Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Perichoresis and collecting taxes.
Ikonography tells us many wonderful truths about God, even when they are not able to be expressed in words. The image of Christ appears in Gospels to teach us through words. If it is true that St Luke was the first ikonographer, then we have the image of Christ appearing in pictures too.
Here in this Ikon of the Chalice of Christ by Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov we see Our Lady with her arms raised in prayer, her son in the Chalice of the New Covenant ratified by His Incarnation, His arms raised in blessing. It is if they both raise their arms in a dance, the Lord even as a child allowing Our Lady to take Him by the hand and lead her in the dance of friendship and love.
The idea of dance is inherent in our paltry understanding of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. This dance is called perichoresis (a dancing around) as each Person interacts in perfect harmony with the other two Persons within the Hypostatic Union. It is not something our brains can comprehend either, which is why our understanding can only flit from one Hypostasis to the next in a muddled, skittering dance of its own as befits our earthly, limited state.
St Matthew, whose feast we celebrate today, paints a picture of Our Lord as the embodiment of the eternal dance between Israel (and then the Church) and God. Mankind forgets the steps all to often and moves out of synch with the Divine. Such a dissonance permeates the universe just as the presence of one out-of-tune violin permeates the whole symphony. St Matthew is used to being out of step: as a tax collector and collaborator with the oppressive Roman government, he has sought to find safety and security in money and in appeasing the ruling force.
It is when he meets Our Lord, recognising in Him the harmony of Eternity itself, that he hears the dissonance in his life. His preoccupation with earthly things is out of harmony with that which created earthly things producing his cognitive dissonance. He knows from bitter experience that one cannot serve two masters. Mammon's dance is flat, inelegant, oppressive, and almost static through sheer emptiness. The dance of God is free, almost wild in its sheer exuberance, yet wholly led by the hands of Christ Himself.
In listening to the Gospels, we hear different dances. St Mark's is a whirlwind of a gallop as we are blown from one passage to the next. St Luke's is lyrical, like a serenade or barcarolle, filled with the songs of the saints. St John's is stately and ethereal, like a canon of pavannes, repeating and yet expanding themes and motifs.
But it is St Matthew's Gospel that produces a dance that sounds as if it has been going on forever. Majestic, and filled with the folk dances of long ago, bringing their meaning from the Old Covenant into the New. Our Lady was born in the Old Covenant, yet she takes the Lord by the hands and follows His steps into the New. Likewise St Matthew, knowing the dance of the Old Covenant, yet being suppressed by the dance of Mammon, takes the Lord's hands and learns how the new dance is what has always been the old dance. It is this fact that he writes into his Gospel.
We, too, have the opportunity to take the Lord's hands and enter into the dance of Perichoresis, taking the steps that are in harmony with all that is. We can only do this through prayer and listening closely to the tune that life is really playing. There are so many noises that distract us, yet God will always allow us to hear His music if we truly want to.