Feast of the Epiphany (the Magi)
The Magi were visionaries who set out on a great adventure because of a star they saw in the sky… Or was it a star they saw in their mind’s eye? Were they scientists, or artists, or both?
This is what the Twelve Days of Christmas is about: a quest during those 12 extra left-over days of a 354 day year. The other days are all rooted in the external world, but the Twelve Days are rooted in Visions and Dreams. Some foretell chaos and the end or time, others are visions of transformation and a new creation.
In 2014 there were violence protests in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Here is one picture, no more violent than the thousands of images from photojournalism that we have seen in our era of global terrorism. An image like this provides only fear. It is apocalyptic, a vision of the end of time, the destruction of civilization and the universe.
However, here is another image from the same place that evening. It is not fearful, nor hopeful. Just a moment in time that could move towards chaos or creation. But it is still no more than photojournalism that sees the outside, not the inside, of events.
Four figures stand as peacemakers between the riot police in the distance and the protestors unseen in the foreground. They are in that no-man’s land that is so dangerous and where few of us choose to go… if we can help it. But this is only a photograph, a vew of the "outside" of the events. The inside is hidden until we grasp it with our creative imagination.
I painted “The Icon Bearers.” showing that other, inner reality.
The figures are now holding their own icons so that the protestors can see the deeper reality of what was unfolding in Maidan Square that night.
The figure on the left is holding a treasured Ukrainian icon of the two princes, the brothers Boris and Gleb. They were slain by a wicked brother for political gain. But because they suffered innocently, they are honored by the Orthodox Church as “Passion Bearers”. Like Christ, they accepted their passion with non-resistance to Evil. And so this icon is a vision for those of us who stand with the citizens of Kiev that night. This is not just a political revolution. This is an entry into the cosmic drama where the overwhelming power of destruction is confronted not by more violence — and not even non-violent resistance -- but of non-resistance to evil. And so we are challenged to respond in the same way.
The second figure hold a cross, the symbol that is the realty behind all the other three figures in this grouping.
The third figure holds the icon of the Trinity, the most famous of all Russian icons. For Russians and Ukrainians its significance is that the painter, Andrei Rublev, refused to paint this icon until the political rivals of medieval Russia put aside their rivalry and bitterness and embraced one another as brothers. And so this icon goes beyond a political settlement to violence in our time. It challenges us to change our hearts and embraces our enemies as brothers and sisters.
And yet it is the fourth figure who is the most surprising. She holds not an icon, but the Christ Child Himself. Among the Slavic peoples there are many icons of Mary and Child. This Mother of Tenderness is called the Virgin of Vladimir. And in her presence, we feel ourselves called to love, to have compassion, to embrace all the suffering brought about by darkness and evil with tender mercy.
And so our journey through Christmastide comes to an end. As we awaken from the dreams and visions, and return to the everyday world, we must not forget. In our stories, in our art, and in our lives with family, friends, and strangers… we can see through the surface of things into their depths. And discover treasures awaiting us there.
— Robert Béla Wilhelm
Your comments are always welcome. Email me here.