St Ephrem on true richness and poverty

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Article review: “Turkey’s Continuing Siege: Rememebring the Fall of Constantinople”

In this generally excellent article republished via Pravmir (first published here by The Huffington Post) on the Fall of Constantinople’s extraordinary significance in Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Western history, as well as Greek and Turkish national identity, Dr Elizabeth H. Prodromou and Dr Alexandros K. Kyrou connect the legacy of May 29, 1453 to the continuing marginalization and persecution which Christians endure in Turkey.

The Middle East’s only republic to have a predominantly Muslim population while still adhering to an officially secular Constitution, Turkey has seen a period of increasing pressure on Christians as the currently embattled Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AKP party have sought for several years to realign Turkey, an emerging regional power, with neighboring Muslim countries. As a result, Erdoğan practices a kind of Islamist populism which selectively blends Turkish nationalism with a consciously Muslim identity and the occasional politically timed pan-Arabism quip.

Turkish PM Erdogan has recently expressed his support for the possible re-converting of Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Ayasofya, Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία), currently open to the public as a museum, into an active mosque. Besides angering Christians worldwide, this affront to Istanbul's shrinking Greek Orthodox community based in the Phanar, the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, would also mean the loss of significant revenue from tourists, especially many Christians, who visit Hagia Sophia ever year.

Turkish PM Erdogan has recently expressed his support for the possible re-converting of Hagia Sophia (Turkish: Ayasofya, Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία), currently open to the public as a museum, into an active mosque. Besides angering Christians worldwide, this affront to Istanbul’s shrinking Greek Orthodox community based in the Phanar, the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, would also mean the loss of significant revenue from tourists, especially many Christians, who visit Hagia Sophia ever year.

The authors of this piece are outstanding experts in the field of modern Turkish and Balkan politics, Eastern European history, and the status of the Orthodox Church in the Middle East and Southeast Europe. Dr. Prodromou is an Affiliate Scholar at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University where she serves as Co-Chair of the Southeastern Europe Study Group. She is also a retired US diplomat as the former Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Associate Professor of History at Salem State University, where he directs the Program in East European and Russian Studies and teaches on Byzantium, the Balkans, and the Ottoman Empire. 

The Venetian painter Gentile Bellini (1429-1507), official painter to the Doges of Venice, rendered this portrait of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II Fetih ("the Conqueror").

The Venetian painter Gentile Bellini (1429-1507), official painter to the Doges of Venice, rendered this portrait of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II Fetih (“the Conqueror”).

I have studied Byzantine history both on my own and through my university for many years, and I have to respectfully disagree with two parts of this otherwise excellent summary of the lasting legacy of the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and its relation to the ongoing difficulties which Christians face today in Erdogan’s Turkey. My objections are found in this paragraph here: 

“The erasure of Christians from Constantinople (located on the ancient city of Byzantion on the southernmost promontory of the European side of the Bosporus) is one of the tragedies of history. When the Ottomans began their 54-day siege of Constantinople, the city was still renowned throughout Europe for its size, wealth, and cosmopolitan sophistication. Even after the disintegrated Western Roman Empire had been resuscitated by Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Empire, the capital city of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire had a population numbering nearly one million, and was the repository of Medieval Europe’s art, ancient literature, and the birthplace of the hospital and the university. And long after the Christian Sees of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem had fallen to Arab Muslim armies moving westward through the Levant and the Holy Lands of Christianity’s origins, Constantinople stood as reminder that the epicenter of Christian theology and practice was in the eastern territories of the Roman Empire — only the See of Rome lay in western imperial lands. When the Great Schism split Christendom into the Greek Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West, Constantinople’s Christians were largely alone on the frontlines when the Ottoman Turks began their assault the city.”

1) “When the Ottomans began their 54-day siege of Constantinople, the city was still renowned throughout Europe for its size, wealth, and cosmopolitan sophistication”. (Emphasis mine).

Unless Drs. Prodromou and Kyrou use the word “size” here to refer to the sheer territorial extent of the city, which did cover a large area of the European side of the Bosporus, then it refers to the city’s population. Yet by 1453, the once-massive city had shrunk to a shell of its former metropolis-level population. By some contemporary accounts, Constantinople’s population had approached either half a million souls in the sixth century, reaching possibly as high as 800,000 in the twelfth (the city was never quite so large as Classical Old Rome with its over 1 million souls). By 1453, estimates from both Byzantine and Venetian sources put the total population of the city at figures as low as 40,000 souls. By then, Constantinople had been reduced to a veritable city-state in its actual territorial sovereignty, while still an Empire from a political theory perspective. When Mehmed II rose on horseback through the conquered Second Rome, he rode through what must have appeared to him a desolate landscape of burning settlements, small villages loosely connected by the ancient roads and viaducts which had once served as the arteries of the city in its heyday as a global metropolis.

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2) “When the Great Schism split Christendom into the Greek Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West, Constantinople’s Christians were largely alone on the frontlines when the Ottoman Turks began their assault the city.” 

I understand that this is a summary intended for a general readership, but I have two points with this sentence. Firstly, it is historically inaccurate to posit that “Constantinople’s Christians were largely alone when the Ottoman Turks began their assault on the city”. Out of a total defense force of  at most 6-7,000 men (according to almost all contemporary sources), a body of at least 700 Genoan and Venetian troops defended the city alongside the Byzantines, with many perishing alongside Emperor Constantine XI and some witnessing the city’s brutal three day sack.

This map in French gives an approximation of the Venetian and Genoan positions on the walls of Constantinople during their defense of the city alongside the Byzantines.

This map in French gives an approximation of the Venetian and Genoan positions on the walls of Constantinople during their defense of the city alongside the Byzantines.

Thus, the historical reality is that at least one-tenth of Constantinople’s defenders were mercenaries from the northern Italian mercantile city-states which had previously been great (and largely successful) rivals to the Byzantines, whose fortunes had reduced considerably after the Fourth Crusade ended with the sack of Constantinople in 1204. The circumstances which caused the Fourth Crusade to end as it did are extremely complex, but what historians agree on is that Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice approved the sack against Pope Innocent III’s orders since the Venetian forces had not been paid what Emperor Alexios IV had promised them for their support against his rivals Alexios III and Isaac II, Alexios IV’s own father. So, while it is accurate to say that no Western kingdoms sent any substantive aid to assist the Second Rome (France and England were largely exhausted from fighting each other in the Hundred Years’ War, while Castile and Aragon were focused on the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula from the remaining Muslim city-states and were not yet united in personal union under Isabel I and Fernando II), it is misleading to say that “Constantinople’s Christians were largely alone” in 1453 when at least one-tenth of the city’s defenders were Catholic soldiers sworn to the capital’s defense.

The restored fourth century Theodosian Walls commissioned by St. Emperor Theodosius I (347-395, r. 379-395 as Byzantine Empire, from 392 over reunited West and East). Prior to the 1453 siege which involved the terrifying use of massive bombards (huge, cumbersome siege cannons) by Mehmed II's forces, these walls were believed to be impregnable.

The restored fourth century Theodosian Walls commissioned by St. Emperor Theodosius I (347-395, r. 379-395 as Byzantine Empire, from 392 over reunited West and East). Prior to the 1453 siege which involved the terrifying use of massive bombards (huge, cumbersome siege cannons) by Mehmed II’s forces, these walls were believed to be impregnable.

Secondly, when referring to the Great Schism of 1054, this sentence is very reductionist, in the sense that the Schism was an accident of political and ecclesiastical history which did not alter the ecclesiastical reality of intercommunion between the Churches of Old and New Rome for many years. 

In reality, historical evidence suggests that Western Christians under the sole Western patriarch, the Bishop of Rome, and those Eastern Christians living under the jurisdiction of the Byzantine Patriarch of Constantinople continued to inter-commune following 1054. The Great Schism dated to that year only occurred because the two main protagonists, Cardinal Humbert, the papal legate to Constantinople, and Byzantine Patriarch Michael Cerularius (Greek: Keroularios) mutually antagonized each other, exchanging shared insults contrary to the spirit of Christian love and fraternity in which they were supposed to meet.

Hagia Sophia at night, as it appears today. Upon his conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed II converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque to symbolize the conquest of the ancient heart of Byzantine Christianity and Islam's superseding of Orthodox Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mehmed also took upon himself the title "Caesar of the Romans" (Ottoman Turkish: Kayser-i-Rûm), believing that the mantle of the Classical, then Christian Roman Empire which Byzantium had preserved for a millennium had fallen to him, the ruler of much of the Muslim world.  Mehmed's claim, rejected by the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Holy Roman Empire which both claimed to be the true successor to Constantine's city, rested with the concept that Constantinople was the seat of the Roman Empire, after the transfer of its capital to Constantinople in 330.

Hagia Sophia at night, as it appears today. Upon his conquest of Constantinople, Mehmed II converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque to symbolize the conquest of the ancient heart of Byzantine Christianity and Islam’s superseding of Orthodox Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mehmed also took upon himself the title “Caesar of the Romans” (Ottoman Turkish: Kayser-i-Rûm), believing that the mantle of the Classical, then Christian Roman Empire which Byzantium had preserved for a millennium had fallen to him, the ruler of much of the Muslim world. Mehmed’s claim, rejected by the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Holy Roman Empire which both claimed to be the true successor to Constantine’s city, rested with the concept that Constantinople was the seat of the Roman Empire, after the transfer of its capital to Constantinople in 330.


According to Roman canon law, Humbert had no authority to excommunicate the Patriarch of Constantinople unless specifically authorized by the Roman Pontiff, who never so authorized him. In fact, Leo IX, the Pope who had sent Cardinal Humbert to treat with Patriarch Michael, was dead at the moment Humbert laid the bull upon the altar of Hagia Sophia to the horror of the assembled clergy, Eastern and Western. Thus, from the perspective of the Roman canons, a papal legate to a dead Pope has no authority to issue any previously signed bull of excommunication from that pope (never mind that Leo had never drawn up a bull or authorized Humbert to do this).

Looking toward the eastern apse which rises above where the altar and silver iconostasis once stood, you can see the architecturally odd arrangement left in the wake of Mehmed's conversion of the Orthodox temple into a mosque. Mehmed had the magnificent Byzantine frescoes painted over (fortunately he did not have them destroyed) and ordered four pendants bearing the name of the first four Muslim caliphs (political and spiritual leaders of the Ummah, the Muslim community) recognized in the Sunni tradition erected to hang over the nave.

Looking toward the eastern apse which rises above where the altar and silver iconostasis once stood, you can see the architecturally odd arrangement left in the wake of Mehmed’s conversion of the Orthodox temple into a mosque. Mehmed had the magnificent Byzantine frescoes painted over (fortunately he did not have them destroyed) and ordered four pendants bearing the name of the first four Muslim caliphs (political and spiritual leaders of the Ummah, the Muslim community) recognized in the Sunni tradition erected to hang over the nave.


On Mehmed II's orders, the Christian altar was removed and in its place a mihrab erected. This niche in the wall indicates the qibla, the direction toward the Kaaba in Mecca. As you can see, this is obviously aesthetically off-center, as the building was clearly designed to face cardinally east.

On Mehmed II’s orders, the Christian altar was removed and in its place a mihrab erected. This niche in the wall indicates the qibla, the direction toward the Kaaba in Mecca. As you can see, this is obviously aesthetically off-center, as the building was clearly designed to face cardinally east.

Manuel Doukas Chrysaphes’ Lamentation for the Fall of Constantinople

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Tomorrow, June 11 (which is May 29 on the Julian calendar) we remember the Fall of Constantinople to the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II Fetih (“the Conqueror”) on May 29 in 1453, 560 years ago.

Using the haunting text of Psalm 79, Manuel Doukas Chrysaphes (Greek: Μανουὴλ Δούκας Χρυσάφης, active from 1440–1463) composed this profoundly transcendent lament for the fall of the Great City, the “Eye of the World”. Most historians regard Chrysaphes as the most prominent Byzantine musician of the 15th century. He was a singer, composer and musical theoretician who served as a master choralist at the courts of the last two Byzantine emperors, John VIII and Constantine XI. His surviving treatise, “On the Theory of the Art of Chanting” is an invaluable guide to Byzantine music and the evolution of Byzantine singing in the late Palaiologan period. The Portland, Oregon-based Byzantine choral ensemble Cappella Romana sings this otherworldly lamentation. Here is a review of Cappella Romana’s performance of the lamentation by The Oregonian’s Barry Johnson.

One of the most traumatic events in Christian history with lasting repercussions to this day for Greek-speaking people in particular, Constantinople’s fall to a multi-confessional, multi-ethnic army led by Sunni Muslim Turks was also one of the pivotal turning points in Western and Ottoman history.

While the city had declined in population, power and prestige to become a shadow of its former self, and was in fact little more than a series of loosely connected villages huddled behind the ancient Theodosian walls when Mehmed’s forces breached them, its fall came like the crashing of a giant in the Christian consciousness.

With the death of the Emperor Constantine XI on the walls of the city, the Empire whose citizens had simply called themselves ‘Romans’, whose official name was Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, the Roman Empire, or Ῥωμανία, ‘Romania’, came to an end after 1100 years. When one thinks of the city’s repeated attacks and sieges by the Huns, Persians, Arabs, then-pagan Vikings and Russians, Bulgars, Crusaders, Seljuk Turks, and finally the Ottomans, it is remarkable that, until its first sack by the Crusaders in 1204, Constantinople presided over an empire which achieved an extraordinary integration of three main influences.

Byzantium synthesized an extraordinary ancient cultural and philosophical legacy from classical Greece and the Hellenic kingdoms with that of Roman law, political theory and imperial government structure, preserving thousands of classical and legal texts which would have likely been lost in the West. Crucially, Constantinople’s endurance of many centuries of external pressure, including intermittent hostility with the northern Italian mercantile states after 1204, especially Venice and Genoa, served to prevent major Muslim expansion into Europe..

From an Orthodox perspective, Constantinople’s stature as the patriarchate second in honor as the New Rome after the Old caused it to become the center of what came to be called Byzantine, or Greek, Orthodox Christianity with a vast contribution in liturgical tradition, homiletics, theology, and phronema. The fall of the city profoundly shocked all of Christendom, especially Rome, as the ancient patriarchate which had been second in honor in the Christian oikoumene was now transformed into the capital of the most powerful Muslim empire.

The Ottoman Turks finally gained the prize which they had been encircling for over a century since they conquered most of Anatolia and expanded behind Constantinople into Thrace and the Balkans. Unsurprisingly, historians traditionally date the end of the Middle Ages to the fall of Byzantium, from which they also mark the official opening of the Renaissance and the early modern era as Byzantine refugees poured into Italy.

Guillaume Dufay’s magnificent Lamentation for Constantinople

Video

Tomorrow, June 11 (which is May 29 on the Julian calendar) we remember the Fall of Constantinople to the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II Fetih (“the Conqueror”) on May 29 in 1453.

One of the most traumatic events in Christian history with lasting repercussions to this day for Greek-speaking people in particular, Constantinople’s fall to a multi-confessional, multi-ethnic army led by Sunni Muslim Turks was also one of the pivotal turning points in Western and Ottoman history.

While the city had declined in population, power and prestige to become a shadow of its former self, and was in fact little more than a series of loosely connected villages huddled behind the ancient Theodosian walls when Mehmed’s forces breached them, its fall came like the crashing of a giant in the Christian consciousness.

With the death of the Emperor Constantine XI on the walls of the city, the Empire whose citizens had simply called themselves ‘Romans’, whose official name was Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, the Roman Empire, or Ῥωμανία, ‘Romania’, came to an end after 1100 years. When one thinks of the city’s repeated attacks and sieges by the Huns, Persians, Arabs, then-pagan Vikings and Russians, Bulgars, Crusaders, Seljuk Turks, and finally the Ottomans, it is remarkable that, until its first sack by the Crusaders in 1204, Constantinople presided over an empire which achieved an extraordinary integration of three main influences.

Byzantium synthesized an extraordinary ancient cultural and philosophical legacy from classical Greece and the Hellenic kingdoms with that of Roman law, political theory and imperial government structure, preserving thousands of classical and legal texts which would have likely been lost in the West. Crucially, Constantinople’s endurance of many centuries of external pressure, including intermittent hostility with the northern Italian mercantile states after 1204, especially Venice and Genoa, served to prevent major Muslim expansion into Europe..

From an Orthodox perspective, Constantinople’s stature as the patriarchate second in honor as the New Rome after the Old caused it to become the center of what came to be called Byzantine, or Greek, Orthodox Christianity with a vast contribution in liturgical tradition, homiletics, theology, and phronema. The fall of the city profoundly shocked all of Christendom, especially Rome, as the ancient patriarchate which had been second in honor in the Christian oikoumene was now transformed into the capital of the most powerful Muslim empire. The Ottoman Turks finally gained the prize which they had been encircling for over a century since they conquered most of Anatolia and expanded behind Constantinople into Thrace and the Balkans. Unsurprisingly, historians traditionally date the end of the Middle Ages to the fall of Byzantium, from which they also mark the official opening of the Renaissance and the early modern era as Byzantine refugees poured into Italy.

This video here is a profound and beautiful example of the Roman Church’s horror over the fall of the city which had been the Byzantine capital and heir to the Roman Empire for over a millennium. At Pope Nicholas V’s urging, the brilliant Franco-Flemish choralist Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474), leading composer in the Burgundian School, composed this magnificent early Renaissance motet in 1454. Pope Nicholas invited many Greek refugees from Constantinople to Rome, where he hoped to add their intellectual luster and their accumulated theological, historical, literary and artistic works to the splendor of Old Rome. Unsuccessful in his attempts to convince the squabbling northern Italian city-states to unite in a common cause to retake Constantinople from the Ottomans, Nicholas V died in 1455, acknowledging that his papacy would be forever marred in history as that during which Nova Roma, the Queen City of Christendom, fell.

Guillaume Dufay with Gilles Binchois.

Guillaume Dufay with Gilles Binchois.

Dufay modeled his ethereal dirge, “Lamentatio sanctae matris ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae” (the Lament of the Holy Mother Church of Constantinople) from a part of the Book of Lamentations on the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Here are the song’s lyrics in Middle French, with translation into English below:

O tres piteulx de tout espoir fontaine,
Pere du filz dont suis mere esplorée,
Plaindre me viens a ta court souveraine,
De ta puissance et de nature humaine,
Qui ont souffert telle durté villaine
Faire à mon filz, qui tant m’a hounourée.

Dont suis de bien et de joye separée,
Sans qui vivant veule entendre mes plaints.
A toy, seul Dieu, du forfait me complains,
Du gref tourment et douloureulx oultrage,
Que voy souffrir au plus bel des humains.
Sans nul confort de tout humain lignage.

Translated into English:
“O most merciful fount of all hope,
Father of the son whose weeping mother I am:
I come to complain before your sovereign court,
about your power and about human nature,
which have allowed such grievous harm
to be done to my son, who has honored me so much.

For that I am bereft of all good and joy,
without anyone alive to hear my laments.
To you, the only God, I submit my complaints,
about the grievous torment and sorrowful outrage,
which I see the most beautiful of men suffer
without any comfort for the whole human race.”

Disclaimer: I highly encourage you to disregard the text which accompanies this video. While some of it is accurate, a good deal of it is absurdly polemical. I chose this video of Dufay’s “Lamentatio” in preference to the other three I found for its inclusions of a series of famous portraits and paintings of the siege and fall of the City. In no ways do I endorse the description which “Petrus Josephus”, the anonymous poster of this otherwise beautiful YouTube video, uses to apply to all Muslims in his text. “Petrus” refers to the Ottomans as “heathen Turks” and refers to all Muslims as “abominable mohammedans”. This is an antiquated and inaccurate term rooted in an initially widespread misunderstanding of Islamic theology (the word “mohammedan” itself implies a worship of Muhammad which Muslims categorically reject). Later in his video, “Petrus” refers to “the virus of Islam” as an “onslaught” which “has never been stopped” in “Europe and her colonies”. Besides the obvious reality that most of Europe is not Muslim, “Petrus”, an ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic whose “About” page contains references to the schismatic Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), would do well to read more about the resurgence of Orthodox Christianity in Eastern Europe and its growth in Germany, France and Britain.

Please find the other two YouTube videos I found of Dufay’s “Lamentatio” here, performed by the renowned Hilliard Ensemble, a British male quartet specializing in Medieval and Renaissance music, and here.

The clay and the potter

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every one who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as he is pure.”

1 John 3:1-3

My soul is on fire as if it has been lit by ten thousand candles, and yet I feel a deep calm, an innermost peace, at the same time as this fire. This divine fire which has inflamed my soul is the radiant joy and awe I feel at God’s immediate and immanent presence, which is “everywhere present and fill[s] all things”!

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I am in love with every part of God’s creation, all that is on this earth and in the heavens, but most especially, I am struck by the beauty I see in every face, in every person’s countenance. Old and creased with cares, young and carefree, wrinkled from the accumulation of a life’s work, or soft and smooth in youth – every person I see is beautiful, because each person points to the Creator.

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Whenever I think on the reality that every single person I will see or meet in my life is a child of God, formed by Him before birth in His image (Psalm 138 LXX), I am almost overwhelmed with awe. Every person, at every stage of his or her life, is a precious vessel of the Holy Spirit, the divine Love, the immanent and active grace of our Lord present in all His creation.

Every person is sacred, and the grace of Him who made us all cannot ever be fully absent from anyone. It is always there; the seed of the divine Image remains imprinted upon each soul, no matter what a person does to deny, shatter, or flee from that grace. For we are as clay formed by a master potter; just like clay vessels which travel to the corners of the earth away from the hands of him who formed them, even if we end up far away from Him who shaped us, we cannot escape the reality of our existence. Impressed upon our souls, our very being, is the reality that we came from, and were generated by, the divine Love of God.

The Scriptures are filled with beautiful verses describing God and man in the language of a potter and his clay. Within Genesis 1:26-28, we read:

“. . .So God created [in Hebrew, the word used here is bara] man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them.”.

God created man ex nihilo, but the word bara also signifies that He molded and fashioned man as would a potter out of clay. Bara is a word which occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures only in reference to the creative activity of God. It implies that something new has been brought into existence by divine command.

Further, in Genesis 2:1-7, we read that 

“In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground—then the LORD God formed [In Hebrew, the word used here is yatsar] man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath [רוח, ruach, or spirit] of life; and man became a living being. . .”.

In Hebrew, “dust” and “clay” are often used interchangeably to refer to soil or earth from the ground. Yatsar, translated in this version as “formed”, literally means to mold as a potter molds clay. The use of yatsar tells us how God formed and sculpted the first of mankind, Adam (אָדָם, whose very name means ‘man’ in Hebrew) and Eve ( חַוָּה, whose name means “living one” or “source of life”). God created man as the summit of His work, the highest of all of His artistic creation, after His own image.

In Jeremiah 18:1-7, we read in the Prophet Jeremiah’s revelation from God a wording very similar to that used in Genesis: “Then the Word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.””

Most beautifully, in Isaiah 64:8, we read:

“Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father;
    we are the clay, and thou art our potter;
    we are all the work of thy hand. . .”

Knowing this by the sweetest and most touching grace of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which imprints Himself upon our souls, we are transformed “by the renewal of [our] mind”, as St Paul writes in Romans 12:2. (Here, “mind”, a latinism, is a very misleading translation of the original Greek word νοός, nous, which is more accurately understood as the eye of the soul or mind of the heart; that spiritual consciousness which makes us aware of God’s immanent presence and grace).

When our noetic faculties are enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we become more and more aware that God truly is “everywhere present and fill[ing] all things. . . the Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life”. When we come to look upon every person — no mater their emotional or psychological state or physical appearance or social status — as a fellow child of God, an icon of the Divine image, we see the spark of His love present all around us in everyone we meet and see, each hour of every day. In this, each moment of our life becomes a great blessing.

How can we not love each person as a precious icon of the Holy Trinity, our God who loves us in a way that is beyond our power to rationally describe or conceptually understand? If we know this, once we discern His love for ourselves, then we must realize He loves every other person just as much as He loves us. How can we not but see that the love God has for each of His creatures is a reflection of the perfect love which unites His Three Persons in a unity which transcends our rational understanding?

We read again and again in the Scriptures variations on the reality that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 3, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-5, Galatians 2:20, Romans 5:8, etc), which the universal witness of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church has maintained through the centuries. Only by integrating into our daily lives this awareness that our God loves us to the depths of our being, who fashioned each body and soul in His image, may we be transformed and become truly Christ-like Christians, little anointed ones, sons  and daughters of the Most High. What a soul-astounding and glorious challenge this is: to live by love in all things, seeing in the other, in every person you meet and know, the presence of your Creator.