Catholic Madonnas and Orthodox Panagies, from the Byzantine Ambassador

19 Nov

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Hmmm…  Need to think about that one.  It’s right but I don’t know why — which may be the most Orthodox answer.

I do talk about the themes of the “knowing submission” of Mary in a 2015 post: The Annunciation: “And I thank you for choosing me…”

Virgin of Kazan.jpgThe Virgin of Kazan’ — Russia’s “national” Bogoroditsa

In images of the Nativity, however, there is a serious difference.  While western Virgins are shown lovingly kneeling over their newborn Son, in traditional Orthodox representations, the midwives are taking care of the Child or the kings are bent over it, while Mary is lying in bed and turned the other way in a post-partem funk, which has always seemed more psychologically honest and astute to me, in a way that perhaps only abstraction in representation can convey.

After all, Mary knows how all this started and, undistracted by angels (been there, done that), kind shepherds or generous kings, is troubled by how it will end.  Is that a female perceptiveness and sensitivity that the Byzantine Ambassador nicely calls “taciturn authority.”?  The Nativity narration most of us are familiar with, Chapter 2 of Luke, begins:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

…but does not end with Mary’s rejoicing, but rather with the slightly jarring:

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

19 δὲ Μαριὰμ πάντα συνετήρει τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα συμβάλλουσα ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῆς.

Nativity Byzantine Museum

And ‘cometh the moment, cometh the tweet’:

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Christmas fast started this past Wednesday and I totally forgot.  Other dates coming up.



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