Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Christian: a living icon

"The glory of God is mankind," says the Talmud, and St Irenaeus also repeated these same words in the second century. "Created in the image and likeness of God", mankind, beginning with Adam, by the Fall defaced the divine reflection that God had bestowed upon him.

We become sons of God with Christ through his incarnation, and both his death and resurrection strengthen our filiation by grace. The veil of the Temple torn through the middle (Lk 23:5) stresses the fact that humanity is no longer separated from God. Since the Risen Christ is the image of the Father, a Christian who contemplates the Saviour and purifies himself progressively becomes an icon of God.

The Greek Fathers of the Church often make the distinction between the image and resemblance to God. Origin wrote the following:
Man received the privilege of the image of God at his creation, but the total perfection of a resemblance to God will be conferred on him only when all things are fulfilled.

The image of God was given along with the breath of life, while the resemblance to God marks the goal of our earthly pilgrimage. It is the crown of life offered to the blessed in the heavenly Kingdom.

...Man thirsts for beauty. The beauty of which mankind is intrinsically the image is none other than God himself; our entire being yearns for him. If God is the intimate center of our being, both our humanity and our sense of the human are nonetheless 'conditioned' and limited by our sense of the Divine. To state that the death of Christ entails our death too means precisely that, and nothing more. Man is an icon of God, but only insofar as he is fully human, radiating the presence of Christ.

...Olivier Clement writes:

Christianity is the religion of faces...To be a Christian is to discover, even at the very heart of nothingness and of death, a face which is forever open like a door of light -the Face of Christ- and surrounding him, penetrated with his light, his tenderness, the facs of sinners who have been forgiven and who no longer judge others, but simply welcome them into their hearts. The word 'Gospel' means the proclamation of the 'Good News'!

The icon is a model of holiness, of presence, and a revelation of the cosmic transfiguration to come; it offers itself to all of us like a beautiful open book. But we must know how to read the icon to be able really to see those faces we pass every day in our streets and discover in them that 'unique plant' grafted onto Christ, the Tree of Life.

To restre a face to those 'without a face' (aprosopos) is the icon's invitation to all of us, repeated by Didymus of Alexandria: "After God, see God in every man and woman..."


The Icon: Window on the Kingdom
Michel Quenot
SVS Press 1991

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