Sunday, December 14, 2014

The heavenly banquet

Holy Mount Athos
by painter Alfons Mucha
Today is the Sunday of the Forefathers of Christ in the Orthodox Christian Church. The appointed gospel reading is the parable of the heavenly banquet, Luke 14:16-24. In my mind this parable points to the commingling of the Divine Nature with human nature that occurs during the worship of the Church.  I came across this wonderful painting by Czech artist Alfons Mucha, which I want to share. For me it makes visible what is invisible to the naked eye during the Divine Liturgy, what the eye of faith can sometimes catch a glimpse of. Notice that the saints joining the humble people of God in worship are both majestic and passionless. I especially love the expression on the face of the Theotokos (Mother of God) in the platytera. Ikons do not have to be stiff and unhuman, but should display a deep and abiding mercy and tenderness. Of all ikons or images depicting what happens during the Divine Liturgy, this is my favorite. In fact, this image depicts what is happening all around us, all the time, if we only bring ourselves to be aware of it. There is no place on this earth where the heavenly banquet is not going on. The temple during worship is only a time and place where the Church gathers to draw attention to this reality. It is for this reason alone, that we should heed the warning in the parable, as people who have been called and invited to the feast of faith and not, like those in the parable who made excuses, forego the opportunity to 'go up and feast and look upon God.'

Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel. They saw the God of Israel beneath whose feet there was, it seemed, a sapphire pavement pure as the heavens themselves. He laid no hand on these notables of the sons of Israel: they gazed on God. They ate and they drank.
Exodus 24:9-11 Jerusalem Bible

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