Who are the solid people anyway?
“Like ghosts we walk upon the earth, the ground it groans” sings Michael Gungor of the uber-talented band Gungor. He takes inspiration from CS Lewis’ writings in which he questions our very concept of reality.
When we think of spirit beings or ghosts, we tend to visualize something that is misty, a vapor that can’t even be grasped. The spirit world seems foggy and illusive, much like trying to clasp your fingers around steam as it rises above a pot of boiling water.
But what if we are the vapor? What if spirits and angels pass through walls and the “solid” objects of our world because the spirit world is the solid one?
Soul sleep or a packed stadium?
The Eastern Orthodox Church does not teach “soul sleep,” which is the idea that when we die we go into an unconscious state until the Day of Judgment. Instead, they teach that when we die our spirits go to Heaven with Christ and the angels.
Those who have passed on to the next life do not live in a state of vapory nothingness, floating on clouds with little harps and a senile smile with a bit of drool dribbling down their chins. Instead, they are watching our lives. The book of Hebrews celebrates the life of Old Testament saints, and in chapter twelve refers to them as a great cloud of witnesses who surround us as we run this race of faith.
Windows to Heaven
I imagine myself and all other Christians in a stadium. There is a track on which we are running, and the bleachers are filled with the saints who have passed on. They are standing and cheering for us, shouting that we not get caught up in the cares of this world. They are also interceding for us.
When I stand in an Orthodox Church, I can look around me and see a piece of the “great cloud of witnesses.” Icons of saints are not only reminders of our loving audience, but they are windows into the Heavenly bleachers. Over there is St Moses the Black, who struggled with some of the same things as myself. And look, over there is St Patrick who returned to the nation that enslaved him and changed it with the gospel message.
You may be a bit disturbed when you see the Orthodox venerate icons. I was. They will often bow a little and kiss the icon of the saint. Immediately, a red alert screams in our minds, “Idolatry! They’re worshiping saints!”
But are they? See my next blog for the continuation of this segment.
1 thought on “Intro to Iconography – part 1”
I have mixed feelings about iconography. It’s still a bit mysterious to me. How do we know that “soul sleep” does or does not occur? What if it occurs for some, but not everyone? Perhaps the venerated saints have indeed passed on to a new life already in heaven, and are looking down and “cheering” us on. If this idea comforts and encourages some, then I’m ok with that. As for me, I’m more apt to interpret the icons as inspirational symbols. If the story of a particular saint resonates with you and pausing to meditate over his/her icon helps you on life’s journey, then I can understand that. For me personally, the only icon I would feel comfortable venerating would be one of the Lord Jesus. The saints, awesome and incredible though they are, are not God. I draw a fine line here.