Thanks to the Byzantine calendar, we have another feast today, St. Ezekiel the prophet. You are probably familiar with this depiction of the four evangelists: Matthew as a man, Mark as a lion, Luke as an ox and John as an eagle. The image comes from one of Ezekiel’s visions, his first, and the one that we encounter at the beginning of the book bearing his name.
The priest and prophet, Ezekiel, is in exile (he lives in the days when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar and the people were ousted from the city). He looks up to the heavens as a stormy wind came out of the north; a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like gleaming amber.
In the middle of this amber he sees four living creatures, each with four faces and four wings, “and they sparkled like burnished bronze.”
The four faces were those of a human being, a lion, an ox and an eagle.
Ezekiel’s visions are wild and often difficult to understand. They can be frightening. But it is fitting that his vision is linked in church memory with the four evangelists, for nothing Ezekiel saw or heard can compete in wonder with the experience of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, three of whom saw, and all of whom tell, of the strangest and most glorious sight in all human history: Jesus dying on the cross and rising triumphant on the third day.
For today’s Feast Anna Keating recommends the American spiritual “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” by William L. Dawson, as performed by the St. Olaf Choir, Woody Guthrie and Louis Armstrong. Listen here: