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You Asked - Orthodox Canada
You Asked! - Bishop Varlaam answers your Questions

Ask your own questions, E-Mail bishopvarlaam@yahoo.ca

QUESTION:

Is there any symbolism in the colours red and blue in the garments of Jesus Christ and the Theotokos in icons?

REPLY:

We often try to understand symbolism in an attempt to have a clearer understanding of the subject at hand. As for blue and red in icons, we must realize that there is no all-encompassing answer, since there are few ancient icons and many of them were made in the encaustic manner [made with wax and colours that were readily available]. Moreover, there were, and still are, many schools of iconography, such as the Cretan, Novgorodian and others that have used their own unique styles and procedures. Even in researching this topic, one can find different and even conflicting analyses, but one that sounded reasonable is as follows. Red in the icon of Christ represents His humanity [blood and flesh] and blue represents divinity [heaven, the sky]. Christ assumed the human nature, hence He is wearing red, while He is nonetheless God [covered outwardly in blue]. The Theotokos is the opposite [inside is blue and the outside is red]. She put on divinity since she bore God while remaining human. While on this topic of icons, I would strongly encourage the readers of YOU ASKED to take a step beyond the use of colours in icons. Accept only canonical icons and reject those with western and Latin influences since, in truth, they are merely pictures and not icons. If any interest is shown, in the future we can write about "canonical" icons. I would also like to recommend the book THE ICON AS SCRIPTURE, which is available from www.synaxispress.ca. In my view, it is the best book available for a true understanding of the meaning of Orthodox icons.

QUESTION:

Why are candles blessed on the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple?

REPLY:

This is a timely question, as we celebrated this feast last month in February. The correct name of this feast is the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple and not, as some people would have it, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a concept entirely Roman Catholic. Many Orthodox service books offer the entire service of the blessing of candles on this feast, but let me give you a direct translation from Bulgakov's great book on all aspects of our services.

"In our western regions [mainly Ukrainian] the feast of the Meeting of the Lord is known by another name "gromnitsa" [from the word for thunder] from the custom of blessing candles in church on this day, which are called "gramnsitsy", that supposedly have the power against thunder, lightning, pouring rain and hail, brought down by sorcerers or magicians. These candles are also given to the dying to defeat and to drive Satan away. On this day of the Meeting of the Lord, simple folk scorch each others hair crosswise with these candles to prevent and cure headaches. All these views of the significance of the Meeting of the Lord speak much against the custom of blessing candles in church. The appearance of this custom in the practice of our western lands [Ukraine] dates to the time of the Unia and explains the influence of the Catholic Church where they have a yearly service of the blessing of candles at the Mass on the day of "The Purification of the Holy Virgin Mary", as the Catholics call this feast."

This shows us how easily Roman Catholic and other practices have crept into Orthodoxy and we must be vigilant at all times.

QUESTION:

Why do come crosses have a slanting bar at the bottom?

REPLY:

This question arises quite often and, moreover, it is an interesting one.The slanted bottom bar is the foot rest. People died of suffocation on crosses. There was a block of wood under their feet to that as they sagged down, pressure was put on the lungs to make it hard to breath. This was a way of adding pain and suffering to the victim. This footrest is enlarged on the icon of the cross of Christ in order to symbolise something. In prayers for the ninth hour, the Church likens the cross to a type of balance or righteousness: "Between the two thieves Thy Cross did prove to be a balance of righteousness: wherefore, one of them was dragged down by the weight of his blasphemy [the balance points down], whereas the other was enlightened and remitted of his transgressions unto the comprehension of theology [the balance goes up] O Christ God, glory to Thee." More will be written later about the significance of the correct Orthodox Cross of the Russian tradition.

REPLY:

In this case, Greek and Greece have nothing to do with the issue. Originally those Orthodox Christians who found themselves controlled by Catholic countries were either compelled to convert to Roman Catholicism or else to become Uniates. This latter term refers to those who tried to maintain their Orthodox faith, services, language and customs, but who agreed to accept the Pope of Rome as the head of their church. The term Greek Catholic was replaced with Ukrainian Greek Catholic and now it is simply Ukrainian Catholic. Over the centuries there has been a great deal of Latinization, by which I mean that much has been done to draw these people closer to the Roman Church. Some of these people say, "We are Orthodox but in communion with Rome." In truth, they belong to the Roman Catholic Church and they are not Orthodox as we understand Orthodoxy.

REPLY:

In a way, you have answered your own question. Saint Xenia of Saint Petersburg [18 century] was, in her baptism, named after Saint Xenia of Rome [5 century]. Their memory is celebrated on the same day, that is, on 24 January. In the Traditional Orthodox calendar, this day actually falls on 6 February. Let it not be confusing---just remember to add 13 days to whatever date you might have in mind, and you will have the proper traditional date. {The best example is Nativity which is celebrated on 25 December. Add 13 days and you will arrive at 7 January, which is when the majority of Orthodox Christians world wide celebrate this feast}. By the way, the name Xenia is derived from the Greek and it means "stranger" or "foreigner".

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