I’ve had a great day on Saturday- my family traveled to the north-western town of Vratsa, accent on the first A, to attend the baptism ceremony of the four-month-old daughter of my husband’s cousin.
And the best part of it all – I got home the same day, as I hate to spend the night all crammed up in the homes of others. 🙂
So I’ve seen relatives, attended a moving ritual, partook in a restaurant feast and generally spent the day in a dress and 8-cm open-toe slingback pumps (sans platforms, of course! :)), so – a real holiday.
In Orthodox Christianity, Baptism is one of the three sacraments of Christian initiation. Once baptised, a person is eligible to enter the Kingdom of God through their earthly deeds. This is what the title, taken from the refrain of this Guns’ song, alludes to.
I know I am rather eclectic in my intertwining of subjects and references, but I believe many roads lead to Rome, remember? So why not find something worthwhile in a Guns’ song? 🙂 By the way, this Rome idiom is rather oxymoronic in a Christian Orthodox context, but anyway.
And if you care for a short lecture – in the Orthodox church of today, the three sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation and First Communion, are all performed in infancy, just like in the church of the early centuries.
The confirmation, meaning a special anointment symbolising the Gift of the Spirit, is performed at the baptism ceremony itself, and the first communion – about a week after it. The early-century practice of Baptism by a threefold immersion in water is also observed. All these practices have been abandoned or modified by the western Christendom, this is why I find they are worth a specific mention.
The Church, where the ceremony was held, was built in the 1860s and had very ancient-looking doors.
And since we are on the topic of Orthodox worship – let me tell you something of the Orthodox icons.
The holy icons, beautifully painted and gilded as they are, are not some latent idolatry, but are rather a symbol of the Kingdom of God and a window into the Beyond.
The acts of veneration that the Orthodox perform in front of the icons like kissing, bowing and kneeling, are not directed towards the icon itself, as an object, but towards the subject depicted.
Therefore, the worship of icons cannot exist outside the essence of Orthodox worship and as such, icons are like painted theology.
The Orthodox believe they have the right to paint icons because the incarnation of Jesus has made this art possible.
Some of the things that differentiate holy icons from secular art are:
- Icons are two-dimensional, unlike sculptures, which are used for worship by other Christian denominations and are three-dimensional. Icons do not have depth.
- Icons use reverse perspective. Under the rules of linear perspective used in secular art, objects are drawn smaller as their distance from the observer increases, whereas in icon painting, objects in the distance are larger, thus depicting something that is superior to nature.
- The icons do not have an outside source of light and, therefore, do not treat light and shade the way secular drawings and paintings do. The saints depicted on the icons are drawn as if the light spots emanate from within them, from within the icon itself.
- In icon painting, no Biblical event is ever depicted as happening in a room, even if the Holy Scripture says it did. There are no roofs or ceilings, which symbolises the fact that the Gospel Truths have already been revealed (are out in the open, so to say.)
- The human figures appearing on the holy icons are depicted unrealistically, through elongated shapes highlighting the God’s grace that has descended upon them.
- Many of the saints, the Virgin Mary and Jesus himself are required to be depicted with certain facial features as well as hair, eye and garment colour, so as to be uniform and recognisable.
There, no more talk of icons now. Look at the beautiful Balkans, dominating the Vratsa townscape. 🙂
Time to jump in the car and get back to Sofia now. I’ll share with you details on the classic restaurant menu some other time. 🙂
For good night, a soothing and elevating Bulgarian Orthodox chant called Тебе Поем (Tebe Poem, or We Sing to You), composed by priest Alexander Lashkov, currently serving in a church in a western Sofia neighborhood.
The words are contained in the Scripture and many composers have written music to them, including Sergey Rachmaninov. This chant is part of the Holy Liturgy and is really very intimate and powerful when heard live.
The words roughly translate as: “We sing to You, we praise You, we thank you, Lord, and we pray to you, our God.”
In this composition in particular, I especially like the three-fold singing with emotional gradation of the words “and we pray to you, our God”, starting at about 1:33 minutes into the song. The emotion is very restrained though, as this is religious singing and not an Italian canzonetta. 🙂
Maybe Orthodox chant is not your thing, dear Reader, but this is only 3 minutes long, please listen to it as it is so beautiful.
So very, very beautiful.
(references used for the more academic parts of this post – The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware and this.)