28 June 2024

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
50, Friday 28 June 2024

The icon for Palm Sunday or the entry of Christ into Jerusalem in the new iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

The week began with the Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV, 23 June 2024), and Monday was the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. Today (28 June), the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Saint Irenæus (ca 200), Bishop of Lyons and Teacher of the Faith.

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a reflection on the icons in the new iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford.

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

4, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

The icon depicting Palm Sunday is fourth from the left among the 12 feasts depicted in the upper tier of the new iconostasis in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024; click on images to view full screen)

Matthew 8: 1-4 (NRSVUE):

1 When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him, 2 and there was a man with a skin disease who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be made clean!” Immediately his skin disease was cleansed. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Christ arrives in Jerusalem, followed by the disciples … a detail in the icon of Palm Sunday in the iconostasis or icon stand in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stony Stratford iconostasis 13: Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday, Η Βαϊοφόρος):

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching the building and installation of the new iconostasis or icon screen in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford. In my prayer diary over these weeks, I am reflecting on this new iconostasis, and the theological meaning and liturgical significance of its icons and decorations.

The lower, first tier of a traditional iconostasis is sometimes called Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates or Royal Doors facing forward is an icon of Christ, often as the Pantokrator, representing his second coming, and on the left is an icon of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary), symbolising the incarnation. It is another way of saying all things take place between Christ’s first coming and his second coming.

The six icons on the lower, first tier of the iconostasis in Stony Stratford depict Christ to the right of the Royal Doors, as seen from the nave of the church, and the Theotokos or the Virgin Mary to the left. All six icons depict (from left to right): the Dormition, Saint Stylianos, the Theotokos, Christ Pantocrator, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Ambrosios.

Traditionally, the upper tier has an icon of the Mystical Supper in the centre, with icons of the Twelve Great Feasts on either side, in two groups of six: the Nativity of the Theotokos (8 September), the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), the Presentation of the Theotokos (21 November), the Nativity of Christ (25 December), the Baptism of Christ (6 January), the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (2 February), the Annunciation (25 March), the Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the Ascension, Pentecost, the Transfiguration (6 August) and the Dormition (15 August).

In Stony Stratford, these 12 icons in the top tier, on either side of the icon of the Mystical Supper, are (from left): the Ascension, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Raising of Lazarus and the Crucifixion; and the Harrowing of Hell or the Resurrection, the Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Pentecost, the Transfiguration, the Presentation and the Annunciation.

The fourth in this top tier of 12 icons in Stony Stratford is the icon of Palm Sunday or Christ’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, which recounts an event narrated in all four gospels: Matthew 21: 1-11; Mark 11: 1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; and John 12: 12-19.

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, this icon is called H Βαϊοφόρος (I Baiophoros, meaning ‘The Palm-bearing.’ Βαϊον (baion) in Greek means ‘a palm branch or leaf,’ and the suffix -φόρος (-phoros) comes from the Greek word meaning ‘to bear, to carry.’ This ending is found in the name of Saint Christophoros the ‘Christ-bearer,’ Saint Christopher.

Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem on a colt or donkey would have been bewildering to people who expected a military Messiah to free them from Roman. The donkey symbolises an animal of peace and a colt is representative of the gentiles – so either animal would have been confusing to the people of Jerusalem: a king entering a city on a horse meant war, but a king arriving on a donkey meant peace.

To the left is the Mount of Olives and to the right is the city of Jerusalem, often depicted with the domed Temple. The composition of this icon creates movement that directs our attention towards the heavenly Jerusalem. The mountain and city walls serve as a geometric funnel directly to the city of Jerusalem. Even the bending palm tree in the background and the lowered head of the colt or donkey draw our eyes towards the city.

In iconography, buildings often represent the Church, and in some versions of this icon the city of Jerusalem anachronistically includes a temple with a cross on top.

In his left hand Christ holds a scroll indicating he is the fulfilment of the prophecies. A scroll in the hand tells the viewer that this person has authority and wisdom. It also refers to Christ as the one who is worthy to open the scroll (see Revelation 5: 1-5).

Christ’s halo contains a cross, although only three arms of the cross are visible, indicating a Trinitarian reference. Three Greek letters are in the three arms of the cross: Ο ΩΝ, ὁ ὤν (Ho On), ‘He Who Is’. These letters form the present participle, ὤν, of the Greek verb to be, with a masculine singular definite article, ὁ. A literal translation of Ὁ ὬΝ would be ‘the being one,’ although ‘He who is’ is a better translation. These words are the answer Moses received on Mount Sinai when he asked for the name of him to whom he was speaking (Exodus 3: 14a; see John 8: 58). In the Septuagint, this is ἐγώ εἰμί ὁ ὢν, ego eimi ho on, ‘I am he who is’ or ‘I am’.

Above Christ’s shoulders are the letters IC and XC, forming the Christogram ICXC (for ‘Jesus Christ’). The IC is composed of the Greek characters iota (Ι) and lunate sigma (C, instead of Σ, ς) – the first and last letters of Jesus in Greek (Ἰησοῦς); in XC the letters are chi (Χ) and again the lunate sigma – the first and last letters of Christ in Greek (Χριστός).

In some icons, Christ looks back at his disciples and followers as though to encourage them to persevere through this difficult phase. In this icon, he looks forward towards his glory as he leads the Apostles.

Typically, the two most visible disciples behind Christ are Saint Peter and Saint John, who are the pillars of the Church. Behind them, the Apostles may look a little confused and fearful. Many iconographers depict them with expressions of mixed wonder and apprehension, if only because they do not understand why Christ is returning to a place of danger where the religious and political authorities were planning his death.

Child’s play conveys a visual reminder of Christ’s words, ‘Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’ (Mark 10: 15). Children are shown climbing the palm tree, laying their outer tunics before Christ and in many icons laying branches down. Laying garments beneath someone’s feet is a symbol of total surrender – think of the story of Sir Walter Raleigh laying his cloak before Queen Elizabeth I.

The people of Jerusalem are richly dressed, with hints of gold trimmings around the hems of their robes, like robes worn at a wedding or for greeting a King.

In some icons, when the children remove their outer garments, they are wearing white tunics which, like baptismal gowns, represent purity and innocence. Sometimes a child is shown pulling a thorn from the foot of another child who acquired it by climbing a palm tree, demonstrating that spiritual ascent can be painful or difficult.

A child chops branches off a palm tree … a detail in the icon of Palm Sunday in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Friday 28 June 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Anglican support and advocacy for exiled people in Northern France.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a programme update by Bradon Muilenburg, Anglican Refugee Support Lead in Northern France, the Diocese in Europe, the Diocese of Canterbury and USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (Friday 28 June 2024) invites us to pray:

We pray that the Church would accompany people in exile in their loss of home, friends and family. May they be beacons of light, safety and hospitality for all those in need.

The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope:
teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect on the Eve of Saint Peter and Saint Paul:

Almighty God,
whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul
glorified you in their death as in their life:
grant that your Church,
inspired by their teaching and example,
and made one by your Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation,
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The new iconostasis or icon stand installed in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford in recent weeks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

An introduction to the Stony Stratford iconostasis (15 June 2024)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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