• Canon Paul Black

A life influenced by Eastern spirituality

St John the Baptist, Angel in the Desert.

On Friday morning, family, friends and parishioners will gather in St John’s Church to give thanks for the life of Ian Brooker and to commend his soul to God’s keeping. It was Ian who anonymously donated the 16/17th century icon of John the Baptist, which has been placed above our pulpit.

Ian’s love of icons began in 1961 when he was travelling in Bulgaria. He wrote, “One night in a restaurant, I asked a man if there was an Anglican Church in Sofia, as the next day was a Sunday. He wasn’t sure, but suggested I go to an Orthodox Church High Mass.

“So next morning, I walked across a cobbled plaza to the church which I cannot forget with its golden domes against a matchless blue sky. I entered and stood at the back of the congregation, not knowing what to do. What I saw next and heard was the faith of people that was almost beyond my comprehension, certainly of any experience I’d had.

“The church was large and the ceiling high. There were about 150 people – all standing of course. I could see the incense rising past the iconostasis to the dome. I was fascinated by the spectacular vestments of the priests, but above all the music. That Slavonic unaccompanied chanting has stayed with me ever since. It was a dialogue between the priests and the choir on the balcony behind me.

“I was in short, enchanted. Why has such beauty and spirituality been kept from us in the West, I wondered? From that day, I strayed partly from my Anglican origins and pursued my personal ecumenical journey.

“This has taken me to Greece, many times, to Russia three times (where I visited the Patriarchal Cathedral outside Moscow and fell in love with Orthodoxy all over again), to Romania, Ukraine and Serbia.

“I spent a marvellous day on a Greek island at a monastery where I had the great fortune to find an Anglican Priest turned Orthodox monk. He invited me to see the monastery and then showed me an icon painter’s studio.

“Perhaps the most significant and poignant visit I’ve made is to the Church of Agia Sophia in Constantinople (the name I prefer for the city instead of Istanbul). Nearly 1500 years old and it is surely the most important building in Christendom.

“The church increased my love of mosaics which I’ve seen at their splendid best in Constantinople and in Ravennia. I can’t buy a mosaic or fresco and take it home. Hence my alternative interest in icons.”

Professor Sasha Grishin, from ANU, says this about our icon which Ian donated, “Your icon is a classic image of St John the Baptist as Angel in the Desert, where his message and ascetic features of the elongated face with long dishevelled hair and straggly beard designate him as a man of the desert, the prototype of the great Christian anchorites.

“Through the symbolism of his right hand he signifies Christ as the ‘Lamb of God’ to whom he points with his left, thus designating himself as the forerunner, while the scroll calls on repentance and reminds us of his role. The wings remind us that he is the messenger, while the reed cross foretells his martyrdom. The image is both simple and profound.”

Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

we thank you that you received Ian by baptism

into the family of your church on earth,

and granted him the gift of eternal life.

He ate with us the bread of life

and drank from the cup of salvation.

Preserve among us the good of Ian’s example,

and keep us in the way of truth,

until we come to your eternal kingdom;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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