Archive for the ‘Anglican’ Category

A Matter of Perspective

October 25, 2007


During my recent foray into iconography – I spent a week studying with a Master iconographer and a week discovering how little use my hands are in certain circumstances. But among the most fascinating aspects of the week was a lecture that focused largely on the technique of “inverse perspective” that is part of the artistic language of icons. Essentially, inverse perspective does just the opposite of traditional Renaissance art with its “vanishing point” perspective. That “vanishing point” technique enabled gifted artists to render remarkable portrayals of nature, acheiving a life-like appearance (and more). In that technique things portrayed in the painting seem to disappear into the distance – the lines of perspective closing on each other within the painting, finishing in a single “vanishing point.”

It is the inverse of this, and more, that forms the artistic grammar of the icon. The lines of perspective do not converge into a vanishing point – instead they grow ever further apart. Thus the “Window to Heaven” looks into a view which grows ever larger rather than ever smaller and further away. It makes somethings look quite peculiar at first. Buildings have a strange, almost eery shape as you see two walls clearly before you, moving ever wider, where perspective as we normally see it should show only one. It is like a young child who draws a house and instead of remembering that if you draw the view of one side you should not draw the view of the other (since it is out of view), he draws both sides, because he knows both sides and wants to paint all of the house.

There is something similar at work in the grammar of icons. This inverse perspective also eliminates shadows – shapes are not revealed by the darkness that surrounds them, but the “lights” that are added in each progressive stage of the painting – those things that are closer receiving the brightest and last of the lights.

This inverse perspective also makes faces seem quite strange. Noses appear narrow; lips small as we confront them head-on. But the forehead and hair seem enlarged as we see not only the face but both sides of the head as well. Many of these components of reverse perspective have been explained as representing a “spiritualization” of the person (small nose being less sensual; small lips meaning silence, etc.) However I was told these are incorrect descriptions of what is essentially just the effect of inverse perspective.

During one lecture we studied an icon of St. John of Kronstadt. The most fascinating moment for me came as the image of the icon (we were looking at a slide show) was projected on the top of a photograph of St. John (he was a 20th century saint). The similarity was quite obvious – you could clearly see that this icon was not an “idealization” of St. John. But the face that clearly was his took on different qualities as inverse perspective showed what the photograph could not, and St. John, if you will, grew larger where normal perspective would have expected him to be vanishing.

This grammar is also the language of fulfillment. In saying this I do not repeat the lecture but now offer my own ruminations on what I was seeing. Our world in its fallen state is ever disappearing from us, hiding from us, shielding us from knowledge and enclosing life with its shadows. Thus the face of another, instead of revealing the person often acts in the original sense of the word persona – it is a mask. We do not know what lies behind or within it. We see a world that is not fulfilled, but a world that is disappearing and masking its reality.

The work of God in this world is like the hand of the iconographer. Like the image of St. John, the face becomes revelation, an encounter with Person in the sense made known to us through the theology of the Trinity. Under the hand of God the shadows of the world are filled with light – what had been ignorance becomes known. What was once whispered is now “shouted from the rooftops.”

We ourselves, once filled with secrets and areas of darkness, come increasingly into the light. With the disappearance of the darkness of sin, the fullness that is who we are as Persons begins to be made manifest. Obviously the clearest examples of this are to be found in the saints, and yet this same sanctification is at work in all of God’s re-creation.

As painful as confession can sometimes be – it is utterly necessary to our well-being. Light must shine in the darkness if the darkness is to be transformed and we are to find the fullness of God. St. Paul’s wonderful description of the healing of creation at the Last Day, has it this way:

…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:21-23).

In the traditional Anglican Book of Common Prayer reference is made to our life after death as an “entrance into the larger life.” It is a marvelous expression, one that is itself filled with inverse perspective and revelatory of the nature of the life we are being given.

And it is also a way we may frequently recognize the work of God. Where darkness grows and shadows loom, the hand of God is often being turned aside (though He will not be refused forever). Where light is entering and shadows disappearing the resurrection has begun, if only in faint hints. St. Paul’s comparison was to a woman in labor. There is pain, (a “groaning” in his usage) but a sudden deliverance. And so it shall be. So much that seems lost in darkness and forever impenetrable will be suddenly revealed. For some a revelation that will bring a shout of “Alleluia,” for others only the frightful appearance of the light. Not that the light should be frightful – but that they had come to prefer darkness to the light.

And I think we may apply this understanding to many things. The work of the Church should not be “pinched” by the narrowness of an ethnicity – rather that which is ethnic should be revealed in a wholeness that finally fullfills what would otherwise have been lacking. For that which is particular is not contrary to God, but without God it collapses back on itself. With God, the perspective becomes inverse, and the particular becomes a liberation, a fullness – something that though particular can no longer be contained.

C.S. Lewis (borrowing from his friend Charles Williams) made this distinction between “England” and “Logres,” his name for England fullfilled (in his novel That Hideous Strength). Under the hand of God all things will be offered such a fullness, to become part of a landscape that is ever greater rather than a landscape that is ever vanishing. God grant us such a fullness, both within ourselves and in everything about us. As the children cried in Lewis’ Narnia, “Higher up! and further in!”

Charismatic Episcopal Church Congregation and Clergy to be Received into Holy Orthodoxy

July 9, 2007

The following newsstory gives details of a congregation being received into the Antiochian Archdiocese from the Charismatic Episcopal Church, a Pentecostal denomination with many former Episcopalians, clergy and lay among their membership.

The Church of the Unanxious God

June 19, 2007


The story of the conversion of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware to Orthodoxy has more or less passed over into modern Orthodox legend. He accidentally stumbles into a Vigil service in order to get out of a rain storm. Discovering Orthodoxy and its beauty he begins to inquire into conversion only to be told to go back to his Anglican Church (he was not a clergyman, by the way). When eventually he does convert, he is told that he may become Orthodox but that he should not expect to ever be a priest because he is not Greek. The irony of the story, of course,  is that it is being told by a Greek Orthodox Metropolitan.

His story was from another time. It is similar to that of Archbishop Dmitri (OCA) who, along with his sister, persuaded by encyclopedia articles that the Orthodox Church is indeed the Church founded by Christ, seeks to convert and attends five weeks in a row before anyone speaks to them (he was 16 or so at the time). He says he was 21 before he ever knew what the Liturgy said.

In neither case did the Orthodox Church seem particularly anxious to accept a convert. Some part of these stories is a failure – a lack of concern for evangelism – but another part reflects an aspect of Orthodoxy that continues to a certain extent: a frequent lack of anxiety about conversion. The night before I made a heart’s decision to convert to the Orthodox faith, I had read an article about a gentleman who had himself approached the Church and was told by a very spiritually mature woman that he should indeed convert to Orthodoxy, but that he should wait ten years.

I recall at the time being amazed at the story. What amazed me was that no one could say such a thing without a sure confidence in God. It was an uncommon thing to say – something that could only be said because of a prophetic gift. Indeed something about the story moved my heart to a place of decision that had not been there before. That story had a character to it that I later heard echoed in both the stories of Metropolitan Kallistos and Vladyka Dmitri. Indeed, my own entrance into the Church took years after that first decision of the heart – not because anyone in the Orthodox Church told me no or asked me to wait – there were many other factors that made my conversion extend over such a period. But what I found in the Church was no one who was anxious to make me do anything.

I found priests who certainly cared for me and would have done anything for me. But I did not find priests who seemed alarmed at my condition and anxious that it be corrected as soon as possible. The priest who eventually received me and my family into the faith later said to me that he thought everyone who came through the door of his parish was called to be Orthodox. “But that is God’s problem. My problem is to show hospitality.”

I had no arguments when I approached the faith. For one, I had no doubt of its truth. This stood in stark contrast to the life I was experiencing as an Anglican – where doubt and argument, crisis and cowardice were all too familiar companions – both within me and within most around me.

There was no argument – only decision. The lack of anxiety that greeted my decision probably played a much larger role than I will ever know. I provided all the anxiety anyone could want (I didn’t need more from someone else).

In hindsight, I can see that the “Church of the Unanxious God” is also the foundation for virtues such as patience, faith, hope – all characteristics that are born from dwelling in the truth. We can be patient because “God is good and loves mankind.” For the same reason we can be faithfully patient and live in hope.

I will quickly grant that Orthodoxy has no corner on proclaiming an unanxious God and that we sin as often as anyone else, failing to be patient or to have faith and hope. Nevertheless it seems to be an inherent part of the Orthodox faith to say to the world: “The truth abides and will abide and will not change. It will be here tomorrow as surely as today. Whether you come now or later or never come at all – it will abide.”

The position of Orthodoxy within the English-speaking world has shifted dramatically since the decades in which Archbishop Dmitri or Metropolitan Kallistos sought to be received into the faith. Much of the convert-rich territory of today’s Orthodoxy can be attributed to the fact that, unlike 50 years ago, today’s Church has an abundance of material in English. And with greater numbers of converts also comes greater conversation, awareness and opportunity.

And yet, it should still be the case that the Orthodox Church retain its faith in the unanxious God. Hospitality is tremendously important and so is the ability for people to get information who want it. We have a commandment to preach the gospel and to make disciples – but this is not the same thing as a commandment to make converts. That is God’s business, and a mysterious business indeed. Our first task is to pray for the world and welcome such as God adds to the Church (Acts 2:47), making disciples by learning to be disciples ourselves.