mary carried fire in her hands and protected the flame within her arms.” The icon of Mary Theotokos shows us a Mary who is entirely open to the mystery she bears. Her upright posture suggests her total participation in the grace that pours down on her from above. The Holy Spirit hovers over her and a bright line connecting the dove to Mary´s halo suggests the undiluted intensity of the grace that fills her, while her outstretched arms share the whole of this great mystery with us.

At the bottom of the icon we see a small figure, humbly touching the hem of Mary´s garment and placing the image of St. James Cathedral under her protection. (The keen of eye may detect a resemblance between the small figure that offers the Cathedral and our pastor, Father Ryan.)

What does it mean to put ourselves under Mary’s protection? It means being like her in presenting Christ to the world. As St. Augustine wrote, “the members of Christ give birth in the mind, as Mary gave birth to Christ in her womb. You will all be mothers of Christ.”

Corinna Laughlin is Liturgy Associate at the Cathedral.

This is the first in a series of meditations on the feasts and seasons of the church year drawn from the art of St. James Cathedral. In this first meditation, we explore the icon of Mary Theotokos, God-bearer, which is found on the reverse side of the cross in the Cathedral Chapel. This traditional image was “written” by Cathedral parishioner and iconographer Joan Brand-Landkamer.

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