Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Maternity of the Holy Anna

Given that yesterday honored the Maternity of the Holy Anna (a.k.a. the Immaculate Conception and the Conception of St. Anna)I think it is appropriate to unveil my new painting here as well as on my studio blog.

My friend David O'Neil, scholar of classical languages, helped me in titling this painting. Our exchange follows.

Dear Dave,

So, Theotokos - a title of Mary - is Greek for "God-bearer" - correct? If I wanted to say "Bearer of the God-bearer" (indicating Mary's mother Ann), what would I say? Theotokostokos?

In Christ,

To avoid the neologism, I would rather add a second word. At first I was thinking of something like "tokos tEs theotokou" which would be a simple "bearor of the god-bearer", but 'tokos' doesn't really mean "bearer" by itself, but more like "the giving forth", so that wouldn't work. I kind of like "hE tiktousa tEn theotokon", lit. "the woman bringing forth the God-bearer"). There's precedent for 'hE tiktousa' meaning "mother" and it retains the cognate with 'tokos'. By the way, the capitals represent long vowels.

I don't know if you want something shorter than this. I doubt there's any precedent for the word you suggest, but the Greeks did like to make up big long words like that, and I think it would be understood. I'd take out the first 's', though, just like how the 's' is removed from 'theos' in the original compound--so 'theotokotokos'.



As you can see, desirous of a title rather than a phrase, I went with the neologism. I find the use of a neologism appropriate given that the image is a "neologism" of it's own. Icons are often described as having been "written" rather than "painted." An icon is an image of the invisible Logos. This painting is an innovation and violates all sorts of iconographic canons, therefore it is a "new word."

In Christ,

Saturday, September 13, 2008


The idea that the world is overpopulated is surprisingly ancient.

“The human race has progressed with a gradual growth of population. Some occupy different portions of the earth as natives…. Others occupy certain regions through emigration, which they call ‘colonies.’ These are established for the purpose of throwing off excess population, disgorging into other places their overcrowded masses…. What most frequently meets our eyes is our teeming population. Our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements. Our wants grow more and more acute, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, while Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In fact, pestilence, famine, wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the abundance of the human race.” –Tertullian c. 210
In 210 A.D., the world population is estimated to have been between 190 million and 256 million: Historical Estimates of World Population

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Controversial Religious Art

Dr. Christopher Allen of Sydney recently resigned from the judging panel for the Blake Prize for Religious Art (Australia's highest award for this kind of work) over his objections to a crucifixion painted by the artist Adam Cullen: Religious art prize judge quits in disgust

I happen to agree with Dr. Allen's assessment of Cullen's work: "It has a kind of deliberate ugliness which has been exploited as a gimmick." But I can't help but wonder whether he'd level the same attack against some of my work:
Similar words have been used to describe the above painting, which I painted in 2002. In 1998, some of my work was banned from an exhibition in a Wesleyan church because it was "frightening people." Like Cullen, I've "become used to strong reactions to [my] work."

There is a stylistic similarity between our works, but I believe there is a profound difference of intent. If I intend to shock, it is with the reality of the crucifixion. Cullen works with disrespectful flippancy, quipping, "It's just a Jew on the cross." My hope with this kind of work is to reawaken the viewer to the violent sacrifice of God's Son made Man. Pretty, pastel, stiff figures on the cross may have a place, but I try to express the pain and ugliness He endured in becoming our Paschal Lamb.

Update 12-2-2015: I have continued to paint like this now for many years. Examples of my work may be found here: The Artfinder Shop of John R.P. Russell

Friday, August 1, 2008

Many Rites

Among Catholics, I have often heard voiced the opinion that, if things were as they should be, the Church would have only one Eucharistic liturgy, ever the same, always and everywhere. The one true Church, it seems to many, ought to have one true liturgy.

The Holy Spirit, apparently, had something else in mind.

A friend and I were recently discussing the variety of liturgies used by the Church throughout the world and which of these could be said to be closest to the original liturgy. A mutual friend is of the opinion that the Classical Roman Rite, (a.k.a. the Tridentine Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, the “extraordinary form,” etc.) best preserves those traditions handed down to us from the apostles. Our Byzantine Catholic priest, on the other hand, is thoroughly convinced that it is the liturgies of the Byzantine tradition that most closely resemble those of the Apostolic Church. Neither of these opinions is provable or disprovable, though each is quite capable of stirring up a lot of anger and indignation from those who hold to the other. The purpose of such dispute, I imagine, is to settle the question once and for all of whose liturgy is the “best” and ought to be used always and everywhere.

Our conversation then moved to the original liturgy itself. I had supposed we were talking about the liturgies described by St. Justin Martyr (c. 160 A.D.) and the Didache (80 – 100 A.D.). My friend, on the other hand, was talking about the Last Supper as described in the Gospels. Even regarding what constitutes the original liturgy there is dispute.

Already in the first century we have two differing accounts of how the Eucharist is offered. The Didache (9: 1-5) instructs us to first give thanks for the cup and then for the bread. The Gospels describe Christ as first offering His body and then His blood (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25). There is difference from the first.

I see a parallel between the gift of tongues and the many rites of the Church. When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost, he gave to them the gift of "divers tongues" (Acts 2:4) In so doing, He lifted the curse of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Just as the Holy Spirit did not remove the curse of Babel by restoring one language to all peoples, so He also did not give the Church one liturgy for all peoples. Rather, He gave the Apostles many tongues and through them established many liturgies. Just as there is one Spirit who gives the gift of many tongues, there is one Church who gives the gift of many liturgies.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"The doors, the doors!"

I’ve a growing concern for security around Our Lord’s Body and Blood. Here’s a reason why. There are others.

We (Catholics) will give the Eucharist to anyone who gets in line. “Satanists, blasphemers, pagans, excommunicants, step right up!” – seems to be a message we send by this practice.

This was not always so. Even today, there are Orthodox parishes where one is not able to receive communion unless the priest – to whom he has recently confessed his sins – knows him.

The Early Church was far more scrupulous regarding who may receive – or even attend during the consecration. There are remnants of this in the Divine Liturgy: “I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies,” all vow before communion; “The doors, the doors!” the priest calls out before the Liturgy of the Faithful (a.k.a. Liturgy of the Eucharist). This call is to signal that the doors must be guarded to keep out all intruders – pagans and catechumens already having been expelled by the deacon.

This expulsion fell away from the Liturgy in both East and West. In the centuries after the Edict of Milan, pagans and catechumens became hard to find in Christian Churches. Therefore, expelling them became mostly unnecessary.

This is no longer the case. Christendom has been crumbling for centuries, but has failed to respond liturgically to the situation. We are no longer a Christian culture. Surely this must be apparent? The many conveniences we’ve adopted over centuries of enjoying a Christian culture ought now to be abandoned.

Out of such convenience, the Roman Church has seen fit, by and large, to reinstitute an early Christian practice of communion in the hand, rather than on the tongue; along with this, they should reinstitute the expulsion of pagans and catechumens (and Satanists, atheists, unbelievers, Protestants, etc.). Communion in the hand makes theft and desecration of the Eucharist that much easier. None but the fully initiated should even be permitted in the presence of the Eucharist.

We must recognize the truth of the situation: we are now surrounded by unbelievers, many of whom come into our churches and steal Our Lord’s Body and Blood – often unwittingly. In some cases, this is done with open malice, but usually this is no crime of the one who receives inappropriately, but our own negligence towards the One Who offers Himself for us in the Eucharist.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Eastern Christian Blog Awards

This site provides a good list of blogs well worth perusing and the opportunity to vote for your favorite:

Eastern Christian Blog Awards

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Happy Birthday Father Sid!

Ordained at 76, today he’s 80 and spitting nails!

This is the man who joined my wife and I in holy matrimony by the Mystery of Crowning. He initiated my son into the Catholic Church by the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist. He forgives my sins with Christ's forgivness and he feeds me the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. He blessed my house. He is a source of grace and I love him. May God grant him many blessed years in health and happiness!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Psalm 135

The Kathismata for today, Friday, include Psalm 135 (or 136, according to Masoretic numbering):

It has occurred to me that its twenty-seven repetitions of the the phrase, "for his mercy endureth for ever" are an excellent example of what Christ did not mean when he condemned "vain repetitions" in prayer (Matthew 6:7).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Political Pilgrimage

Archbishop Elias Shakur, Archbishop of Akkra for the Greek-Catholic Melkite Church, recently asked President Bush whether he came to Israel as a politician or a pilgrim (Washington Times).

This question reminds me a bit of that riddle about the twin brothers, one of whom always lies, the other of whom always tells the truth. They both say, "I am the one that always tells the truth," so how do you figure out which is which?

Ask a politician, "Did you come as a politician or a pilgrim?" and he will reply, "I came as a pilgrim." Ask a pilgrim, "Did you come as a politician or a pilgrim?" and he will reply, "I came as a pilgrim."

Asked that very question, Mr. Bush replied, "I came as a pilgrim."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Is the Pope Orthodox?

My latest bumper sticker:

Unlike the well-known rhetorical question that inspired this, this question gives one pause. I hope that one day the Orthodox world will recognize with me that the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Some, I know, take issue even with the claim that the pope is Catholic.
You’ve heard the old joke, “Is the Pope a Catholic?” The question of the hour seems to be, “Is he the only one?” - Thomas Russell

Russia and the Pope, part 3

For absolutely no information at all about the Russian Orthodox position on papal primacy go to:

Russian theologians discuss papal primacy

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