Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The deisis: St John the Baptist

Ian notes of the ‘deisis’ * – the middle section of the Icon showing the Mother of Christ and John the Baptist praying and supplicating for us – that :

Crowning the vine is the Mother of God and St John the Baptist, in a deisis of supplication and prayer, honouring the Son as is Manifested as King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He glorifies His Father through His Passion. She is, as it were, the flowering of grace, the Beautiful Woman clothed in the sun, the Immaculate Mother who is all for and in Christ whose transfiguration in death at the assumption was a foretaste of the new life which is for all those who welcome her Son. John meanwhile heralds the One who is to come, manifesting the transition from the Old Covenant to the New, a witness to the evolution of salvation history where Christ must increase and all others decrease.

The icon has replaced a mirror on a wall, which is appropriate as in earlier blog I mused on the idea of an icon as a mirror or a window. The previous mirror was placed there to reflect light into a room, and the icon is clearly serving the same function: it reflects light and illuminates the room in a most beautiful way. At different times of the day and with different kinds of light the icon really does glow and draw you in: you have to stop and look as it is quite impossible to pass by! The golden glow of the iconic light is far more captivating than the light that was reflected by the mirror. But it is also a window or doorway through which we can reflect on the meaning of the Heart of Jesus. Over the past few days I have been reflecting on the image of St. John the Baptist.

As I reflected on the water flowing from the Sacred Heart the idea of water and baptism naturally comes to mind, and thus we look up to the Baptist on the right of the picture. It calls to mind the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan when we encounter the full presence of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’. ( Matthew, 3: 17) St. John preached that he would baptize with water, but that the one who was to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! ( Matthew 3: 11). And there in the center of the icon is this divine fire.

This brings to mind the litanies of the Sacred Heart such as:

Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.

Heart of Jesus, formed in the womb of the Virgin Mother by the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.

Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father is well pleased, have mercy on us.

St. John also reminds us of an important dimension of the Sacred Heart: expiation and atonement for our sins and the sins of humanity. Teilhard thought that the devotion was rather over pre-occupied with expiation and atonement as it took away from what might be described as the bigger ‘cosmic’ picture of Christ as the centre of all things we find in St. Paul. But St. John is there to remind us that when we contemplate the Sacred Heart we do so as sinners in need of repentance. We ask for Mercy and forgiveness for all the times we have returned God’s love with indifference and hate. We seek forgiveness for all the times we have closed our hearts to God and to our fellow human beings. We seek forgiveness for how we damage and wound the beautiful planet that was given to us to love and cherish. As we reflect on the Sacred Heart we are called to hear afresh the words of the Baptist to repent. And when we look around at our world today which is so full of hate and greed, violence and destruction, we realize that there is so much for which humanity must seek pardon. Our God has a human heart and weeps to see what we are doing to this world.

So much comes to mind as I reflect on the image of the Baptist praying and supplicating for us: asking for God’s Mercy on us all. I think St John stands for all the saints. The image reminds us that we are not alone. We believe in the Communion of Saints. We can ask the Saints in heaven to pray with and for us poor children of Eve as we struggle through the valley of tears.

Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father is well pleased, have mercy on us.

* From the Greek ‘δέησις’ , which means prayer or supplication.

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