LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD SAVIOR,
HAVE MERCY ON ME—A SINNER
Several weeks ago, I wrote encouraging everyone to pray more and specifically to pray using the “Jesus Prayer.” Since then, I have been asked several times for scriptural references to the prayer. Additionally, in the past several weeks as I have prepared and led the Icon class during the Adult Education segment on Sunday morning, I have been asked for more detail about the ICTHYS: the fish symbol used by Christians to communicate in the first century. As there is a distinct relationship between these two very different Christian actions, I will attempt to relate them today and finish up next week.
First, the Fish!
During the first century under several Roman rulers, Nero (37-68), Vespasian (69-79), and Domitian (81-96), Christians were seen as the cause of social unrest and economic decline, pawns in political popularity contests, popularists of rebellion, and competitors to Roman authority—in short, they were convenient ‘scape goats’ for all that ails, plus they were just fun to hate. If Christians were to remain faithful and meet to share devotion and praise the Lord, they would need a system that would identify them to each other, but not to the world. They soon developed a secret symbol.
When two people would meet, say a traveler and a ‘towny,’ after several minutes of conversation, one of them would take his foot and draw an arc on the ground. If the other person were a Christian, he would take his foot or finger and draw another arc, completing the symbol of the fish. Then they would take turns putting the five Greek letters IXOUS (ΙΧΘΥΣ) inside the fish. This word is pronounced “ick-this,” and is the normal word used in the gospels for "fish" (Matthew 7:10, 14:17, and others). The ichthys in Greek, I-X-O-U-S, forms an acrostic.
An acrostic, LitCharts online dictionary tells us is, “… is a piece of writing in which a particular set of letters—typically the first letter of each line, word, or paragraph—spells out a word or phrase with special significance to the text.”
The early Christians recognized that the word ichthys formed an acrostic for Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior. This combined with the simple, seemingly random “line in the sand” movement, secured the fish as a perfect Christian symbol. So, what is the acrostic and where did it come from?
Ι represents Iesous (Ιησους), which is the Greek word for "Jesus." An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him that his fiancée, Mary, "shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). The Hebrew form of His name is Yehoshua (Joshua), which was shortened to Yeshua and transliterated from Greek as Jesus.
Χ stands for Xristos (Χριστος), or "Christ," meaning "anointed." Jesus is God's "Anointed One." When Jesus was born, the angels announced Him to the shepherds as "Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Peter declared, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). The Hebrew form of "Christ" is "Messiah."
Θ stands for Theos (Θεου) which is translated "God." Jesus the Messiah is none other than the eternal God revealed in human flesh (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9). In Paul's letter to Titus, he proclaims the divinity of Jesus Christ: "the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).
Υ represents Uios (Υιος) which means "Son." Jesus is "the only begotten Son" of God (John 3:16). “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Σ stands for Soter (Σωτηρ), meaning "Savior." "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). He is the promised "Savior of the world" (John 4:42). The idea is deliverance, a saving from disaster, rescue from a hopeless situation, and breaking the chains of bondage. Indeed, the Bible tells us, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:12).
So, to start us off answering these questions, the use of ICTHYS as an acrostic of Jesus Christ Son of God Savior, is based on many different scriptural references (there are still others as well). It is easy to see the connection between the Jesus Prayer and the ICTHYS as, though they are from different times and are created by different means, they both use the same source material: the biblical witness.
Next week, we will take a look at the second half of the Jesus Prayer, …have mercy on me, a sinner, and learn how this somewhat offensive sentence, is actually an honest proclamation of self-awareness in the light of divine love.
Hello, Creator people!
Let’s take a moment to live into our Name. Hold out your hand, palm up, and then imagine a large, beautiful pearl resting in it.
Now imagine a small treasure chest.
An orange carnation, the color of sunset.
How about a majestic cedar tree outside, or the sound of the ocean, the expanding cosmos!
Our imagination is a miraculous gift, it is a place of manifestation, a portal through which we may encounter God. Have you ever imagined God? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? Have you ever thought about God imagining all things--before they were created? God imagined (designed) everything, including you, at the very beginning; no—before the beginning (which was also imagined).
Miriam-Webster tells us that Imagine means to form a mental image or concept of something not present.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1:1-5
And so, God continued imagining and speaking and
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27
Miracle of miracles! On the sixth day God created humans and spoke your name into existence! You were created in the mind of God bearing God’s own image and likeness, and you could imagine!
You are the blessing of the likeness of God, endowed with abilities and the potential of abilities in God’s own image. Imago Dei. Imagine that! You have the ability to see with your mind things known, yet not present, and to speak them into reality as images for others to receive. As you exist in the likeness of God, your abilities are derivative—an imitation of God’s perfect self.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:24-25
The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world. Psalm 19:1-4
All creation exists as a silent testimony to God’s glory, God’s majesty, God’s eternal Being. From the duckbill platypus to the Aurora Borealis; the Milky Way galaxy to hammerhead sharks; the monarch butterfly to the double helix; God’s imagination made real is the reality of your imagination! To truly comprehend the amazing glory of God, God’s infinite and eternal being, you must use your imagination to experience creation in the image of God.
Jesus spoke boldly to you, calling you through portals of imagination. Look! In your palm, a beautiful pearl—of great price! (see Matthew13:45-46). Look more closely, deep in the reflection, it is the Kingdom of God! Now, down there, on the floor next to your foot, a mustard seed! How it grows and twines and fills all you see! Over there, on the table; bread and wine—body and blood,
look up now and see the face Christ.
In His Image,
Fascinating! Imagine it, St. Luke, the author of the third Gospel, is also the first Iconographer of the Holy Family--or was he?
It is no secret that when I travel, I want to enter every Church I see. On our trip to Rome and Florence last year, I drove my family mad with diversions and side trips to churches, famous and forgotten alike. After years of doing this, I am not surprised to find that the small, out-of-the-way, “has nothing to offer the tourist” churches, also contain some of the most inspiring and moving pieces of Christian art and iconography.
Christian art and iconography are products of God’s indwelling beauty. They are the outflowing of Spirit-driven adulation and devotion. We all have seen and been moved by wonderous paintings, statues, or Icons that can lift us closer to the face of God, but what if there is more to it than that?
There is a difference between a Christian painting and a Christian Icon. In the West, we in the United States gravitate naturally toward Christian paintings. We revere the skill and accomplishment of the paintings in the Sistine Chapel, and we easily identify all art of similar form. But we have a problem with Icons. Icons seem strange to us, even primitive when laid next to the masterful strokes of Michelangelo, Duccio, El Greco, or Raphael.
There are good reasons why Icons intrigue or confuse us. There are answers to why they are called “Icons” and why they are treated so differently than the art we are used to. There is a special place for Icons in our spiritual life, and the door is open (or should I say “window”?) for us to find a special connection to this unique expression of the Holy.
Starting this Sunday at 9:30 a.m., we begin our journey into the world of Christian Iconography. Please join us during the Sunday Morning Christian Education time for a six-week study, October 16 – November 20. Together we will follow the historic record, our fides quaerens intellectum, as we are inspired by God’s call to fellowship, and open ourselves to the spiritual opportunity that Icons provide.
I hope to see you there.
Peace in Christ,
The webcam I used in my office stopped working about a year ago, so I have been using my cell phone. In order to get the proper angle on my phone camera I have a very high-tech, state-of-the art Acme all-purpose cell phone holder hack: a Hormel Chili can stacked on top of a Chicken of the Sea can, topped with a small piece of Styrofoam on which sits my phone charger, where I prop my phone. It works!
Sometimes at night when I am “winding down,” I troll web cameras on the internet and look at videos of people showing off their “web set up” at their desks. A few times I have gone to Amazon and put a web camera in my shopping cart, but I take out before I close the site. There are a lot of reasons why I have not purchased a new web cam; you can guess a couple of them. What may not be an immediate and obvious result of this situation, is the opportunity for prayer and reflection that is present.
Patience, peace, and relinquishment are not overrated virtues, but they are not popular in cases like this. There is a need (even a want) and justification to buy the camera, but there is also a less than perfect work-around that satisfies the need (if not the want). If I live in the time and space of the workaround I will have to deal with the pressure and emotion of the want side of the equation. This where I find God.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Where are you struggling with disappointment and the disquietude of a satisfied need but unrequited want? Instead of moving quickly past that uncomfortable place or slogging through it in desperation, ask God to help quiet your inner cry so that you can hear the Holy Spirit’s still small voice. Every heartache, every pain is an opportunity to turn and receive from God, comfort, and consolation. These are also opportunities to better understand ourselves and grow in likeness of Christ Jesus.
I am sure that one day I will get a webcam, and when I do, I will be grateful both for the convenience of new tech and for the blessing of a new perspective, for I know that the blessing will far outlast the tech. (That, and I will have salmon and chili for lunch!)
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall I do without a new webcam?’ … But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6:31a, 33 mod.
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†