ICON OF “SAINT THERESE OF THE CHILD JESUS AND THE HOLY FACE, DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH” [PART 2]

Title: Icon of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church

Author: Melkite Catholic Carmel of the Theotokos and of Unity, Harissa-Lebanon

Date Finished: 17 July, 1997

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Reading the Icon

The Upper Section of the Icon

Sealing the intimacy of His Heart with the union of love, the Lord reveals to Therese all the mysteries of His Person and His creation. Secrets so often approached but never penetrated. What beatitude it is to “understand the intimate secrets of Our Spouse”.

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The miniature that presides over the entirety of the icon is the scene of “Christ in the Temple at the age of twelve” (Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΔΩΔΕΚΑΕΤΗΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΝΑΩ). Here, the Child-Jesus, quite small, is nevertheless Wisdom itself, the God before all ages (Ο ΠΡΟ ΑΙΩΝΩΝ ΘΕΟΣ). Jesus, said Therese, is “the Doctor of doctors” Who “teaches with the noise of words”, and she adds: “I feel that He is in me, at every moment, He guides me, inspires me with what I should say or do”. According to Saint John of the Cross, God, while remaining unchangeable, changes and directs: “It is as such that Wisdom is more active than all active things; which is why we must say that, in this movement, it is the soul which changes and wakes from the slumber of the natural live to the supernatural life”. The mystery of the miniature {above the icon} brings us closer to the Christocentric vision of Therese.

In the East, the Child-Jesus is always contemplated as God before all ages. He is always the same, unchanging, without beginning, without end, One and Triune… Which is why, in byzantine iconography, the facial features of the Child-Jesus are always those of an adult. In this same vision, Therese conceives of her name: “Therese of the Child-Jesus and the Holy-Face”, name inscribed on gold, symbol of God Who is Love. The Child-Jesus and the Holy-Face are the same Jesus contemplated in the movement that embraces both His fragile humanity made Child, and His redemptive sufferings in the Face of the Man of Sorrows. Therese’s name achieves the entirety of Christ, summarizing as such Her vocation: “the Redemptive Incarnation”.

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Mary, the All-Holy (Η ΠΑΝΑΓΙΑ), as in the majority of icons, is found by the side of Her Son Jesus. Indeed, in His Economy, God willed that She be associated to every act of the Redemption, from the Annunciation till the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of the Saviour, then from the birth of the Church till the glorious Second Coming of Jesus-Christ. Therese, conscious of the privileged place that Mary occupies, dedicates to Her a poem of 25 stanzas, “Why I Love You, O Mary”. Therese was never satisfied with the sermons she heard regarding the Virgin Mary. She said: “We depict Her as being unapproachable, we should depict Her as being imitable, bring out Her virtues, say that She lived of faith as we do, give proofs from the Gospel in Which we read: ‘they did not understand what He told them'”. The episode of the life of Jesus represented in the icon, the Finding at the Temple, highlights Mary’s life of faith, according to the Theresian Mariology. Jesus “wants Her to be the example of the soul that searches in the Night of Faith… in the anguish of the heart”.

In the school of the Mother of God (Η ΘΕΟΤOΚΟΣ), Therese learned: to banish all her fears, to follow through the common way, to practice all the virtues, to love Jesus, to suffer in love… Does not her face reflect a certain expression that speaks of her participation in the Passion of the Saviour? In the example of Mary, Therese lived only to “please the Good God” in her continual Fiat. The virtues of Mary became those of Therese, because the life of Mary became that of Therese. We may say, in all truth, that Therese became a small icon of Mary.

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To the side of Jesus and Mary, we see Saint Joseph. His presence reminds us of Little Therese’s love for him and the Holy Family. This is not surprising for a daughter of the ‘Santa Madre’ {Saint Teresa of Avila}, which is why, in the icon, Large Therese is placed on the same side as Saint Joseph.

Through her remarkable penetration of the Evangelical events, the Little Therese underlines throughout all her writings the role that God has assigned to Saint Joseph. He is the servant of the Mystery of the Incarnation, humble and hidden, poor and obedient, diligent and contemplative. The Son of God being submitted to him, and even though Jesus was all in prayer, God willed that His humanity grows in an ambience that was, between Mary and Joseph, all in prayer.

Therese lived in the ambience of a holy family. Her father and mother were profoundly Christian and of great virtue. They watched with a lot of attention over the Christian and humane education of their children. Therese gives witness to that: “With a nature like mine, had I been raised with virtue-less parents, I would have become very evil and possibly would have lost myself… Have only good examples around, I naturally wanted to follow them”. What a model for our families nowadays!

 

[To be continued…]

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ICON OF “SAINT THERESE OF THE CHILD JESUS AND THE HOLY FACE, DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH” [PART 1]

Title: Icon of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Doctor of the Church

Author: Melkite Catholic Carmel of the Theotokos and of Unity, Harissa-Lebanon

Date Finished: 17 July, 1997

 

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Introduction

Therese of the Child Jesus, as a “word of God for the world” as Pope Pius XI defined her, reveals to us through her icon the excellence of her teaching and the evangelical depth of her doctrine. The doctrine is a light guiding humanity on the path of sanctity by revealing it to be accessible to all. Her desire to “enlighten souls like the prophets, like the doctors” continues to be realized, more and more among a multitude of diverse social classes and varied cultures. Was not “to make the good God loved as [she] loves Him, [and] give [her] little way to souls” her greatest wish?

In this icon of Therese doctor, icon intended to represent the transparency of her teaching, we see the saint standing and we recognize:

+To her right:

-Sitting: Pope Saint Leo, Saint Ambrose and Saint Cyril of Alexandria.

-Standing: Saint John of the Cross near the saint, Saint Augustine, Saint John Damascene, Saint Catherine of Sienna and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

+To her left:

-Sitting: the three holy hierarchs: Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Gregory the Theologian and Saint Basil the Great.

-Standing: Saint Teresa of Jesus presents to us her daughter; Saint Robert Bellarmine, Saint Ephrem, Saint Bernard and Saint Anthony of Padua.

In the background, we see on each side two buildings representing the Church in Her two lungs: East and West. Any event pertaining to Saint Therese occurs within the “One” (unified) Church of Christ.

Child-Jesus, the “Doctor of Doctors”, is present in the superior section of the icon, surrounded by the Theotokos and Saint Joseph during the Finding in the Temple.

Graphic Structure

The icon is a mirror in which the Church can contemplate, through lines and colours, the mystery it represents and makes present. In this icon we’re contemplating, Therese emerges from a gold background, Gold being the symbol of God Who is Light, Life and Sanctity. In Him and through Him, is inscribed and realized all vocation, mission and event in the Church. Very often the icon is supported by graphics. Here, the graphics are delivered to us by the Little Therese. Since her childhood, she would see her name written in the sky. “I looked to the stars… there was especially a group of golden pearls I noticed with joy, realizing it had the shape of a T. I would point it out to my father, telling him that my name was written in the sky.”

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The T that Saint Therese saw had a tilted top, an important detail to understand the icon.

The body of Saint Therese forms this T. The saint is located in the extension of the line from Jesus-Doctor, Wisdom itself. It is the vertical line of the T that continues virtually into the infinite. It is indeed infinite in both its directions where its pinnacle, Christ, is reflected in the inverted infinite, being the All and filling all. It evokes Saint Therese’s direct relation to God Who renders her firm, unshakable. He is her rock. Through her Science of Love and her perception of God, Therese takes Him by the heart. She understood how to love Him and reveals to us her secret.

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The form of the T shaped by Saint Therese’s body. It is the same T-form she saw in the sky as a child, looking at Orion’s Belt.

As for the horizontal line, it is remarkable by its tilt, symbol of this simple and continuous movement under the action of the Holy Spirit in Saint Therese: the desire to bring back souls to God. His compassion went so far as to sit at the table of sinners. The right side of the axis is directed downwards: the earth, the sinners and the left side upwards: the heavens, God. Additionally, this line suggests, even evokes, the corollary movement, that of God towards man. He Who is in the heights, is He not the same Who descended into the caverns of hell?

This axis speaks to us as well of the universal event that is Therese. She joined the East and West, “everyone will love me”, she exclaimed in a prophetic manner. The two lines, one vertical and the other horizontal, intersect in the centre of the Gospel grafted onto the heat of the saint to the point of substituting it by assimilating it. The fire blazing the Gospel signifies the interior flame which the Gospel itself produces in the heart of Therese.

Therese synthesizes the graphics of her icon through these words alone: “Lord […] when a soul has allowed itself to be captivated […] she can not run alone, all the souls she loves are drawn after her; this is done without coercion, without effort, it is a natural consequence of its attraction to You.”

[To Be Continued…]

Setting the Table of Feasting With the Silverware of Fasting

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One of the greatest virtues taught by fasting, and a most needed reminder to the young souls of our day, is the Virtue of Gratitude. If anyone still questions the wisdom of Our Mother the Church, they should give fasting a try.

On Saturdays and Sundays of the Apostles’ Fast, as we rest in the Lord and celebrate His Resurrection and our salvation, the Church eases the fast and permits consumption of beverage and food all day long. One who has never fasted will struggle to understand what a blessing it is to be able to sit down and have one’s coffee/tea/juice with a small snack in the morning. It helps remind us that even your morning beverage that you normally don’t even finish or possibly forget completely about as you rush to work or drop off the kids, this beverage comes as a gift from the infinite Mercy of Our Lord. You don’t have a ‘right’ to it and should thank Him for this gift as much as the next.

Even more sad is the help that people who do not fast miss out on, when they do not have this immediate added joy on Saturdays and Sundays in all the Love of Our Creator, just due to this newfound appreciation of the smallest of things and an ability to enjoy them freely, in a spiritual freedom that is detached from material things and rejoicing in the blessings of God. If even before your Liturgy, before your Jesus Prayer, before your spiritual reading, before your act of charity on Sunday, you are already this spiritually happy and rejoicing in the Lord, then how much more will all these have added by Sunday night?

I say this from experience: being able to have your morning snack on weekends, and an evening glass of wine as the Church permits, the very wine that “gladdens the heart of man” as the Psalm says, will teach you the Virtue of Gratitude faster and more deeply than listening to 3 sermons on Detachment and Thanksgiving. I say this not to diminish the value of sermons, but to stress the impact and importance of following the Church’s guidelines and regulations, because they’re here as a mercy to teach us the faith, not as an obligation to restrain us. So let us continue, or start, our Apostles’ Fast today with renewed zeal, asking with hope and joy:

“Lord Jesus Christ Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Mar (Saint) Nohra

On the Northern coast of Lebanon lies Byblos, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. If one were to head up from there to the Maronite Catholic monastery of Saint Joseph to visit the tomb of Saint Rafqa in Jrabta, they are bound to pass by a small and common looking old Maronite church on the side of the main road.

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Church of Mar Nohra, Smar Jbeil-Lebanon

In fact, it is so common-looking that in over 20 years, never once have we stopped to visit. However, it is anything but common. As the sign near it reveals, it happens to be the Church of Mar Nohra, a 3rd century Catholic martyr.

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Maronite Catholic Icon of Mar Nohra (From: Living Maronite)

Born in 3rd century Persia, Mar Nohra (Aramaic for ‘Light’) was a travelling preacher of the Gospel of Christ. The Maronite Synaxarion recounts his martyrdom in Smar Jbeil, Lebanon. He is the patron of those who suffer from eye-related illnesses. Melkite Musings finally visited the site of his martyrdom, and as such offers this small online exposition of the main features of the visit.

It is important to note that as usual, every religious site, saint, or pilgrimage visited/carried out by Melkite Musings is done so bearing the intentions of our blogfacebook page, and instagram followers.

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Wide shot of the interior of the church of Saint Nohra. It is said to be built over the remains (relics) of the saint himself.

 

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Note the intricate details of the marble and the wood. Due to little cultural and archaeological awareness in Lebanon, we can’t find more information on the age of the Altar. Also to note is the small white stone dove representing the Holy Spirit right above the painting of Mar Nohra.

During excavations, two columns were found with cellars in between. The entire hill region was first Phoenician then Roman before becoming Crusader. The church itself is said to be built over an old temple, as could be seen from the two ancient columns still visible in  the church’s wall in the picture below. The age of the Baptismal Font is unknown.

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There was also an interesting depiction of what seems to be a dragon over one of the doors.

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While the church is the burial place of the martyr, the actual location of his martyrdom is said to be on the hill nearby. He was either killed then thrown in the well, or drowned in the well, or martyred near the well. In any case that well ended up being named after him, The Well of Mar Nohra.

 

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The well is part of a greater ancient complex. There are indications that the Phoenicians had a citadel or temple of some sorts, recognizable by their tendency to cut through the existing rock rather than build over levelled ground. After the Phoenicians came the Romans who left an inscription on the side of the walls, as well as their easily recognizable large cut stones built over the grey rock. Finally, the Crusader castle remains standing to this day and is recognizable from the small stones built over each other. As such, in one shot you can see the Phoenician rock, the Roman large stones, and then the smaller Crusader stones.

 

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Based on minimal information, and my personal assumptions, it seems that Mar Nohra was martyred on the hilltop Roman temple/citadel/complex, and his body was thrown by authorities or taken by Christians to be buried 10 minutes downhill where the Church now stands.

The history of Smar Jbeil has been significant over the ages. The name itself is Phoenician for “Guardian of Byblos”. Jbeil is the modern Arabized word for Gubal, the Phoenician name of Byblos. Besides the oil and wine presses found around the complex, one can walk into rock-cut funerary caves that contain bas reliefs of figures over the entrance, similar to those found elsewhere in Lebanon. The hilltop complex later became part of the Crusader fief of Saint Montagne for the rulers of Batroun.

 

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Finally, it seems that the blood of Mar Nohra and the legions of glorious martyrs of the Catholic Church in general, and the Maronite Church in particular, have truly been seeds for the growth of the True Church of Christ. It was in Smar Jbeil that Mar Youhanna Maroun, first Maronite Patriarch and Bishop of that same city, founded the Maronite nation in the late 7th century with the support of His Holiness Pope Sergius. These ancient seeds blossomed into the modern Maronite Catholic Church, still in full communion with Rome. She is strongly present in Lebanon, rightly called the land of the Maronites, but also continues to spread Her fragrance all over the world. The thousand year old oak tree found in front of the church of Mar Nohra in Smar Jbeil stands as a beautiful symbol of the Maronite Catholic Church’s ancient wisdom and modern vitality.

Mar Nohra pray for us, for the Maronite Church and the entire Catholic Church.

Lord Jesus Christ Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

 

THIRSTING FOR THE CROSS

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Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I was going to start this reflection by questioning whether Christ was trying to fulfill our desires or His own. Was He giving us an answer to our suffering, or like a lover mad with His own love asking us to come to Him to quench His own thirst.

Then the thought of the Woman at the Well came to me, and I realized that there isn’t really any distinction between the two. When Saint Photini encountered Christ at the well, He equated the two actions of asking for drink and giving others to drink.

Photini, Greek for “the luminous one” or “the enlightened one”, is the name the Church gives to the Samaritan woman at the well, because in encountering Christ she received illumination. In this most beautiful meeting, Christ asks her for water to drink. However, when she wonders how He, a Jewish man, asks her a Samaritan and a woman twice unwelcome in His presence, for water, He answers a most surprising answer! “If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). In other words, Christ is both thirsting to drink and to give others to drink.

This passage is reflected again in His Holy Passion. The cup of the Divine Blood that Christ begins to share with His Apostles at the Last Supper, the cup He GIVES us for OUR thirst, this cup of the Passover is only finished on the Cross. Christ exclaims “I thirst” in His agony, and after ASKING to drink and receiving the drink from the soldiers, He proclaims: “It is finished!”

But what is the meaning of all of this? The drink at the Well, at Passover, at the Cross? It is an exchange of cups! It is the Science of Suffering! The soul that grows in closeness to Christ begins to feel a rising thirst in it, a desire to begin to drink of the Cup of Suffering. This reminds me of a scene in the movie of the life of Saint Rafqa, the Apostle of Suffering, where she stands before Christ and boldly asks to share in His suffering, because “a bride cannot see her Bridegroom suffering and not desire to be identified to Him.” This desire is then expressed as a thirst to embrace the sufferings of the world. It becomes an echo of Christ’s words, saying “come to me, all you who suffer, and I will give you rest!” Give me your pain, give me your burden, and I will carry it with you. And what is surprising about this invitation is that it no longer distinguishes between the one who invites and those who are invited. The burning desire to carry the sufferings of the world becomes itself a consuming thirst in the soul that needs to be quenched. It becomes Christ at the Well, expressing His desire to give the woman to drink by asking HER for water.

And above all, it becomes an intimate exchange of our innermost identity. The Woman at the Well gives Christ her sins and her adultery with the multiple men in her life, and He gives her instead her illuminated self, new eyes to see the truth of her state in life as adulteress, sending her back to her village as a renewed apostle of the Good News. At His Passion, our Christ takes from us the cup of our sins and desolation. It is the bitter cup He speaks of in the Garden and which He is given by the soldiers. He gives us back His own sweet Holy Blood in the Cup of the Last Supper. Through all these encounters, guilt and sin are exchanged with innocence and holiness. This is what is happening during the Consecration at the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass), when the priest says Christ took the bread “with His hands that are without blemish.” The blood on Cain’s hands is washed away. Our hands become innocent of the blood of sin, because unblemished hands have carried the weight of our sin.

The same happens when we suffer in union with Christ for the world. We take upon ourselves our guilt, yes, but also the guilt and suffering of the world. We desire to give back only grace and mercy, the renewal of this groaning world.

This Science of Suffering ultimately leads to a perfected Science of Love! It is a lover who is so identified to the beloved that a distinction can no longer be made between the two. It is a desire to take upon oneself the weakness and burden of the other and give nothing but rest and life. It is a loud echo of the words of Christ above: “Come to Me all you who are weary… take My burden upon you.” Love finally explains these paradoxes: Why Christ asks us to carry His burden to ease our weariness. Why the Christian gives others to drink to quench his own thirst. Why Christ gives us His suffering to take away ours.

But above all else, it ultimately explains the Problem of Suffering for the Christian:

“He who loses his life will find it.”

“He who is last shall be first.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

In other words, the Christian who thirsts with this divine love can only find rest in suffering. They can only receive Christ by giving Christ to others. They can only live by dying daily.

So let us today ask to drink by giving to those who thirst. Let us receive Christ’s unblemished divinity by giving Him our sinful humanity. Let us win Him by losing ourselves as we say:

“Lord Jesus Christ Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.