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Cristo Emmanuel : Cordero de Dios (Christ Emmanuel : Lamb of God)
“The image of the Master: one glimpse and we are in love.”
15c. Zen Master Ikkyu
“The end is not an event but a person.”
“And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders said to me, do not weep; behold, the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders ...stood a Lamb...”
“O come, Desire of Nation bind, in one the hearts of human kind; bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our Prince of Peace.”
final verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel “
I’m always stunned and amazed how peaceful I finally get when I decide to go into my studio room paint. It’s similar to celebrating Mass for me. I can be in one mood when I go in, and be completely transformed by the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.This is true, of every time, in the past 42 years. Every single Mass is different and every Mass is so holy, I wonder why God ever chose me for such an honor and profound privilege ?
In Theology school we studied the Book of Revelation. Being such an Apocalyptic book, like the Major Prophets, it was difficult to understand. After Theology and Ordination, I was Artist in Residence at St John Francis Regis University in my hometown, Denver. The next year I was an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. My grandfather, Robert A. Hart was born in Brooklyn so I felt I had some kind of familial relationship to that borough of New York. It was in my first year at Pratt that I discovered two books by the scripture scholar George Bradford Caird; “The Gospel of Luke” and “The Revelation of St John the Divine” ( Divine, meaning theologian). I dove into both books and would read them going to school on the subway, with my Walkman playing the music I loved; like Laura Nyro...a perfect subway companion who was absolutely unique, brilliant, and an extremely passionate musician, who truly loved New York City.
G.B. Caird opened both books for me and I finally had some sense of the beauty and mystery of Revelation. Besides the prophetic commentaries by Fr Daniel Berrigan, SJ, I don’t think I’ve ever been so affected by any other commentaries... to this day. I know we all have our favorites, so this is simply my opinion. Both books by Caird would become a preparation for what was to come, in the 1980’s, unbeknownst to me.
Today there is much talk and fear too, that we’re heading into the Apocalypse. Yet some of the Orthodox theologians that I read, once I began my apprenticeship in iconography, wrote that the Apocalypse is not one event. In fact they estimated that we’ve been living in the unfolding Apocalypse since World War 1. But no one really knows, even Jesus said, only the Father knows... “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
When I began to create icons my Dad would always tease me with, “Willy, how come icons have such old babies?” I’d try to answer, but it didn’t make much sense to either of us, until I began to grasp the Orthodox Theology about the Child Jesus they always call “Christ Emmanuel.”
Next to St Andrei Rublev, and the tender, childlike Muscovite Mannerism of Dionysius, my favorite iconographer is Simon Fyodorovich Ushakov, 1626 -1686. He was heavily criticized by the conservative Russian priests, such as Archpriest Avvakum, for his “lascivious works of the devil...and fleshy saints.” Personally, I found him deeply influenced by the “sfumato” technique (delicate shading) made most famous by Leonardo da Vinci. Ushakov’s icons are uniquely beautiful and have an infinite tenderness you cannot forget. One of the wonderful thing about iconography is that you are supposed to copy other icons, and the masters. I have tried to copy three of Ushakov’s, and just trying, was an incredible education for me; perhaps like a singer, who may sing a song made famous by someone else, but still cannot help making it her own. So I looked for the most beautiful Child Jesus I could find in iconography to paint as a gift for Dad, while he was in the hospital nearing death. I didn’t finish before his death 25 November 1997, and he never got to see this Child, but I’m sure he sees Him now.
I know everyone has been moving through this Advent with many troubling catastrophes like the Kentucky tornado devastations, the stalking of a new variant, omicron, or the almost daily school shootings. These are our brothers and sisters so how can we not ache for them ? Another brilliant contemporary commentator on the Book of Revelation, Craig Koester, has told us that Revelation is a very hopeful book about the plans God has for all of us, his children. As we enter this fourth week of Advent I offer this Radiant Child Jesus (an attempted copy of Ushakov) who promised us in the last book of the Bible “... He who sat on the throne said ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true.’”
“O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, who ord’rest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in Her ways to go...”
second verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
One of the things I know for certain, is that God always hears our prayers; always. And though I don’t know who is going to read this, I promise to pray for you all during this last very Holy Week of Advent . And I know He will hear me .
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 December 2021