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I’m Still A Trump Girl I Make No Apologies Shirt, hoodie, tank top

This 15th-century icon from Crete embodies this entire theology in artistic form. Jesus is literally represented as the grapevine, the fruitful plant rooted in the soil. The Biblical text shown in Greek directly below him quotes today’s Gospel. Grape leaves and bunches of grapes further identify the Biblical allusion, set on the traditional golden background (indicative of the heavenly). The plant’s tendrils sustain 14 persons: the Blessed Virgin Mary (on Jesus’ right) and St. John the Baptist (on his left), and assorted Apostles and Evangelists. The commentary linked above identifies those on Jesus’ right as (top to bottom): Peter, John, Mark, Andrew, Simon, and Thomas and, on Jesus’s left (top to bottom): Paul, Matthew, Luke, Bartholomew, James and Philip. It claims that the four Evangelists and St. Paul bear Gospel books, while the others hold scrolls. If these identifications are correct (I am unfamiliar with Eastern iconography), the text errs in speaking of the “12” Apostles. Mark, Luke and Paul are not part of that 12, while the second James and Jude (and Judas Iscariot, for obvious reasons) are left out. They could have been easily included and still maintained the symmetry of the icon. Could the intention have been to divide the “branches” into two groups of seven, seven being for the Hebrews a number of perfection? Perhaps, except that eight (perfection plus one) is also a Christian symbol of the fullness of eschatological perfection, e.G., the “eighth day” and so, arguably, could have included our two missing Apostles. (It’s one reason we liturgically have Octaves to the great Solemnities of Christmas and Easter).

The linked commentary also provides other illustrations of Cretan icons that depict the “True Vine” imagery and possible relations, e.G., Jesus’ genealogical “family trees.” The commentary also suggests that the icon discussed above may have originated around the time of the Council of Florence-Ferrara (1438-45), the last ecumenical council seriously to attempt ecumenical reunification between Catholics and Orthodox (and thus stressing the one Vine).

While I cannot say how frequently the “Vine” motif appears in its theological richness in religious art, its richness in theology and the spiritual life is apparent. As St. Paul reminded the “spiritual but not necessarily religious” seekers in the Athenian Areopagus, hedging their bets on an “altar to the unknown God” about which they didn’t want to know anything from St. Paul: “in him we live and move and have our being: (Acts 17:28) who makes us his “offspring” (v. 29). He’s not a passer-by. We must be part of him.

 

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