2 Corinthians 6.1-10

Luke 7.11-16

We commemorate this morning the holy fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. This council in 787 A.D. and then again in 841 A.D., was the last of the seven ecumenical councils, and most appropriately so. For the central point of all the ecumenical councils was to uphold the biblical proclamation of the incarnation of God the WORD not just as the Source of salvation but also as the revelation of what salvation is. The Seventh Ecumenical Council was the cap of the other six, proclaiming the Incarnation of God now not just in words, but in concrete images, corresponding exactly to Christ not as a messenger of salvation but as the very Source of salvation in His concrete flesh and blood, which as the form of His humanity, can now be depicted in images as well as in words—but then, even words are audible images­ that draw in the mind an image of what they convey.

Proclaiming the Incarnation of God in icons, then, in and by itself, wordlessly if you will, tells us that to be saved is not to embrace the words of a message or teaching. It is to become one with the Flesh and Blood of the WORD of God who transcends all words and who saves us, not by talking a bunch of words at us but by the supreme wordless act of His death on the Cross. To be saved, then, according to the teaching of the bible, is to become bone of the incarnate God’s bones and flesh of His flesh. One then becomes oneself an icon of the Icon, which is Christ, the Icon of the invisible God (Col 1.15), the Icon which, following Heb 10.1, is the true reality, the real ‘thing’ (pragma) of which all other things, and especially the Law and the OT Temple, are shadows and copies. (Ex 25.9&40, Heb 8.5).

If to be saved is to become bone of the LORD’s bones and flesh of His flesh, then to be saved means that we become in our whole nature, our body as well as our soul, mind, and heart, temples of God, icons of the Icon, filled, together with Heaven and earth, with the Glory of God, made radiant in the uncreated Glory of Christ, the very Radiance of the Father (Heb 1.3)

This theology of the Icon that was articulated by the holy fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council is the ancient teaching of the Church—the spiritual Church that is from the beginning, before even the sun and moon, that is, before time began (St Clement, 2nd Homily §14, 1st Century). We find it, for example, in St Irenaeus writing in the mid-second century:

‘Man is a mixture of soul and flesh,’ he writes; ‘that is, of a flesh formed in the likeness of God and fashioned by the Father’s Hands, i.e., the Son and the Holy Spirit. The soul and the spirit are but a part, they are not the whole man. The whole man is the mixture and union of the soul who has received the Spirit of the Father and has been mixed with the flesh fashioned in the Image of God…Even that which is visible [the body] bears the divine image of God. And according to the breath that was breathed into him, and according to the flesh that was fashioned, man was in the likeness of God.’ (La Gloire de Dieu, p. 55-57)

Perhaps this explains why St Luke, in his accounts of Jesus’ miracles, shows himself a prototype of Sergeant Friday in the old TV series, ‘Dragnet’. Long before Sergeant Friday hit the airwaves, St Luke (the first iconographer of the Church, by the way, drawing the prototypical icon of the Theotokos) was already giving us ‘just the facts, ma’am.’ Whether or not this was intentional, St Luke’s Gospel, as do all the Gospels, in their unembellished accounts of the Mighty Acts of the incarnate God, has the effect of drawing an icon in our mind, our mind which itself, understand, is an icon of the Icon, Christ God, whose image St Luke and the other Evangelists set before us with words unobstructed by human sentimentality or romanticism. In this, the Gospels allow us to recover our own iconic nature and to enter freely as icons of the Icon into the theological reality of the historical moment the Gospels proclaim and to experience the reality of the incarnate Icon of God for ourselves, and to see the Unseen One visibly in our own heart.

Therefore, hearing the words of this morning’s Gospel, let’s enter together into the ‘icon’ those words are drawing in our mind. Let’s begin by contemplating of what reality the meeting of the LORD and the widow weeping over her dead only-begotten son outside the city gates, might be an icon.

First, however, staying at the level of the historical or ‘fleshly’ moment, can we not feel to some degree at least the mother’s sorrow? What words are there that could console and exhaust the depths of her grief? Only one word, and that is the WORD of God who transcends all words, made incarnate in the image, the form of our human nature, who meets her outside the city gates! What ‘wordless’ feeling do you feel when you see that the LORD God identifies with the widow? For He, like her son, is the only-begotten Son of His Virgin Mother. In the flesh that He received from Her, He is not outside of the widowed mother in her grief. He is inside her, sharing her grief. Surely, He can see in her grief the moment when He will ascend the Cross and will have to bear, in addition to the suffering of the Cross, the suffering of His own grief at seeing His own Mother weeping over Him inconsolably!

It’s the Church who lifts the visible veil, the ‘icon’ of this historical moment to reveal the spiritual reality that is becoming incarnate and taking form in it so that it can be depicted in words and in icons. It is the grief of the soul who comes to her senses to see that she is dead in her sins and trespasses. ‘Weep with groaning, O my soul. Fall down before the Mother of God (fall down before the mystery of the incarnation of God the WORD) and say, ‘deliver me, the guilty one, from dreadful torment!’ (Thurs Compline, Tone 6, p. 137)

What torment? Might it be the torment of seeing how ‘desperately corrupt’ (Jer 17.9 KJV) one has become in the root of one’s heart? How one has defiled one’s original beauty created in the image of God? How far away one is from one’s true self. I was created in the image and likeness of God, but I have become putrid, foul and stinking like Lucifer because I have done the deeds of the night, I have wasted my life in evils (Fri Comp, p. 149). I was created to live in God but, behold! I’m a dead man. I cannot get up! I am like one gone down to the Pit, and there is none to deliver me!

But now enter into the ‘icon’ of this morning’s Gospel. The LORD, says St Luke, felt ‘visceral compassion’ for the grieving widowed mother. Feel the tenderness of the Icon of God toward you who were created as an icon of Him, the Icon of the invisible God! Through the most-merciful Theotokos, the All-Merciful One clothed Himself in our substance, that is in our death, so that He could destroy our death from inside us, in the root of our heart, by His death. Therefore, when we call upon the Holy Mother of God, we raise our soul beyond the stench of our wounds and into the mystery of God becoming one with us in our ugliness, stench and death in order to make us one with Him in the fragrant beauty of His Resurrection and so restore us to our original beauty as icons of the Icon of God.

The icon reveals the reality of the Gospel to be warm from the exquisite divine tenderness of God that feels inexpressibly human and natural to the soul. It begins to heal the soul as soon as the soul catches even a glimpse of it. Here is the heart of the Christian Faith. It is the heart of reality.

The words of this morning’s Gospel draw an icon of the Icon. They call out to us who are icons of the Icon. As an icon, the words of the evangelical call go far beyond words. They touch us gently but with power, life-giving and healing power. They touch us immediately, having no need for the mediation of words. The call of the Icon wants to draw us out of the city, through the ‘gates of repentance,’ away from what is visible and earth-bound and into the secret chamber of our heart, the invisible icon that is our true self but where we are dead in our sins and trespasses. It wants to touch us with the divine Icon’s life-giving power; it wants to heal us, to raise us from death to life, even to unite us to the Icon of the invisible God Himself and fill us with His Glory. In His Holy Church, which is His Body, He makes Himself visible and immediately accessible. In the visible sacraments and icons and holy things of His Body, the Church, the divine Icon Himself would touch us and heal us and give us life—if we would but pass through the gates of repentance to meet Him! Amen!