icons past and present

I don't know my icons - but I am willing to learn from my friends.

So when Riad finished his devotion (on living with Habakkuk amidst the Syrian crisis) with an old Coptic/Egyptian icon, I leaned forward in my chair. A painting on wood. From Egypt in the 5th century. Jesus is standing alongside Abbot Menas, the leader of a local monastery. In the Louvre, where it lives now, it is known as Christ and His Friend (Christ et son ami).

Riad's observation is that Menas looks pale and exhausted, but with the arm of his friend around him, he is strengthened to face the world again and his calling to bless others. I've kept looking at the icon ever since. In Jesus I see a gentle love and a calm authority. One arm is around his friend and the other arm is around the Bible. A picture of the comprehensive caring ministry. Jesus is not facing towards Menas, lost in Menas' woes - but instead he is an 'alongsider', standing with him in his troubles, as they face a troubled world together.
I no longer call you servants ... instead, I have called you friends (John 15.15).
The day before Riad introduced me to this icon, Mark showed me another one.

It was in the Church of St Nicholas in Demre (Turkey). Once again, about the 5th century. Known as the burial place of St Nicholas. In the peak season it is visited by 60 bus loads of Russian tourists each day, coming to pay respects to a father of their Orthodox church. St Nicholas' life went on to gather worldwide fame, across timezones and centuries, as Santa Claus. That story didn't interest me one whit. The exquisite, but partial, murals and mosaics and frescoes interested me far more ... but as I exited the church, Mark asked me, 'Did you see the icon out the back?'. He showed it to me on his camera. I rushed back in to find it. This is what interested me the most.

This icon may be found in a 5th century church, but it is far from ancient. It is a few scratches on some relatively new concrete out the back. None of the tourist guidebooks mention it. And yet it speaks, as much as that icon in the Louvre, to those who linger to look and listen.

Psst - hey, tourist - we are still here. These years may not be the glory years when we were the celebrated cradle for the faith that bears Christ's name. Those people may have tried to exterminate us more than once. But we are still here, out the back, scratching out a witness to Jesus Christ, God's Son and Saviour - and Our Friend.
nice chatting



Unknown said…
A very lovely piece Paul...
Thanks, Fred - hope you are well.

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