Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Rising from the Ashes
Ash Wednesday again and millions of Christians will receive an ashen imprint on their foreheads, purportedly to remind them that, in some distant time, their entity will be the same. 'Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return' -Genesis. Great symbolism which still permeates many Christian traditions. Job says to God: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Poor Job, forever in the state of supplication.
I am reminded of this phrase regarding ashes: 'Out of the ashes rises the Phoenix.' The mythology argues that the phoenix is a bird with brightly colored plumage, which, after a long life, dies in a fire of its own making only to rise again from the ashes. The Persians, Greek and Egyptians all included the Phoenix in its mythology. The most universal characteristic in all three cultures is the bird's ability to resurrect. Living a long life (the exact age can vary from five hundred to over a thousand years), the bird dies in a self-created fire, burning into a pile of ashes, from which a phoenix chick is born, representing a cyclical process of life from death. Because it is reborn from its own death, the phoenix also took on the characteristics of regeneration and immortality.
Not only that, but other interesting Jesus-related facts are often part of the myth such as this: when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices. Apparently, no gold. Further, the myth states that, when the young bird has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. What was that passage in Luke about the family of Jesus fleeing to Egypt?
Not only were there subtle connections between the Phoenix and Jesus, but overt ones as well. One of the Early Catholic Church Fathers, Clement, wrote in The First Epistle of Clement:
"Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed."
Apparently Clement's schooling had included this Phoenix mythology. Life, death and resurrection- an eternal theme throughout the ages.