Foundation for the Biblical Arts

In sight of Truth Beauty and Goodness

In His Arms, Her Soul a Babe

This piece of art communicates a powerful idea: the immensity of God, His mystery, His wondrous ways, and the tenderness of His Grace – it is overwhelming…

by: Jeff LeFever

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Below the beautifully mosaicked Abbey of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (Haggia Maria Sion Abbey), on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, is a crypt claimed to be the spot where the Virgin Mary fell asleep for the last time. There is a statue of Miriam sleeping in peace, and on the dome above her a mosaic of Christ and six epic biblical ladies.

But it is the mural at one of the altars that stops me in my tracks. It depicts the Virgin’s Koimesis, or “falling asleep in death.” Not being Orthodox, I had not seen this idea before now.

Miriam lies still, attended to by the apostles.

Christ stands above her.

Just as Miriam bore the infant Christ, Christ now carries her soul, portrayed as an infant, in his arms.

“The Mother of God is now, as she has always been, His daughter.”

Or put another way, “the Son of God’s Mother is His daughter.”

I put these ideas in quotes as something for you to absorb just below the consciousness of literalism – to consider the paradox. Just as Jesus is before Abram was born (John 8:58), Mary’s son is her heavenly father, and it is He who comes to carry her home.

“…to confound the wise”

Twice in Jerusalem I was theologically struck with LARGE, mystical thoughts about the mystery of God that demand contemplation. Both times the ideas were bound around Miriam’s relationship with God.

The first time was in the Armenian Cathedral, St. James. I was left wondering, “What does a person do with the rest of her life after she has birthed the Messiah, the savior of the world?” That’s a responsibility like no other, for this is no ordinary child. Think about it. God consecrated Mary’s womb and lived there for nine months.

God is the Father to Miriam’s impregnation of Himself incarnate, which suggests He is the Father and the Son and the Spirit which came upon her. This Jerusalem mosaic illustrates to me this notion that He is the creator of Mary’s soul, a soul now swaddled in His arms as a child, and safeguarded to Spiritual Heaven.

A shudder goes up my spine, and I need to sit down.

This piece of art communicates a powerful idea of the immensity of God, His mystery, His wondrous ways, and the tenderness of His Grace. Considering God this way is overwhelming. Perhaps this is the proper perspective…

~ JWL


Some external links with more on the Virgin’s Koimesis

Chora Museum (İstanbul)

Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Google Books) The Glory of Byzantium: ‪Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261

Icons (University of Dayton)

 

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