Living in America According to the Good News
Icons and Symbols of the Church
Living in the Light Of Jesus Christ
The transformed life is a life lived in the fullness of the transfiguring light of Christ, but something has to take place in each of us before we can begin to live that new life. When Peter, John and Iakovos (James) ascended the mountain with the Master, they probably thought that it was going to be a prayer session. But, they were soon surprised, their sensual being was opened to the light of Christ as He was transfigured before their eyes. This light, for them, was a first time event, but in reality Christ always dwells in the light, it was just that they were too spiritually dull prior to this point to see Christ as He really is. As the Book of Hebrews comments, "He is the outshining of the Father" or better translated from the Greek, "the Son . . . being the radiance (effulgence) of His glory and the impress of His Person (Hypostasis), and bearing all things by the Word of His power". It is interesting that the word in the text, effulgence, is defined in this case as radiance kind of like rays of the sun. The Jews, in their writings, talk about the Shekinah Glory of God and I would venture to say that Jesus Christ, the very eternal Son of God, is that Shekinah Glory. It is interesting that the word for transformed found in Romans Chapter 12 is the same word that is used in the Gospel as transfiguration.
The Three Disciples as Witnesses to His Glory
So, at this critical point in time, He, whose throne exists in eternity, the One who had condescended to become man, had reached that point in time where the chosen disciples were allowed to experience His pre-existing Glory. Those disciples became the ones who later instructed the others regarding the Eternal Light of the Godhead. Peter later witnesses to this event when he proclaims that he was on the mountain and heard the Voice; but Peter was blinded by the light of transfiguration, the effulgence. He couldn't say what he saw, the gospel writer himself tells us what actually happened, the who and what of the event, the light, Moses and Elijah speaking with Christ were beyond comprehension at that critical moment. And as seen in the Eastern Orthodox icon of the Transfiguration, the disciples crawl off with Peter then asking inanely, "do you want us to build three 'tabernacles' for the three of you?"
Paintings of Jesus Christ Are Impossible to Accomplish
Whenever man attempts to paint a picture of Christ it is an exercise in futility. How can finite man paint a true replica of the ever existing One, He who was before the creation of time, the eternal I AM, THE ONE (BEING) (in the Greek, ego eimi ho on). Various types of pictures of Christ have been painted in the West in an attempt to portray Him and there were and are always cultural aspects to the picture; it is impossible for modern man to paint anything other than a nice looking man involved in some kind of biblical event. That is why the paintings of biblical scenes in the European middle ages generally portray (fat) biblical characters who look as if they lived in Hamburg or Paris; they are ridiculous to say the least. The iconography of the East depicting Jesus Christ Himself, is only allowable by the Church because the Second Person of the Holy Trinity condescended to become man, He became one of us and can be portrayed in His human aspect; but, never in the Eastern church does one see an icon of the Father and the Holy Spirit is always depicted by a dove. A couple of difficult words that help in the understanding of the painting of divine subjects are circumscribed and uncircumscribed. The circumscribed aspects are what we can understand about the Godhead, for example the energies of God; the uncircumscribed aspects are what we cannot understand about God, His essence.
About the Iconography of the Eastern Church
And that brings to mind the Iconography of the Eastern Church; these icons definitely do not fit into the mostly Western genre of paintings of Christ, Moses, Peter, Paul, and Isaiah that we typically see today portraying those biblical characters. Iconography is not specifically designated as painting, but is termed as writing and the iconographer does not simply paint out of his mind. The Eastern Church believes that the one who 'writes' icons is one who writes in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is said the St. Andrei Rublev, a holy Russian iconographer, would spend hours in prayer before working on his wonderful icons; one of the greatest of these is entitled the "Holy Trinity" or the "Hospitality of Abraham" (shown above).
Icons are not meant to picture Christ and the Saints, they represent Windows into Heaven and are to be venerated because they bring to mind who they represent. With all of the above being said, one has to realize that the iconography that I am discussing is that which was written before infiltrations from Western culture infected the writing of Holy Icons, particularly the infiltrations of Roman Catholics in their proselytizing forays into historic Orthodox lands. The Eastern Orthodox teaching regarding veneration, not worship, of icons is that the praise and veneration shown to the icon passes over to the archetype (Basil of Caesarea,On the Holy Spirit 18:45: "The honor paid to the image passes to the prototype"). Thus to kiss an icon of Christ, in the Eastern Orthodox view, is to show love towards Christ Jesus himself, not the mere wood and paint making up the physical substance of the icon.
Why it is Impossible to Paint Truly Representative Pictures of Christ
Now, we need to relate to the pictures and icons of Christ and to The Transfiguration, the initial subject of this paper; the transfigured life is to be lived as if one lives in the Light while, at the same time considering his own finiteness, his own sinfulness. We cannot paint accurate pictures of the Lord because He dwells in light and our pictures are not complete, how do you paint the ineffable light? From year to year, all mankind ages and changes, thus the picture of today is not the picture of tomorrow and that can be said of Christ as well, from baby in the manger to adult man, he changed throughout the years of his life before His crucifixion and resurrection. Thus to try paint a picture of Christ requires pure speculation and imagination.
If we are participants in the revealing of His Glory in us, then we are also unable to paint a picture because in a similar situation as the three disciples on the mountain and Paul on the road to Damascus, we would be blinded by the light and, thus, we cannot paint what we cannot see. A picture or any attempt to paint one of Christ, is by definition, incomplete because a true picture would only show what the Jews have called His Shekinah Glory.
Using the conceptual language of one translation we are able to determine that in the New Jerusalem mentioned in the book of Revelation, the city has no need for the sun or the moon to shine on it, because GOD'S SH'KHINAH gives it light, and its lamp is the eternal Son of God, the Lamb of God.
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