The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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At visit to St. Elias

October 2nd, 2010 · No Comments · culture, ritual

I went to the Mediterranean Fest at St. Elias Church, in downtown Austin, this evening. The food was awesome. The DJ rocked.

I got to tour the church. It is such a beautiful church, and such a jewel in the heart of this fine city. Roman churches are nice, but there’s something about the way the Greeks can cover the walls with art that is simply astonishing. I had to look at all of the icons again. They’re all so marvelously executed and provide so much context. Things that Protestant churches would never consider, like the death of Mary, the mother of Christ — Theotikos — are traditional subjects in Orthodox iconic representation. The gynormous Theotikos hovering over the holy of holies is a thing to behold.

Two icons surprised me, though. I hadn’t expected to see St. George, and there was another that I couldn’t recognize the name or symbology for. He had shaggy hair and a branch of apples — didn’t ring any bells. Several members of the St. Elias clergy were on hand to visit with guests and answer any questions folks might have. Naturally, I marched right up to one and asked him.

“So what’s the relevance of St. George to the Eastern Rite? Wasn’t he seen as an outsider?”

Turns out that the mythology of St. George was embraced by the Eastern church, and, as the Brother said, “he’s big ju-ju”. So there you go. I’ll have to spend some more time looking at the St. George cult. There’s clearly more there than I’d been giving it credit for.

For the other icon, I had to physically direct a Brother over to see which one I had been stumped by.

“Oh. That’s St. Euphrosynos, the Cook.” Like everyone knew who that one was.

“I see.” I said, not seeing. “So what’s his story?”

The Brother searched his recollection and found it absent. He called upon another brother.

“Do you know the story of St. Euphrosynos?”

“The cook?”

Beyond knowing his post, no one was able to divine the story. So I whipped out my phone to look up the name. The Brother near me apologized that his phone’s battery had given out, or he would have looked it up for me.

This blog post had a nice icon, and the standard story. Euphrosynos was an uneducated kitchen serf at a relatively famous monastery, but he was there a long time and eventually had earned some degree of seniority. One day, there was a discussion about some theological dispute that was presented to Euphrosynos for his illumination. He had no idea what they were talking about. Later, the abbot had a dream where Euphyrosynos was already present in the Kingdom of Heaven, and gave the abbot a branch of apples. When the abbot awoke, he had a branch of apples in his hand.


Another bit of entertainment came up simply by standing nearby while a Brother answered some pointed questions from a Roman Catholic about the authority and validity of the Eastern Rite. I give great credit to the man for being able to calmly handle a thousand-year-old theological conflict in a way that was still respectful and welcoming. To be sure, I was there to ask about “filioque” at the proper moment, so it was all very fun for me.

It was mostly nice to be able to appreciate the church in its setting. The building is small enough to convey the immediacy of divinity and the embrace of community. They kept the sensors burning and the choral music piped in. The place was palpably sacred, and it seemed like there was a lot of people who surprise themselves at discovering that.