Monday, February 8, 2010

Frescoes explained - Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, Butte, MT

Pantocrator – The Ruler of all (The Lord Almighty); Exodus 3:14; Revelation 1:8; 4:8

“And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus 3:14) “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation) 1:8 “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God the Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8) When one enters the Orthodox Church, the immediate message that is conveyed is that “God is with us.” This is certainly communicated by the Fresco or image of Christ written inside the very top of the dome. In this image, He looks down on the faithful gathered in the church and blesses them with His right hand. In His left hand he holds the Scriptures opened with words: “ I am the light of the world.” John 8:12 In this fresco, Jesus Christ is depicted frontally as a half figure. His face is authoritative, but also compassionate with his eyes opened looking directly at the faithful gathered in the church. The outer robe is a blue (himation) and the inner one is a red (chiton) color symbolizing his humanity and divinity. The broad band over his right shoulder called clavus, is a remnant from the Roman imperial court that indicates high official status. On the right side of Christ’s figure is the Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ, IC XC, Ιησους Χριστός. A halo enclosing a cross has the Greek words Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν (Exodus 3:13) in the abbreviated form ΟΩΝ, translated “I am who I am,” or “The existing One.” He is the perfect, indescribable, and absolutely transcendent God. In this icon, Jesus Christ is shown in glory to represent His Second coming. It shows Him as the Lightgiver, the Divine Teacher, instructing His followers in the word of Truth. Having in mind the oval shape of the domes in Orthodox Churches, it appears that Christ embraces the faithful gathered in the church. This is certainly another reality conveyed to us, i.e. Christ embraces the whole creation. He is the Creator of the Universe. He is the Redeemer of the Universe. To face our Creator means to repent and find out who we are. When we look at His image, we see what we were made to be, bearers of the divine image. This lifelong process is called theosis (deification), becoming Christ like by grace, not nature.

Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:21; Isaiah 7:14

St. Archangel Gabriel was sent to Nazareth to announce the Good News, the Incarnation, to Mary. He greeted her with the words: “Fear not, Mary: For thou hast found favor with God, and behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.” (St. Luke 1:30-31) During her conversation with Archangel Gabriel, Mary favorably responded by accepting God’s will: “And Mary said, behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (St. Luke 1:38) By accepting God’s will, Mary becomes a mediator between heaven and earth; she has done what Eve of old failed to do, therefore Mary is referred to as the New Eve.

Nativity of our Lord: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1:7; John 1:1-18

In this fresco, the Holy Mother of God is depicted half sitting, leaning over her newborn child, Emanuel. The child is wrapped in the swaddling cloths lying in the crib that looks more like a grave. In this, we see the mystery of Incarnation, but also the mystery of sacrifice, i.e. Christ’s death on the cross. Above Mary are angels singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) Below Mary and the Child is Joseph resting his chin in his arm. On the top left side are the three wise men offering their gifts to the new Born King: “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

Theophany of our Lord: Matthew 3: 13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-34, Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 42:1; 2 Peter 1:17

The Theophany or Epiphany is another major Feast day in the Liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church. Theophany (manifestation or revelation of God) or Epiphany (revelation) is celebrated on January 6 (Julian calendar). In this fresco, we see Christ standing in the Jordan River having St. John the Baptist on his left and angels on the right side assisting Christ. The Holy Trinity is manifested on this Feast day, Christ was in the Jordan River, and the Holy Spirit was descending upon him, and God the Father spoke. “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway, out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And a voice from heaven, saying, this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17) By descending into water, Christ sanctifies it, but immediately comes out for he had no need for cleansing.

Transfiguration of our Lord: Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36, 2 Peter 1:1-21

The Transfiguration is one of twelve major Feast days; it is celebrated on August 6. From the synoptic Gospels we learn that Christ took his three disciples, Peter, James, and John to Tabor Mountain, and surrounded with Moses and Elijah, he transfigured. Prophets Elijah and Moses where present, because the former stands for all the prophets, while the latter stands for the law. They were conversing about the forthcoming events in Jerusalem. The Greek word for transfiguration is metamorphosis, meaning to progress from one state of being into another. Here too, as in the Theophany, the voice of the God Father was heard: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” (Matthew 17:5) The transfiguration feast is the revelation of Christ’s Divine nature, manifestation of the Trinity, and the confirmation of the continuity between the Old and New Testament.

Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19; Psalm 118:25-26; Zechariah 9:9, 14:4; 2 Kings 9:13

The entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, or Palm Sunday, is one of the twelve major Feast days. It was foretold by Prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zechariah 9:9) This fresco, according to St. John Cassian (365-435) can be interpreted on four different levels. The first level is literal referring to the historic event; Christ entered a Jewish capital, Jerusalem, riding a donkey. The second level is allegorical or typological in which Jerusalem stands for the Church that Christ established by his death and resurrection. On the moral or tropological level, Jerusalem stands for the individual soul that received Christ in baptism. The last analogical level, Jerusalem refers to the eternal abodes in the world to come – the heavenly Jerusalem.

Resurrection of Jesus Christ-The Descent into Hades: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10; Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27-32, 33-35, Psalm 56:13, 116:8, 1 Peter 3:19; 4:6

The Resurrection of Christ or Pascha is the Feast of Feasts. Christ is depicted in white clothes pulling our ancestors, Adam and Eve, out of Hades. Beneath him, the gates of hell are shattered and nails and locks are clearly visible. Death could not have kept Christ captive. On either side of Christ, we can see the righteous from the Old Testament who also heard the Good News preached to them by Christ. “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” (1 Peter 3:19)

Ascension of our Lord: Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24: 50-53; Acts: 1:9-11; John 20:17; Ephesians 4:8

In this icon, Jesus Christ is depicted above his disciples and his holy mother. He is being carried by one angel on either side. He is surrounded with mandorla, which stands for his divinity and glorified state. His disciples below are looking up and two angels speak to them: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) The ascension Feast day marks the end of Christ’s earthly life, beginning of the Church epoch, and the expectation of Christ’s second glorious coming.

The fresco work

Holy Trinity Orthodox Christian Church
Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate, Butte, MT