Monday, March 25, 2013

No Icon of the Source of our Faith

The first Sunday in Great Lent for the Orthodox is called the Triumph of Orthodoxy particularly over the heresy of the iconoclasts which raged throughout the Eastern Roman Empire for nearly two centuries because of the Isaurian Emperors.  After the seventh and final ecumenical of Nicaea, Orthodox doctrine was upheld that icons of Christ and the saints may be depicted and venerated, but not worshiped (which was never sanctioned in the first place) for the honor that we give to the image passes to the prototype or origin.  But, in a great irony I suppose, the one thing that is central to our faith as Christians cannot be depicted or has been erroneously claimed to be depicted in our iconography.

That thing, or rather event, is the Resurrection.  St. Paul states clearly that without the resurrection our faith is in vain (I Cor. 15: 17). But how can the Resurrection be depicted? It cannot.  How does one capture in paint and canvas a rising of the dead without stretching the limits of what has been revealed to us?  I don't know and it's probably for that reason that the Resurrection has never been attempted.  We definitely have icons of the immediate aftermath of the Resurrection with Christ in Hades freeing the Old Testament Patriarchs and appearing to both the myrrh-bearers and to His Apostles.  Icons claiming to be that of the Resurrection are actually that of the Harrowing of Hades as prophesied by Habbakuk (see icon at the side).

Whether this is an irony or not, the fact that the Resurrection of Christ cannot be depicted as if we were to depict a saint or any other of Christ's events shows that Christ, though incarnate for our sakes, is still God and God is spirit and transcendent which should fill us with terror and awe.  It also demonstrates that as much of a role as we do have in the salvation of our souls (extremely limited as it is), God's will prevails which will never be understood by us until we join with him in true communion, by grace, at the very end of the age.

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