By Catherine Tsounis
“We are on a pilgrimage going to Pasha. Everything is old. The Greek is Ancient and Byzantine. The Orthodox Church Service is in scriptural text. The Bible is our ethos: a descendent of two millennium of the mystery of Christ,” said Rev. Father John Anthony McGuckin, retreat master. This extraordinary religious event took place on the East End of Long Island at the 11th Annual Adult Zoullas Lenten Retreat of the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Orthodox Christian Church of Southampton, NY.
The Retreat was held from Friday, March 5th, Saturday, March 6th through Sunday, March 7th. The itinerary included: Friday, March 5, 6 – 7:30 pm, Salutations Service to the Panagia, 7:45 – 8 pm Session I, “The Path to the Cross” by Rev. John McGuckin, and 8:30- 9:30 pm Lenten Dinner and Discussion; Saturday, March 6, 10 – 10:30 am Orthros (Morning Prayers), 10:30 – 12:30 Icon Painting Workshop by Eileen McGuckin, 12:30 – 1:30 pm Agape Fellowship Lunch, 1:30-4:00 p.m. Icon Painting Workshop by Eileen McGuckin; Sunday, March 7, 9 – 10 am Orthros, 10 – 11:30 am Divine Liturgy, Sermon by Rev. John McGuckin and 12 noon – 1 pm Agape Fellowship Hour.
“One can go on the internet and see links describing the literary works of Rev. McGuckin,” said Ray John Bradbrook, who introduced the retreat master. “Father John is English like myself. We began as Irish Catholics and are now Orthodox Christians. Our speaker tonight is taking us on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.” Mr. Bradbrook upon retirement, came to the United States. He has found his love for the United States and embraced the Eastern Orthodox religion. A talented and humbe man, Bradbrook is an international writer of many fields. His intellectual introduction set the background for a unique presentation By Father John McGuckin with Modern and Byzantine Greek language texts.
“Mystery is a Greek word from the word mysterion, meaning silence or that is kept secret,” said Father John. “Easter is the silence and pondering of the mind. The heart understands what the mind ponders. There are many ways to go on our pilgrimage for Easter. It is a lonely road of Anabasis (to go up) and Katabasis (going down). The Liturgy of Pasha is like those mysteries of Ancient Greek plays. Christ has a Katabasis of stepping down and emptying himself out and the Anabasis of stepping up or exultation. These two themes were built by the Evangelist John in his Bible. St. John says “the son of man will go up and go down. The mystery of Pasha is the exultation of Christ and the horrible bending down as seen in his crucifixion on the cross. That is why we have the icon of the cross. The son of man was glorified by the betrayal of Judas as a great mystery.”
Afterwards at the Friday dinner, Father John said “Modern day Psychology should have more of the Greek Philosophy of Socrates and Aristotle to be more effective. I am Irish, a storyteller. I end my presentations with a story.” Father John’s love of Hellenism and the Greek language is explained in the brilliant essay “The Religious Quest as a Preparation for Christianity” by Rev. Demetrios J. Constantelos.
The Greek Orthodox theologian states “the theory that Jesus came from a Hellenized area and that the Hellenization of his message explained its universal appeal finds new support in modern biblical and archeological scholarship. There is evidence now that the Judaism of Lower Galilee was far more open to the Hellenizing influence of coastal cities than Upper Galilee. Greek as the dominant language of Judaism at the time of Jesus, the change of the Jewish attitude toward iconography, the extent of Greek culture of various kinds in Palestine,………, and the kind of Jewish life in the Greco-Roman world reveal the type of Judaism represented by Jesus, His apostles including Saint Paul, and the New Testament writers, most of whom were Hellenized Jews. There is no doubt that by the first century, Judaism as a whole had been deeply influenced by the Greco-Roman world. The Pharisees as a class have been described, with much reason, “as the acute Hellenization of Judaism. This does not mean, however, that Jesus, Paul, John, and the early Christians were not within Judaism. It only confirms that Christianity was born within a Hellenized Judaism.” In a traditional Modern Greek education in America, students in Greek American Parochial Schools are taught the Greek of Jesus in addition to hearing it in the Sunday Liturgy.
Through his retreat, Father John McGuckin gave all a pleasant smile, with humility. “My Father and Grandfather fought in WWI and WWII. Our family is Irish from Scotland,” he said. “The Irish have a lot in common with Greeks. Our Celtic tribe is descended from Scythia on the Black Sea coast near the Pontion Greeks.” One of his Theology Doctoral students at Columbia University is Rev. George Zugravu, who suffered for keeping his Orthodox Faith in Communist Romania. The former Queens, New York resident is a Greek Orthodox priest, serving as Dean of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Hartford, Connecticut. Father Zugravu is a graduate of Modern Greek language classes at St. John’s University in Queens.
John Poulos, a dedicated Kimisis Tis Theotokou Orthodox Christian Church of the Hamptons said “this lecture inspired us.” Parish Council President Dimitrios Hatgistavrou, believes “Father John is a moving retreat master. I thank Mr. Nicholas Zoullas for making this spiritual event possible. We would not have these lectures without his generosity.” Nicholas Zoullas created the lecture series in memory of his parents, Socrates and Louisa. The Zoullas’, who are now deceased, were philanthropists in Athens, during the German occupation of WWII. They opened soup kitchens to save their starving compatriots. They worked behind the scenes in their Southampton community, helping Southampton Hospital and the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Orthodox Christian Church.
Dr. Peter Michalos, renowned physician and expert on Hellenism, added “it was an honor to have a leading theologian with impeccable credentials, who is from Columbia University. His writings bring light to some very important aspects of Orthodox Christianity with unique and insightful depth. His presentation of the symbolism of the cross was very dynamic. It brought a unique perspective of the life of Jesus and how God became man and paved the path of our salvation.
The Icon Painting Workshop by international iconographer Eileen McGuckin was an exceptional education experience. Everyone was taught from scratch to paint an icon of the crucified Christ on wood using acrylic paints. “I have been teaching for thirty years,” said Eileen, as she would like to be called. It showed. She managed to teach some one like myself, who can not draw a line, to paint an icon with gold leaf in Christ’s halo. “I love this icon of the Pantocrator drawn by Eileen,” said Stella Bradbrook, an Icon Workshop participant. This exceptional Christ Pantocrator icon, with a blue background, is from the ancient monastery of St. Katherine’s at Sinai, Egypt. “The bright circle around the head of Christ…is from the ancient roman manner of signifying the emperor in early Roman imperial art,” said Eileen. “Iconography, or the painting of Eastern Christian religious images, is a tradition that reaches back into ancient Hellenistic art. The term Icon is the Greek word for image……. The number of female martyr saints from the earliest generations of Christianity is a testimony to the exemplary role women. It has been a special them of my iconic art, as a woman, to throw light on the female witness to the Gospel across the centuries.”
A displayed book on “Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt” showed the Fayum portraits. They are in the Greco-Roman oil painting style that evolved into iconography. Eileen believes the “icon seeks to depict the body of those who have been transfigured in the next age. In Eastern, Christian theology, the icons are regarded as holy, conveying the mysterious presence of the saint they represent. They are points of prayer and mediation. The icon painter, in the Orthodox context, is synonymous with the theologian or preacher, making a sermon of light, a sacrament of color, in the service of the Christian Gospel. I am happy to stand in an ancient line: holding hands with the past and simultaneously reaching out to the future.” An exhibition of “Art works in the Spirit” will be held on March 26th, 2010 from 7-9 p.m. at St. James Chapel, Union Theological Seminary 3041, Broadway @21st St., New York City. For more information, email email@example.com.
The success of the Zoullas Lenten Retreat is the result of senior citizens and the business community working behind the scenes for free. Their generosity in keeping Orthodoxy and Hellenism in Eastern Long Island is legendary. They are the real heroes inspired by Protopresbyter Rev. Alexander Karloutsos.
http://www.kimisishamptons.ny.goarch.org/ – website of Kimisis Church.
http://www.sgtt.org/NewIconStudio/index_2.html – Eileen McGuckin’s Icon Studio.
http://www.sgtt.org –St. Gregory the Theologian Orthodox Chaplaincy.
http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8171 – “The Religious Quest as a Preparation for Christianity” by Rev. Demetrios J. Constantelos.