Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Library closes for Christmas on Friday 14 December and re-opens for the new year on Tuesday 15 January 2019

A display of some of the icon books
 donated to the Library by
 the Icon School of St. Peter
 in November this year.
 Photographer: Susan Southall.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Word Made Flesh: Dwelling Amongst Books

Fr Ken Parker invited Carol O’Connor to give the 5th Bunyip Lecture at St. Thomas', Bunyip, on Sunday the 2nd of December 2018. Here is the summary of Carol's paper, which was handed out to attendees.

A certain philosopher questioned the Holy Anthony.  “How,” he said, “do you content yourself, Father, who is denied the comfort of books?” He answered, “My book, philosopher, is the nature of created things, and as often as I have a mind to read the words of God, it is at my hand.” Sayings of the Desert Fathers Book XXI

In the Church cycle, we’re now entering the Year of Luke: praise is a keynote of this Gospel. It’s a ‘Gospel of messianic joy.’  Luke’s emphasis is universal salvation; it is laden with practical ethics and causes us reflection on moral living. Dr Dorothy Lee, Melbourne New Testament Scholar & Anglican Priest.

What does gift giving mean? As Christians we believe that the real gift on Christmas Day is the birth of Jesus Christ, but what is it that we are being given? And how do we live in response to this gift?

Three of the many gifts given to us in the birth of Christ Jesus:

1          The gift of relationship

Spiritual and religious books are never an end in themselves - they only ever point the way towards. They point the way toward the ‘Word made flesh’, it’s up to the reader to live from the meaning discovered in the book with courage, with a willingness to risk embodying the Word in themselves.

When we are born, we are born into relationship. The primary relationship we are born into is with God. Our first human relationship is with the person or persons who are our primary care givers. Ideally they are figures of love.  To grow and flourish through childhood we need the other - the one who loves us. The network extends outwards into community, between cultures. ‘We go to heaven in one another’s pockets,’ is a phrase quoted by Rowan Williams.

We take community with us wherever go because we take with us our capacity for relationship in God.

2          The gift of memory always happens from the place in which we stand in the present. It’s meaning derives from the relationship we have in God. 

Good spiritual writers can give us courage to face our own terrors and examine memories that are painful. Go to the hard places, especially in your relationship with God, stand there and see what you can see. Go to the hard places with the eyes of God. Ask: what can I see or re-see in and from this challenging place?

For Miroslav Volf it’s important to remember the past rightly. Christ’s Passion and resurrection need to inform how we engage in the action of remembering. 

It’s important to learn to live theology, not just read it in books. Remember God’s love in all that you do.

3          The gift of language

Good spiritual writers give us a language that can help steady our feet; words that enable us to enflesh or put form around our experience. They offer a language, a vocabulary, upon which I can invite my own experience into and hang my own thoughts upon. The gift of language can provoke our imagination; push further the boundaries of reflection. Language grows us. 

Writers like Rowan Williams & Richard Rohr offer vocabularies that are living and nuanced. As they’ve drawn from other writers, through their words God speaks to us. Theirs becomes a language which I can draw from, dwell upon, and in turn hope God uses through me to speak to others. And this is a gift giving whose primary source is the Word made flesh.

Both Rowan Williams and David Adam encourage us to take the words we use in our prayer life seriously. They encourage us to find prayers to sit with, have them walk them inside us inside as a mantra.  And we can only do this when we enter into ‘slow craft time.’  In his book Holy Living, Rowan Williams reminds us to stay present ‘where you are, rather than taking refuge in the infinite smallness of your fantasies.’  Expansion of the heart takes time. Williams quotes the Welsh saying: ’life is about inhabiting a great hall within narrow walls.’ P 65. For him, and so many of these writers, life is about learning to be still and listen, to ponder, to be fully present to the place you are in.

Language takes many forms. God also speaks through the expressive arts: music, poetry, dance, painting. God’s Word is found in nature and in silence and the unsaid. The grammar of God is in the nature of created things and  lives inside each one of us.


If our language serves reconciliation, breaks through the illusion of separation and hate, of fear and abuse then our lives start to become aligned into the enlarging the heart of God. 

I can purchase or read all the books about God I like, but if I do not live first from response to this space of Love, and if my first book is not, as Holy Anthony says, the nature of created things as seen through Love’s eyes, then what I see will be forever only an illusion. 

The gift of the Word made flesh, with all its hope and beauty and pain and vulnerability, the gift of Christ who is born at Christmas, enables us to see through illusion to Reality. And that’s a Word really worth holding onto.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Library of the Icon School of St Peter - Melbourne Inc.

Members of the Icon School of St. Peter with the completed panels of the iconostasis
 for installation above the nave of St. Peter's Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne

                                               Report by Philip Harvey

John Bayton founded an icon school in 1982, when he was vicar of St. Peter’s Eastern Hill, Melbourne, initially working in the vicarage kitchen.  In its heyday, the Icon School of St. Peter was both a teaching institution and a workshop for established and novice iconographers. There was a waiting list to join the School, which met every month on a Tuesday morning at Eastern Hill. It is one of a number of such schools and groups operating in Melbourne, firm in its adherence to Byzantine practice. Several past members went on to found schools themselves. Some thirty-six years later the School this year made the decision, after some discernment, to close.

Over time, members of the School contributed to the building up of a considerable resource library. There are folio size books of different vintages containing reproductions from all the great traditions – Orthodoxy in its different forms, especially Greek and Russian, Coptic, Ethiopian – as well as the immense work of the churches of East and West in the latter half of the twentieth century, as the interest in icons spread throughout the world. Then there are standard works on icons, their history, theology, and aesthetics, as well as handbooks for iconographers and supporting art literature, especially in Byzantium. Pamphlets, monastic guidebooks, calendars, anything that assists the iconographers in their work, were collected as well, by members and friends of the School.   

Names inscribed in the books provide their own history, giving some idea of the many iconographers who were part of the School: Connie Barber, Susan Basset, Bp John Bayton, Judy Bink, Rose-Claire Boyd, Brian Bubbers, Mary Casey, Sr Jean Coutts, Fr Lawrence Cross, Sr Sheila Ann Erasmus, Pat Gravette, Anne Gumley, William Johnston, Molly Longfield, Kay McLennan, David Rogers, John Round, Frank Upfill, and Helen Young. The Very Revd. Fr Nicholas Karipoff, Dean of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral Brunswick East, facilitated many visits to the cathedral and as guest of honour, spoke at the 30th year anniversary dinner of the School.

The collection was housed in a locked utility cupboard at St. Peter’s. It would be unlocked during sessions of the School and referred to regularly.

Because the School became an incorporated entity, the winding up of its business required a divestment of assets. The School, under the guiding hand of its Librarian and Treasurer Brian Bubbers, elected to donate the asset of its book collection to a theological library with strong holdings in icon books and a commitment to this ancient practice: the Carmelite Library of Spirituality.  In November the collection was transported from Eastern Hill to Middle Park, where the books were gradually processed and added to the existing Carmelite holdings. This means the Carmelite Library now has the strongest icon book collection, both for pure and applied reference, in the University of Divinity. It is one of the best in Australia.

The transfer of the School’s icon book collection happened to coincide with an exhibition during November of over fifty icons in the Library made by the Seraphim Icon Group. At the lecture night for this exhibition, I talked to the many practising iconographers in attendance about the availability of the collection for their work, and of the Library itself as a home for icon writing. The Library has a history of hosting iconographers, as well as offering lecture series in which many scholars, artists, and others interested in icons, have spoken on this endlessly rewarding devotional and creative activity. One door closes, and another opens as the active interest and participation of iconographers flourishes in Melbourne and beyond.