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Fw: "The Passion" (Mel Gibson) & "The Meaning of His Suffering" (Frederica Matthewes-Green)

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  • Fr Anastasy
    Dear Brethren, Many Years for the Feastday of the Holy Cross we celebrate. The posted article by Frederica Matthewes-Green was excellent. I remembered
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2003
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      Dear Brethren, Many Years for the Feastday of the Holy Cross we celebrate.

      The posted article by Frederica Matthewes-Green was excellent. I remembered another article
      relative to the Passion and His Suffering that was copied to me by a seminary schoolmate who
      wrote it and has also been in ROCA over 30 years. I thought it was also very good.

      With much love in Christ,

      Fr. Anastasy Yatrelis
      Founded Pascha 1973
      123 West Richardson Avenue
      Summerville, SC 29483-6021


      Portrayals of our Lord and Savior, our Lady the Theotokos, and the saints
      by actors in motion pictures or on the stage prompt certain reservations that
      are not limited to the method in which actors prepare mentally and portray
      divine Persons and the saints. Nevertheless, it is unimaginable and offensive
      that actors could attempt to enter the "psyche" of holy Persons in order to
      identify with them and portray them according to their own imagination. A
      Christian cannot permit his imagination to ponder such a thing. Which sons and
      daughters of fallen Adam in their right mind can identify psychologically with the
      Incarnate Son of God and the All-holy Theotokos? Actors and directors cannot
      know the "psyche" of divine Persons and holy persons unless they are themselves
      saints and have also participated in the same empirical vision of God in His
      uncreated glory, the vision which is inseparable from the transfiguration of
      the man into the true image and the dynamic, personal, and not static likeness
      of God.
      The mere fact of portrayal itself offends Orthodox sensibilities. I say
      this knowing that Passion Plays in one form or another have one thousand years
      of history in Western Christianity, where the clergy usually played the roles
      of the sacred characters. There were occasional forms that appeared in the
      East, mostly in the middle of the second millennium, but the practice of
      portraying divine Persons in religious dramas had no ecclesiastical approbation and
      was even opposed by some saints, e.g. St. Symeon Archbishop of Thessalonika
      (15th c). At this time, we cannot discuss historical accuracy in Mel Gibson's
      movie "The Passion" since it has not yet been released.
      As Orthodox, we need to consider the meaning of images of Christ, and
      movies are indeed images. We have always been taught by the Church, and it was
      reconfirmed by the decree of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (787), "to portray
      in images our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the Son of God, His All-holy Mother,
      the saints, and angels." We identify the image or icon with the Person
      portrayed, the two being inseparable by definition. Our worship and veneration are
      also inseparable, physically offered through the medium or material and
      transferred to the prototype--the Person depicted. A portrayal of Christ by an actor
      seems to me a false image, whether on film or on stage, because it is an
      alternate icon, usurping the image, prototype, and Person, and planting in the
      minds and imaginations of viewers a delusion and false Christ in image and in
      person. St. Paul said it was not "robbery" for Jesus "to be in the form of God"
      since He indeed was God. Therefore, it seems to me, at the very least, that
      conversely it is certainly robbery for any son of Adam to be in the form of the
      Incarnate Son and Logos of God. So in my personal discipline, I avoid as much
      as possible the false images of Christ our God. We ought not allow these to
      take root in our mind--living and "realistic," natural images of corruptible,
      i.e. decaying, men who are under the power of the devil and death, of men who
      are robbers by St. Paul's definition. In my opinion, there are only two proper
      images or visions of the Incarnate God: 1) an Orthodox icon, and 2) certain
      saints' vision, i.e., theoria or communion with Christ God in person, in the
      uncreated Divine Light, during those temporary experiences of saints' divinization
      or theosis while still in this world. For the bodily eyes of most of us,
      however, only the Orthodox image (eikon) can be identified with the divine Person.
      And in the Orthodox East we never used people as models to pose for icons.
      Then there is the portraying and viewing of the acts of mockery, insult,
      and horrific assault against God in the flesh. In the Church, these actions
      were confined to very little narration and details, and iconographic
      representation was especially limited. One who is alien to Orthodoxy may wonder at the
      absence in icons of a realistic, crucified Christ writhing in pain with His
      tortured eyes rolled back, or a dead Christ with head slumped and His body hanging
      very low straining the nails in His members. Even the dead Christ in
      Byzantine icons appears almost to override gravity and suspend Himself on the Cross.
      In Byzantine iconography we never portrayed the Incarnate God in any manner of
      ridicule, derision, and mockery or of actually being assaulted and murdered.
      Even His ascent and placement on the Cross is peaceful and voluntary. He is
      never shown being laid down on the Cross and nailed to it, and then set upright.
      Rather, the Byzantines showed Him peacefully ascending a ladder up to an
      already upright Cross voluntarily, by His good will or eudokia. We make little or
      no display of bruises and a bloodied and soiled body. We do not even quote the
      Cross's original plaque that mocked Him saying, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of
      the Jews", which is often seen today represented by the Latin initials INRI.
      The Byzantines would not even dare to write these words of derision in an icon.
      Instead they wrote or abbreviated His true title, "The King of Glory" (O
      Basileus tis Doxis). It was in post-Byzantine times that some iconographers
      borrowed the INRI from western painting. This appears to me a serious error that,
      sadly, has been ignored in the Church.
      In Orthodoxy, it is virtually regarded as blasphemy to behold God being
      mocked and assaulted. But this is inescapable in a dramatization of the
      Passion which would demand graphic and violent detail. In some ancient icons, the
      angels hovering over the Crucifixion are depicted turning their faces away and
      shielding their eyes, not wishing to view the shame and violence being done to
      God in the flesh. The hymns of Holy and Great Week echo the Gospels and the
      same sensibility, saying that the sun could not bear the sight of this deicide
      or theoktonia and it darkened the day. The earth shuddered at the enormity. The
      temple veil was torn down. I present here a sampling of Holy Week hymns (in
      my own crude translation from the Gk):

      "Before your holy Cross, the soldiers were mocking You, and the angelic
      armies were stunned. For, You were crowned with a wreath of insolence, You who
      painted the earth with flowers. And You who encompassed the sky with clouds
      wore the robe of mockery. Such economy indeed, O Christ, is your compassion
      known to be and the great mercy. Glory be to Thee." (Third Hour of Great Friday)

      "He Who wears light as a garment stood naked at judgment and accepted
      blows on the face from hands He Himself had created. And the transgressing nation
      nailed the Lord of Glory to the Cross. Then the temple veil was rent and the
      sun became dark not bearing to see being assaulted God who makes the universe
      tremble. Him let us worship." (10th Antiphon, Matins of Great Friday)

      "Today the temple veil is torn down in censure of the transgressors, and,
      seeing the Master crucified, the sun hides its rays." (12th Antiphon, Matins
      of Great Friday)

      "When You were crucified, O Christ, all of creation beheld it and
      trembled. The foundations of the earth shuddered for fear of Thy power..." (Lauds,
      Matins of Great Friday)

      A theological note about the Savior's Passion itself in movies in
      general. Judging from excerpts shown on TV news reports, this movie contains very
      detailed and violent portrayal of the Lord undergoing the mockery, the beatings,
      the stripes, the nails, and the unimaginable pain of a slow death by
      crucifixion. These will be necessary for the greatest moral and theological
      significance of the Passion from a western Christian point of view. The emphasis on the
      Passion with all its brutality and horror goes hand in hand with the underlying
      western idea of redemption: the greater the pain and horror, the more
      efficacious the redemption, for God demanded a punishment of human sin in such a
      manner as to have infinite merits to satisfy divine justice, to avenge the offense
      against the honor and nature of God by Adam and all men through their
      co-sinning "in Adam" at Eden and their inherited guilt. This kind of juridical
      redemption has a particular view of the nature of man which is manifested in two
      basic variants, Protestant and Roman Catholic, and both are in disagreement with
      the Apostolic faith. The first perceives utter depravity and inherent evil in
      humanity, which is in its nature unredeemable, but, following Luther, teaches
      that God merely "imputes" sanctity to an unsanctifiable nature in order to eit
      her enable the human will to accept the name of Jesus and be saved (but never
      divinized, no theosis), or, following Calvin, teaches the fulfillment of the
      salvation of the predestined chosen ones. The second basic variant, the Roman
      Catholic, teaches an in-tact and holy human nature needing only the truth of
      Christ to restore the intellect to enlightenment and a comprehension of God and
      for an accompanying perfect life that is natural to the "universal" or
      eternal Platonic "idea" of the immortal nature of the soul. But fundamental to both
      of these general categories of western Christianity is the idea that the
      total task of redemption is accomplished by the Passion at the moment that Christ
      gave up the spirit, because at that very moment justice is satisfied, the
      divine honor is restored, the moral force or merits of the God-Man are infinitely
      sufficient to extend to all sins of all humanity forever, enabling God the
      Father to once again countenance man and to juridically forgive his sins, which,
      in this scheme, was impossible before Christ's death.
      It is safe to say that Mel Gibson's "The Passion" seeks to present a most
      convincing case for this kind of redemption. If it holds true to the western
      theological model, the Savior's Resurrection from the dead will be not
      presented as the fulfillment and completion of redemption--the destruction of Hades
      and the power of the devil, decay, and death--but as the proof of the Savior's
      divinity, the necessary proof of the effectiveness of the Passion in
      satisfying divine justice and earning infinite merits.

      George S. Gabriel, Ph. D.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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