Thursday, October 9, 2008

I like your hat

For years I have been aware of St. Spyridon's existence. He has been staring back at me from books for as long as I have been hunting up prototypes to paint. And every time I saw an icon of St. Spyridon, I thought the same thing, "I love that hat." That, unfortunately, was the sum total of my thinking on the matter. I never bothered to find out why he wore such a funny looking hat. I never looked up an account of his life to see when he lived, what he did, or why we remember him at all. St. Spyridon was always just that guy with the odd pointy hat.

A few years back, I took a trip to Greece. During that time, I spent a few days in Corfu. In planning the trip, I had all these grand ideas of visiting tons of Orthodox Churches that I had seen in books, but never seen in person. As it turns out, I only got into one church in Corfu. I walked into St. Spyridon's Cathedral, and found it to be very dark. It was hard to see much. The highlight of the whole experience was that I saw an icon of St. John of Damascus that I had actually used as a prototype several times before. Of course the icon was probably 25 feet in the air, and a little hard to see, but I had seen it, and for that I was happy. We only stayed for a couple minutes before we ran off to catch a bus. It was only after returning home from Greece that I read in an icon book that St. Spyridon is actually at St. Spyridon Cathedral in Corfu. It was only after returning home that I learned that he is in a glass case, and that every year they take him on procession in Corfu. I learned after the fact that they change his shoes every year because they are miraculously worn out as a sign that he is still active in going to help people.

I finally painted an icon of St. Spyridon last year. I know now that he wears that funny little hat because he was a farmer, and that was the kind of hat that farmers wore. I've read about his election as a bishop despite his lack of theological training. I have read about him going to the First Ecumenical Council. And I see now that there is so much more to St. Spyridon than just a guy in a hat. He is a shining example for all of us that it is not earthly wisdom or intellectual pursuits that make us Godly people, but rather a simple love for God and His Church, and a desire to follow where God leads us.

St. James the Persian also has a funny hat. And his sleeves have a hole halfway up the sleeve so that his arm hangs out there while the rest of the sleeve hangs down looking like an elephant's trunk. Needless to say I was similarly captivated by St. James the Persian. I finally painted an icon of St. James around the same time as St. Spyridon. In the process, I read about St. James, and learned about his horrific martyrdom. St. James had abandoned his faith for the worship of idols. When he repented, the King ordered soldiers to cut him into pieces while still alive. Each of his fingers and toes were cut off, then his arms and legs before finally being beheaded. All the while, St. James who had been weak enough to leave his faith before found faith to endure this suffering, and as he was cut apart, there was a sweet smell that came from his wounds.

This is just another example of a Saint with an incredible story, and one that leads us to repentance and to reconciliation to our loving and forgiving God, and to me he was just a guy with a neat outfit.

I realize that this is not just the way I look at the Saints of the Church, it is also how I tend to look at people in general. I am easily caught up in externals. I might remember things about how someone looks, what they are wearing, or what they were doing when I saw them, but I have always been very slow to engage people in a meaningful way. I am usually oblivious to what is going on in the lives of people that I encounter, and I'm sure that a great many times their lives can be edifying as well. Our calling as Christians is to be social beings as a reflection of the persons of the Trinity in unity, and yet my inclination has always been to seek isolation rather than communion with others. But it is only in learning to love my fellow Christians like St. Spyridon, St. James, the person standing next to me in Church, the person I interact with on a forum, a blog, or anywhere else that I will really understand what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God in Trinity.


Chocolatesa said...

Wow, the story about the shoes miraculously wearing out is amazing! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

God bless you Matthew,

Your latest work is amazing and I really love reading what you have to say about your work also.

I loved the story about the cathedral in Corfu. I missed the bus to Phillipi once and hitched a ride with the mailman who had a special letter to deliver to the church there. When we got there, it was a letter to a visiting bishop. I paid no attention, and thanked the driver for the ride, and went to find lunch and wine. It wasn't until years later, when I became an Orthodox Christian, that I appreciated the humour in that.