Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Cross of Light.
The image of the “Cross of Light” which is a non-figured Cross, relates I feel to an approach to Christian iconography in Asia that has a cosmic dimension. The Cross of Light, which is the Cross that the emperor Constantine saw in a vision before he decided to become a Christian, is a cosmic sign, which the early Church understood as being the inner mystical significance of the cross on which Jesus died. This Cross relates to the Buddhist understanding of the Mandala, and can be understood in the context of what might be termed the “Yoga of Christ”.
During the first thousand years from around four hundred to fourteen hundred of our common era the Nestorian Church of Persia sent out missionaries who reached as far as China. As mentioned earlier, the Venerable Alopen, left behind “Twenty seven standard books. These set forth the great conversion for the deliverance of the soul”. The Nestorians believe that there is a profound link between the teachings of Zoroaster, Buddha and Jesus about this inner path to enlightenment. The “way of Light” could be understood as an inner journey to self realization.
In India we have the Syrian Christian Church, which has an extremely complex history of Church architecture and objects like standing crosses, lamps, and so forth. The fact is that the Nestorians were declared heretical by the Catholic Church, and part of the reason why they had this mission to the Far East, was precisely because they were pushed out from the Western Church. Also their idea that there was a link between Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian doctrines, was considered syncretistic from a Roman Catholic position, and therefore dangerous. The whole debate about what was heretical about the Nestorians, and what was the real issue concerning he natures of Jesus both human and Divine, is now much debated. The idea of a cross which is abstract, that is to say has no human figure on it, relates to an Apophatic mystical tradition which insists that God is beyond the human imagination, and cannot be represented. We can only speak of this Divine dimension through symbols which are pointers to an Uncreated Light which has the power to transform our lives. The great standing crosses that we find outside Syrian Christian Churches are supposed to represent the Axis of the Universe, but also a ray of the Divine Light which enters into the world.