Friday, October 25, 2019

For All Saints Day and the Anniversary of the Reformation

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.         Acts 2:7-11

This passage of Holy Scripture has always intrigued me, but perhaps not in the way most would think. Sure, the list of ancient regions and nations is interesting, but what is most curious is the way the writer speaks of “we” and “them,” and with whom reader most closely associates.

Drawing detail. (Copyright © Edward Riojas)
On the one hand, through adoption we can certainly associate with the “we” and marvel that The Spirit was poured out on such a diverse and foreign crowd. The event was essentially an epic ‘outreach’ mission, but by the Lord Himself and not some silly human invention.

On the other hand, we are not at all the “we” of whom the writer speaks. In fact, Gentiles were not yet part of the equation – that would not happen in the narrative until later in the Book of Acts.

It is probably a good exercise, however, to occasionally insert ourselves, along with the rest of the world, into the passage in the stead of extinct places like Pontus and Pamphylia. For Lutherans of European stock, it allows us to see how large the world is, and how small we really are. We might read the same passage thus:

‘...How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Saxons and Thuringians and Bavarians and residents of Baden-W├╝rttenberg, Bavaria and Bremen...’

Yes, we were outsiders, too, but by God’s Grace considered worthy of the Kingdom, and ultimately heirs by adoption. What is more, we should remind ourselves that the Gospel was established in other places much earlier than Europe. Which brings us to Michael the Deacon.

In a curious event that is rarely discussed in Lutheran circles, Martin Luther once entertained  Michael the Deacon, of the then-Ethiopian Coptic Church, who traveled to Wittenberg to meet the Reformer. The two compared the Lutheran Mass and the Mass used by Ethiopian Orthodoxy and found that they were in agreement with each other. Michael even declared that Luther’s Articles of Faith were “a good creed.” Apparently, the Lutheran Church then extended full communion to the Ethiopian Church – a far cry from the goings-on in Rome. The consequences of that meeting may indeed have been more far-reaching than what history records.

What is also curious is the fact that there is no visual documentation of the meeting. Perhaps Lucas Cranach was on sabbatical. Maybe the artist was ill. What is more likely is that the meeting was so brief as to exclude time for a portrait sitting.

I found but one image online – and that was created but one year ago – commemorating the meeting. For years I have had the urge to recreate the event as a painting. For months now a drawing has been languishing on a drawing board, awaiting its final execution. Unfortunately, it will have to wait a bit longer as large projects pile up in front of me. I do think, however, that the drawing is developed enough for a preview, which is below.

The time is long overdue to commemorate this event, even if it must come from my own hand. Certainly, it is high time to recognize that the 1.5 million confirmed members of the LCMS do not comprise the bulk of confessional Lutherans worldwide, let alone confessional Christians worldwide. It is fitting that, on the eve of All Hallows, we thank the Lord for having poured out His Spirit far beyond those first disciples, and on the likes of Athanasius of Alexandria [Northern Africa], Cyprian of Carthage [Northern Africa], Michael the Deacon [Ethiopia], Martin Luther, and the great host of those who have gone before us with the sign of the Cross. It is also fitting to rejoice over those saints, this side of heaven, who live in every tiny corner of the globe – yes, even the 25 MILLION Lutherans living in, of all places, Africa.

Preparatory drawing for "Michael the Deacon and Martin Luther" (Copyright © Edward Riojas)




Friday, October 11, 2019

SOLD!

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Most of the pieces I create have been commissioned and, for that reason, are out the door as soon as they are completed. Most of them.

I don’t understand those artists who have a hard time parting with their work. Perhaps it’s because I work hard at what I do and look forward to finishing a piece. Maybe the time invested working on a project eventually wears on me. It might be that my mind is already toying with the next project. At any rate, I’m always more than happy to say “Sayonara” when all is said and done.

Not everything I create, however, is commissioned. To keep my sanity, I sometimes create pieces on my own initiative. I’ve been blessed with a mind active enough to keep my hands busy for eons. Ideas for interpretations of Holy Scripture are always rattling around in my noggin. I often visualize the image, the color palette, and significant details, but then have to store those visions away in a fold of gray matter until I have time. I also indulge the more fantastical part of my brain, if only for fun. Those images also get mentally filed away.

Occasionally these seemingly-random ideas come to fruition. ArtPrize has a knack for making that happen, but we shouldn’t blame ArtPrize for everything – sometimes I make it happen on my own. Sometimes I squeeze in one of those projects, even when my schedule shouldn’t allow it – which is pretty much all the time.

Until recently, I've sold only one of my many entries into ArtPrize – “Owashtanong.” Most everything else is still on the walls or stacked in some room of my house or languishing in the loft of my barn. That will soon change when a second ArtPrize piece, “Ecce Homo,” travels to a new home.

Of course, I would love to sell more pieces. Not all of them need end up in a church or private home. One or two of my pieces would – pardon the pun – look fantastic in a beer hall or perhaps in a children’s hospital.

If any of my readers have spare change – lot’s of spare change – in their pockets, below are some available originals for consideration. Even though I had a wonderful time working on each of them and still value their artistic merit, I would also love to tell them “Syonara.”


"Parables of the Vineyard." Oil on wood. 46.5" x 31.5", framed. $10,000.


"Under Slottet Bron." Oil on wood, with carved wooden frame. Approx. 8 feet x 13 feet. $20,000.


"Martin Luther." Oil on wood. 18" x 24", framed. $2,500.


"Katarina von Bora Luther. Oil on wood. 18" x 24", framed. $2,500.


"F├Ârtrollade Skogen." Oil on wood. 11 feet x 4 feet, framed. $10,000. 


"O That My Words Were Written." Oil on wood. 37" x 70", framed. $10,000.


"Fridur." Oil on wood. 12 feet x 52", unframed. $10,000.


" 'St. Michael Contending.' " Oil on wood. 28.5" x 40.5", framed. $10,000.


"Archangel Gabriel." Ink on paper. 18" x 28", framed. $3,000.


"Archangel Michael." Oil on wood. 34" x 49", framed. $5,000.


"Precious in the Sight of the Lord." Oil on wood. 30" x 24", framed. $5,000.


"Ambrei as Potamiaena." Oil on wood. 48" x 84", unframed (without black frame shown). $10,000.


"Adoremus." Oil on wood. 57" x 88", framed. $10,000.



Friday, October 4, 2019

From the Ground Up

Typical floor plan of modern
church building

Copyright © Edward Riojas

We’ve all visited churches that resemble, um, something else. The sound system might be impressive; the seats comfortable. It may be obvious that an interior designer gave serious thought to color schemes and fabric options and lighting. The church may be visually more closely related to theater than theology, and that is a problem.

The design of a church is something few of us can change. Short of a bulldozer and unlimited cash, congregations are pretty much stuck with the building that has been handed down to them. Thanks to overly-creative, but liturgically-senseless architects, church buildings can become their own stumbling blocks.

I should probably digress here and explain that I don’t have it in for architects. My brother, Steven, is a respected architect, and I fully appreciate that the discipline goes far beyond my understanding. I do, however, appeal to the wisdom of early architects. Without massive databases laying out specs of building materials, they accomplished some pretty impressive feats through common sense and a little trial and error. Their vision, however, is what is most impressive.
Floor plan of Winchester Cathedral

One need only look at floor plans to see immediately what those architects were about.

Perhaps it was originally introduced to structurally accommodate a dome, or maybe some architect simply saw an opportunity, but the transept quickly became an important feature in churches large and small. Transepts, simply put, are short additions running on a transverse axis to the larger sanctuary space. Their placement, however, is important.

Whether the transepts were used for a choir area or side chapels or extra seating, their presence forced the floor plan into the shape of a cross. Even as cathedrals became more elaborate with adjoining rooms and cloisters, the cruciform shape remained conspicuous.

This architectural formula became so prevalent that it trickled down to smaller churches. Even if a simple country church doesn’t have transepts, there is often the residual suggestion of one in the layout. An open space between the pews and the chancel forms a cross with a central aisle.

One pastor recently postulated that this may be the reason why many churches place a Baptismal font in that intersection instead of outside the sanctuary proper. It’s placement would coincide with the corpus of Christ, and the wound which issued blood and water.

There is yet another reason to appreciate the floor plans of older churches: While it may be hard for parishioners to envision an overall layout of the sanctuary for sheer size, it still gives great comfort knowing that they stand squarely on the cross.

Floor plans, from left, of Amien, Salisbury, and Cologne Cathedrals