Archive for June, 2013

The Revelation of Axion Estin

Monday, June 24th, 2013

You ask what I think is the most “interesting” or “unusual” Orthodox icon. Singling out just one holy image is a trifle absurd, as I’m sure you realize! But if you pressed me on the subject, I might direct your attention to an icon called To Thauma en to Adein, meaning literally “The Miracle in the Chanting”. It’s a narrative icon, and it tells a most extraordinary story, the story of the Revelation of Axion Estin. Do you know it?

According to Holy Tradition, one Saturday night in the year 980 A.D., an elder of Mount Athos left his hermitage to attend an all-night vigil in Karyes, the capital of the Holy Mountain, telling his disciple to remain and chant the service alone. A short time later, an unknown monk calling himself Gabriel entered the cell and joined in the service. During the Ninth Ode of the Canon, after the disciple had chanted the customary words to the Virgin, “More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, Thou who without corruption barest God the Word and art truly Theotokos, Thee do we magnify”—words composed over two hundred years earlier by Saint Cosmas the Hymnographer (773)—the visitor began the same hymn again but with the following prelude: “It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos, the ever-blessed and all-blameless and the Mother of our God.” As he sang, an icon of the Mother of God on the wall of the hermitage began to glow with uncreated light.

Struck by the beauty of these words and marveling at their supernatural effect, the disciple asked his mysterious visitor to record them in writing. The other “monk” obliged by miraculously inscribing the words on a piece of slate, using only his finger, as if the stone were made of wax. He then immediately vanished from sight. The disciple knew at once that this was no ordinary “Gabriel”, but the Archangel himself. The slate was taken to the Church of the Protaton in Karyes, and thence to Constantinople, to the imperial court and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as evidence of the miracle. Meanwhile, the icon of the Mother of God, henceforth known as the Axion Estin (“It is truly meet”), was transferred from the humble cell of the elder to the catholikon in Karyes, where it remains to this day (when it is not on the road being venerated by the faithful), and it’s regarded as the Mountain’s “Protectress” and holiest object. The newer, longer, angelic version of this hymn to the Most Holy Theotokos has ever since been chanted during the Divine Liturgy in all Orthodox churches.

The hermitage where the miracle took place is now called Adein, a Greek word meaning “to sing” or “chant”. Hence the title of this iconic narrative, “The Miracle in the [place of] Chanting”. Clearly depicted (if you zoom in on the image) are both the original words of the hymn, on the chanter’s stand in front of the elder’s disciple, and the new prelude to the hymn, on the piece of slate in the angel’s hands. You can also see the glowing icon of Axion Estin itself on the wall in the background. A Thauma (“Wonder”) indeed!

Here is the complete (combined) text of the hymn:

????? ????? ?? ?????? ?????????? ?? ??? ????????, ??? ????????????? ??? ??????????? ??? ?????? ??? ???? ????. ??? ?????????? ??? ????????? ??? ??????????? ?????????? ??? ???????? ??? ?????????? ???? ????? ????????, ??? ????? ????????, ?? ???????????.

“It is truly meet to bless Thee, O Theotokos, the ever-blessed and all-blameless and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, Thou who without corruption barest God the Word and art truly Theotokos, Thee do we magnify.”

At Last

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

I’m pleased to announce that Splendor of the True: A Frithjof Schuon Reader has at last been published. As I noted in a post on this weblog when I submitted the manuscript to SUNY Press back in February 2012, the book was already several years in the making at that point—partly owing to the scope of the project, but also owing to a variety of other writing and teaching responsibilities.

The Table of Contents and the full text of Huston Smith’s foreword can be found here. Two reviews have thus far been posted on Amazon. Below are a few of their observations:

Reading Frithjof Schuon years ago changed my life but I struggle still when explaining to friends and students why his message is so important, especially for our times…. Reading Schuon is never easy, but in Splendor‘s five parts and appendix … what emerges for the attentive reader is both the breadth and the brilliant substance of Schuon’s thinking. Beautifully illustrated and formatted, the selections here complement and lead to one another so aptly that I checked the listing of which books they were taken from several times to be sure they were not written as sets…. I recommend Splendor without reservation. I found in it both the revelations of the Absolute that are the signature of Schuon in everything he wrote but also a revelation of the diversity of his expression and the depth of his genius.

[Schuon’s] unique and yet controversial approach to religious unity and religious plurality is of increasing significance for our time of unprecedented religious convergence and explosive religiously-based social and political reaction.

[Splendor] is organized into five sections, each composed of four key Schuonian texts, neither too long nor too short, each contributing to the reader’s understanding of the theme of the section. The themes are: 1) Religion and Tradition; 2) The Perennial Philosophy; 3) Human Nature and Destiny; 4) Sacred Art and Symbolism; 5) Spirituality. Each selection is preceded by a poem chosen from Schuon’s vast corpus of didactic poetry to harmonize through the music of poetry with the underlying theme of the text. There is an appendix with over 40 selections from Schuon’s letters and memoirs, in which the reader can hear him speaking in a more personal voice. Finally there are several pages of translator’s notes, an excellent glossary of the bewildering variety of terms Schuon employed in developing his dialectic of esoterism and exoterism in the religions, and lastly a complete bibliography of Schuon’s works.

The book succeeds in its goal of revealing the profundity, breadth, sheer brilliance, intellectual force, and calm certainty of Schuon’s thought. It is without question the single best introduction to the teaching of Frithjof Schuon now available. The writer of this review is not a Sufi but a Christian, and does not claim to agree with Schuon in every respect or follow him in every detail. Nevertheless, one can attest to the immense benefit that may be derived from a concerted effort to understand his point of view and to contemplate the quintessential chain of truths and certainties his unifying vision reveals. This book deserves the highest recommendation.