Monday, December 21, 2015
Virgin Mary Icon, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
Prayer Candles, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
We entered the Church of the Nativity through the main Door of Humility. Our guide informed us that the stone entrance had been reduced to a height requiring one to bend over centuries ago so that crusaders would no longer enter on horseback. As we ventured into this dimly lit large expanse of interior space it was apparent that maintaining this aging sixth century limestone structure was a never-ending project. Constantine and his mother St. Helena had commissioned the original church to be built over the cave where evidence suggested that Mary had given birth to Jesus. When this church was destroyed by Justinian in 530 AD, a larger church was built and remains today. The Persians spared this church during their invasion in 614 AD because they were impressed by a large representation of the Magi who were also Persians.
As we approached the narrow stone stairway leading down to Jesus’ birthplace we paused near an Armenian altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary. History notes that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion in 301 AD. A very ornate icon of Mary and child was placed next to the elaborate altar. A stand of lit candles was situated nearby. Lighting candles as worshipers enter a church is an important expression of the Light of the World who entered the world in this place to dispel the darkness. It is also customary to light a candle to venerate icons, showing respect and reverence for the subject of the icon. Candles are also lit to honor a saint, commemorate a deceased loved one and extend prayers.
I took the time to photograph the unique icon and the lighted candles that pilgrims had placed nearby in this dimly lit cavernous cathedral. The lighting was very poor and what lighting existed randomly reflected off the icon. But something spiritual and ageless beckoned me to these images like a moth to a fire. As I was reviewing my photos today and zooming in on the dark background, an image beyond the flickering candle flames caught my eye. Somehow in the dark room my camera had captured the image of what appears to be a woman wearing a black hijab present in the photo. I don’t recall noticing her at the time as I was literally focused on the candles, but the image of her face blended into the darkness beyond the smokey candle light creates a very ethereal scene.
--John 8:12, 2 COR 4:6