Monday, May 10, 2010

The Icon As Proof of God's Existence

This is one of my favourite posts from Fr Stephen Freeman's blog 'Glory To God For All Things' and I think it deserves a repost. Someone pointed out to me that this, in their view, is the defining point of what makes Orthodoxy different from any other Christian denomination. An icon is a 'window into paradise'. Man is an icon. Creation is an icon. There is so much to learn from what Fr Stephen writes here. Please read carefully...
God “adorns himself in magnificence and clothes himself with beauty.” Man stands amazed and contemplates the glory whose light causes a hymn of praise to burst forth from the heart of every creature. The Testamentum Domini gives us the following prayer: “Let them be filled with the Holy Spirit…so they can sing a doxology and give you praise and glory forever.” An icon is the same kind of doxology but in a different form. It radiates joy and sings the glory of God in its own way. True beauty does not need proof. The icon does not prove anything; it simply lets true beauty shine forth. In itself, the icon is shining proof of God’s existence, according to a “kalokagathic” argument.

Paul Evdokimov in The Art of the Icon

“Kalokagathic” – what a wonderful word! It’s is a Greek coinage, combining the word for beautiful (kalos) and the word for good (agathos). To see an icon is so very far removed from viewing an art object. First off, an icon is never an object. Faces in an icon are never in profile, but look at us face to face. To rightly see an icon is to see it in relationship, that is, to see it personally. And the person whom we see is not the wood and paint, but the one whom the image on the wood and paint represents. It is this encounter that makes it possible to speak of an iconographic proof of the existence of God. I know there is a God because I have seen His image.

In the most perfect sense of this understanding, Christ is the proof of the Father’s existence, because He is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Thus Christ is the visible of the invisible. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” (John 14:9).

It is also true that man is created in the image and likeness of God – though only in Christ, the perfect man (and perfect God), is the image and likeness truly realized. But Christ Himself extends the image – gathering into Himself, “the least of these my brethren” (Matthew 25:40). Thus every human being offers the opportunity of an encounter with God – if we have the eyes to see. Every human being is proof, poor though it may be, of the existence of God.

Pavel Florensky in his wonderful book Iconostasis, says that “Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity exists, therefore God exists.” The first time I read the statement I was brought up short. It took time to see what he meant and to see that it was true. A couple of years later one of my daughters was visiting Moscow. She sent a postcard say, “I have seen Rublev’s Trinity. It’s true.” What a marvelous witness!

1 comment:

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

When giving church tours of my home church, Aghia Trias, in Portland, one of the things I used to say about the ikons was, "Nobody could have thought up the ikons out of their own head, only God could reveal them to the ikonographers. Nobody could have written, for example, the ikon of the Anastasis, if the event depicted had not really happened. Everything that the ikons depict is true." I think I have that line from Florensky lodged tightly in my mind, because that is what I am trying to express when I tell tourists things like this. I remember when I first read that line about Rublev's ikon of the Trinity, I too was "blown away" by it, but I nonetheless accepted it as the truth, as I still do. If the ikon shows it, it must exist.