Light and darkness.

The Orthodox Troparion of the Nativity:

Your birth, O Christ our God, dawned the light of knowledge upon the earth.  For by your birth those who adored stars were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Justice and to know You, Orient from on High.  O Lord, glory to you.

In the Orthodox tradition, the Star of Bethlehem is not seen as a physical astronomical event, but as a supernatural one.  In Orthodox Iconography, the Star of Bethlehem is often not painted golden, but  is a dark semicircle at the top of the icon, symbolising the Uncreated Light of Divine Grace, with a ray pointing to the manger.

I find the idea of a “dark light” pointing the way intriguing.  Darkness is something we are suspicious of.  It’s not good.  Spiritual darkness has connotations of evil.  But the darkness of which the great Carmelites wrote was positive.  St John of the Cross wrote it out brilliantly in verse in his poem “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

The Dark Night Of The Soul by Saint John of the Cross
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Songs of the soul rejoicing at having achieved the high state of perfection, the Union with God, by way of spiritual negation.

Once in a dark of night,
Inflamed with love and wanting, I arose
(O coming of delight!)
And went, as no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose

All in the dark went right,
Down secret steps, disguised in other clothes,
(O coming of delight!)
In dark when no one knows,
When all my house lay long in deep repose.

And in the luck of night
In secret places where no other spied
I went without my sight
Without a light to guide
Except the heart that lit me from inside.

It guided me and shone
Surer than noonday sunlight over me,
And lead me to the one
Whom only I could see
Deep in a place where only we could be.

O guiding dark of night!
O dark of night more darling than the dawn!
O night that can unite
A lover and loved one,
A lover and loved one moved in unison.

And on my flowering breast
Which I had kept for him and him alone
He slept as I caressed
And loved him for my own,
Breathing an air from redolent cedars blown.

And from the castle wall
The wind came down to winnow through his hair
Bidding his fingers fall,
Searing my throat with air
And all my senses were suspended there.

I stayed there to forget.
There on my lover, face to face, I lay.
All ended, and I let
My cares all fall away
Forgotten in the lilies on that day.

That perfect union is what we are promised, what we look towards in Advent. O, come quickly.

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