St. Antony

Coptic icon of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the 3 angels at Mamre; dated AD 1497. An inscription along the bottom asks the Lord to remember an archpriest’s son named Antony.

My partner Elliot was recently in Egypt and brought me home a beautiful book of Coptic icons as a gift. (I took these photos from the icons in the book. So gorgeous! Thank you, Elliot!)

Although many saints from Egypt have played fundamental roles in establishing basic Christian understandings of God and Christ (such as SS. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria in the 4th and 5th centuries), another saint from Egypt has been nearly just as important: St. Antony, the first monk to found a monastic community. His life story, written down by St. Athanasius, has been said to have been nearly as popular as the New Testament and to have had nearly as big an impact on Western civilization.

Antony was not the first monk that we know of–that was St. Paul the hermit, who also lived in the Egyptian desert. But St. Antony was the first to establish a community of monks living in the desert. (There were also communities of nuns living in cities already when he went out into the desert for the first time.) There were soon thereafter huge “cities” of monks living in the deserts of Egypt and then across the Middle East and then across Western and Eastern Europe. The monastic centers that sprang up helped preserve ancient books and civilization and philosophy as well as spread Christian theology, literature, and liturgical practice.

St. Antony is the patron saint of butchers and pig farmers. His feast day, January 17, is an important date in Come Hell or High Water, Part 1: Wellspring.

In this chapter, a young man attempts to steal donations from a church in medieval Prague but it is the parish church of the butchers’ guild. The butchers find the young man and cut off his arm and hung it near the front door of the church as a warning to anyone who would attempt to steal from the church in the future. The arm is still hanging there in St. Jakub’s church, near the Old Town Square.

Coptic icon of Apostle Peter in the Coptic Museum (Egypt).

I Love You With All My…Kidneys?

Prometheus, whose liver was gnawed by an eagle, in “Prometheus Bound” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. The original painting is at Philly’s Museum of Art.

Nowadays, we think of our hearts as the center of our being.

“I love you with all my heart!”

“I give my heart to you!”

“I had a change of heart.”

“We need a heart-to-heart talk.”

“Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve!”

The Egyptians believed that the heart was the source of the soul and of memory, emotions, and personality. They thought that the heart would be weighed during judgement after death. So they preserved the heart during mummification but threw the brain away.

Syrians and the Arabs viewed the liver as the center of inner life. But in Hebrew tradition, kidneys were considered to be the most important internal organs along with the heart. In the Old Testament, the kidneys were associated with the most inner stirrings of emotional life. Kidneys were also viewed as the seat of the secret thoughts of the human; they are used as an omen metaphor, as a metaphor for moral discernment, for reflection and inspiration. There is also reference to the kidneys as the site of divine punishment for misdemeanors, particularly in the book of Job (whose suffering and ailments are legendary). In the first vernacular versions of the Bible in English, the translators elected to use the term “reins” instead of kidneys in differentiating the metaphoric uses of human kidneys from that of their mention as anatomic organs of sacrificial animals burned at the altar. In the Old Testament, the kidneys thus are primarily used as metaphor for the core of the person, for the area of greatest vulnerability.

The UK’s first donor kidney transplant was performed on October 30 at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Britain’s first kidney transplant was performed by Sir Michael Woodruff. As with the world’s first kidney transplant, the operation takes place between identical twins, reducing the chances of rejection.

Hannukah in August?

Statue of Moses by Michelangelo, in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. The relics of the Maccabees were kept in this same church.

The veneration of the Maccabean martyrs is unique in the Judeo-Christian tradition: they are the only martyrs commemorated by Jews and Christians alike. The seventh chapter of the Second Book of Maccabees (in the Old Testament) tells the story of seven faithful Jewish brothers who maintained their fidelity to the Law of God in the face of persecution during the tyranny of Antiochus IV in the second century B.C. The New Testament book of Hebrews commends these martyrs of Maccabees as exemplars of living faith (Heb 11:35).

These seven Jewish brothers and their mother were arrested and ordered to eat the un-kosher flesh of a pig. The horrific murder of these Maccabean martyrs was so terrible and gruesome that we derived an English word from it—-macabre.

The festival of Hanukkah in December celebrates the revolt led by the Maccabees against the Syrian emperor Antiochus IV. Christians have long commemorated the Maccabees on August 1 and the relics of the 7 Maccabee brothers, with their mother and teacher were long kept in the Church of St. Peter’s Chains (Rome). The relics were sent to Germany to be housed in a church in Cologne (the same city where the relics of the Magi are kept); evidently the Maccabean relics had been kept in Cologne before they had been sent to Rome.

By keeping the Maccabean relics and the statue of Moses in the Church of St. Peter’s Chains, we can see the connection between the Law of Moses and those Maccabean martyrs who died for refusing to abandon that Law. Even more, their memory is joined with the imprisonment and eventual martyrdom of the Apostle Peter. (We know that the festival of Hanukkah was still fairly new in the first century AD but that Jesus celebrated it with the apostles in John 10:22-23.)

You can find a very interesting article (in German!) here about the relics of the Maccabees that includes close-up photos of the golden reliquary which contains their bones. (If you open the page using Chrome, it will offer to translate the page for you–I want to thank my daughter Rebekah for teaching me that trick!)

The reliquary itself is fascinating. It was apparently made in 1500; it is a wooden box in the form of a church, covered with gilded copper plates. The walls of the shrine and top portions are composed of 40 scenes in which the story of the Maccabee brothers and their mother is placed in parallel with the suffering of Christ and His mother Mary. One of the most obvious examples is the contrast of the flagellation of the Maccabee brothers and the flagellation of Jesus. On the front of the shrine is the Coronation of Mary and the Coronation of the Maccabees, while on the back the Ascension of Christ is depicted with the heavenly glorification of the Maccabees.

The shrine for the Maccabees’ relics in St. Andrew’s Church (Cologne, Germany).