The statue of Pythagoras by Nikolaos Ikaris (1989) on the harbour front in Pythagóreio on the Greek island of Samos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The Revised Common Lectionary as used in the Church of Ireland provides readings, collects and post-communion prayers for each of the days in Holy Week. The readings for today, Tuesday in Holy Week [15 April 2014], are: Isaiah 49: 1-7; Psalm 71: 1-14; I Corinthians 1: 18-31; and John 12: 20-36.
My choice of a work of Art for Lent this morning is inspired by the Gospel reading, This statue of Pythagoras by Nikolaos Ikaris (1989) stands on the harbour front in Pythagóreio on the Greek island of Samos.
In this Gospel reading, Jesus has returned from Bethany, the home Lazarus, Mary and Martha, to Jerusalem, where large crowds have gathered for the Passover. He is returning to Bethany and Bethsaida for the night when some of the Greeks in Jerusalem for the Passover ask to see Jesus.
The description probably indicates they were Greek-speaking Jews, and it is interesting that the disciples they approach, Philip, and through him Andrew, have Greek names. Do they approach them because Philip and Andrew can understand them? Do these Greek-speaking Jews not speak Hebrew or Aramaic? Or are they Greek-speaking Gentiles who happen to be in Jerusalem at this time, and who realise that Christ is more important than the Passover that everyone else in the city is anticipating?
Christ does not really address the questions they bring with them, nor does this morning’s Gospel reading say whether or not he met these Greeks. What we are told is that Christ uses this occasion to say something truly significant has happened because now the Son will be glorified as well as the Father. This then results in a voice from heaven saying that he would glorify Christ. Then Christ yet again predicts his own death. The crowd reacts to both the voice from heaven and his words by asking who the Son of Man is. Christ is the Light of the World, and he invites us to be the Children of Light.
John 12: 20-36
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.28 Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 3 0Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35 Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
The artist and his sculpture
The Greek painter and sculptor Nikolaos Ikaris was born in 1920. His statue of Pythagoras of Samos stands on the harbour front of Pythagóreio on the Greek island of Samos.
Pythagóreio has the oldest human-made port in the Mediterranean. Today, the town has over 5,500 hotel beds and has over 60 tavernas and bars – with its bustling marina too, this harbour town is at the heart of tourism on Samos, at times, perhaps, as busy and bustling as the scene in this morning’s Gospel reading.
The harbour front, which stands on the site of the ancient port built by Polycrates, is lined with its tavernas and coffee shops, their tables set out under the trees, with local fishermen at one end with their caiques and yachts, making this the very essence of picture postcard Greece.
This modern statue by Nikolaos Ikaris (1989) on the harbour front shows Pythagoras aligned with the catheti of a right-angled triangle, his arm pointing up to heaven and inscriptions on the hypotenuse, illustrating the Pythagorean Theorem.
The mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras of Samos (Πυθαγόρας Σάμιος ca 570-ca 495 BC) lived on Samos during the reign of Polykrates. Herodotus refers to him as “the most able philosopher among the Greeks.” His name led him to be associated with Pythian Apollo. Aristippus explained his name, saying: “He spoke (agor-) the truth no less than did the Pythian (Pyth-).” Iamblichus tells the story that the Pythia prophesied that his pregnant mother would give birth to a man supremely beautiful, wise, and beneficial to humanity.
He was an ethical vegetarian, dissented from the tyrannical ways of Polykrates, and was accused of atheism. But Pythagoreans believed in a superior divinity, the One, above all others, and it was he who gave the word “κόσμος” (cosmos) to the universe on the basis of his concepts of order and harmony which he believed govern all things.
He combined the spiritual and natural, and put music and geometry at the heart of the workings of the universes. He taught that humanity and the universe are made in the image and likeness of God, and that the understanding of one predicated the knowledge of the other. He sought to explain the world, both spiritual and meaning, by numbers.
His ideas influenced Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers who followed him, including their idea on their immortal souls that we possess as humans.
In Pythagorean thinking – and remember that Saint John the Divine was in exile on Patmos, the neighbouring island of Samos, where Pythagoras was born – the cosmos (κόσμος) includes the arrangement of the stars, “the heavenly hosts,” as the ornament of the heavens (see I Peter 3: 3); it is not just the whole world, but the whole universe, the whole created order; it is earth and all that encircles the earth like its skin.
Later, Samiots would claim, the island was visited by both Christ and by Saint John the Divine, who spent his exile on neighbouring Patmos. Kantili on Mount Kerkis at the western end of the island takes its name (“Candle”) from the legend that Saint John passed this way on his way to the Seven Churches of Asia, and that since then a sweet light has been seen from Kantitli at night, guiding sailors and fishermen off the coast.
Certainly Saint John’s concept of the cosmos can be traced to the original thinking of Pythagoras. But legends aside, we can be sure Samos was visited by the Apostle Paul around 58 AD. Ever since, the island has had a rich heritage of churches, monasteries and convents.
Last Saturday [5 April 2014], while I was discussing ‘The Death of Socrates’ (La Mort de Socrate) by the French painter Jacques-Louis David, I mentioned how Tertullian had asked: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, or the Academy with the Church?”
What has Samos to do with Jerusalem? … or Pythagoras with the Passover, or his followers with Christ?
Did the Greeks who wanted Philip and Andrew to introduce them to Jesus understand the Pythagorean concepts of the cosmos?
Did they meet him?
Did they remain in Jerusalem?
Were they there during the Crucifixion?
Did they become disciples?
Did they accept the invitation to became Children of Light?
who by the passion of your blessed Son made
an instrument of shameful death
to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ,
that we may gladly suffer pain and loss
for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Post Communion Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.
Tomorrow: ‘The Taking of Christ’ (1602), by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.