Tantur Ecumenical Institute newsletter: Jan.-Feb. 2016
A moment in our chapel
by Dan Koski, Tantur Staff
This past March, during the first celebration of Holy Week, I was met with the annual challenge of the media office of how best to mark Holy Week, or more accurately, the first of our two Holy Weeks in the Holy Land, the first being on the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Soft-focus images of bunnies, chicks and pastel Easter eggs set against a lush green countryside not really befitting an institute for theological studies in Jerusalem, I retreated back to the chapel for inspiration. It didn’t take long to realize that my inspiration was the chapel, and I set to work preparing photos.
The chapel is a meeting place for all the staff, scholars, program participants and residents at Tantur. Found at the end of an end of our residence wing adjacent to our primary lecture hall, it is a quiet, serene place for much of the week, with a stillness accented by the deliberate minimalist décor of the unadorned off-white walls, a high-vaulted ceiling with natural light streaming in, and a simple stone altar. In such a space, the absence of what few adornments are put in the room are extremely noticeable, and such was the case that week with the bare altar, its top and front usually covered with a large cloth.
I had never seen the altar as such before. The altar’s base is a large rough-hewn stone, almost a boulder, asymmetrical but well-cut to serve its purpose for nearly half a century. I recall reading from our archives that the stone came from the grounds of Tantur. Despite my Orthodox leanings towards an elaborate, symmetrical iconostasis with a concealed altar, I couldn’t help but feel that this particular arrangement works for what it is.
As I have gone through Great Lent towards my own church’s celebration of Easter, I have often returned to the image of our altar and all that it is for Tantur: stark yet complicated, uneven yet secure, innovative yet ancient, functional, purpose-built, and a reminder of the complex nature of our work that is nonetheless driven by a simple call to better understand and love one another through the mystery that is God.
From Jerusalem, a blessed Easter to one and all.