It has been said that “icons do not depict but rather reveal.” It is an insight into the intrinsic character of icons. Events that are seen in a merely historical manner do not reveal their true nature. The meaning of an event and its significance are almost never apparent. Indeed, the world itself does not yield its significance to us by mere observation.
In St. John Chrysostom’s prayer of the Divine Liturgy, we offer thanks to God “for the benefits both revealed and not revealed.” It is one of my favorite thoughts within the liturgy. What we do not see in the course of a given day far exceeds what we do see. I did not see the many accidents that did not befall me today. Such things could be multiplied infinitely.
It is why our lives are properly defined by the state of our heart. Life cannot be measured or lived in a literal manner. Life cannot be reduced to what I see or know or understand. But the heart can see what the eye does not. The heart can be aware of the goodness of God and give thanks for His hidden hand.
The heart can also allow itself to become enthralled to the lies of the wicked one. Such a heart sees evil even where none is present. Fear is its companion and shadows mark its path.
This capacity of the heart and what it reveals is the meaning of Christ’s statement: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (St. Matthew 6:22-23).
Yesterday a beautiful story was shared in the comments – worth bringing forward for more to read. It was printed in the September 1987 edition of AGAIN Magazine, a story told by the Lutheran pastor, Richard Wurmbrand. It is about the faithful witness of an Orthodox priest whom he met in prison.
The first man was a priest who was put in jail at the age of seventy. His name was Surioanu. When he was brought in with his big white beard and white pate, some officers at the gate of the jail mocked him. One asked, “Why did they bring this old priest here?” And another replied with a jeer, “Probably to take the confessions of everybody.” Those were his exact words.
This priest had a son who had died in a Soviet jail. His daughter was sentenced to twenty years. Two of his sons-in-law were with him in jail—one with him in the same cell. His grandchildren had no food, they were forced to eat from the garbage. His whole family was destroyed. He had lost his church. But this man had such a shining face—there was always a beautiful smile on his lips. He never greeted anyone with “Good morning” or “Good evening,” but instead with the words, “Always rejoice.”
One day we asked him, “Father, how can you say ‘always rejoice’—you who passed through such a terrible tragedy?”
He said, “Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written, ‘Rejoice with all those who rejoice.’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I don’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who are in church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice about all those who take. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice with those who do. I can’t see flowers [we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, stars—many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multicolored butterflies and with rainbows], but I can rejoice with those who see the rainbows and who see the multicolored butterflies.”
In prison, the smell was not very good. But the priest said, “Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have picnics and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others have children. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.” That is why he had such a beautiful expression on his face. ———–
The heart of such a man reveals the truth of our existence.