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Δευτέρα, 14 Απριλίου 2014

'DRINK THE CUP THAT I DRINK'. COMMENTARY ON THE ICON OF APOSTLE JAMES IN THE MONASTERY OF ST JOHN THE THEOLOGIAN, PATMOS

   
I n the icon of Apostle James, a work of rare art from the years around 1260, in the Patmos monastery of St John the Theologian, Christ is depicted in miniature, top right, blessing James and holding a eucharistie chalice in his left hand.


The chalice, unique element of the hagiographie type of the Apostle, alludes to an event narrated by the Evangelists Matthew (20:22-23) and Mark (10:39-40) and refers to the Lord's symbolic words to the sons of Zebedee: 'drink my cup ...', 'drink the cup that I drink ...'. This is the 'cup of death', which the brother of John was the first of the Twelve Apostles to taste, with his holy martyrdom (Acts 12:1-2).

The noteworthy event, associated with the Passion and the Resurrection, passed through patristic teaching into hymnography and specifically into the hymns chanted at vespers for Palm Sunday (orthros of the Monday of Holy Week) at the service (akolouthia) of the Nymphios; also in the doxastikon and the other hymns for the feast of Apostle James (30 April).

With the proposed interpretation, the Communion chalice held by Christ in the icon takes on a particular meaning as an element of Patmian iconography, since it also refers to John. With the value of a 'prating symbol' (type parlant), it at once confirms the identity of the Apostle James and underlines his physical and spiritual kinship with the 'beloved' of the monastery, John the Theologian. By recalling the loyalty of the 'Sons of Thunder' to Christ, their willingness to share the Passion and their ambition to be glorified together in the heavenly kingdom with a place 'on the right and on the left of the Lord', it alludes to the Mystery of the Sacred Eucharist, celebrated in remembrance of the Sacrifice.

The presence of the icon in the monastery clearly implies the honour that Apostle James was accorded there as brother of John - possibly in a parekklesion of the monastery, dedicated to his memory, in which the icon will have been placed forproskynesis on the iconostasis. The honour accorded to James is certified constantly over the centuries and is attested with iconographie eloquence by another four icons, which are dated from the second half of the fifteenth to the early seventeenth century, in the monastery of St John the Theologian and the convent of the Lifegiving Source on Patmos.

As in the case of the four Post-Byzantine icons, there is no doubt that the earlier one of Apostle James was created with the spiritual guidance and desire of the Patmian monks or of a well-educated donor, who wanted his pious gift to have an iconography appropriate to the monastery. This is indicated by the quality, the profundity and the refinement of the theological meditations that were invested in the spare representation of exquisite art of the brother of John the Theologian, source of which meditations is the Communion chalice 'cleanser of sins', that Christ holds.

Myrtali Acheimastou-Potamianou

source : Deltion of the Christian Archaeological Society

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