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Dear Sirs and Madams,
The Sermon on the Mount and more specifically Beatitudes are of utmost importance regarding their position and content in the book of New Testament.
Being a loyal supporter of the opinion that pictures constitute a book for the illiterate –a picture is worth a thousand words-I decided to paint the Beatitudes.
Without having profound theological knowledge and following only the analyses of Fathers of Church, I worked on wood using traditional materials. The result consists of three paintings that make up an entity. The big painting on which the two smaller pieces lie is 2 meters long and 1,50 meters wide. The two smaller pieces of wood are cut into the shape of an open book (70:100 each) and portray the five levels on which the Beatitudes are narrated.
According to Grigorios Palamas, these words by God are way better compared to the Ten Commandments. The Beatitudes have been studied and experienced with special zeal in the Orthodox asceticism, acting as landmarks for our purgation and connection with God.
The start of Jesus’ action in Galilee is recorded by Matthew and constitutes the first detailed Christian teaching-an epitome of teaching according to the ancient literature.
The Beatitudes are addressed to everybody:”…from Galilee and Dekapolis, Jerusalem and Judea and far beyond the river Jordan” (Matthew,4,25).
Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount announces the way people should live and behave, placing this way the concept of justice as professed by the scribes and Pharisees in second position. The donation of God’s grace will be the reward for all those who will follow His Words, as holy Chrysostom says :”the foundations of our new country are laid “(Chrysostom in To Matthew, 15-1).
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
He refers to all those who feel poor-the beggars for God’s love and Mercy. In my effort to portray the deeper meaning of this Beatitude I chose to place in the centre of the painting the icon of “Utmost Humiliation” as a luminous reminder to the audience while on the right and left side the concept of vanity – egotism is depicted in the form of two mountains that each one of us has to climb and overcome. Above the icon of “Utmost Humiliation” in a glorious atmosphere, the slaughtered Sheep ( The Apocalypse) reminds us of heavenly Jerusalem and the future century. On the left side, St Grigorios Nissis is portrayed and in his manuscript we can read “the one who shows humbleness of his own free will”.On the right side, death can be seen holding a sandglass(symbol of time),while a dolphin is tangled up in his cloak (symbol of soul). Conclusively, this first synthesis can be interpreted as such: whoever manages to overcome the mountains of vanity will relish Holy Enlightenment and conquer future life.
“Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted”.
Apparently, this Beatitude refers to all those who mourn over their sins. Holy Chrysostom stresses that Jesus did not use the word sad but mourner, and their reward starts from the present times and has future prospects (eschatological promise). Grigorios Nissis points out that the remedy for sin is the sorrow which comes from repentance (Gr. Nissis, Beatitudes, 3,2).With a view to conveying both the present and eschatological concept, I placed in the centre God , in glorious atmosphere, while in a gloomy, dark landscape (symbol of human sins) human figures have gathered. They are all those who realize their sins and seek salvation in the Holy Word. Gathered around God they create somehow a second glory which comes from the Divine Enlightenment over the mourners’ souls.
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”.
According to the Holy Chrysostom, in this Beatitude the blending of the spiritual and tangible elements takes place. The meek-the placid and not the arrogant or the impudent will inherit the Promised Land.
In order to portray exactly this idea I painted a peaceful landscape-the plain in the background-which is clothed with sheets of gold, representing the celestial Kingdom of God. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled”.
Τhe hunger and the thirst of all those who look for Divine justice and the rule of law in this world are the elements that constitute them blissful and blessed by God himself. In the revealing thoughts of Christ’s times, justice refers to people’s vindication during the Last Judgement. The reward given once again here is, above all, eschatological. In this Beatitude the prevalence of justice in the world has universal and at the same time eschatological meaning. In this Beatitude, Holy Chrysostom regards virtue as the main characteristic of each Christian, a characteristic for which he has to fight constantly if he wants to conquer it.
In order to convey the meaning of Christ’s words in painting, I placed on the left side of the icon Christ talking to the Samaritan woman. She is standing near the well being perplexed and wondering about the water He is mentioning. In the centre and on the right side in a grey background (gloomy, earthly reality) I painted people who suffer from the hardships of life looking forward to the sky and begging for help. A cloud with angels is coming to their help bringing water and bread from heaven (as a reminder of the water and bread that were given to Elias by the angel).The synthesis is completed with the figure of an angel in the centre who is carrying the soul of a blessed one in the bosom of God.
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy”.
Mercy and compassion are of the main God’s characteristics. This Beatitude invites people to altruism and sympathy for the fellowman, since mercy is the sympathy out of love for all those who suffer (John Chrysostom in to Matthew,15,3),(Grigorios Nissis-Beatitudes,5,3).
The parable of the rich man, who was obsessed with accumulating wealth without showing any mercy was placed on the left part of the painting. The angel of death cuts the thread of his life, reminding the audience of the vanity of this world. On the right, in contrast, the parable of the good Samaritan suggests the correct behavior towards our neighbor. In the centre, between these two representations, we can the manuscript pointing out: “Charity is the queen of all virtues.” (John Chrysostom)
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”.
The purity of heart characterizes the man of integrity. It is this characteristic that will lead him to the Kingdom of God in the Second Advent. Thus, whoever purifies his heart from any malicious feelings, will see the picture of the Divine Nature. For this reason, Saint Grigorios Nissis encourages us to become blessed through our pure heart.
So as to portray the specific Beatitude according to the interpretation given by Grigorios Nissis I painted the holy icon of the Transfiguration of the Savior. On the right and left side of Christ, Moses and Elias stand on two mountains (symbols of spiritual toil and elevation) and bow before God, forming ,in this way, an imaginary arch –the perfect circle of great beyond. At the foot of the mountain, the three disciples, shocked and on their knees experience the Transfiguration and become the undeniable witnesses of the Divine Majesty. In this painting Christ’s genealogy is testified by his Father’s mouth(Loukas,9,33-35). The synthesis is completed by the figures of St Grigorios Palamas and Evangelist Luke who are holding the manuscripts which comment on the fact that the Divine Light, in Transfiguration, was not simply perceptible by means of eyes but with the intervention of Holy Spirit. “No one has ever seen God”. (John, 1-18 Δ)
“Blessed are the peacemakers for righteousness sake for they shall be called the children of God.”
Christ invites his disciples and his audience to practise actively so as to achieve peace, which in its entirety comes from God and its perfection will be materialized only in the Kingdom of Heaven. The Pacifiers will be named God’s children in the Last Judgement . St. Grigorios Nissis points out: The desire to love your fellow-man eliminates all those feelings of hatred, anger, envy, resentment, hypocricy and last but not least the bellicose attitude. All these deadly sins are tempered only with love (Gr.Nissis, The Beatitudes, 6,4-6,6). St Peter Damaskinos considers this to be the last Beatitude because it compares the negative feelings that are caused by the lack of peace in the people with the seven charismas of the Holy Spirit (Petros Damaskinos, Book B’, Speech θ’- Love of Beauty of Holy Niptikos).However, who could be characterized as pacifier owing to his way of life? Who are those who try hard to dismiss all these negative feelings? The monks, all those people who decide to lead monastic life and imitate angels’ calmness. Therefore, I painted on the right the Holy Mount with monks praying earnestly, while on the left the Staircase to Heaven ( from St John Sinaitis’ book which contains secrets which can help people in their effort to eliminate their passions and harvest virtues). This representation does not only refer to life after death, but to the bliss of present life as well, in participation with God and the fellow-man
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus with this Beatitude speaks about another kind of justice beyond the one that the Scribes and Pharisees declare. He speaks about God’s justice and the prevalence of God’s will, while he describes, in a way, the atrocities that will take place to the detriment of Christians by the pagan world and The Jewish clergy. Grigorios Nissis in his Beatitudes (7,5) mentions “the imitators of Holy charity “ verifying that being persecuted because of your belief in God is bliss, given that this persecution will be the reason to reach virtue. The reward here is the same as the one in the first Beatitude: The persecuted will inherit God’s Kingdom.
In the centre of the painting, the figure of Christ on the cross is the dominant feature of the synthesis and is framed in black colour stressing in this way even more the martyrdom of Jesus Christ. On the left, we see Job’s suffering (Old Testament). Job admits before his old friends who criticize him sharply, that God is the only one who can judge his life. On the right, next to Christ on the Cross, there is the painting of Timios Prodromos (John the Baptist) and his suffering, and afterwards the palpable of the builder, who started his construction without taking into account the amount of materials he would need to complete his job (reminder to the audience that they must be aware of the strength of their soul). The representations on both sides of the crucifixion are surrounded with sheets of gold to show that all this suffering that the man has to endure in this world will lead his soul to the Kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.
The last Beatitude is closely associated with the previous one and, in a way, it goes on to elaborate on that. In this Beatitude, Love of the Holy Trinity of God to those who died martyrs to their faith, is highlighted.
In order to depict these words in painting I used the following representations: In the centre of this synthesis, Christ on Cross is once again the main feature , since its big size takes up most of the central part of both this and the previous syntheses. The black colour which surrounds the cross is restricted by a cloud with angels and the manuscript which bears the Beatitude. On the right and left side, the two Apostles Peter and Paul stand, while in their unfolded manuscripts we can read in Peter’s : “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (α Epistle, 4-13) whereas in Paul: “…..On the left side, we can see the three holy children into the fiery furnace, while on the right side a cloud with angels is crowned with God’s angel. The festive announcement of the Beatitude was portrayed on the last part of the painting: In a glorious atmosphere which prevails in the infinity, three angels are holding the manuscript which bears the festive message (Rejoice and be glad).
In place of conclusion, I will refer to the symbolism which takes place in the centre and in the biggest part of the wood which is used as base: I borrowed the symbolism of “the woman surrounded by the sun…” (12th chapter) from John’s Apocalypse and the interpretation given in the book by the archbishop of Ceasaria and Kappadocia, Aretha (10th century,vol.Z, translation by Farmakidis-Athens 1845). The symbolism refers to Virgin Mary and the Church that in her ship and with Jesus Christ as the captain, she leads us to the opposite side in safety.