Thursday, July 20, 2006

Assumption of Mary

This post might not be too thrilling for some of you, okay, most of you, which is why I included some of my pretty pictures! :) I gotta at least try and keep everyone happy. But I think it has some very interesting insight into the Eastern Orthodox religion.

I visited a museum (As seen in the picture) in a small town called Kolomya. This remote little town in the foot hills of the Carpathians has two highlights of interest. The first was a museum, from which I will share a piece of it with you right now in this post, and the second being an Easter Egg Museum. Picture "Giant Easter Egg", ya, it was pretty sweet alright (Check back later for this one!).

Pastor Romanuik gave me a personal guided tour and I learned so much about Ukrainian history and culture. I regret to tell you I am not going to write up an analysis of Ukrainian history through the centuries. Although if that would interest you, I highly recommend the book "Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine" by Anna Reid. "Ukraine" literally translated means "on the edge" or "borderland", hence the title of the book. The snippet of Ukraine's history and culture that I am writing about is on the piece of art known as the "Assumption of Mary". Hence the title of my post. I know, I'm not as creative as Anna Reid.

Much like the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church puts an extreme emphasis on the Virgin Mary. Tradition holds, among many in both of the churches, that the Virgin Mary did not die a natural death and that "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed (transported) body and soul into heavenly glory." Upon this ascension to Heaven it is believed that the apostles, having been scattered throughout the world, were miraculously transported to be at her side. It is at this moment that the piece of art, sometimes used as an icon, takes place. Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the exact piece of art that I saw in the museum, being that photographs were not allowed. After relentless hours of scouring the internet, I have come up with 3 fairly good examples, although none as vivid as the one I witnessed.

Now, here is where it gets interesting (hopefully for some of you). The vividness that is lacking is still portrayed to a certain extent in these three examples. If you pay close attention to the foreground of the picture, you will witness a somewhat violent scene in contrast to what is otherwise a quite somber event. It is almost always portrayed the same, and is best seen in the second example.

Yes, that is indeed a crazy little heavily armed midget with wings chopping off an old man's hands. Most renditions of the "Assumption of Mary" include this, a narrative about a Jewish priest who, "not believing in the Virgin's sanctity, had an evil intention to overturn Mary's bed." When he tried to desecrate the coffin, the archangel Michael cuts off his hands. Only after the priest acknowledged the Virgin's holiness, were his hands restored.

I cannot deny Mary's role in the salvation we were provided through the perfect life, innocent death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. In many way, Mary does provide us with a positive role model for us fellow sinful and fallen humans. Ironically, one of her most inspiring traits, being her humbleness, hardly asks for praise in her role, much less worship. And yet many devout followers in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church claim her with great fervor, as portrayed by the violent scene in this piece of art, as the "queen of heaven", which is clearly demonstrated by the addition of a crown on her head. A very common site which is seen adorning artwork, icons, statues, and churches all across Ukraine.

I pray that I will be able to keep my focus on Jesus Christ. That no human will ever take that focus off living my life for glorifying Him alone.

In Christ Alone,
David Knepprath


Mirranda said...

I found it interesting - I'd not heard the bit about the Jewish preist who lost his hands before.

Including some of your pretty pictures was a good idea too. :)

Melissa Jo said...

Those Pictures look familiar, I think I saw some like them in my Art history class, very odd, everything seems like its just floating in nothingness lol -Meli

Elia said...

The pictures are amazing! I love the architectual design, they are flippin awesome. One question, do Christians belive in Virgin Mary or not? I get the feeling that you don't, and in your last sentence it sounds like you would never. You are right about Catholics having her as the queen of heaven, we call her "la reina del cielo" which is a direct translation.

David Knepprath said...

I can't believe the painting is familiar to some of you! I feel very uncultured at the moment.

Elia, I'm confused by your question about the Virgin Mary. I tried to make my view on her role clear in the 2nd to last paragraph. I think things get a little sketchy when people start putting Mary on a pedestal and are bordering on worshipping her.