Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Forerunner

I bumped into this icon recently at Charleston Vocations:


Look at all that cryptic writing at the top...what does it say?

I like to translate as much icon Greek as I can just for the exercise. Because I use icons and other Greek art in Sunday School, I have to know what they say: the kids always ask about the funny marks. And it's good for Catholic kids to get a little exposure to Greek beyond Κύριε ἐλέησον*. The Greek on this icon is too fussy for 6th-graders; but not for you grownups, so let's have a look. 

On the upper left of this icon is a typical abbreviation, OA IO: O Agios Ioannis/  O Άγιος Ιωάννης/ The Holy (sanctus, saint) John (ω is lower-case Ω, O-mega, 'big O'). Now for the right...uh-oh...Led Zeppelin's glyph** ? It doesn't even look like Greek. But it pays to be M or Y...above that, a D/Δ or an L/Λ. Then...R/P...P/Π...O...S/ς.  Ha! O Pródromos, the Forerunner! But it's as much a puzzle as an abbreviation. The M (not a Y) overlays the P; the D (not an L) sits on top of them. R and O have to be pronounced twice: once in PRO, then in DRO. So the whole icon reads O Άγιος Ιωάννης O Πρόδρομος, Saint John the Forerunner. The West would never have made it so complicated- or so artful.

There are apparently some traditional limits as to how far an iconographer can go in playing with the letters. This recent icon by Efrem Carrasco is very similar, but not identical:

This very old mosaic in Hagia Sophia is more conservative, although it still is free with the letter arrangement. Maybe in Justinian's day the idea of letters-as-art wasn't so advanced.

Another mosaic, this one in Thessaloniki; not like the others, in that a single O does triple duty (pro-dro-mos) but still on the same page, so to speak:

But I'm happy that iconographers can still just spell it all out if they are so moved. Here's a recent work by Ελισάβετ-Ειρήνη Μιχαηλίδου (Elisabet-Irene Mikhailidou): like St. Lucy having her gouged-out eyes in her head and on a plate at the same time, martyred John is both decapitated and intact.

And all the words have all their letters. O AGIOS IOANNIS / O PRO...DROMOS, The Holy John / The Forerunner. As we say in the South: Thank Ya, Jesus, I can read!

*Kyrie eleison

**For those too young to know:

Friday, August 24, 2012

Der Großartige

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

That je-ne-sais-quoi Upper-Rhine look

I like to guess where German-language surnames come from. Living in America, I bump into unfamiliar German names regularly; based on a surname's look and sound I sometimes can suss out where someone's ancestors came from in Germany (or Austria), where they settled in America, and at about what time.

Germany didn't exist as a unified political entity before 1871. By that late date, its agglomeration of kingdoms, marches, duchies, baronies, counties, free-states, and free-cities had for centuries possessed their own identities, dialects, literature, architecture, and last names. I expect it's no mystery to Germans whence their surnames originate, but for me it can be tough.

nobody could stuff all that into one sausage

So today at the bank, my deposit was handled by a Mrs. Deiwert. Never heard of Deiwert before. Didn't sound Colonial, e.g., from Pennsylvania; not from Louisiana's German Coast; didn't sound postwar; maybe it's an Ohio River valley name, 1850-ish. Yep, her husband is from south Indiana. Then I supposed the name came from the Upper Rhine, which was a reach.

But this afternoon while searching online for Deiwert I bumped into this terrific site: Karte zum Namen, i.e., Map of Names. You just type in a surname, and using Germany's telephone data, you're shown a map of the name's distribution. Turns out Deiwert is a very uncommon name, found in one small district, Schwäbisch Hall.

 3 phone numbers in the whole country for Deiwert

Schwäbisch Hall lies on the Kocher River; which flows into the Neckar; which flows into...the Upper Rhine. So there.

The net can be such a blessing: I love having the data at my fingertips.
The net can be such a curse: I'll miss the thrill of guessing.

* Der Großartige: the greatest, the most terrific.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I Don't Care Anymore

The Catechetical season begins again in a couple of weeks...let me catalog a few of the things that discourage catechists year after year:

The parents aren't "their child's primary catechist."

They only care about getting the kids over the sacramental hurdles.

They will let their kids miss a class or two...some classes....most classes.

The kids don't know the faith very well...or at all.

They don't get taken to Mass regularly...if at all.

They haven't been to Confession since 1st Communion.

They don't like to come to class.

They are tired after a day of school.

They won't do any homework.

The classroom layout doesn't suit me.


I don't care anymore about any of that because I can't do anything about any of it.


I have the support of my DRE.

And I have the kids for 28 hours this year if they are brought to every class. 28 hours is practically an eternity.

And if they only come to a few classes- then I have them for those classes. I can plant several mustard seeds in an hour.

As Marshal Foch said at the Marne: "Pressé fortement sur ma droite, mon centre cède, impossible de me mouvoir, situation excellente, j'attaque." [Pressed hard on my right; my center yields; impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent, I shall attack.]

And as James Brown sang pretty much all the time: I Feel Good.

So bring on a new year, 'cause like the apostles at Pentecost, I am fired-up again.

P.S. Of course my gripes don't describe all the parents or children.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Greenville-Ephrathah 8: New Evangelization

In the Grey Building on the Left

One of the themes that I draw out of the New Evangelization thing is that ya can't sit around whinin' about why Faddah a Sistah ain't takin' care a dis a dat. That is, lay Catholics have to take responsibility on their own initiative, without the hierarchy having to pre-plan and hand-hold. Here's a nice recent example of what I'm talking about:

For a few years, there have been informal lunch circles among Catholic men [both lay and clergy] here. But last week one of my KofC brothers sent out an email to all the Catholic men he knew who did that sort of thing to come to one place for lunch on a given day. Here's the edited text of the email:

"Once a month Catholic men from around Greenville, especially the ones that work close or can make it for lunch downtown will be meeting for some lunch and fellowship. No sharing of feelings needed just come and shoot the breeze, meet some fellow Catholic men and practice being Catholic. This will be a great time to meet some new guys and foster some old friendships.

There are no rules, just a couple of suggestions. Keep the talk charitable and business (work related, business schemes, money making ventures) should be conducted at other times.

Please, I hope you guys can support this. The following bulletin column should be in all the local Parish bulletins soon.


We are starting a monthly Catholic Men's Fellowship Lunch for the Greenville area. The hope is that it will bring Catholic men together and help build up and strengthen our local Catholic community. Our hope is to foster some small groups to meet at lunch in between our monthly lunch that will study scripture and our deep and rich faith. This is not a replacement to any of the current groups already meeting in your parish but a broader outreach to all the Catholic men in our community as one Church. We will send an invite to all respondents the Monday before the lunch as a reminder. Our plan is to rotate the restaurant to other downtown Catholic-owned establishments based on our turnout and who is willing to host. We appreciate any help and most importantly all the prayers you can provide. Hopefully, we will see you there."

28 showed up that first time. Not bad.

BTW this ties in with Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell, which I expect to be reviewing presently.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Γένεσης 2:20+

"The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; 22 and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."

  "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed."

I remember when this shot was on the cover of Rolling Stone; never really understood why John was so bonkers over Yoko. But then I got married, and now I understand these images perfectly. Because this is how Marc Chagall and I feel about our wives too.

both photos by Annie Leibovitz