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19th century

The Virgin of the Burning Bush

Egg tempera on wood, silver laquered ground
3/4 x 12 1/4 inches


"...As the bush was burning but not consumed, so didst thou give birth while yet a Virgin" (Oktoechos, Theotokian from the Second Tome).
In Eastern Orthodoxy a tradition exists, that the flame Moses saw was in fact God's Uncreated Energies/Glory. these Uncreated Energies/Glory, which are considered to be eternal things; the Orthodox definition of salvation is this vision of the Uncreated Energies/Glory, and it is a recurring theme in the works of Greek Orthodox theologians such as Romanides. In the Madonna of the Burning Bush, the Virgin and her Son are pictured within a star with eight flames or points (symbolizing the bush) and enclosed in a cloud. This multi-rayed star is refracted into a multicolored hierarchy of angels gathered around the Mother and Child. The implication is that the angels rule the earthy elements through her, the Queen of Angels. Minor angels, who are the dispensers of the natural elements, are sometimes named with their inscriptions (e.g, Angel of thunder and lightening; Angel of rainbows and clouds; Angels of dew and hoarfrost, etc.) On the edges of the flames are the Archangels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim. In every Byzantine Liturgy the hymn is sung: "More honorable than the Cheribum, more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, thee, who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, (Theotokos is the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ), thee do we magnify." In the aura of the Theotokos, every spirit has its own distinct color, but the single ray associated with the Mother of God, the flame that shines through her, unites in her the entire spiritual range of the heavenly spectrum. In her the Bush is the symbol of an embrace of the heavenly and earthly worlds, burning in a fire without being consumed.

Mary cannot be separated from the presence of God made flesh among us, inaugurated at her Fiat, brought to fullness at Pentecost, and now permeating and sanctifying creation. As a visible image of the Holy Spirit, she is revivified, deified human being, who manifests the fullness of the divine image in humanity carrying out the Holy Spirit's work of nurturing and sanctifying the world; that is, continuing to give life as it did on the first day of creation, when it 'brooded' over the face of the waters. The Spirit's work as a kind of mothering, brought to perfection in the perfect human mother. In Mary's womb there is a spaciousness ("Wider than the Heavens") as there is a spaciousness in her presence in the Church. In one of the canons which recount the mysteries of Mary, the faithful sing: "O Virgin, past understanding are thy wonders! Strange is the manner of thy birth, strange is the manner of thy growing. Strange and most marvelous are all things concerning thee…everything unutterable for humanity."
Feast days: September 4/17 and the sixth week after Easter.