Orthodox Christians mark August 16 as the Feast of the Icon “Not Made With Hands,” the miraculous face of Christ first left on a cloth sent to King Abgar of Edessa. The stories of the icon are swathed in the mists of history – but the image (or representations of it on icons) remain among the most popular of Orthodox images. It is frequently the icon that graces the entrance of a Church.
On a deeper level, it is an icon that points to Christ as the image of God and the true image of man. When looking upon His face we see both what we are as creatures (created in the image of God) and what we shall be as the children of the kingdom (conformed to His image). His face is more than face – it is countenance – the very presence of God directed toward us.
The opening chapter of Genesis has the rich statement that we are created in the image of God, though the Old Testament makes no explanation or development of the statement. It does, however, refrain from extreme forms of iconoclasm (image-smashing). Although the 10 commandments inveigh that “thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image,” the same law-giving God instructs that images of cherubim are to be carved above the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant, and that images of angels should be interwoven in the cloths that make up the Tent of Meeting.
Islam, on the other hand, tends towards an extreme iconoclasm, refraining from all images, and in some instances destroying images. Some interpretations of Islam would deny that man is the image of God altogether.
In Christianity the theology of the image moves to the forefront. Christ, St. Paul says, is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The God who could not be imaged in the Old Testament now gives His very image, Christ (Who is indeed fully God and fully man). Not only is Christ the image of God – and thus the one by Whom God can be known – but He is also the true image of man – that image to which we are conformed in the life of salvation: “But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:17).
The Orthodox devotion to icons is not to be found in some supposed likeness to pagan idolatry. It is rather to be found in the profound teaching of the New Testament and the fathers of the Church in which Christ, the image of God, encounters us “face to face,” and so conforms us to Himself. The Orthodox experience of icons is not an experience of wood and of paint, but rather of the “one who is represented.” Standing before an icon of Christ, the Orthodox Christian is aware of Christ – not as captured in the image – but as present to him in the image. Thus icons are called, “Windows to heaven.”
This same devotional habit – forged in the theology of the incarnation – reaches out towards all of creation. Thus St. Paul can say of the created world, “…for since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” (Romans 1:20). Thus the creation becomes a window to heaven, a reflection that “clearly” reveal God’s eternal power and Godhead. This does not confuse God’s eternal power and Godhead with the creation itself, anymore than an icon should be confused with what it represents.
But there is a proper theology of icons, of the image, within Christian theology. Iconoclasm, in the teaching of the fathers, is heresy, a denial of the truth of God’s incarnation.
The face of Christ is rightly the heart’s desire of every Christian. Albeit, those who oppose Christ, we are told, call out to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…” (Rev. 6:15). And “this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Grant us, God, to see Thy face.
The newly-constructed Monastery Church of St. Vladimir’s Skete at the Valaam Monastery in Russia. The highly stylized inscription on the door posts reads: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Interesting that you should post on this today – my priest was talking today about a class that he teaches which happens to be held in a Wesleyan chapel room. It is entirely plain except for a large wooden cross on a wall, an abstract statue of Angel Gabriel fighting demons, and some Scripture high up in the roof. He asks his students, “Where do you see an icon?” They look around, and someone – usually male – suggests the stained glass window, or the statue. “Where do you see another kind of icon?” Someone else – usually female – suggests the Scriptural quotations, and Fr. says, “Right!” and goes on to explain how Scripture and pictorial icons are two expressions of the same thing; and yet how much understanding – and beauty! – was lost to the Reformation churches when they got rid of icons. And also how, even though pictorial icons and Scripture express the same thing, Scripture will always come a close second because it conveys the IDEAS about truth, whereas icons somehow conveys the truth itself.
He made some interesting points about how, in some ways, the Gutenberg Press was the cause of the Reformation, because it replaced pictorial icons with the written word as the main focus of much Christianity.
This morning I and a friend visited a monastery near Seattle (my second time to any orthodox service) and afterwords talked with the Igumen for quite a while. He gave us firsthand an example of using an icon as a teaching tool. From one icon (of Christ on the cross) he talked about serenity in suffering, triumph over death, the first and second Adam, and hell, and I could tell that he was just brushing the surface of this particular icon. Quite . . . um . . . illuminating.
I am sure others can offer more helpful comments, but on just a first glance on your quotations, Darlene, it does not seem that the person you quote as a Byzantine expert has really offered any particularly useful evidence. Simply calling the Fathers of the Council “ignorant,” “silly,” etc. is not an argument, just name calling. It would be equally useless for someone to “disprove” the author’s “argument” by simply calling him names. The two points the author seems to be making is that the Fathers were ignorant (do we have IQ tests to prove this?) and that a pivotal miracle never happened (isn’t this a usual secular argument?). The section concerning the rise of Islam is the kind of “what if” game that a good historian ought to know better than to play. There are too many elements that go into the making of any one single event to predict how something in the past might have turned out differently.
Unfortunately, many have made the error of worshipping created things. Those who have used icons as idols though have done so without understanding what they are. Just as those who mistake veneration (proskyneo) with true worship (latreia). I don’t doubt that in 7th c Arabia, Muhammad saw just that mistake. Muhammad clearly admired much about Christianity, as he set up 5 “pillars” which were (and remain) pious practices of the day. He even set up Christ as a great prophet born from a virgin mother!
As for iconography being a “new practice” in the 8th century, that is patently and historically false. One trip to the 2nd-3rd c Catacombs in Rome should put that to rest. Meanwhile, the evidence is mounting that the Shroud of Turin is real (see the Discovery Channel special!); why should the Mendalyion not be? I’ll let Father discuss the evidence for or against St. Luke’s practice as a painter.
You are right that history, especially before the printing press, has gone to the historians, and that the iconodules won the day. (I’m not sure that’s not better than this age’s practice of everyone being able to publish their “facts” as “history…) That said, you should read St. John Damascene some day. (“on the holy images”) Easy read, and makes it very difficult to maintain the conclusion that icons are idols. I bet he’s more convincing at any rate than Mr Haldon.
Good luck in your faith journey, and God Bless you.
Human beings are capable of making an idol of almost anything, even the Holy Scriptures. That does not make them idols in and of themselves.
Created things that are made specifically to take the place of God or be God are idols. Icons are certainly not that. Indiviudual people can use them in such a manner but they are miss using them.
Would you ever mistake an icon for God Himself?
When God became man, He resanctified His creation. We are now once again able to offer to Him in worship, that which He created. Asking the Holy Spirit to imbue us with His grace. We are not separate from the rest of Creation, we are to be the stewards and priests of it. Using it for His glory.
I just lost about 30 minutes of typing on a very long answer. Must have been God’s editing.
Brief form: the scholarship you cite is quite damaged. The veneration of icons and the saints did not lead to the rise of Islam. Strangely, the Reform Gospel, preached across Europe, today finds its traditional homelands in a state of post-Christianity (with 5% or so attending Church) and a growing Islamic population. If evangelical doctrine is so good, then why did they lose Europe?
The 7th Council was based on solid theology. I think particularly of St. Theodore the Studite, whose doctrine of “hypostatic representation” is among the most sublime teachings I have ever studied. St. John of Damascus whose theology was also quite important is considered to have written the greatest summary of Christian theology up until his time (The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith).
There are many good books to be found on the topic. Read Jaroslav Pelikan’s history of that period. It is “fair and balanced” and written by one of the greatest historians of our generation (may his memory be eternal).
Iconoclasm is a spiritual disease. It has almost always been a hallmark of modern revolutions (and even some ancient ones). Iconoclasm in Byzantium began as state-sponsored terrorism, and was not a popular uprising.
You do not need to believe in God to destroy images. Any revolutionary can do it. However, it takes true faith and right instruction, to venerate images properly and to encounter Christ. Why would God give us a doctrine that impoverishes the spirit? Puritanism (extreme Reform) is not a happy time in Christianity and has rarely been able to keep its children.
Be patient, read, pray. Have the courage to allow your heart to be enlarged. The narrow confines of Reform crush the spirit. Or so this sinful priest thinks.
May I suggest this short article of mine on iconoclasm?
Among the more interesting archaeological discoveries regarding icons is the excavation of the synagogue at Dura Europas (3rd century). It was highly decorated demonstrating that historic Judaism was not necessarily as image-free in the early centuries of Christianity as modern Protestant theology would like to believe (Adolf Von Harnack was among those who taught that there was a pristine imageless Christianity that was debased by pagan-influenced Catholic or Orthodox practice). This imageless Christianity has been proven repeatedly to be a fiction. And now, archaeology proves that imageless Judaism may be a Reformation exercise in the imagination as well.
It is the sad history of iconoclasm that should instruct our hearts to beware of those who smash images in the name of Christ.
Orthodox veneration of the saints and of images is a very careful doctrine – rooted very carefully in the doctrine of the incarnation of the Word of God. It safeguards Christianity from a false idealism and a despising of matter. It also teaches the heart in very deep ways and carries us into the very depths of understanding about the nature of the Person and what it means to be truly in relation to God. Iconoclasm requires no subtlety and teaches nothing to the heart other than an anger and a destruction. Where is the Reform counterpart to a St. Seraphim of Sarov? Has there ever been such a thing and can there ever be?
I would add, of you don’t mind, that there is also a Christian Church site at Dura-Europos that is wall-to-wall art. Haven’t been there to see it for myself though. (Yet :))
I have some genuine concerns regarding this subject and would welcome all who wish to give their input, for it is my desire to know and embrace the Christian truth as regards this matter of icons.
Father Stephen said, “But there is a proper theology of icons, of the image within Christian theology. Iconoclasm, in the teaching of the fathers, is heresy, a denial of the truth of God’s incarnation.”
Over on “Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics” blog, there is a current thread entitled “Muhammad and the Arabs just did not get a credible Biblical and evangelical witness.” The writer goes on to say, “The lack of Biblical evangelism and missions set up a vacuum for more false doctrines, heresies, and evantually a new religion. My point is that Muhammad could not distinguish between the Monophysites, Nesorians, Chalcedonians, ascetics, and the Collyridions; – they could not distinguish between them because of the Marian practices, images, bowing before icons, prayers to Mary, and calling her “the Mother of God.” It was a bad witness and lack of evangelical missions on the Orthodox part, combined with the heretics who were exiled to the frontiers. Cults and heresies grew up and new religions were started from a lack of outreach and witness.”
IOW, this writer attributes false Orthodox practices such as image worship, bowing before icons, Marian piety, as the reason Islam emerged and spread. Had the people in that region heard the truth of the unadulterated gospel preached, there would not have been the opportunity for Islam to grow and spread.
A commenter responding to this thread added further to the bolstering of this view point. The following are some of his comments.
“One should realize that by the time Muhammad appeared to the scene (early 7th C) the cult of images among Eastern Christians was still relatively new.”
He goes on to quote John F. Haldon, a secular expert on Byzantine history who “has little time for the disingenuous RC/EO apologetic claim that the cult of icons was an ancient apostolic tradition.” He continues by saying of Mr. Haldon’s writing, “This whole piece is worth reading. The iconoclasts of the 8th and 9th centuries were subjected to a veritably Orwellian memory-hole, two-minute hate treatment by the victorious iconodule party that destroyed all their writings and made up reckless calumnies about them.”
I’ve heard this complaint before – that the voices of those reputable Christians who opposed the 7th Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea were silenced by the iconophiles and the written defenses of their position destroyed. How much veracity is there to this point of view?
This same commenter goes on to say of this council that it was, “an intellectually and morally decrepit Dark Ages “ecumenical” council.” IOW, it was a sham. Continuing he quotes from Haldon that this council was “composed of such ignorant and silly prelates” and “there was not a single individual amongst these vernerable fathers sufficiently informed to be able to discover a fabrication so gross that it did not escape the attention of scholars who lived many centuries afterwards.”
The fabrication referred to is that of a pretended miracle which happened at Beryt with an image of Christ, which, having been pierced by the Jews, emitted blood and healed many sick persons. This commentor went on to say that “the fathers of the council were so moved by this account that they shed tears.” and “There were many false documents produced in that assembly” but among the fathers “there was not a single one versed in the science of criticism.” Thus he concludes that the council “proves the ignorance of the times.”
When I read things like this (as a Protestant I’ve heard/read many objections to Catholic idolatry), it raises up a concern within me of the possibility of being deceived. Yes, I know this is what I bring with me having been a Protestant for over 30 yrs. But I honestly do want to settle this issue. It seems I go back and forth over it and I cannot confidently defend the Orthodox use of icons.
Please know that I did not post any of this to be disrespectful – that is not my intent. Rather, I want to walk into Orthodoxy (if God so wills) with my eyes open and equipped with being rightly informed. The addage, “He who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” could apply. I want this matter to be settled in my heart so I can move forward.
I look forward to your comments.
Actually, Darlene, it was probably the other way around. The rise and success of Islam may well have precipitated iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire. Muhammad (who probably was only exposed directly to East Syrian/”Nestorian” Christianity, not exactly a center of ikon veneration, although I don’t think they reject it outright) died in 632. The first period of iconoclasm began in 730, almost a century later, under the Emperor Leo III, apparently because he felt that God was siding with the Muslims militarily. It ended in 787 with the Second Council of Nicea, at which the veneration of ikons was affirmed.
Finally, in general, Muhammad not only stumbled on the hard rock of the Incarnation, but also, relatedly, on that of the Trinity. The absolute unity and oneness of God, allowing absolutely no room for a triplicity of Divine Persons (or for the possibility that humans can participate in the Divine Life, either by nature as in the Incarnation, or by grace), is THE core doctrine of Islam.
I am not Orthodox, I am Latin Rite Catholic. I mean this as a disclosure. I understand the concern, in part. I just want to express that we genuinely do not believe we ‘worship’ just because we show respect, veneration, [however you want to call it] in front of images or icons. Do Asians not bow to others to show respect? Is that idolatry to you? Cultural filters make people misunderstand others’ actions. It is wrong to accuse another of what he/she is not really doing [8th commandment – false witness].
It is the TRUTH and the MERCY portrayed that we bow to, not the piece of wood, plaster or metal, obviously!
If not of Christ, [let’s say Mary or any saint], then it is NOT worship, it is veneration…and part of the Catholic concept of ‘Communion of Saints’…please understand that in our concept of reality, all of them are ALIVE in Heaven in the Presence of the Most High! We are asking for intercession – to pray with us, for us.
If I saw Mother Teresa helping everyone she encountered, for example, when she was on Earth, sick, poor, frail, with limitations- and she would help all she could! How could I believe that now, while in Heaven and without limitations, that she would not at least intercede for us when we ask her?
I also want to comment that even though, as humans, both the East & West churches may have had differences and may not agree on some items, of more or less importance, we do share more in common than we differ. And many of the differences are more cultural than theological. Our lives, well lived, should be very similar in their morality and social justice, actually.
The main thing to remember is that Jesus left us [all of us in the Body of Christ], the Holy Spirit to guide us. The Holy Spirit turns even our ‘crooked steps’ into the ‘right path’…that is our faith. We are NOT alone. Our individual intention, as we meditate or pray in front of an icon should be the main concern.
We must remember that there are MANY ways to commit idolatry, not just with physical images, but also with ideologies, politics, sports, entertainment, pornography, finances, relationships, work/career, achievements/success, addictions to chemicals/alcohol/shopping/gambling, academics, science, technology, pride, racism, self-righteousness, empty religiosity, … you name it…we have SO many types of idolatry that it is almost a ‘cafeteria-style’ buffet to choose from.
In other words, ANYTHING that in our minds and hearts takes the place of GOD, our affections, our time, our effort, our constant preoccupation, our relationships. I have known people who don’t want to live if their love one breaks up with them. Is that not idolatry worse than contemplating an icon of the Last Supper, for example?
And, if a council, or another, had a few who thinking they were doing the right thing, acted less than nobly. The Holy Spirit will prevail. Somehow, what seems crooked will work to the benefit of God’s Plan…and our spirit of brotherhood will work better than our strictness, for on this side of the ‘veil’ we know that we cannot possibly see clearly, and that charity goes a long way on our behalf!
As one who regularly writes for thirty minutes or longer, I’ve developed a fairly knee-jerk habit of “selecting all” (command+A) and copying (Command +C) about every five minutes. Unless you have to reboot your computer, that will pretty much do the job if a glitch arises.
Wordperfect used to be pretty good about automatic backups, and Word has some options like that, but they are a bit difficult to figure out.
Sorry about your loss.
I remember reading once that during the reign of Justinian I (6th Century) persecution of heretical groups began in earnest in the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, many of these groups fled to the fringes of the empire including Arabia and this is a major reason why such a concentration of heretical groups was to be found in Arabia at the time of Muhummad.
I don’t think we’d be able to look at another person’s face if we saw the Face of the Father (see Exodus 33) this could be a problem. Besides, we have access to the Heart of God through the broken body of His Son and what better way to articulate His Thoughts and Words than this?
…since the images are not idols nor “Holy”…you shouldnt have a problem with changing the faces of the images frequently…and… would you dare throw one away in the dumpster if need be ? …could you or is it possible to have a meaningful worship service WITHOUT images/icons?…..this is just me thinking out loud..
What is important is that we remain spiritually discerning. Icons are not the issue, they never were (except to the undiscerning). The state of the heart is the only thing that matters when entering the presence of God. Think of what happened in the upper room, there were no icons, just a whole lot of unity and expectation.
Father Greg Acca beat me to it: I think it likely that the iconoclast emperors were trying to ecumenise with their Muslim neighbours in the interests of keeping their kingdoms. Somewhat like the Israelite kings putting up pagan statues in the temple to keep the Babylonians etc happy.
In that case it would be a problem (not the pagan statue itself but the submission to a foreign “god”). It was this that prevented the 2nd Temple Israelites from entering the Holy presence. Christ became the tabernacle and temple (take your pick). Even if it did take a little while for the stream to gather momentum and to flow back down the mountain into the sea….
The images are “holy” because of whom they depict. We do not change the faces because it matters that they actually look like those whom they depict and are guided by tradition in that depiction. If an icon needs to be destroyed – it is burned and not just tossed in a dumpster because we respect it. Many Orthodox have had very meaningful worship services without icons. I think particularly of those in Stalin’s Gulag where the possession of an icon could have meant death. Indeed the liturgy itself could have meant death, but was still offered (which bread kept out of rations, etc.) and the words from memory. The icons there were the faces of the fellow prisoners all around.
But, in Orthodox practice, once a doctrine has been solemnly defined, it becomes part of our worship service, where we “pray what we believe.” Thus the liturgies proclaim the fullness of the faith. After the 7th ecumenical council we always have icons present as a proclamation of the right understanding of Christ’s incarnation. We say the Nicene Creed at these services as well (though before the 1st ecumenical council it was not said, of course). We do not reinvent the services according to our wishes, but we are obedient to what has been delivered to us. This has preserved us from many errors.
There are things like this for other Christians as well. Before the Council in Jerusalem (Book of Acts), a Christian could have had their male child cicumcised in a Jewish ceremony. After the Council in Jerusalem, this would have been inappropriate and disobedient.
The icons are important – this is a matter of settled doctrine. Of course the state of the heart is important – no one who reads this blog would think I would say otherwise. But the Orthodox do not dismiss what has been given us in the doctrine of the Church – nor can we just “roll history back to the day of Pentecost” and pretend nothing else ever happened. That’s just imaginary protestantism. A room full of Christians with a “whole lot of unity and expectation” could be a “whole lot of unity in their false beliefs and expectations of nonsense.” Only the fullness of the teaching of Christ prevents such an assembly. There have been many, many such false assemblies in the history of Christianity and they were not “new pentecosts.”
Dear Father, bless!
A few years ago, I read a couple of books on the Shroud of Turin. Together they convinced me that the Shroud is quite authentic. One made a persuasive speculation that the Shroud was once folded so that only the Face portion showed and displayed in the church at Edessa and is the basis for this Icon. The author also asserted that prior to the 6th or 7th century, in icons Jesus was typically depicted in Roman forms without a beard, but subsequent to the discovery of the Image in the Shroud, icons of Christ showed him with the beard (and many other features found in the Image on the Shroud). It was all fascinating stuff. Likely you could verify or correct some of this information from your studies, Father.
Darlene, I can relate to your dilemma. I trust many of the comments above have been helpful. Once I got over my initial prejudices, my background as a psychology major I think (along with my own experience) has helped me embrace the use of Icons without hesitation. God is God and Creator of the whole person. Written language employs only half the brain. Visual art is a whole brain thing. Icons and the life of the whole Church just bring to life the teaching of the Scriptures in its fullness. They do not contradict it.
I think Father Stephen’s comments about modern Europe are rather to the point! Yes, I lived there and experienced what he talks about. May the Lord continue to help you in your journey.
The fathers teach that Mary became the Temple and the Tabernacle. After all, it was not the Temple nor the Tabernacle that were of significance – but what they contained. Mary is called the “animate Ark of God,” for she “contained the Uncontainable.” Christ is not the container of God – He is God.
It is also true that no one can see the face of the Father (there are Orthodox canons that forbid the making of an icon of the Father – though there is a sort of “side debate” among some). Christ is the revelation of the “face” of God and it is true that now we may see His face and live. It is also true that in Orthodox interpretation, the conversation Moses had on Mt. Sinai was with the Logos, the 2nd person of the Trinity. God has eternally made Himself known through His Logos. There never was a time in which man could “get behind” the Logos and know the Father apart from Him. Nor does the Holy Spirit “speak of the things concerning Himself.” In the human relation to God we know the “Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit.” There is only Trinitarian knowledge of God and there has never been any other kind of knowledge (else God is not Trinity).
Thank you for this detailed explanation.
Although I hold no brief on the doctrinal place of icons in Orthodoxy I can see that there most certainly is a place for icons in worship and where they are unavailable God is well able to provide icons of His own. I have experienced this.
God is revealed to us in Christ; indeed we are able to comprehend such spiritual things because we ourselves (like Mary and all the saints) are containers (“arks”) of the Holy Spirit (who Himself is God).
Not that the unity of God’s oneness in any way detracts from Christ’s two natures or the Trinitarian knowledge of God.
And at this point I’d like to declare myself a truly ignorant man.
Blessings upon you.
I liked your comments and the spirit in which they were made. Thanks.
Christ’s two natures of course are joined in hypostatic union — from the empty tomb to the gardener of the whole world…
..”The Orthodox devotion to icons is not to be found in some supposed likeness to pagan idolatry. It is rather to be found in the profound teaching of the New Testament ” ……any scripture to back that statement up with?
There are, but you would have to wander quite a ways from most Protestant grids of interpretation.
The Scriptures that convinced me were Deuteronomy 4:11-12, I John 1:1-3, 1 John 4.2, 1 John 3.2, Hebrews 10.1, Colossians 1.15, 2 Corinthians 4:3-5, 2 Corinthians 3:17,18, and of course John 1 and 2 John 7.
And yes, its pretty clear to me.
Lets not get involved in scripture tossing, Who you believe has everything to do with what you believe, and there isn’t anybody, really, who can referee between us to say which interpretation is correct. Usually what occurs when I get involved in arguments about Scripture is that people start brandishing keys of excommunication that we have no right to wield.
Not as a proof-text. I’m not a Protestant.
But in the doctrine of the incarnation as taught in the New Testament. In the doctrine of the Divine Image as found in the New Testament. The consensus of the fathers is that “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” The very presentation to the world of God as man, is God’s presentation to the world of His image – an image that can be pictured.
I think I qualified my statement with the “profound” teaching of the New Testament. That is, the depths of the Scripture as understood and taught by the fathers of the Church.
By the same token – the doctrine of the Trinity – in its fullness is part of the profound teaching of the New Testament – but not reduceable to a proof text. The understanding of Personhood within the Godhead is part of the profound teaching of the New Testament but not reduceable to a proof text.
And so it goes on. Those who have reduced Christianity to a set of proof texts diminish the faith and handle Scripture in a manner that is foreign to the Apostles and fathers of the Church.
Forgive me if I make a statement that sounds like I’m an Orthodox priest and not a Protestant pastor.
Good selection of Scriptures – you were nicely ahead of me. And very pacific as well.
Re the Biblical texts –
It might be worth pointing out that the word in the NT texts usually rendered as “image” in English translations is “eikon” in the original Koine Greek.
As I understand it (and please correct/clarify if I am wrong), the Greek word means something a bit more profound than many English readers sometimes presume (in the same way that “Logos” means more than just “word”). There is, I think, a sense of participation, more akin to what the Fathers would later call “homoousios” than the idea that Christ is merely a celestial photocopy. That’s what makes the Incarnation seem so shockingly blasphemous to some folks – let alone the idea that you and I might also be gradually be being conformed to that same eikon!
Father Stephen has written elsewhere on this blog (and no doubt I am making a clumsy precis) about the ability of icons mystically to participate in and make present that which they represent, in the same way that the whole Church is represented by one small part of it at divine worship.
On a slight tangent, I used to have a great mentor, an Anglican priest (now rejoicing on another shore), who was a great admirer of Orthodoxy and had a wonderful collection (if that is the right word) of icons. He said he had been told by an Orthodox monk that he must kiss the icons each day, or else they would die. I don’t know if this has any basis in official Orthodox teaching, but it was that comment more than anything else which helped me think about the difference between icons, images and idols.
An icon is not just a pretty picture of Jesus, any more than a human being is just a clay model of God. Ultimately, I think, it all comes down to whether or not you take the Incarnation seriously. But then, doesn’t everything?!
From much earlier days in my life – this was also a favorite song of mine. Things indeed take on their proper perspective in the light of His glory and grace.
Icons cannot die, of course, but monks sometimes have a way of teaching that simply works. My first introduction to icons was by an Anglican monk (he also lent me his copy of Zander’s book on St. Seraphim of Sarov). I stayed up all one night at his monastery, reading St. Seraphim’s life. My life was changing (I was in college then – probably around 1975) though I had no idea how much. I feel that I have traveled a long way with St. Seraphim as a dear friend. I am blessed to have a small relic of the saint at my parish. I would never have dreamed such a thing.
The theology of the image (icon) in the New Testament (working from the foundation in Genesis 1) is truly profound. There are many small statements within the NT that contain a whole world of understanding. To say that Christ is the “image of the invisible God” is astounding. Why would the Apostle say such a thing? What was on his mind and heart when he did say it. Those who simply say “inspiration” as if St. Paul were taking dictation rob the Scripture of its wonder. It is truly inspired – but St. Paul knew what he meant and why he meant it. But even that simple statement is truly astounding. It has no particular precedent – other than the text in Genesis – which Paul surely had in mind. He understands that Christ is the “Second Adam” (another astounding statement). Those who do not marvel at even the most minor of such statements either know to little, or do not stop to ponder what little they do know.
I am currently doing a Bible study before liturgy in my parish – we’re studying Ephesians. We’re lucky to get a single phrase (even a word sometimes) finished on any given Sunday.
You said, “Christ is the revelation of the face of God and it is true that now we may see His face and live.”
I sang in the choir at my church and the choir director was always asking me to sing a solo. I recall thinking that I didn’t want the congregation watching me and thinking of me while I sang. The two songs I chose were “There is a Fountain” and “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” After the service one of the women approached me and said that while I was singing she closed her eyes and meditated on Christ. That was what I had wanted. Something that I appreciate about Orthodox worship is the choir isn’t in front of the congregation. Seems a much better way to focus on Christ.
Oh soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light when we look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.