STILLNESS IN MOTION
“He who gave the Law to Moses on Sinai is seen today as an infant, and according to the Law, as Creator of the Law, fulfills the Law” …
One after another, the hymns for the feast of the Meeting of the Lord identify the infant Christ with the Giver of the Law whom Moses beheld in darkness on Sinai. The Presenter of the Tablets of Law is now presented in the Temple by His Mother, for the Law required that every first-born male be dedicated to God.
Thus fulfilling the requirements of His own Law, the Lord is received as a newborn babe – in the Temple dedicated to His own worship – by the righteous elder Symeon and Prophetess Anna.
The Sinai icons here capture exactly this miracle – that Symeon holds in his arms the Lord of Glory at whose mere glance the earth trembles, surpassing in honor even the visions granted to Prophets Moses and Elias on Sinai.
Symeon thus directs particular attention to the Incarnation of Christ. On Sinai, Christ had not yet put on flesh, and Moses saw Him only in the cloud. But now, like Saint John who baptized Christ in the Jordan, Symeon is counted worthy to actually touch the Lord in the flesh – a detail stressed in this icon by the fact that Symeon dares *not* actually touch the divine Infant in his arms.
“For this is He who spoke through the Law, He of whom the Prophets spoke, having become incarnate for our sake in order to save mankind.”
A deep respect for the dignity of man, which was restored by the Incarnation of Christ, lies at the very heart of Orthodox theology, wrote His Eminence, Archbishop Damianos of Sinai.
This is conveyed by the outer – and inner – stillness of the figures in Byzantine icons, he said – a reflection of their perfect union of body and soul. Saint John Klimakos writes with remarkable eloquence about the inner disposition of stillness in the culminating “rungs” of his Ladder, noted His Eminence.
At the same time, as a living reality, the human body moves freely within the icon, “as do the garments that drape it,” another detail seen in these two icons attributed to the great Cretan painter Michael Damaskenos.
The idea of moving freely while remaining within stillness, of a soul motionless in prayer while in flight to God, aptly defines the transcendental nature of Byzantine chant, whose lyrical melodies entwine themselves on a modality established not only harmonically but by the architectural structure of the melodies themselves.
The best example of this might be the famous “Megalynaria” of the Orthros for the Meeting of the Lord, reminiscent on one hand of the Lamentations of Great Friday, but on the other, composed of lilting melodies sung as lullabies to the Infant Christ.
Similarly, the Meeting of the Lord carries portents of His approaching Passion, while yet suffused in the joy of the new Mother who offers her Child to God as a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel …
Today we learn why the [Forefeast] hymns relentlessly identified the Infant Jesus with the Law-giver Moses on Sinai.
One of the Twelve Great Feasts of the year, the Meeting of the Lord does not simply honor Christ for fulfilling the letter of the Law when He was presented to God in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Today’s hymns explain, when we learn that the light of the Sun of Righteousness that dawned from on high at the Nativity of Christ is that of the Resurrection:
The way Christ fulfills the Law is by bringing the grace into the temple (thus the Church and the world) that had been lost by mankind, symbolized by his exile from paradise. Wasn’t life there one of communion with God?
Wasn’t union with God the goal of that communion – the same goal of those called to union with His love today - all those, that is, ever born to mothers?
Today, therefore, was officially designated Mothers’ Day by the Church of Greece in 1929, for just as the Mother of God opened up the road to God by bringing Her infant Christ to the Temple, Orthodox mothers do the same until today, bringing their infants to church for the first time on the fortieth day after birth..
In honor of Mothers’ Day, we offer a 2 minute video with the lullabies that were sung to the infant Jesus this morning during the 9th Ode of the Orthros service (Matins) - the lilting Megalynaria (pls see previous post) which recall the Praises sung to Christ at His Crucifixion each year on Great and Holy Friday, exuding wondrous joy in the inconceivable love of God for humankind …
His Eminence Archbishop Damianos has noted that the highly developed traditions of Byzantine iconography allow great creative freedom to artists. One may note the same flexibility in this video, which is accompanied by two different renditions of the captivating Megalynaria.
One is by a single chanter, the other - by the Byzantine Choir beloved throughout the world of Lycourgos Angelopoulos, of blessed memory.
Two skilled artists, both eminently Byzantine in style …which do you prefer? Is it possible to choose?