Our Easter Phoenix

There’s a great deal of Christian heritage and tradition that is simply unknown to modern Christians, as our abbot’s recent cathedral pilgrimage amply demonstrates. Once you get a proper command of Christian iconography, it’s hard not to be dismayed at how much spiritual richness the wider church is missing out on.

It’s quite encouraging, then, to see recent Christian artists draw on our symbolic heritage for inspiration. Neil and Kate DeGrade, the Orthodox husband-wife duo behind the rock band Dirt Poor Robins, have done a tremendous job of capturing a piece of this heritage in their recently released concept album, “Firebird.” The title track makes for an excellent Easter meditation.

“Firebird” refers to the mythological phoenix, a great bird that immolates itself to regenerate its life. From Wikipedia:

The phoenix is an immortal bird that cyclically regenerates or is otherwise born again. While it is part of Greek mythology, it has analogs in many cultures, such as Egyptian and Persian. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by rising from the ashes of its predecessor. Some legends say it dies in a show of flames and combustion, while others that it simply dies and decomposes before being born again.

Contra frequent (and annoying) perceptions of medieval Europe being held in the grip of an intellectual “dark age,” Christian thinkers were very familiar with the image, and, in fact, saw in it a symbolic reflection of Christ’s own resurrection. From Eleanor Parker’s Winters in the World:

[The Anglo-Saxon poem The Phoenix] tells the myth of the regenerating phoenix, interpreting the birds story, as was common in medieval Christian thinking, as an allegory of Christ’s resurrection and the rebirth of the redeemed human soul. 

Winters in the World, pg. 151

It’s a striking poem:

There that bird bears bright ornaments within the tree.

There the wild fowl builds his house in the wilderness

over that high tree, lovely and fair, and dwells there

himself in that sun-filled room, and surrounds himself without,

body and feather in that leafy shade, on every side

with blessed scents and the earth’s most noble blossoms.


Then the brightest nest

will be purified, the brave house burned out

by the pyre—the body will grow cool,

the bone-vessel broken, and the flames die down.

Then in the fire something like an apple

soon is found in the ashes, and from that grows

a worm, wonderfully fair, as if led forth

out of an egg, glorious from the shell.

Then it grows in the shadows, so that it first

appears like an eagle’s chick, a fair bird in the making.

Then further still, it flourishes in delight

so that it bears something like the form of an old eagle,

and after that, adorned with feathers such as he was

at the start, blossoming brightly. 

Toward the end of the poem (it’s quite long), the speaker draws an explicit Christological connection: 

Though [Christ] must suffer the blow of death on the rood tree [cross],

that terrible torment, by the third day after his body’s fall

he assumed life again through the help of the Father.

So the Phoenix signifies, fresh in the fold, the might

of the God-child, when he rises once more from the ashes

into the life of lives, equipped with his limbs.

Dirt Poor Robins track “Firebird” takes the metaphor one step further and uses the phoenix as an analogy for how people mature through suffering. The track starts with an profound description of the human condition:

[Verse 1]

We’ve all taken our lashes

Too many our own fault

Still other entrapped us

And doled out their own marks

We can’t change what’s been written

They’re indelible scars

But through the wounds in our hands

We can now see the stars

The Christological reference here is deliberate. “Stars” frequently represent spiritual truths in DPR’s music, and thus this verse is making a profound point: suffering makes us more like Christ, and thus more able to understand spiritual reality and commune with Him. 


So let these scars become

Taller than mountains

Rising above the storm, we

Now see further than before

The ashes reignite

Within our gravesites

It’s time for your return


Our suffering becomes the means by which we grow as people. Like a phoenix, the “death” we experience through suffering has a regenerative effect if we recognize the wisdom we have gained from it. 


It isn’t that the fever’s leaving me

It’s soaring higher

My hope is rising with the mercury

And it stokes the pyre

Though it will not burn this body

When death had trampled dying

The phoenix will arise

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” Isaiah 43:2. Most of us will not experience the miraculous version of this promise, but devoted Christians absolutely experience it in the symbolic and metaphorical sense. Even though the hardships of life may threaten or seem to destroy us, we have every reason to hope, because Christ has conquered Death. The more intense our suffering gets, the more we know something of Christ’s suffering for us on the cross and the life and strength he imparts to us. Even though the hardships of life may destroy us, emotionally or even physically, we will, like our Easter phoenix, rise to everlasting life. 

You can listen to the track “Firebird” here, and find more about Dirt Poor Robins here.

Christmas Sparkle Necklaces

Renee designed these two necklaces and earrings because she wanted something sparkly and red for Christmastime! The necklaces are made with glass, acrylic, and metal beads. The clear diamond-shaped pendant (on the second necklace) was fused by Renee using a microwave kiln.


Leah makes us all smile with her cute and quirky caricatures.

These sketches feature herself, her sister Ellie, her cousin Sammy, and her friend Andrew.

Leah’s Cross Sculpture

Leah designed and created this gorgeous cross with Super Sculpey. Super Sculpey is a clay that can be shaped and hardened by baking it in an oven. Leah painted the cross with acrylic paint after it was baked.

Monochromatic Drawings

These drawings were done by our 3rd and 6th grade art class earlier this year. They are monochromatic drawings using white colored pencil on black construction paper, which is different than most monochromatic drawings that are usually done on white paper with gray or black pencils.


Jr. High Fine Art Competition

Every year through GSACS (Garden State Association of Christian Schools) our students participate in a Fine Arts Day with a number of other schools. These are the pieces that were entered for the 2009 Jr. High Fine Arts Competition.




Third Quarter Sketchbook Series

For third quarter in art class, the weekly sketchbook assignment is a little different than normal. Taking some principles from the book Visual Literacy, the class must take an ordinary, everyday object and make it interesting. An example of this would be taking a dinner plate and drawing it as a flying saucer. The object they must draw is assigned, but it is up to each student to think of a way to creatively draw the ordinary object as something extraordinary. For the first assignment, the object was a doorknob; everyone’s drawings were quite ingenious.

Art Class Monochromatic Drawings

Our art classes have been doing monochromatic drawings as of late. The tendency is to think of monochromatic drawings as being pencil or pen drawings – a black medium on white paper. However, monochromatic drawings can also consist of black and white pencil on brown paper, or even white pencil on black paper; which the following drawings all are. The drawings are all arranged by art class, along with a photo of the students in that specific class. You will be amazed at the incredible talent you will see.

First and Third Grade Class ~ Andrew and Leah


 Sixth Grade Class ~ Joshua and Derek



Seventh and Eight Grade Class ~ Jordan, Matthew, Brandon and Renee


 Twelfth Grade Class ~ Brittany


The Great Seed Heist – Jared Barton

The Great Seed Heist is a book that Jared has been working on for the past few years. The book tells the story of Tommy the Squirrel, his best friend Harley, and the great adventures that they have together. Throughout the story, Tommy and Harley have many dangerous close encounters; but they eventually get back home after meeting up with a few intriguing characters. Dedicated to Jared’s son Luke, the book abounds with stories that encourage children to learn how to be good neighbors and even better friends. You can read the book by following this link.

First, Third and Fifth Grade Art Classes

For first quarter in Art Class, the kids all learned watercoloring. Because we have a small school, the art classes are sometimes combined. This quarter the first, third, and sixth graders all learned how to watercolor for the first time; using
First Steps Painting Watercolors by Cathy Johnson.

The results were absolutely astounding!

1st Grade




3rd Grade



5th Grade