Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Head of John Chrysostom

On Friday I joined a few fellow seminarians on an expedition to St. Nicholas Cathedral in Manhattan, where they celebrated the Feast of the Three Hierarchs (Old Calendar) with a Divine Liturgy and Molieben in the presence of the head of St. John Chrysostom. The head, which has been in Russia since 1655, was brought from Moscow to New York City last week for a short visit. It spent most of the week at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign and was then brought to St. Nicholas on Thursday evening.

St. John Chrysostom's second exile resulted from the empress Eudoxia's opposition to his efforts to curb the decadence of the clergy and nobility of Constantinople. After the empress had a silver statue of herself erected near the cathedral, Chrysostom boldly preached against her: "Again Herodias dances. Again she seeks the head of John." I mused on the irony that we were once again seeking the head of John.

The relic is stored in a cubical gold reliquary, with a bit of the skull protruding through a four-inch circular opening on the top. We were able to venerate (i.e., kiss) the skull before the Liturgy and again after the Molieben.

The services were almost entirely in Slavonic (I heard one litany and one prayer in English). So I spent a good deal of the time looking at the iconography, applying some skills from the iconography class I'm auditing. The iconography, mostly in pastel colors, shows clear Art Nouveau influence. It would have been right at home in a Roman Catholic cathedral of its era (the early 20th century).

On the south side of the nave is a large relic case containing 50 or so relics. If you've ever wondered how to spell St. Raphael of Brooklyn in Slavonic, this is the place to look.

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