Thursday, 18 July 2013

Depicting angels as a reminder that worship on
earth is participation in the worship in heaven

The Archangel Gabriel in a depiction of the Annunciation by Aidan Hart

Patrick Comerford

The icon writer Aidan Hart gave two lectures on angels and icons this afternoon at the IOCS Summer School. The theme of the summer school is Angels, and he spoke to us about ‘The Historical Development of Angels in Eastern and Western Iconography’ and on ‘How the different ranks of Angels are depicted in Orthodox iconography.’

Aidan Hart is an ordained Reader of the Greek Orthodox Church and has been a professional icon painter and carver for over 25 years. He has works in more than 20 countries and in many cathedrals and monasteries.

His aim, in accordance with the Byzantine icon tradition, is to make liturgical art that manifests the world transfigured in Christ. For inspiration he draws in particular on the Byzantine, Russian and Romanesque icon traditions. He works in a variety of iconographic mediums, including carving and fresco as well as panel icons. He also lectures, teaches and writes.

Tracing ‘The Historical Development of Angels in Eastern and Western Iconography,’ he said the word icon means an image or likeness, and so asked if an icon should look like its subject, even if in an abstract way. If so, then, he asked how angels can be depicted in icons.

Icons of angels tell us what icons are not like. What is meant by those visionary icons is to say they are not like anything we know, and they are not just beings with wings.

An angel at the Resurrection ... a wall painting in the monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

He identified four main phases in the depiction of angels in Christian art and iconography.

In the first and early period, which continued until the late fourth century, angels have a literal and rather humanised depiction. All these depictions are of angels without wings. The oldest image dated from ca 180 and shows the Annunciation in the Pricilla Catacomb in Rome. The angel is clothed in a toga like a Roman citizen; slaves were not allowed to wear a toga, which was confined to citizens, and a purple stripe showed the angels as aristocratic spiritual beings.

A rare image from the Pricilla catacomb ca 250-300 shows an angel as a dove. Others show angels with beards.

A wall painting in the Via Latina ca 320 of the Visitation of Abraham, shows them as young men but without and beards, perhaps to distinguish them from pagan gods.

In the second stage, they start being depicted with wings. In this period, from about the fourth century, they are winged mythological figures, appropriating depictions of Nike, such as Nike of Samothrace, the goddess of victory, for angels fight battles against demons. Nike was also associated with strength, speed and wisdom. He provided comparisons with coins of Augustus, the Arch of Constantine in Rome, and San Vitale in Ravenna.

However, there were problems about angel worship, so depicting angels with wings became a way of showing that they were created beings, with limited abilities.

They are depicted with wings, not because they have wings, but to show that they move between the heavenly realm and the human world.

In the third or imperial stage, from the fifth century on, angels are depicted like courtiers in the Byzantine court, particularly from the inner court. Many of these courtiers, in reality, were eunuchs; they acted as counsellors, were masters of ceremonies, controlled access to the imperial throne, were intermediaries and diplomats and were messengers – all roles similar to those of angels.

Images from Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome ca 435 and the apse in San Vitale in Ravenna ca 435, 546 and 547 show angels as winged court attendants and bodyguards, wearing chlamys cloaks.

An image of the Sinai Virgin in the sixth century shows entirely classical angels. In Aghia Sophia, an angel is depicted in the ninth century with a tablion across a chlamys cloak.

The Archangel Raphael ... a mosaic in the Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights (Photgraph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

By the sixth century, angels were then given a secular loros, first confined to the emperor, but then also worn by their delegates and closest bodyguards. The Archangel Michael is depicted in Byzantine military garb with a sword, both other angels are shown with swords.

In ninth century Nicaea, “Arche and Dynamis” or “Authority and Power” are shown with the loros pallium, adorned with jewels, and with Aghios staffs to represent authority.

In Armenia and Cyprus from the sixth and seventh century, angels are depicted with peacock wings, as a symbol of everlasting life, the resurrection and because of the many eyes.

In the fourth stage, from about the 11th century, there is a wide variety of types to select from. So, for example, Archangel Gabriel is not shown in a military uniform, for example, but in a courtly toga-style robe.

By the 12th century, how angels are depicted depends on the relation other icons, the emphasis and distinctive colours of the church. Angels in the iconostasis and deisis are usually in court uniform but not in military uniform. Michael can be shown with a staff for authority and an orb for wisdom.

In icons of the Annunciation, the angel is shown in ‘bodiless’ silver tones. In Rubelv’s icon of the Visitation of Abraham, the colours are chosen for theological emphasis. When angels are depicted at the Resurrection, they are always depicted in white togas.

Later in the afternoon, Aidan lectured on ‘How the Different Ranks of Angels are Depicted in Orthodox Iconography.’ They include seraphim, cherubim, thrones, archangels and angels.

A six-winged seraph depicted on a ceiling in the monastery in Tolleshunt Knight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The seraphim are six-winged creatures above the throne (see Isaiah 6), two wings covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two for flying, and crying out: “Holy, Holy, Holy ...” They are often shown supporting the dome in a church, above the doors on the icon screen, for they guard the gates of Paradise, above Christ in the apse in churches without a dome, and in illuminated manuscripts.

Cherubim often look like seraphim, although they are a different order. They are depicted as many-eyed. They guard the entrance to Paradise with flaming swords, they guard the Ark of the Covenant and the veil of the Holy of Holies. They are also idenitifed by Ezekiel with the “four living creatures.”

The thrones (or wheels in Ezekiel’s and Daniel’s visions) are often depicted on the Epitaphios. The tetramorph are the four living creatures (see Ezekiel 1: 1-14), are now identified with the Four Evangelists: the Man for Saint Matthew; the Lion for Saint Mark; the Ox for Saint Luke and the Eagle for Saint John. They can appear on Gospel covers, and they appear inside in the Book of Kells. The heavenly host may be depicted as stars.

Angels and Demons ... the Last Judgment on the West Wall of the Funerary Chapel in the Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The demons are often shown with their faces blacked out, and Satan is sometimes show as an old man – “sanctity keeps you young.” Demons are small, reflecting the idea that bullies try to shown themselves bigger than they actually are.

The best known depiction of them may be in the 12th century Ladder of Divine Ascent in Mount Sinai, although there they are larger in scale than the humans climbing the ladder, to show their cunning which is distorted intelligence. They can be seen as disfigured, grotesque, unnatural and deformed, with creaturely and human characteristics.

They are shown in the punishments in hell, such as the 11th century Doom Wall in Torcello near Venice or the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent in Mount Sinai.

He concluded by saying the whole purpose of the depiction of angels reminds us that worship on earth is participation in the worship in heaven.

Visiting the Round Church ... a
landmark building in Cambridge

The Round Church is a landmark building on Bridge Street, close to Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

I have often passed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the corner of Bridge Street and Round Church Street, close to Sidney Sussex College and Saint John’s College. Popularly known as the Round Church, it is a landmark building in Cambridge.

During a break earlier this week in the summer school at Sidney Sussex College, I took an opportunity to visit this intriguing building, which is one of only four round churches that survive to this day in England.

The popular mythology that all mediaeval round churches belonged to the Knights Templar is without historical foundation. The Round Church was built in Cambridge ca 1130 by the Fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre.

The brothers of the fraternity were probably a group of Austin canons, and were given the land by Abbot Reinald of Ramsey between 1114 and 1130. The Austin Friars had their principal house in Cambridge at the nearby Hospital of Saint John, later the site of Saint John’s College, across the street from the Round Church.

They were influenced by the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a round church or Rotunda in Jerusalem, built by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century on the site of Christ’s tomb and the Resurrection.

Most churches in Western Europe are cross-shaped in their floor plan and in England there are only four other round churches like this one, all built after the First Crusade.

The church was built in the Norman or Romanesque style, with thick pillars and rounded arches. At first consisted of a round nave and an ambulatory, with a short chancel, probably in the shape of an apse.

Initially, the church was a wayfarers’ chapel serving travellers along the main Roman road – the Via Devana, now Bridge Street – just outside the town.

By the mid-13th century, the Round Church had become a parish church under the patronage of Barnwell Priory. Around this time, structural alterations were made to the church, with the rebuilding of the chancel and the addition of a north aisle, with the aisle shorter than the chancel.

During the 15th century the Norman style windows in the nave were replaced by larger Gothic style windows. The carvings of angels in the roofs of the chancel and aisle were added. A heavy, polygonal gothic tower or bell-storey was built over the round nave in the 15th century.

In 1643-1644, during the Civil War, the Puritans destroyed many of the images in the church they regarded as “idolatrous.” William Dowsing refers to the destruction of the church in his journal on 2 January 1644: “We break down 14 superstitious Pictures, divers Idolatrous Inscriptions, one of God the Father, one of Christ and of the Apostles.”

The weight of the massive the 15th century Gothic tower was too heavy and it collapsed in the round ambulatory in 1841. The Cambridge Camden Society offered to repair the church and appointed Anthony Salvin to carry out the work.

Salvin replaced the bell-storey with a conical spire which he believed was similar to the original roof faithful to the nave’s Norman origin. At the same time, the 15th-century Gothic windows were replaced by windows in Norman style, and a formerly-inserted gallery was removed, together with the external staircase leading to it.

To compensate for this, a new south aisle was added. It was found that the east wall of the chancel was unstable and this was replaced. Then the north aisle, by that time in poor condition, was also rebuilt, extending it to the same length as the chancel.

The original estimate for the cost of the restoration was £1,000 (£70,000 in today’s terms in 2013), with the parish paying £300 (£20,000 in 2013). Finally, the restoration cost almost £4,000 (£290,000 in 2013), with the parish providing only £50 (£4,000 in 2013).

The communion table, dating from 1843, was made by Joseph Wentworth. In 1899, a vestry was added to the north of the north aisle.

The East Window depicts the Risen Christ in Majesty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

During World War II, the Victorian East Window was destroyed by a bomb in 1942. It was replaced by a modern window portraying the Risen Christ in Majesty, triumphant over death and suffering. The cross is depicted as a living tree with leaves that are for “the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22: 2).

The decorated Norman west door into the Round Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The church is entered by a Norman west doorway with three orders of colonnettes, decorated with scalloped capitals and zigzags, and crenellations in the voussoirs.

The church is built in stone. Its plan consists of a circular nave surrounded by an ambulatory, a chancel with north and south aisles and a north vestry. Over the nave is an upper storey surmounted by a conical spire. To the north of the church is an octagonal bell-turret containing two bells.

The Romanesque arches inside the Round Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Between the ambulatory and the nave are eight massive Norman columns and round arches. Each of the capitals of the columns is carved with a different design. Part of the vault of the ambulatory has dog-tooth ornamentation. In the ambulatory and nave are carved human heads dating from the 19th century. Above the nave is a triforium containing double Norman arches.

To the east are the chancel and aisles. In the chancel and the north aisle are carved angels dating from the 15th century which are attached to the corbels supporting the roof. Some of the angels are holding or playing musical instruments.

There are two bells in the bell-turret. One of these is dated 1663 and was cast by Robard Gurney; the other is a priest’s bell, possibly cast by J. Sturdy of London between 1440 and 1458.

Most of the stained glass in the church was introduced during the 19th century restoration and was designed and made by Thomas Willement and William Wailes.

The vestry added to the north of the north aisle in the 19th century was extended in 1980. But by then the congregation in the Round Church was overflowing, and the building was too small for their numbers. In 1994, they moved down Bridge Street and Sidney Street to the much larger church of Saint Andrew the Great, by Lion Yard, opposite the gate of Christ’s College.

The church is designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building. Christian Heritage now manages the building, with an exhibition on the story of Cambridge and the impact of secularism on western culture. Behind the church is the Union Building, the red brick Victorian home of the university debating society.

The other surviving mediaeval round churches in England are the Temple Church in London, Little Maplestead in Essex, and Saint Sepulchre’s in Northampton.

The Round Church at night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Keeping the mind focused
in prayer and in liturgy

Angels of another sort ... a sign in Market Passage, near Sidney Sussex College Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

If the summer school went to the monastery yesterday, then the monastery came to the summer school today [Thursday 18 July 2013], with a number of monks from Saint John’s Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights accompanying Archimandrite Zacharias Zachrou to Cambridge this morning.

Father Zacharias was speaking on ‘The Mind of Man and the Mind of the Enemy’ at the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Sidney Sussex College Cambridge

Father Zacharias is a disciple of Father Sophrony, the founder of the monastery, and he quoted extensively from the writings of Father Sophrony and Father Silouan throughout his lecture.

Talking about the distractions of temptation and seeking to concentrate in prayer, he reminded us of Saint Silouan, who cried out in prayer at one stage, and hear the reply: “Keep thy mind in heaven and despair not.” The nature of our God is mercy, comfort and consolation.

Keep your mind in your heart and in heaven, Saint Silouan says. The more you humble yourself, the more the gifts you receive from God in prayer.

An angel above the figure of Archbishop John Colton at Michaelhouse in Cambridge ... he was the first Master of Gonville Hall, now Gonville and Caius College, before becoming Archbishop of Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Earlier in the morning, Father Philip Steer, a priest of the Diocese of Sourozh working at the Orthodox Parish in Walsingham, spoke about ‘Angels and the Liturgy.’

He reminded us that in Greek, the word angel (ἄγγελος, angelos) means simply a messenger. The Persians had a highly-developed system for sending messages, and there is a related word in Persian angaros. Aeschylus in Agamemnon speaks of the beacon fire of the Persian messengers. So, from classical times, flame was associated with the messengers and with bringing the news.

When we rise up and prepare for the Holy Liturgy, we sing the Hymn of the Angels, “Holy, holy, holy ...” The Trisagion is the ceaseless song of the angels. The angels actually perform the liturgy with us. Heaven and earth are having a common celebration.

At the precession of the Gospel, the deacon becomes like an angel, becoming a messenger of the Lord. The angels are not directly names in the Creed, but they are referred to as the invisible in the creation.

The angels are with us throughout the Liturgy, before it and after it, as our invisible companions. Speaking from his experience of the Liturgy, he said: “I know that they are there.”

Angels of another sort, yet again ... a sign in Market Passage, near Sidney Sussex College Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Remembering Father Sophrony and
his work 20 years after his death

The Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights is remembering the death of Father Sophrony twenty years ago in July 1993

Patrick Comerford

Before I left the Stavropegic Patriarchal Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights yesterday afternoon [17 July 2013], I visited the crypt where Archimandrite Sophrony, the founder of the monastery, is buried.

During our pilgrimage to the monastery yesterday, many of us were conscious that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the death and burial of the founder of the monastic community in Tolleshunt Knights.

During our mini-retreat, Sister Thecla, who brought us around the monastery after the Divine Liturgy, told us the story of Father Sophrony, who is also revered in Orthodoxy as the disciple and biographer of Saint Silouan the Athonite and the compiler and editor of Saint Silouan’s works.

The tomb of Father Sophrony in the crypt in Saint John’s Monastery in Tolleshunt Kinghts (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Father Sophrony was born Sergei Symeonovich Sakharov in Moscow on 23 September 1896, the son of Russian Orthodox parents. As a child, he prayed daily, later recalling that he would pray for 45 minutes without stress.

Sister Thecla told us that, even as a child, he claimed to have experienced the Uncreated Light, but thought casually that every other child had similar experiences. He read widely, and his reading included Russian greats such as Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Pushkin.

With his recognised artistic gifts and talents, he studied first at the Academy of Arts (1915-1917), and then at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (1920-1921). During this time, he used art as a “quasi-mystical” means “to discover eternal beauty,” “breaking through present reality ... into new horizons of being.” Later, this would help him to differentiate between human intellectual light and God’s Uncreated Light.

However, as he came to see the Christian focus on personal love as finite, he fell away from the Orthodoxy of his upbringing, and he started to explore Eastern mysticism.

In 1921, he left Russia, partly to continue his artistic career in Western Europe, but also because he felt isolated in post-revolutionary because he was not a Marxist. He moved first to Italy, then to Berlin, before arriving in Paris in 1922, where his exhibitions attracted much attention from the French media.

However, he was frustrated by the inability of art to express purity, and he realised that rational knowledge was unable to provide an answer to the biggest question of all: the problem of death.

Back in Paris, he realised that “I” in God’s call to Moses (“I am who I am”) and the Gospel command to love God, were a call to personal relationship. One cannot love a concept, she said, and he found that love is relational.

Having come to realise that Christ’s precept to love God totally is not psychological but ontological, and that the only way to relate to God is personal, and that the necessity of love is personal, he returned to Christianity on Great Saturday, the day before Easter Day or Pascha 1924.

However, his experiences of the Uncreated Light now distanced him from his art. He began studying at Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, where he was among the first students. His lecturers there included Sergius Bulgakov and Nicholas Berdyaev.

Nevertheless, he found formal theological education unfulfilling, and in 1925 he left Paris for Mount Athos, where he entered the mainly Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon, in the hope of learning how to pray and how to have the right attitude to God.

Father Sophrony was ordained a deacon by Saint Nicolai (Velimirovic) of Zicha in 1930, and soon became a disciple of Saint Silouan the Athonite, who became his greatest influence, despite the fact that Saint Silouan had no formal theological education and was never ordained a priest.

Saint Silouan died on 24 September 1938, entrusting his papers to Father Sophrony. On his instructions, Father Sophrony left the monastery to live first at Karoulia, then at a cave near Saint Paul’s Monastery on Mount Athos.

The outbreak of World War II ushered in a time of intense prayer so that Father Sophrony’s health deteriorated. During that time, he came to realise the interdependence of all humanity. In 1941, he was ordained priest, and he soon became a spiritual father to many Athonite monks.

Inside the original monastic chapel in the former Rectory in Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

With the end of World War II and the catastrophe that unfolded with the Greek Civil War, Father Sophrony found himself in a difficult quandary as a non-Greek on Mount Athos. Meanwhile, he had not realised his promise and hope to publish Saint Silouan’s works. In 1947, he left Mount Athos and returned to Paris.

There he moved into a Russian old people’s home in St Genevieve-des-Bois, where he became an assistant chaplain and father confessor, but also had a major operation on a stomach ulcer.

In 1948, he produced his first mimeographed edition of Staretz Silouan outlining Saint Silouan’s principles of theology, and explaining many of his concepts, including prayer for the whole world, God-forsakenness and the idea of all humanity being connected. In Paris, he also worked from 1950 to 1957 with Vladimir Lossky who influenced his thinking on many contemporary issues, and his Trinitarian thought and its application to the Church and humanity.

In 1952, Father Sophrony produced a second edition of Staretz Silouan, which brought Saint Silouan to attention of a wider Orthodox public.

Meanwhile, Sister Thecla told us, Father Sophrony had gathered around him a small people who wanted to explore living the monastic life. With the help of Rosemary Edmunds, they bought the Old Rectory at Tolleshunt Knights, near Maldon in Essex in 1958, and within a year the Community of Saint John the Baptist formed at Tolleshunt Knights. From the beginning this was a mixed community, and the first six members were both monks and nuns.

The Monastery of Saint John the Baptist was placed under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1965 and it later became a Patriarchal Stavropegic monastery.

Father Sophrony continued to publish extensively and his books included a translation of Monk of Mount Athos (1973), Wisdom of Mount Athos (1975), His Life is Mine (1977), and We Shall See Him As He Is (1985).

In 1987, the Ecumenical Patriarchate raised Saint Silouan the Athonite to the standing of a saint.

Meanwhile, the local authorities in Essex informed the members of the monastery community in Tolleshunt Knight that the only way they could bury their dead on their property was to build an underground crypt.

They began building a crypt, and Father Sophrony said that he would not die until the crypt was ready. When he was told that the crypt would be completed on 12 July 1993, Father Sophrony let them know he “would be ready.”

Father Sophrony died twenty years ago this month on11 July 1993, and he was buried on the new crypt on 14 July 1993. On Prayer, a book containing Father Sophrony’s writings on prayer – particularly the Jesus Prayer – was published posthumously.

Mother Elizabeth, the eldest nun on the community in Tolleshunt Knights, died soon after, on 24 July 1993 – Father Sophrony had once said that he would die first, and that she would die soon after.

At the time of their deaths twenty years ago, the monastic community in Saint John’s had grown from six to 25 members. The number has since continued to grow, and Sister Thecla told us yesterday that they are now 38 people from 13 or 14 nations – “still a melting pot.”

The summer school organised by the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies continues in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, today [18 July 2013] with lectures by Father Philip Steer, Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou from Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, and Aidan Hart.