The St. Augustine Menorah - From Advent 2020 - Fr. Joseph Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
From Fr. Joseph Alsay, Rector, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
The inception of St. Augustine’s menorah began years ago when I visited St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City. At its high altar two massive 12 foot menorahs reside. I dreamed of a day when I could have something similar (albeit on a smaller scale) created for St. Augustine's. Last fall, the dream began to materialize. During a visit to Bill and Edith Kenney’s house, I was complimenting some iron work that her brother had done. Edith mentioned Michael was very skilled. I then shared my idea to, one day, have a large menorah commissioned for SAC. This led to a discussion about when and why it would be used.
During Advent/Christmas seasons, we look towards the One born to be the “light of the world.” This One was born of a Jewish mother and foretold by Hebrew prophets. It's a time when the use of light is so prevalent in religious celebrations: Hannukah, Diwali, Christmas and Kwanza. So, for me, the creation and use of a symbol showing our biblical ties to our Jewish forebearers and light would apropos during Advent as we await with expectation the One who would save us and all Israel.
Once the menorah was settled on, the conversation then shifted to whether it would be a nine or seven-branched menorah. If a nine-branched menorah (Jewish) was to be created it could only be used during Hannukah and that celebration varies year to year. The other issue, I wrestled with, was if the use of a Hanukkiah menorah would be seen as religious appropriation -- something Christians should avoid.
I felt the use of a seven-branched menorah would be best. First, such a menorah was commanded by God for Moses to use in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40; 27:21). It also was used later in the Temple in Jerusalem by the people of Israel as a symbol of God’s presence and light long before the Star of David (I Samuel 3:3; Zechariah 4:2).
Secondly, it's important to note that a seven-branched candlestand or lamps are mentioned in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 1:13-20 and 4:5, Jesus is standing in the midst of the lampstands which represent the seven spirits or churches of Asia. Some theologians would assert the shape of a menorah is reminiscent of the “Tree of Life” from the Genesis creation story.
Finally, when you look at SAC’s menorah in relation to Advent paraments that I had created 10 years ago, you will notice the ambo antependium has the branch of Jesse’s tree, a Star of David, a rose and a Chi – Rho symbol (first two Greek letters for the word “Christ”) appliqued on it. Thus, the work of catechesis takes place, and the “picture” or “story” of Advent is completed.
So, after many hours of work and revamping of designs, on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent 2020, Michael Happ drove from Wichita, Kansas, and delivered the iron menorah to St. Augustine’s with much acclaim.