Posted February 4, 2004
Book: Light from the East
Author: Michael Evdokimov
Paulist Press, New York, pp. 97
An excerpt from the Jacket:
This extraordinary collection of full-page, full-color icons introduces readers, art appreciators, and historians to the spiritual riches of the Byzantine liturgical tradition. Father Michael Evdokimov, a Russian Orthodox priest living in Paris, has presented an icon for each of the twelve great feasts of the Orthodox Christian liturgical year, as well as for other special moments of prayer.
Preceding each icon is a brief commentary explaining its meaning an significance. Furthermore, facing each icon are prayers appropriate for meditation that have been translated by the Monks of New Skete Monastery in upstate New York.
In a simple and accessible manner, translator Robert Smith has brought text, prayers, and icons together to show how the beliefs and practices common to Orthodox people everywhere in the world can be appreciated by all.
List of Icons
The Birth of the Mother of God
The Exaltation of the Cross
The Presentation of the Virgin in the temple
The Nativity of the Lord
The Epiphany of the Lord
The Holy Meeting of the Lord
The Entry into Jerusalem
Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity
The Mother of God
An Excerpt from the Book:
The Entry into Jerusalem
Before undergoing his Passion, Christ, for the only time in his life, is acclaimed at the gates of Jerusalem as the Son of David, that is, asa descendant of the royal family of the Hebrew people. The people acclaim him and put before him symbols that belong to a Messiah King. Clothes are spread beneath the feet of the young donkey on which he rides. Palm branches – a sign of victory – are waved before him as are olive branches, signs of peace and anointing. All this is accompanied by the joyful welcoming cry “Hosanna.”
In this icon we see Christ’s power over an enthusiastic crowd bent on showing their admiration for him in a public manner. If we look closely, we can discern two aspects of this feast: a kingly power never exercised by Christ but acknowledged by the people through evident signs, and the deep humility that guides Christ himself. The Messiah is not riding on a horse – the symbol of a king going forth to war or bent on conquest – but instead on the colt of an ass, as Zechariah had prophesied, echoing Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant. When we see the king entering the earthly Jerusalem for the first time in conformity with the will of the Father, we are led to think of the Second Coming in glory into the heavenly Jerusalem where he will henceforth rule for ever.
If we look at this icon horizontally, we see three groups of figures in the lower range. Above each group there is something else that deserves our attention. At the higher level on the left there is Mount Golgotha and in the center there is a tree (which often symbolizes the Cross). At the higher level on the right is the city of Jerusalem, an enclosed place that has shut its gates on Jesus. Below on the left are the disciples, and on the right the people of Jerusalem ready to receive the prophet. Christ is in the center, blessing both groups and thereby uniting them. Two perspectives emerge for us from the icon: we see Christ’s entry into the city of Jerusalem as a prelude to his death with all its consequences for the world, and we see an enthusiastic crowd carrying palm branches, with children spreading clothes under the feet of the donkey like we do today when we spread a red carpet for a head of state to walk on.
In the Byzantine liturgy the acclamation, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is still sung just before Communion and helps us see that the Eucharist is already a prelude to our entry into the heavenly Jerusalem.
Christ’s entry into Jerusalem just before his going up to Golgotha and his descent into hell is celebrated with seriousness but also with a special joy. The Jewish children wave palm branches and cry out “Hosanna,” proclaiming the forthcoming victory over death. “The Hebrew children, predicting the victory of the Resurrection, went before you with tree branches and palms” (Vespers). The principal hymn on the feast (Troparion) reminds us of meaning of Palm Sunday for our life: “Buried with you in Baptism, O Christ our God, we have been deemed worthy of immortal life thanks to your Resurrection, and we cry out this hymn of praise: Hosanna in the highest; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”