Both of these images show Jesus (center), Mary the mother of Jesus (left), and John the Baptizer (right).
Orthodox churches have an iconostasis: a wall of icons and religious paintings that links together the nave from the sanctuary in a church. The door (called the Beautiful Gates) that the priest uses to move between the sanctuary and the nave is flanked by icons.
The bottom tier of icons is called the Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates is an icon of Christ (often called Pantocrator –which means Almighty, Omnipotent, Lord of the Hosts). This image of Jesus symbolizes his Second Coming. On the left side is an icon of Mary the mother of Jesus, symbolizing Christ’s incarnation and entrance into this world. There is a theology behind these images. One side is Christ’s first incarnation, the other side is Christ’s second coming. All movement that takes place in the sanctuary during worship happens between Christ’s first and second coming.
John the Baptizer and Mary the mother of Jesus take their places beside Jesus as the primary examples of proclaiming and bearing the presence of Christ in the world. How do John and Mary strengthen our faith? One said, “I am not worthy to untie his sandals.” The other said, “I am the servant of the Lord, use me.” They model for us humility and service to the Messiah.
Advent is the season when we reflect on living between the first incarnation of Christ and his second coming. We remember his first coming into the world as a baby. And as we prepare for the coming of the infant Jesus, we are actually preparing for his second coming as the Ruler for all eternity.
This is a video I recorded on March 4, 2010 while touring Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We were very fortunate to hear the cantor and chorus rehearsing the deggua or “church song” in the cathedral. The video also shows the beautiful stained glass windows and the tomb of Haile Selassie.
The sacred music of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is very old. The hymnary is attributed to Saint Yared, a scholar who lived in Aksum in the 6th century. This is perhaps the most astonishing thing about our journey toward adoption because Deacon’s “finding place” was in front of Saint Yared Music School in Addis Ababa in 2006. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my profession/livelihood/calling happens to be church music and that is where Deacon was found! That news was an epiphany for me. Just as God had used music in my life to bring me into the faith and into a relationship with Him as an adopted son, God used a music school to make me a father and teach me about faith, love, and hope.
Learn more about Trinity Cathedral HERE. Learn more about Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgy HERE.