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#1 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 09:09 PM

I was looking through the texts of the services for the Nativity of Christ and noticeed there is no express mention of the ox and the donkey. Icons of the Nativity do show these animals, a reference to Isaiah 1:3 - 'The ox knoweth his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know Me, and the people hath not understood Me' and also to the verse in Habakukk, 'In the midst of the two living creatures Thou shalt be acknowledged.' I just though it surprising that there is no correspondence between the texts of the services and the icons isnce normally both work together to express the Church's theology.

#2 Georgianna

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 09:57 PM

I was looking through the texts of the services for the Nativity of Christ and noticeed there is no express mention of the ox and the donkey.


While "ox" and "donkey" may not be expressly mentioned, there is reference to the "dumb beasts". One example from the Royal Hours (Third Hour, Idiomela):

Ἦχος πλ. δ'
Πρὸ τῆς Γεννήσεως τῆς σῆς, τρόμῳ ὁρῶσαι τὸ μυστήριον Κύριε, αἱ νοεραὶ στρατιαὶ κατεπλήττοντο· ὡς γὰρ βρέφος νηπιάσαι ηὐδόκησας, ὁ τὸν πόλον κοσμήσας τοῖς ἀστράσι· καὶ φάτνῃ τὼν ἀλόγων ἀνακέκλισαι, ὁ δρακὶ συνέχων πάντα γῆς τὰ πέρατα· τοιαύτῃ γὰρ οἰκονομίᾳ, ἐγνώσθη σου ἡ εὐσπλαγχνία. Χριστέ, τὸ μέγα ἔλεος, δόξα σοι.


Plagal Fourth.
Before your Nativity, Lord, the heavenly hosts looked with trembling on the mystery and were struck with wonder; for you were well pleased to be born as a babe, you who adorned the vault of heaven with stars; and you have been laid in a manger of dumb beasts, you who hold all the ends of the earth in the hollow of your hand; for by such a dispensation your compassion and great mercy have been made known. O Christ, glory to you!



#3 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 24 November 2012 - 11:36 PM

I noticed that - indeed, this expression appears a few times, but the manger is the feeding trough of the 'dumb beasts' and so the expression does not allude to the beasts themselves. The manger suggests animals might have been present but there is nothing in the texts to indicate that there were any, whereas the icon clearly shows there were. Since the texts refer to passages from Isaiah and Habakkuk, I find it suprising that the passages I mentioned are not included.

#4 Lakis Papas

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Posted 25 November 2012 - 12:18 AM

Christians of the first Christian centuries produced a tradition about the scene of Nativity including animals: an ox and a donkey. They were influenced by the strong
effect that was created by the apocryphal gospels (Protoevangelium of James, Pseudo-Matthaei Evangelium) and by the OT's prophecies about Nativity.

Protoevangelium of James(12:2):

And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall.


Pseudo-Matthaei Evangelium(14) (translation from latin is mine, so it is not perfect):

But the third day of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and went into the stable, she put the little-boy in a manger, and the boy was worshiped by the ox and the donkey. Thus was fulfilled that which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying: The ox knoweth his owner, and the donkey his master's crib. Therefore, the very animals, the ox and the donkey, having him in the midst, incessantly adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was, and it was said by Habakkuk the prophet, saying: In the midst of two living creatures shalt be made known. Mary the mother and Joseph stayed in this place for three days.


Iconographers adopted the image of ox and donkey as appropriate and compatible to the bucolic theme of early iconography. Hymnography was developed in later centuries by scholars and it was more sophisticated than early iconography.

I think Rdr Moran's question about the absence of OT's passages is valid and the answer maybe is based on the fact that iconography and hymnography are mutually complementary. In some icons of nativity there two additional women present; these two women are named in Protoevangelium of James as Salome and as a midwife. Also, in some Orthodox Icons Joseph is found in the bottom of the icon, listening to an old man, and he looks troubled. Satan is in the form of the old man, as recorded in the Protoevangelium, trying to confuse Joseph and to introduce doubts about the birth of Christ.

So, I think, Church tradition formed a picture of nativity that is not complete only in the oral, or only in the illustrated presentation - both are needed.

#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 25 November 2012 - 12:41 AM

This is very helpful. I found the picture below which is the 4th century sarcophagus in Sant'Ambrogio, Milan which obviously bears out what Lakis Papas says:

Attached File  Nativity.jpg   617.41K   112 downloads

The ox and the donkey are said to symbolise, respectively patience and humility. The ox is also the best-known symbol of the sacrificial victim and was a common animal of sacrifice under the Levitical law, and by the Romans.

#6 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 25 November 2012 - 02:11 PM

I was looking through the texts of the services for the Nativity of Christ and noticeed there is no express mention of the ox and the donkey. Icons of the Nativity do show these animals, a reference to Isaiah 1:3 - 'The ox knoweth his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know Me, and the people hath not understood Me' and also to the verse in Habakukk, 'In the midst of the two living creatures Thou shalt be acknowledged.' I just though it surprising that there is no correspondence between the texts of the services and the icons isnce normally both work together to express the Church's theology.


Dear Andreas,
I seem to recall there being a direct reference to this in one of the festal texts or perhaps OT readings for the feast. But there would be a lot of material to check since the forefeast begins on December 20 and there are also festal canons for Compline on each of these days. You'd have to check all of the services from Dec 20-25.

Perhaps Olga remembers where such a text would be found.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael
PS: does anyone have any ideas for Patristic reading material that would be suitable for the Nativity fast? Thanks.

#7 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 25 November 2012 - 02:32 PM

Thank you, Father - I only have the texts in the Festal Menaion.

#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 29 November 2012 - 04:34 PM

If one visits the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, it provides some clarity to the scene. This is truly a cave - not just an opening in the side of cliff or hill but one of many networked caves. Inside the cave is a small hollow that is the place of our Lord's birth. Just a few steps away is the manger - another area of the cave that was shaped to hold a supply of hay for the sheep that were kept there in times of danger (either from the weather or from enemies. This cave is not large in itself, but is part of a network of caves under that part of Bethlehem (the shepherd's field outside of Bethlehem also has a similar cave which became the resting place of the shepherds themselves who remained there their entire lives as the guardians of the spot where the angelic choir appeared to them. This cave, including the graves, is transformed into a chapel dedicated to their memory.) It is certainly possible that all the domestic animals of the city (mostly sheep) were housed there as well as the animals that were used as beasts of burdens brought by the many visitors at that time, thus accounting for the donkey (upon which the Virgin rode) and the ox (which could have drawn a cart or sledge).

Also in the network of caves we now find the mass graves of the Holy Innocents - those children slain by Herod in his madness to do away with the "newborn King" - and another chapel dedicated to their memory.

Fr David Moser

#9 David Puline

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 08:11 PM

Hello...I have a question about the icon of the Nativity. Most sites like OCA refer to the old man who is sitting by himself in the corner of the icon has an old man speaking to him. OCA and others say that it is satan dressed as an old man taunting St Joseph. Yesterday I pointed this out to a priest in our church and his wife and they said it isn´t, but during the course of the making of this icon through history that is is one of the shepherds that originally was on the right side of Mary in the center but later moved to where it is now speaking to St Joseph. I am abit confused about this so please help me understand this part of the icon. Blessings, david

#10 Olga

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 08:22 PM

The old man in the icon is most commonly interpreted as Satan, attempting to make St Joseph doubt the divinity of the newborn Child. Note that this figure is shown in profile, not in a frontal or three-quarter pose - only one eye is visible. This is a common iconographic device used to portray suspect or evil characters. In most icons, there is a subtle but distinct ugliness in the face of this figure, again, indicating that his presence and purpose is not benign.

#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 December 2012 - 10:25 PM

Olga's explanation is correct. I was told this many years ago by Bishop Irenaeos and at the monastery here in Essex. This account is mentioned in Lossky and Ouspensky, and comes from tradition. It is also reflected in the liturgical texts which repeatedly mention Joseph's doubts.

#12 David Puline

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Posted 28 December 2012 - 08:14 AM

Hello...I understand that the old man i.e. satan was/is taunting St Joseph. What I would like to know in the evolution of this icon painting through the centuries, was it originally one of the shepherds on the right side of the icon with the other shepherds and then through the centuries it was moved to where it is now? The priest who I talked to above said it was. I do not want to strain the question but..... Blessings,

david

#13 Olga

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Posted 28 December 2012 - 09:41 AM

According to the many Nativity icons, of varying provenance, that I have encountered over the years, there does not seem to be any consistency in the number of shepherds, nor their location. Another clue that the old man figure is malevolent is the wooden staff he is leaning on is frequently crooked, not straight.

#14 Olga

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Posted 28 December 2012 - 09:54 AM

Further to my post above: In a few icons, a hunched old man is also seen in profile, as if he is talking to the midwife who is washing the newborn Child. This must refer to the story of the doubt of the midwife over the continued virginity of the Mother of God even after giving birth. Here is the story as recorded in the Protoevangelion of James:

And I saw a woman coming down from the hill-country, and she said to me: O man, whither art thou going? And I said: I am seeking an Hebrew midwife. And she answered and said unto me: Art thou of Israel? And I said to her: Yes. And she said: And who is it that is bringing forth in the cave? And I said: A woman betrothed to me. And she said to me: Is she not thy wife? And I said to her: It is Mary that was reared in the temple of the Lord, and I obtained her by lot as my wife. And yet she is not my wife, but has conceived of the Holy Spirit. And the widwife said to him: Is this true? And Joseph said to her: Come and see. And the midwife went away with him. And they stood in the place of the cave, and behold a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave. And the midwife said: My soul has been magnified this day, because mine eyes have seen strange things -- because salvation has been brought forth to Israel. And immediately the cloud disappeared out of the cave, and a great light shone in the cave, so that the eyes could not bear it. And in a little that light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and went and took the breast from His mother Mary. And the midwife cried out, and said: This is a great day to me, because I have seen this strange sight. And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to thee: a virgin has brought forth -- a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.

20. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show thyself; for no small controversy has arisen about thee. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire. And she bent her knees before the Lord, saying: O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; do not make a show of me to the sons of Israel, but restore me to the poor; for Thou knowest, O Lord, that in Thy name I have performed my services, and that I have received my reward at Thy hand. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying to her: Salome, Salome, the Lord hath heard thee. Put thy hand to the infant, and carry it, and thou wilt have safety and joy. And Salome went and carried it, saying: I will worship Him, because a great King has been born to Israel. And, behold, Salome was immediately cured, and she went forth out of the cave justified. And behold a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell not the strange things thou hast seen, until the child has come into Jerusalem.


I find it interesting that Salome's doubt echoes the doubt of Apostle Thomas, on his hearing the news that the crucified Christ had risen from the dead.

#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 28 December 2012 - 11:23 AM

Very early mosaics such as those at S Apollinare in Nuovo, Ravenna (6th century) do not show the Nativity even though they depict the magi. Later mosaics, such as those at Osios Loukas (11th century) and in churches in Sicily of the 12th century, and even mosaics as late as the end of the 13th century (Pietro Cavallini, S Maria in Trastevere, Rome) do not show St Joseph and the devil in disguise but only Joseph sat apart from the central scene and looking pensive. In icons of the Nativity, such as that of the 7th century at St Catherine’s Sinai, we likewise see Joseph alone and pensive. In the earlier part of the 14th century, we still see, in the Chora mosaics, Joseph alone, but contemporaneously with the Chora mosaics, we find Russian icons showing Joseph and the devil, notably in the famous icon attributed to St Andrei Rublev (+1430) and a little later in icons of the Novgorod School. Was it a device of St Andrei Rublev? Joseph and the devil appear in a Byzantine icon of the 14th century, and so it is possible that this feature was only included from about the early 14th century in Russia and the Byzantine empire. There is nothing in what I have seen to indicate a shepherd becoming the devil iconographically but if there evidence for this, it would be interesting to consider it.

PS Interestingly, a 13th century Nativity icon at St Catherine's Sinai shows an angel re-assuring Joseph as a result of the Virgin's prayer for him.

Edited by Andreas Moran, 28 December 2012 - 11:53 AM.


#16 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 07:43 AM

Hello...I understand that the old man i.e. satan was/is taunting St Joseph. What I would like to know in the evolution of this icon painting through the centuries, was it originally one of the shepherds on the right side of the icon with the other shepherds and then through the centuries it was moved to where it is now? The priest who I talked to above said it was. I do not want to strain the question but..... Blessings, david


The Wikipedia entry for ‘The Nativity of Jesus in art’ has this:

The figure of an old man, often dressed in animal skins, who begins as one of the shepherds in early depictions, but later sometimes addresses Joseph, is usually interpreted as the Prophet Isaiah, or a hermit repeating his prophecy, though in later Orthodox depictions he sometimes came to be regarded as the "Tempter" (the "shepherd-tempter"), an Orthodox term for Satan, who is encouraging Joseph to doubt the Virgin Birth.


A note says this is from G Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. I,1971 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London. There is a copy of this book in my university library so I will look it up when the library re-opens.

#17 David Puline

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 09:55 AM

Hello...Olga & rdr Andreas...Thank you for your imput. Andreas, can you suggest any inexpensive book on the histories of icon art? Thank you and blessings in the new year of 2013

david

#18 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 12:05 PM

Books on icons tend not to be very cheap because of their illustrations. Highly recommended is 'The Meaning of Icons' by Lossky and Ouspensky. There is also 'A History of Icon Painting' by L. Evseyeva. 'Art of the Byzantine Era' by David Talbot rice is cheap and is a standard work though is more art historical than devotional but it's worth looking at. You may find affordable second-hand books on Amazon. There is a bibliography here: http://www.vam.ac.uk...dy-guide-icons/

#19 Olga

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 12:53 PM

The link provided by Andreas indeed lists a number of standard references on iconography.

However, I would be wary of the books by the art dealer Richard Temple. The information on specific icons on his website and in his catalogues are dotted with basic inaccuracies, which remain uncorrected even years after these errors have been brought to his attention. This does not inspire confidence in the standard of scholarship of his books.




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