26 - The ICON, March 17, 2019

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Hebrews 11:24

John 1:43-51

We read in Hebrews: “The Law (specifically, the worship of the Temple) was a shadow of the good things to come. It was not the ICON Itself of the [heavenly] realities [of which the worship of the Temple was the copy—(Ex 25:9)].” The Icon here is clearly the Really Real. It is Christ, for He is the Icon of the invisible God (Col 1:15). With this, I wish to point out that the ‘biblical’ Icon is the Source, the Beginning, the Truth, the Really Real.

We read in the First Book of Moses that God made Man in His own Image (or ICON) and Likeness. Here, again, the Image or ICON, in whom Man is made, is Christ.

Made in the Image that is Christ, we come to be as images of the Image. Following the doctrine of St Anthony the Great (4th cent.), if we are true to ourselves as “copies” of God and become like God, we become one with God. In this, we see that the Icon is the mystery of communion with God. The true iconography, therefore, is Christology, and in the doctrine of Christ we learn the true anthropology—the true nature and destiny of man as an image of God made to exist in the Likeness of God, in communion with God.

The icons hanging on our walls at home and here in the Church, then, are not the Icon. They are “mirrors” of the ICON and His mysteries, as they are called by the holy fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. If they are mirrors, they reflect something that’s there; i.e., they are not images from the artist’s imagination. They are not pictures of, let’s say a lion. They are mirrors show the lion that is in fact there, right behind you, just over your shoulder. As such, they evoke a much different response in the faithful than would a mere picture of the same lion!

Obviously, for the icon to become a mirror of what’s there, and not just a picture showing the artist’s imagination, the drawing of an icon must follow a strict canon or rule that originates in and from the ICON which is being reflected in the icon as in a mirror.

So also is a saint an icon of the ICON, a mirror in whom we see reflected the ICON who is really there. The saint shows that the ICON is not imaginary. The ICON is real for His reflection has become incarnate in the saint as in a mirror.

Now, the worship of the OT Temple was, in this sense of the icon, a “copy”, as the LORD tells Moses on Mt Sinai: “You shall make for me a sanctuary, and I will appear among you. You shall make for me according to all things which I show thee in the mountain, even the copy of the tabernacle, and the copy of all its furniture, so shall you make it” (Ex 25:8-9). It was a copy in the sense of a “mirror” or an “icon”. It was not the product of Moses’ imagination; it was a mirror reflecting the worship of the Heavenly Temple that was really there. Here, we see how the icon is made according to a strict canon laid down by God Himself.

In fact, that Heavenly Temple, reflected in the worship of the Temple as in a mirror, was Itself the WORD of God incarnate, the ICON who makes the invisible God visible so that He can be seen with the eyes, heard with the ears, even handled with the hands. For, Christ says to the Jews: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up again. He was speaking,” says St John, “of His Body.” But, He fashioned the Temple of His Body from the substance of our human nature in the womb of the Holy Virgin as in the sanctuary of His Living Temple. And so, the Heavenly Temple that was the ICON of which the OT Temple was the copy was the full mystery of Christ and His Holy Mother, His Living Temple, the Virgin Mother of God.

And so could we translate Philip’s word to Nathanel, “We have found the Christ whose outline Moses and the prophets engraved on their parchments as the iconographer engraves the outline of the icon first on a gesso board”?

Let’s return to Mt Sinai. Revealing to Moses in the Holy Mountain the “copy” of Heavenly worship, God revealed to Moses the mystery of creation. That is, the worship of the OT Temple was an icon, a mirror reflecting creation coming forth from the WORD of God, the Dabar enthroned at the back of the sanctuary or at the point where creation opens onto God. It is the sanctuary of the Temple, that is to say, where creation originates and where it comes into being as a copy, an icon of the ICON, to exist as God’s Holy Temple in whom He dwells. The principle of creation is not physics. It is the worship of the Temple as God revealed it to Moses on Mt Sinai. And, at the center or in the heart of that Temple, in the sanctuary, is Man made in the ICON of God, made to serve as the High Priest offering the world to God and God to the world to establish creation in the mystery of communion.

But, of course, the Icon of which the Holy Mountain of Sinai is the shadow, is the Most Blessed Virgin. In His Holy Mountain, not Moses but God Himself fashions the Temple of His Body not as a copy but as the ICON Itself. And in the sanctuary of the Virgin’s womb, God himself becomes flesh and “pitches the Tabernacle of His Body” to dwell among us.

In the ineffably beautiful mystery of the Most Blessed Virgin, God’s Living Temple, we stand this morning, here in the Church that is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. We stand—as we are given to know from the Church’s lectionary—before His Tomb, where His life-giving corpse was laid with unspeakable awe and reverence in the “midst of the earth” (Ps 7:12 LXX), in the heart of the earth, at that point where creation ends, where it “returns” to the sanctuary of the human heart, to find there at the back that wall of hostility that separates creation from God. We are standing with the myrrh-bearing women before the mystery of our own death.  

In the Church on this morning of the First Sunday of the Fast, we stand with the myrrh-bearing women and are given to see with them how His Body was buried in the Tomb; that is, how the LORD entered His Sabbath Rest, the copy of which Moses had engraved in his ‘icon’ of creation (Gn 2:1-4). By means of the Fast, we are granted to stand here in the mystery of Christ’s Cross. Let us understand that, standing in the mystery of the Cross before the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, we stand before the mystery of creation. Here in the Church we are at a critical point, following Archimandrite Aimilianos. Do we keep hold of the Cross of the Fast in order to gain His Resurrection, or do we let go the Cross and go back up from where we are here in the “midst of the earth” to return to the “surface” of the ordinary daily routine we left behind, mundane, perhaps, but familiar and comfortable!

If you ‘ve taken up the Cross of the Fast, you have perhaps already experienced the God-man throwing your hip out of joint, crippling you as He did Jacob that night He wrestled with him to the dawn (Gn 32:24ff.); for, in taking up this Cross of the Fast, which the LORD Himself has given you as a weapon to defeat the devil, you have united yourself to Christ in the likeness of His death; for His sake, by means of the Fast, you are putting to death the body of death that is in you (Rom 7). You are beginning to feel the death of Jesus palpably in your mortal bodies (2 Cor 4:10). Will you let go the God-Man or will you, like Jacob, hold tightly to Him to receive from Him the blessing of His Resurrection at the rising of the sun—Pascha Night?

Let’s be Nathanael whom the LORD sees wearing our fig leaves under the fig tree. The Church is calling out to us in the word of St Philip: “Come and see the ICON whose outline Moses and the prophets etched on their parchments as on gesso boards!” He is the ICON of whom you are the copy! But, look where we are! Look where He is! He is in His Tomb as a corpse; but, it is the mystery of His Sabbath Rest and it is the Font of our life in the ICON of God. We stand in the Fast this morning before the mystery of the LORD re-creating us from the dust of the earth and breathing into us His Holy Spirit to make us living souls in His Resurrection. The Church urges us to hold on to the Fast, hold tight to the Cross of Christ. In the Cross of the Fast, the LORD Himself is working in us. By the power of His Cross, in the Church that is His Body, Christ will raise us up from our graves and bring us to His Holy Pascha on Pascha Night not as to a magnificent pageant but as to the ICON, the really real, whose reflection is already shining on us from His Holy Tomb in the mystery of His Cross given to us in the Fast! Amen!