Fifth Sunday of Lent – 18th March 2018

We continue our examination of the San Damiano Cross…

In the Bible, clothing generally reveals the true identity of a person. And so, the icon uses the symbolic language of clothing to demonstrate the vocation of the person.

The loincloth that Jesus is wearing is of linen with a gold border. Linen and gold were used for the Old Testament priestly vestments. The size of the loincloth was usually quite small. One of the prescriptions of Temple liturgy specified that the priest should not ascend the steps of the altar for fear of immodesty. It is a simple loincloth, Egyptian style, which in Hebrew is known as the ephod. Another passage in the Old Testament confirms the use of this small garment by the priests. We read of David exercising his priestly function: sacrificing before the Ark of the Covenant while wearing the ephod. In the Icon Jesus is depicted wearing a loincloth to show that he is both priest and sacrifice. We contemplate Jesus who fulfils to perfection both the priesthood of the Old Covenant and the temple sacrifice: he is both priest and the sacrifice, the Lamb of God

If we look carefully at Mary we can see running down her back and covering her hair, a great mantle of white. This mantle carries a three-fold message. In the first place it expresses the victory of fidelity to the Gospel: “The victor shall be clothed in white” Secondly, white vestments are a sign of the purification wrought by Christ. Justly Mary can be so clothed, she who from the beginning was preserved from every stain of sin. Thirdly, this vesture is a sign of the good works that God gives to the saints to accomplish, “Behold the wedding of the Lamb, His bride is ready and has been able to dress herself in dazzling white linen, because her linen is made of the good deeds of the saints” On the white mantle, although now faded, we would have seen a great number of precious stones arranged in rows, you can still see the markings, although not as impressive as when first painted, the jewels represent the divine favour with which Mary was and continues to be covered, according to the greeting of Gabriel “Rejoice, Full of Grace.” Under the great mantle, Mary wears a dark red vestment, practically burgundy in colour. Since red is the symbolic colour of love, dark red signifies intense love.  Finally, we see that Mary is wearing a purple tunic.  Purple reminds us that she is the Ark of the Covenant which bore the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. The interior of the ancient Ark of the Covenant was lined with purple.

Michael Hargreaves

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