Today marks the 4th birthday that has come since Theresa was born into eternity. We attended the Divine Liturgy at St. Stephen’s in Phoenix sitting no more than 1,000 feet from the place where we buried Theresa.
As I sat in church my eyes went back and forth between the following icons: The Platytera behind the Altar, The Theotokos and The Pantocrator. Each one of these held my attention and wonderment at times during the Liturgy.
The Platytera depicts the Mother of God with the child Jesus (sometimes pictured in the womb) in front of her with his arms outstretched in blessing. Before the Liturgy began I asked Ryan if he was going to light a candle for his mom as today would have been her birthday. He seemed surprised by it and thought it was another day. In many ways that is great progress that these days are not at the forefront of his mind. Looking at that icon and wondering how Mary dealt with the joy of being Theotokos and the sadness of seeing her Son crucified on Calvary. It made we wonder if Ryan’s Mom experienced joy and sadness today on what would have been her 48th birthday. The joy of finally having a child and seeing him grow for 10 years, offset with the sadness of not being here to see him continue to grow and flourish.
The Icon of The Holy Theotokos always sits on the left side of the Iconostasis, immediately next to the Royal Doors. She is always depicted with Jesus in her arms, wit her hands pointing to Him. There is much meaning to this icon and it’s placement on the iconostasis. Jesus took his flesh from her flesh, his blood and dna from her. She was the first to hold Him, feed Him, comfort Him when He was hurt or sad, rejoice with Him when he did something good and give Him back to the Father when His hour came. She was given a new role as Mother of the Church. This icon made me think of all that has happened to Ryan in his 13 years. His Mom was the first to hold him, feed him, rejoice and cry with him and when the time came for her to return to the Father, to put her trust in the Trinity that Ryan would be taken care of.
Mary became Mother to the Church and to all the faithful. She did not give birth to the church or the faithful, yet we call her our Mother. In the same way, Jennie did not give birth to Ryan, yet she has become his mother here on earth. And like the Theotokos who rejoices in, weeps with, prays for and assists her children on earth, Jennie does all that for Ryan. The model of Christian motherhood is found and must make both Mary and Theresa rejoice.
Finally, there was the icon of the Pantocrator. This icon is to the right of the Royal Doors and finalizes the symbolism of the Theotkos on the left, the Royal Doors and the Pantocrator on the right. When you look at the iconostasis and see Jesus depicted as a child in his Mother’s arms you are reminded of the first coming of Christ. The Royal doors represents the time we are in now, that being the time between the first coming and the second coming. Jesus came the first time as a child. The Pantocrator shows Jesus coming as judge of the living and the dead. If you look closely at the eyes you will see on glaring at you and the other looking over your shoulder. The right eye, above the hand that is blessing, is an eye with a merciful gaze. The left eye, above the book of the Gospels, is a judgement eye gazing sharply. One is able to cover part of His face and see judgement, while covering the other part you see mercy.
As the priest gave his homily today, he spoke on the primary role of married people. That is, your responsibility is to do what is necessary to get your spouse into the Kingdom of God. And by extension, to get your children into the Kingdom. I feel with all my being that this goal was accomplished for Ryan’s mom. The day before her death she was visited by two priests, both who provided her was the Anointing of the Sick and with her final communion. There is no greater grace than to die in the arms of the Church. Since that time I have embarked on a new journey, with a new mission to get Jennifer Cullen to the Kingdom as well. Looking at the Pantocrator makes me happy and scared. We pray in our Liturgy: “for a Christian, painless, unashamed peaceful end of our life and for a good account before the fearsome judgement seat of Christ….”. Happy that we’ve been given a wonderful gift of a wife and mother in Jennie and scared in taking on the awesome responsibility of getting her to the Kingdom.
Sitting in St. Stephens, experiencing the moment when God’s time (Kairos) touches our time (Chronos) and wondering what the day that would have been the 48th birthday was like in the Kingdom. I’m sure that it is good, tasting and seeing all that the Lord has made and beholding a beauty that can not be understood in our world. Until that time when we are called to give an account before the fearsome judgement seat, we ask for intercessory prayers through the Theotokos, all the saints known and unknown and especially for intercession by the one whose birthday would have been today.
Glory to Jesus Christ and Memory Eternal!