Monday, October 17, 2016

Statue of Christ

Icons are widely spread, accepted and venerated by the Orthodox faithful. Church Fathers promote the idea of icons and their use within our practice, being part of our prayer. St John of Damascus is one of the most prominent Church Fathers who expressed his belief on icons and their existence within our ecclesiastical life. However, in his third treatise he gives a story where a statue of Jesus Christ is made, in honour of Christ for a miracle He performed. This is not to say that we support statues in an Orthodox Church, as St John states in other parts of his argument. But, it does show that this also existed, at least in this instance. This story here reminds us of the one we find in Luke’s Gospel (8:43-48) of the woman who was healed by Jesus. The story is as follows:

‘From the Chronicle of John Malalas, of Antioch, concerning the woman with the haemorrhage, and the statue that she made for the Saviour Christ:

From then on John the Baptist became well-known to everyone and Herod, the toparch of the kingdom of Trachonitis, beheaded him in the city of Sebaste eight days before the Kalends of June in the consulship of Flaccus and Rufus. Therefore in his grief King Herod, the son of Philip, came from Judaea, and a certain wealthy woman, living in the city of Paneas, called Bernice, approached him, wishing to set up a statue to Jesus, for she had been healed by him. As she did not dare to do this without imperial permission, she addressed a petition to King Herod, asking to set up a golden statue to the Saviour Christ in that city. The petition ran as follows: “To the august toparch Herod, lawgiver to Jews and Hellenes, king of Trachonitis, a petition and request from Bernice, a dignitary of the city of Paneas. Justice and benevolence and all the other virtues crown your highness’s sacred head. Thus, since I know this, I have come with every good hope that I shall obtain my requests. My words as they progress will reveal to you what foundation there is for this present preamble. From my childhood I have been smitten with the affliction of an internal haemorrhage; I spent all my livelihood and wealth on doctors but found no cure. When I heard of the cures that Christ performs with his miracles, He who raises the dead, restores the blind to sight, drives demons out of mortals and heals with a word all those wasting away from disease, I too ran to him as to God. I noticed the crowd surrounding him and I was afraid to tell him of my incurable disease in case he should recoil from the pollution of my affliction and be angry with me and the violence of the disease should strike me even more. I reasoned to myself that, if I were able to touch the fringe of his garment, I would certainly be healed. I touched him, and the flow of blood was stopped and immediately I was healed. He, however, as though he knew in advance my heart’s purpose, cried out, ‘Who touched me? For power has gone out of me.’ I went white with terror and lamented, thinking that the disease would return to me with great force, and I fell before him covering the ground with tears. I told him of my boldness. Out of his goodness he took pity on me and confirmed my cure, saying, ‘Be of courage, my daughter, your faith has saved you. Go your way in peace.’ So your august highness, grant your suppliant this worthy petition.” When King Herod heard the contents of this petition, he was amazed by the miracle and, fearing the mystery of the cure, said, “This cure, woman, which was worked on you, is worthy of a greater statue. Go then and set up whatever kind of statue you wish to him, honouring by the offering him who healed you.” Immediately, Bernice, who had formerly suffered from a haemorrhage, set up in the middle of her city of Paneas a bronze statue of beaten bronze, mixing it with gold and silver, to the Lord God. This statue remains in the city of Paneas to the present day, having been moved not many years ago from the place where it stood in the middle of the city to a holy place, a house off prayer. This document was found in the city of Paneas in the house of a man called Bassus, a Jew who had become a Christian. Included in it were the lived of all those who had ruled over the land of Judaea.’ (St John of Damascus, On the Divine Images, Treatise III, 68).   

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