God “adorns himself in magnificence and clothes himself with beauty.” Man stands amazed and contemplates the glory whose light causes a hymn of praise to burst forth from the heart of every creature. The Testamentum Domini gives us the following prayer: “Let them be filled with the Holy Spirit…so they can sing a doxology and give you praise and glory forever.” An icon is the same kind of doxology but in a different form. It radiates joy and sings the glory of God in its own way. True beauty does not need proof. The icon does not prove anything; it simply lets true beauty shine forth. In itself, the icon is shining proof of God’s existence, according to a “kalokagathic” argument.
Paul Evdokimov in The Art of the Icon
“Kalokagathic” – what a wonderful word! It’s is a Greek coinage, combining the word for beautiful(kalos) and the word for good (agathos). To see an icon is so very far removed from viewing an art object. First off, an icon is never an object. Faces in an icon are never in profile, but look at us face to face. To rightly see an icon is to see it in relationship, that is, to see it personally. And the person whom we see is not the wood and paint, but the one whom the image on the wood and paint represents. It is this encounter that makes it possible to speak of an iconographic proof of the existence of God. I know there is a God because I have seen His image.
In the most perfect sense of this understanding, Christ is the proof of the Father’s existence, because He is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Thus Christ is the visible of the invisible. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” (John 14:9).
It is also true that man is created in the image and likeness of God – though only in Christ, the perfect man (and perfect God), is the image and likeness truly realized. But Christ Himself extends the image – gathering into Himself, “the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40). Thus every human being offers the opportunity of an encounter with God – if we have the eyes to see. Every human being is proof, poor though it may be, of the existence of God.
Pavel Florensky in his wonderful book Iconostasis, says that “Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity exists, therefore God exists.” The first time I read the statement I was brought up short. It took time to see what he meant and to see that it was true. A couple of years later one of my daughters was visiting Moscow. She sent a postcard say, “I have seen Rublev’s Trinity. It’s true.” What a marvelous witness!
I really like Orthodoxy. I am always reading about it and studying more and more. But, may I ask, WHY oh why the humongous love of icons?? One can fully love and worship the Holy Trinity without staring at paint on wood. As a matter of fact, staring at an object to bring your mind “closer” to God, or as a way to offer worship to the one represented, could be an obstacle, couldn’t it? We don’t know what Jesus, Mary or many of the saints looked like.
The church of Christ (protestant denomination) is know much less for it’s Christian practice than it is for it’s continual preaching of baptism for salvation.
The Orthodox Church is known less for it’s desire to spread the gospel and more so as the church that worships icons. Don’t you think this points to an unhealthy infatuation with “paintings”! This is based on the experience of casual conversation amongst other Christians.
We’re not fascinated with paintings. We like them the way people like windows who otherwise would have no outside view (that’s one analogy). They do with color what Scripture does with words, the fathers taught. We love them the way a protestant loves Scripture (and we love the Scripture too). It’s not what we see in the icon – but what we see beyond the icon that matters. In fact, we are taught to pray before the icons with our eyes closed.
Peace…..I always saw that icons or even statues help us to have a “focus” on the subject – it is not worship, but an aid in being recollected and then lifted higher in prayer. Question: is there an icon of the apostles – first together but also individual?
Tks and God bless, Margaret+
Yes. There are icons of the Apostles as a group and as individuals. Also, there is an icon of Sts. Peter and Paul together – brought out on their feast on June 29.
Nice post, Father. Thanks for sharing that wonderful word ““Kalokagathic”!
About praying in front of icons with eyes closed…I’ve heard both, eyes open, eyes closed. I like to have my eyes open. Is there a danger in this? Too much focus on the face? Plus, in church our eyes are open. Please guide me here…