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The Holy Family icon

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Published: December 31, 2017
© 2017 - 2020 Theophilia
The Holy Family icon
© Cecilia Lawrence
December 17th 2017
8 x 10 inches
Ink, watercolor, gold leaf


“Our God has appeared on the earth,
and lived among us.”

- Baruch 3:38

“For the Lord sets a father in honor over his children
and confirms a mother’s authority over her sons.
Those who honor their father atone for sins;
they store up riches who respect their mother.
Those who honor their father will have joy in their own children,
and when they pray they are heard.
Those who respect their father will live a long life;
those who obey the Lord honor their mother.”

- Sirach 3:2-6

“Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother, you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.”
~ G.K. Chesterton, The God in the Cave

“Nothing will destroy the sacred triangle [of the family]; and even the Christian faith, the most amazing revolution that ever took place in the mind, served only in a sense to turn that triangle upside down. It held up a mystical mirror in which the order of the three things was reversed; and added a holy family of child, mother and father to the human family of father, mother and child.”
- G.K. Chesterton, The Superstition of Divorce


Merry Christmas everyone! I thought I’d make a new image of the Holy Family this year since I was never really happy with my older one. For the pose and clothing of the Child Jesus and the Virgin Mary I shamelessly referenced the beautiful painting Notre-Dame des Anges (Our Lady of the Angels) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (one of my favorite painters).  I changed the position of Jesus’ arms into a cross-shape and I added the words “I AM” to his halo as a reference to the Name of God proclaimed in Exodus 3:14 to Moses in the burning bush. The “IC XC” is an abbreviation of ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, which means “Jesus Christ” in Greek. Above each set of those letters is a titlos (signifying a sacred name) that I have changed into the alpha and omega symbols, as a reference to Revelations 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." The letters “ΜΡ ΘΥ” above Mary’s head  are Greek abbreviations for “Μήτηρ (του) Θεοῦ” which means “Mother of God.” The stars in Mary’s halo are a reference to the “crown of twelve stars” in Revelations 12:1. I have also added a decorative border of six-pointed stars to Joseph’s halo to recall his royal Davidic lineage. The lilies sprouting from his staff symbolize his purity and reference the story of how God chose him to be the chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary. As in my previous image of St. Joseph, I have chosen to depict him with a tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl, to represent his great piety and godliness as a just observer of the Law of Moses.

The Holy Spirit hovers above the Holy Family encircled in light as he descends from the heavens (represented by the blue nimbus). God the Father, who is depicted as being in the heavens, has his hands spread out in a gesture of blessing. I wanted my image of the Holy Family to also have an image of the Holy Trinity in it, to show how the human family is supposed to be a small reflection of God’s own divine Trinitarian life. The “two trinities” is not a new concept in theology or in art and it has been done by many artists before, like Murillo and Coello, but I think G.K. Chesterton expresses what I had in mind best in his brilliant book The Everlasting Man:
“We can say that the family is the unit of the state; that it is the cell that makes up the formation. Round the family do indeed gather the sanctities that separate men from ants and bees. Decency is the curtain of that tent; liberty is the wall of that city; property is but the family farm; honour is but the family flag. In the practical proportions of human history, we come back to that fundamental of the father and the mother and the child. It has been said already that if this story cannot start with religious assumptions, it must none the less start with some moral or metaphysical assumptions, or no sense can be made of the story of man. And this is a very good instance of that alternative necessity. If we are not of those who begin by invoking a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of that triangle. Or rather it is the one triangle superimposed so as to intersect the other, making a sacred pentacle of which, in a mightier sense than that of the magicians, the fiends are afraid. The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned upside-down.”

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Salvation arrives by way of the family—the Holy Family. The household of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph became a "home away from home" for the eternal Son of God. It was an outpost of heaven, an image of the Trinity in the world. "We may say," said Saint Francis de Sales, "that the Holy Family was a trinity on earth which in a certain sense represented the Blessed Trinity itself." Jesus, is, of course, the Son common to both "families." Joseph, in relationship with Jesus, was an earthly image of the Heavenly Father. Mary, who conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, became the very image of the Spirit in the world. So God took his place in a human family—and invited you and me to find our place as well. He made a home for us in the Church, "a people," said Saint Cyprian in the third century, "made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." And our own homes too—our Christian homes—also share in this awesome gift of Christmas. Pope Benedict expressed that in the strongest terms I can imagine.
God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God! God is the Trinity, he is a communion of love; so is the family despite all the differences that exist between the Mystery of God and his human creature, an expression that reflects the unfathomable Mystery of God as Love...The human family, in a certain sense, is an icon of the Trinity because of its interpersonal love and the fruitfulness of this love.

We are created for the sake of love. When we experience love in family life, it is heavenly, but it is still only an image of the greater glory we hope to behold in heaven.
~ from Joy to the World by Scott Hahn

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Our Lord spent three hours in redeeming, three years in teaching, and thirty years in obeying, in order that a rebellious, proud, and diabolically independent world might learn the value of obedience.

Home life is the God-appointed training ground of human character, for from the home life of the child springs the maturity of manhood, either for good or for evil. The only recorded acts of our Blessed Lord’s childhood are acts of obedience—to God, his heavenly Father, and also to Mary and Joseph. He thus shows the special duty of childhood and of youth: to obey parents as the vice-regents of God. He, the great God whom the heavens and earth could not contain, submitted himself to his parents.

If he was sent on a message to a neighbor, it was the great Sender of the Apostles who delivered the message. If Joseph ever bade him search for a tool that was lost, it was the Wisdom of God and the Shepherd in search of lost souls who was actually doing the seeking. If Joseph taught him carpentry, he who was taught was one who had carpentered the universe and who would one day be put to death by the members of his own profession. If he made a yoke for the oxen of a neighbor, it was he who would call himself a yoke for men—and yet a burden that would be light. If they bade him work in a little plot of garden ground, to train the creepers or water the flowers, it was he who was the great Dresser of the vineyard of his Church, who took in hand the water pot and the gardening tools.

All men may ponder well the hint of a Child subject to his parents, that no heavenly call is ever to be trusted that bids one neglect the obvious duties that lie near to hand.
~ Archbishop Fulton Sheen

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Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him.

Here we can learn to realise who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief, everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.

How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths. But here we are only on pilgrimage. Time presses and I must set aside my desire to stay and carry on my education in the Gospel, for that education is never finished. But I cannot leave without recalling, briefly and in passing; some thoughts I take with me from Nazareth.

First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.

Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.

In closing, may I express my deep regard for people everywhere who work for a living. To them I would point out their great model, Christ their brother, our Lord and God, who is their prophet in every cause that promotes their well being.
- from an address by Pope Paul VI

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:rose: The Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas. :rose:

O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Image size
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Comments79
anonymous's avatar
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bichlieulythi's avatar
bichlieulythiStudent Digital Artist

Thánh giuse và đức Mẹ chúa trời, cầu cho chúng con!

Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Amen!
Timemonk3000's avatar
Timemonk3000Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Saint Joseph and the the most blessed mother, Theotokos, pray for us.
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
:pray:
kingofpain0's avatar
kingofpain0Hobbyist Digital Artist
fun fact jesus was middle eastern
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Yes, He was Jewish. :nod:
kingofpain0's avatar
kingofpain0Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm glad you knew that so many people don't its nice to see a truly smart and open minded person
Kathryn49's avatar
I feel like I’m going in circles on this website. I want to buy some of your religious art.  But I can’t figure out how to do it. Please help.  Your work is soooooo inspirational!
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Sure thing! Information for ordering prints can be found in my journal: Easter 2018
Astrokiwi's avatar
AstrokiwiHobbyist General Artist
Hi Theophilia, may I ask you what μρ/mp(?), θυ/oy(?) and the other letters stand for? Is that greek or latin? Great work as always btw Clap 
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Certainly! It's the typical abbreviation ΜΡ ΘΥ (М҃Р Ѳ҃Ѵ) of the title "Mother of God" in Greek. It's the first and last letters of the words "Mētēr (tou) Theou"/Μήτηρ του Θεού.

And thank you!
Astrokiwi's avatar
AstrokiwiHobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the explanation, you're always so kind :)
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
You are very welcome! :aww:
Andy-yarn-painter's avatar
Andy-yarn-painterHobbyist Artist
Beautiful Sacred Art
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Thank you!! :dance:
SmoothDiamond's avatar
SmoothDiamondStudent General Artist
Wonderful work! :)
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Thank you!! :glomp:
DCJBeers's avatar
Another great job!!Heart Heart 
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Thank you!!! :glomp:
aurielmegalos's avatar
This is a beautiful work. I can't wait to see the Ignatius of Antioch in his pallium and holy vestments, and Saint Peter icons.
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
Thank you so much! :aww: I hope one day to complete an icon of S. Ignatius of Antioch! I've already finished my icon of St. Peter, so I'll have to get around to uploading that at some point.
tinydtk's avatar
tinydtkHobbyist Artisan Crafter
All I can say.............❤️
Theophilia's avatar
TheophiliaProfessional Traditional Artist
:meow:
anonymous's avatar
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