In the last blog, we established that neither God, Moses, nor the scriptures are iconoclastic. Without a doubt, the Mosaic Law was intended as a firm safeguard against idolatry, but the ancient Jewish temple itself was an image, an icon of the heavenly one complete with various carvings of things on earth and in heaven, including cherubim. Archeologists have discovered paintings of Old Testament scenes lining the walls of the Jewish synagogues during the time of Christ in the Greco-Roman world.
Yet, in all of this, God was never depicted. Why? Because God’s nature is invisible and incomprehensible. One cannot paint God because God cannot be painted — at least not in His divine nature.
About 2,000 years ago, God became incarnate and mysteriously wrapped His divinity in humanity. If someone had a smartphone, they could have taken a picture of God and texted it to their friends. Since such technology did not exist, people settled with paintings of the God-man Jesus Christ.
When walking into an Orthodox Church for the first time, an inquirer may be surprised to see the walls covered with images (Greek “ikon”). Perhaps even more shocking would be the sight of Orthodox Christians kissing and reverencing the icons in various ways.
Is not the second of the Ten Commandments iconoclastic?
You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. (Exodus 20:4-5)
The answer to that question is no. Neither God nor the commandments of the Torah  are iconoclastic when understood properly. After all, God created the first icon, and it was of Himself:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image [ikon], according to Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)
I have seen an erroneous sentiment regarding the Ecumenical Councils expressed among a small number of Orthodox Christians. It goes something like this, “What was proclaimed in the Councils is dogma of the Church; all other ideas fall into the category of theologoumenon (non-doctrinal theological opinion).” In other words, nearly anything in the writings of the Fathers of the Church is merely opinion unless it has been confirmed by one of the seven Ecumenical Councils.
The following is an article written by iconographer Michael Goltz. In it, he explains the theology of the icon, its use, symbolism, how/why characters are portrayed, etc. I hope it is as beneficial to you as it was to me.
The iconography of our Orthodox Church, with all of its symbolism and spiritual meaning, is central to the Church’s teaching. People are greatly influenced by what they contemplate, and so the Church, in its love for its faithful, has given us iconography in order to help us contemplate God. The Church has elevated iconography to a place of prominence as a teaching tool. What the Gospels proclaim with words, the icon proclaims visually. Continue reading What Do Icons Mean?
Because the Orthodox Church was instituted by God to be the hospital for our souls, everything within it has been ordained through the Holy Spirit for our salvation. The upcoming season of Great Lent (the Great Fast) is no exception.
In her wisdom, the Church does not simply throw us straight into a difficult fast, but rather slowly steps us toward it: both theologically and practically. The Church readings on Sundays teach us important lessons about fasting, and on a practical level, the fasting begins slowly with Meatfare Sunday.
After the first few months of meeting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I revealed to my neighbor that I honestly thought the Witnesses were Christians and good people, only a bit misguided. He was surprised and rightly told me that they were outside of the truth and not in a good place spiritually.
Those were my pre-Orthodox days and I was wrestling with what it meant to be a Christian. My thoughts were that there are so many thousands of ways to interpret the Bible, how can we possibly say that one group is better than another? If someone is trying to live a godly life, what does it matter if they are a mess doctrinally? Aren’t we all a mess? Continue reading Assaulting God, Part 4
The following is the third homily on the Feast of the Annunciation by Bishop St Gregory the Wonderworker, probably written sometime around AD 260-275.
It was one long paragraph and I have divided it into several sections so that it is much easier to read. All of the bold type is my addition. I find it noteworthy that salvation in early Christianity was understood to be God rescuing his beautiful creation from death, which had entangled it due to sin. In that regard, it is full of poetic love and (like all Christian writings from antiquity that I have read) it lacks any concept of a wrathful God desiring to take out his anger and justice upon His son on the cross. Especially enlightening is the dialogue between Gabriel and the Lord. Continue reading An Ancient Homily for The Annunciation
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)
I was reminded of the words of Christ while reading last night. The Christians in the ancient Roman Empire (third century) were being persecuted, turned from their homes, burned, tortured, and beheaded. A civil war broke out and then a plague infested the area, which distracted the unbelievers from the persecution.
I was deeply moved by the account which St Dionysius the Great wrote* regarding the total selfless and divine love the Christians displayed. I will quote him at length here:
DIONYSIUS TO THE ALEXANDRIANS
Certainly very many of our brethren, while, in their exceeding love and brotherly-kindness, they did not spare themselves, but kept by each other, and visited the sick without thought of their own peril, and ministered to them assiduously, and treated them for their healing in Christ, died from time to time most joyfully along with them, lading themselves with pains derived from others, and drawing upon themselves their neighbours’ diseases, and willingly taking over to their own persons the burden of the sufferings of those around them. Continue reading The Everyday Martyrdom
I am often confronted with the reality of a divine mystery. This all-powerful, all-knowing God whom we serve chooses to “work in mysterious ways.” (Isa 45:15). The particular “way” that I have in mind is His working through material people and objects rather than doing everything Himself.
Even God’s greatest intervention in the history of humanity, the incarnation of the Logos, was completed through the willingness of a pious young virgin.
When God wanted to free His people, he called Moses to confront Pharaoh. How much more efficient would it have been if he had simply sent an angel to Pharaoh in a “shock and awe” sort of method? Continue reading Receiving Material Grace
Below is a letter recently written that I felt may help others out as well.
In regards to praying to saints, it is one of the most difficult things for Protestant Christians to understand. I wrestled with it for a while. In old English, the word “pray” simply meant to ask or implore someone for something.
In the modern English Christian world, the word has come to mean “to ask God for something.” So, when we mention “praying to the saints” it seems horrible because we’ve been trained that the word should only be used in regards to praying to the god of whatever religion one adheres.
As you are finding through the Jesus Prayer, prayer is often much more than simply asking for something. It is communing, that is, connecting with the Divine in a deep way…establishing a heart to heart connection. Continue reading Why do the Orthodox pray to saints?
In the prehistoric times, mankind decided they would force their way into heaven. The biblical narrative explains they built a large tower with the intention of walking right into heaven. Their plan was destroyed when they found themselves speaking in diverse tongues and no longer able to understand each other.
Pentecost, which was celebrated today in the Orthodox Church, could be considered Babel upside down. The Holy Spirit descended among us and the diverse tongues that once divided mankind acted to unite.
Now, we no longer build towers to reach into the heavens because the heavens have come sweeping down into our world.
As one Kondak goes,
“When the Most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations, but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity, and with one voice we glorify the Most Holy Spirit.”
On several occasions, I have written about heaven not being a physical place, but rather a state of being. I ran across this quote recently in my readings and thought I would share:
You, then, O reader, hasten to sell your possessions and give to the poor. Possessions are, to the wrathful person, his anger; to the fornicator, his disposition for debauchery; to the resentful person, his remembrance of wrongs.
Sell these things and give them to the poor demons who are in want of every good thing. Return the passions to the creators of the passions, and then you will have treasure, which is Christ, in your heaven, that is, in your mind which has been exalted above this world. For he who becomes like the heavenly One has heaven within himself.
It comes from Blessed Theophylact’s commentary on Matthew in regards to chapter 19 and the rich young ruler’s encounter with Jesus.