St. Photius: On the Essence of Icons

St. Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, preached a sermon on the day the icon of the Theotokos was dedicated in Hagia Sophia, 29 March 867.  In the notes introducing the English translation of the sermon, we find this comment:

“In the eyes of Photius, painting is the most direct form of instruction, for a picture that is in agreement with religious truth contains the eidos, or essence, of the prototype, which is in turn apprehended by the faculty of sight and indelibly imprinted upon the mind. A painter is guided by divine inspiration, so that his work is not merely mimetic, but contains an actual share of the prototype. One would look in vain for a better expression of Byzantine art theory.”  (Cyril Mango, THE HOMILIES OF PHOTIUS PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE, pp 282-283)

For the Byzantine Christians, the icon was even more powerful/truthful than the written texts because the icon shares in the prototype.  It is hard for us to imagine a time when the presuppositions and perspective of the people are different than our own.  There was a time when people heard the phrase, “the word of God”, it was not the Bible that came to mind,  instead they would have thought, Jesus Christ.

Living in the literary culture of the 21st Century, and being shaped by the literary tradition of recent centuries, it is hard to imagine that at one time Christians, like Photius, thought the pictured icon to be “truer” than the written text – a more certain witness to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Our modern penchant for scholarship has increased this idolization of the text, which, when combined with cultural literalism, proves to be deadly, as St. Paul says. Just read 2 Corinthians 3 in the light of Photius’ idea that the painted text shares in the prototype. Christian don’t have to rely only on a printed text, we have icons – we are icons of God, created in God’s image!

2 Corinthians 3 –

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  . . .  God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

St. Paul says the Christian, the disciple is the true scripture because God’s Holy Spirit has written on our hearts.  In the beginning, humans were created in God’s image and likeness – we were created in the image and likeness of the Word of God.  Now God’s spirit writes on our heart, making us visible images of the Word.

Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ face because of its brightness, fading as this was, will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor?  . . .  Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

When we turn to the Lord . . . . which we can really do when we turn to look at an icon, we see the splendor of God.  Most miraculous of all is that we can look upon Christ in an icon and we do not have to put on a veil, as Moses did to protect the Israelites from the glory of God shining forth in his face.  And, we are changed by looking at the icon of Christ into His likeness.  This is how the icon serves a better purpose than the scriptures themselves.  The incarnation of Christ our God has changed the very nature of the world.

Humanity as an Icon of God

‘The glory of God is man’, affirms the Talmud (Derech Eretz Zutta 10,5); and Irenaeus states the same: ‘The glory of God is a living man.’ The human person forms the centre and crown of God’s creation. Man’s unique position in the cosmos is indicated above all by the fact that he is made ‘in the image and likeness’ of God (Gen. 1:26). Man is a finite expression of God’s infinite self-expression. 

Sometimes the Greek Fathers associate the divine image or ‘ikon’ in man with the totality of his nature, considered as a trinity of spirit, soul and body. At other times they connect the image more specifically with the highest aspect of man, with his spirit or spiritual intellect, through which he attains knowledge of God and union with him. Fundamentally, the image of God in man denotes everything that distinguishes man from the animals, that makes him in the full and true sense a person – a moral agent capable of right and wrong, a spiritual subject endowed with inward freedom.

…To believe that man is made in God’s image is to believe that man is created for communion and union with God, and that if he rejects this communion he ceases to be properly human. There is no such thing as ‘natural man’ existing in separation from God: man cut off from God is in a highly unnatural state. The image doctrine means, therefore, that man has God as the inner-most centre of his being. The divine is the determining element in our humanity; losing our sense of the divine, we lose also our sense of the human.  (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, pp. 64-65, 67)

We Are Made in God’s Image

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”   (Genesis 1:27)

St. Gregory of Nyssa reminds us that as wonderful and spectacular as things of nature are, including stellar events in the universe, it is only humans who are created in God’s image.   And besides, as he puts it as immense as the entire universe is, however infinite space may be, it still metaphorically fits in the hand of God.  Yet, each human mysteriously and miraculously contains God within themselves for God’s image is imprinted on each of us.  Heaven and earth are temporary and will pass away (Matthew 24:35) but, according to Scripture, humans are created for eternal life.

For this is the safest way to protect the good things you enjoy: by realizing how much your Creator has honored you above all other creatures. He did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which you can see in the created universe.

You alone are made in the likeness of that nature which surpasses all understanding; you alone are a similitude of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true Light, and if you look up to Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him Who shines within you, Whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens can fit into the palm of God’s hand; the earth and the sea are measured in the hollow of his hand (Is. 40.12).

And though He is so great that He can grasp all creation in His palm, you can wholly embrace Him; He dwells within you, nor is he cramped as He pervades your entire being, saying: I will dwell in them, and walk among them (2 Cor. 6.16).

If you realize this you will not allow your eye to rest on anything of this world. Indeed, you will no longer marvel even at the heavens. For how can you admire the heavens, my son, when you see that you are more permanent than they? For the heavens pass away, but you will abide for all eternity with Him Who is forever. Do not admire, then, the vastness of the earth or the ocean that stretches out to infinity, for like a chariot and horses they have been given in your charge. You have these elements in your power to be obedient to your will. For the earth ministers the necessities of life, and the sea offers its back like a tame steed to its rider.”  (From Glory to Glory, pp. 162-163)

St. Gregory has a highly exalted view of humans.  In the modern world, we have attained heights over nature which 4th Century Gregory could never have imagined.   He certainly implies that the heavens are nothing to be marveled at – they can be conquered by humans!  All the vastness of the earth, the oceans and the heavens are merely elements for our use in his vision of the created universe.  They are given to humans for us to harness and use their power.  That view of creation is very modern and scientific, yet his point is that even with all vastness and power which the earth, oceans and universe represent, the tiny and seemingly insignificant humans are far greater than the endless expanse of the universe.  For humans alone are created in God’s image and have the potential for eternity within them.

Icon Sale to Support Charity

Christopher’s Restaurant & Catering, 2318 E. Dorothy Lane, Kettering, OH 45420, has for many years hosted a December Charity art sale.   All of the proceeds from the sale of the art on display in the Restaurant is donated by the restaurant to charity – this year to an Ohio prison ministry and to the Dayton YWCA women’s shelter.

This year the December art display was all icons painted by an Ohio prison inmate who is also an Orthodox Christian, having converted to Orthodoxy while in prison.

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The icons come framed and are of various sizes and prices.  Pictured here are a few of the icons available for purchase.

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For more information about any of the icons or to purchase one, contact Christopher’s owner, Chip Pritchard, at (937) 299-0089 or at chip@christophers.biz.

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If you have other questions, you can also contact Fr. Ted Bobosh at FrTed@StPDayton.org.

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The icons will be on display only for two more weeks.  So please visit the restaurant now to see the icons and make your purchase.  Thank you for supporting these ministries!

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Icons and the Seeds Between Them

In any Orthodox Church, we are surrounded by icons of the saints.  These saints are described in Christ’s parable of the sower as the “good soil” on which when the seed, the Word of God, “grew, it produced a hundredfold.”    As Jesus teaches, the saints “are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”

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Here is the full Gospel parable as Jesus taught it in Luke 8:5-15:

 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” A s he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant.  He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’ 

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“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

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So, if the saints are the ones upon whom the Word of God comes and they bear fruit from that Word, where does that leave us who are in the church between the icons?  Are we simply the paths in this garden which are trampled upon and because of our hardness, the seed can’t take root but is taken from us?  Or are we the rocky soil or the weed infested ground?

NO!

We are what St. Paul says in today’s Epistle:  We are “the temple of the living God.”  God lives in us and walks with us, not upon us.  We are made of the same soil as the saints and are to produce the same good fruits.  The saints are not made up of some substance different from us – they are taken from the same earth out of which we all are taken.  We all are to be saints, we all are icons of God.

In Genesis 1:26-27, God says,  “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” 

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The word “image” is the word “icon” in Greek.  We each and all are made as icons of God.  God is the first iconographer.  God made us each to be a living icon of Him!

Our task is to live so that we are icons of God, visible to any who want to see.  We are to be living icons of God.  The icons on our church walls are not meant to be lifeless caricatures of legendary heroes.  They are real people, like you and I who lived the Gospel life and who continue to remain alive in Christ.

We are not meant to be the fruitless soil between the icons on the wall but we are to be the Church, the Body of Christ.  We are each to become icons showing the light of Christ in our lives.  We are to live so that God’s Word can interact with us and bear fruit for God.  We are to live so that we understand icons of saints are real people,  they are us and we are to be them.

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“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”  (2 Cor. 6:16-7:1)

Icon Exhibit Opens

Icon Exhibit

“Mary and the Saints”

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St. Paul Church, 4451 Wagner Rd, Dayton, OH 45440
Friday, October 14th : 5-8 PM
Saturday, October 15th: 10 – 5 PM
Sunday, October 16th : Noon – 5 PM

Church Phone: 937-320-9977

email:  FrTed@StPDayton.org

This exhibition features more than 75 rare icons of the Virgin Mary and various other saints commemorated by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Taken from private collections across the United States, the exhibition will include unique examples from 15th century Medieval Russia, 16th and 17th century Greece, through 19th century Imperial Russia as well as contemporary Icons painted in America. This is a singular opportunity to view prime examples of the spiritual art of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they were originally intended in their appropriate setting. Admission is free. Both self-guided and docent tours will be available.

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Zernov explains that icons (obraza in Russian) were, for the Russians, not merely paintings. They were dynamic manifestations of man’s spiritual power to redeem creation through beauty and art. The colors and lines of the obraza were not meant to imitate nature; the artists aimed at demonstrating that men, animals and plants, and the whole cosmos could be rescued from their present state of degradation and restored to their proper ‘Image.’ The obraza were pledges of the coming victory of a redeemed creation over the fallen one.… concrete example[s] of matter restored to its original harmony and beauty, and serving as a vehicle of the Spirit.”    (in Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation,  Kindle Loc. 3120-26)

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

 

The Greek Street Food Truck will be present, selling their fare on Friday evening, October 14, from 5-9pm.

Icons: Visible Signs of Our Salvation

On the weekend of October 14-16, St. Paul Orthodox Church in Dayton, Ohio, is hosting an

Icon Exhibit, “Mary and the Saints.”

The Exhibit is free and open to the public.

As we contemplate the beauty and the mystery of icons and how they are ‘theology in lines and color’, we realize the nature of salvation:

“A sense of the holy in nature implies that everything that breathes praises God (Ps. 150:6); the entire world is a ‘burning bush of God’s energies,’ as Gregory Palamas claimed in the fourteenth century. When our heart is sensitive, then ‘our eyes are opened to discern the beauty of created things’ (Abba Isaac the Syrian, seventh century). Seeing clearly is precisely what icons teach us to do. The world of the icon offers new insights into reality. It reveals the eternal dimension in everything that we experience.   . . .   the icon restores; it reconciles. The icon reminds us of another way of living and offers a corrective to the culture that we have created, which gives value only to the here and now. The icon reveals the inner vision of all, the world as created and as intended by God. Very often, it is said, the first image attempted by an iconographer is that of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor.

This is precisely because the iconographer struggles to hold together this world and the next, to transfigure this world in light of the next. For, by disconnecting this world from heaven, we have in fact desacralized both. The icon articulates with theological conviction our faith in the heavenly kingdom. It does away with any objective distance between this world and the next, between material and spiritual, between body and soul, time and eternity, creation and divinity. The icon speaks in this world the language of the age to come. This is why the doctrine of the Divine Incarnation is at the very heart of iconography. For, in the icon of Jesus Christ, the uncreated God assumes a creaturely face, a beauty that is ‘exceeding’ (Ps. 44:2), a ‘beauty that can save the world’ (Fyodor Dostoevsky).”    (J Chryssavgis in Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, Kindle Loc. 3420-34)

 

We will celebrate our salvation in exhibiting the icons which show our salvation, which make the incarnation visible to us throughout the ages.

This exhibition features more than 75 rare icons of the Virgin Mary and various other saints commemorated by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Taken from private collections across the United States, the exhibition will include unique examples from 15th century Medieval Russia, 16th and 17th century Greece, through 19th century Imperial Russia as well as contemporary Icons painted in America. This is a singular opportunity to view prime examples of the spiritual art of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they were originally intended in their appropriate setting. Admission is free. Both self-guided and docent tours will be available.

St. Paul Church, 4451 Wagner Rd, Dayton, OH 45440
Friday, October 14th : 5-8 PM
Saturday, October 15th: 10 – 5 PM
Sunday, October 16th : 12 PM – 5 PM

Church Phone: 937-320-9977

The Greek Street Food Truck will be present, selling their fare on Friday evening from 5-9pm.

 

How Icons Show Salvation

On the weekend of October 14-16, St. Paul Orthodox Church in Dayton, OH, is hosting an Icon Exhibit, “Mary and the Saints.”  The Exhibit is free and open to the public.

Icons reflect the Orthodox theology of salvation.   In the face of criticism that the veneration of icons is idolatry, 8th Century Saint John Damascene,  offered a theological defense of the use of icons in worshiping God:

‘I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked . . .’”    (cited in Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, Kindle Loc. 1880-83)

An icon affirms the truth of the incarnation of God in Christ, which is the salvation of the world.  The godly truth which Orthodox Christianity proclaims is that when God created the heavens and the earth, God created something distinctly “not-god”.  Creation is not the Creator.  Yet in the Gospel claim that the “Word became flesh” (John 1), the Bible lays out simply that in the most mysterious way, in the greatest miracle ever, God became that which is “not God.”   God became “not God” that “not God” might become God (to paraphrase the post-apostolic thought).  This greatest miracle ever became possible in and because of the Virgin Mary.  She became Theotokos which enabled the incarnation which makes salvation, theosis/ deification possible.

We will celebrate our salvation in exhibiting the icons which show our salvation, which make the incarnation visible to us throughout the ages.

This exhibition features more than 75 rare icons of the Virgin Mary and various other saints commemorated by Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Taken from private collections across the United States, the exhibition will include unique examples from 15th century Medieval Russia, 16th and 17th century Greece, through 19th century Imperial Russia as well as contemporary Icons painted in America. This is a singular opportunity to view prime examples of the spiritual art of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they were originally intended in their appropriate setting. Admission is free. Both self-guided and docent tours will be available.

St. Paul Church, 4451 Wagner Rd, Dayton, OH 45440
Friday, October 14th : 5-8 PM
Saturday, October 15th: 10 – 5 PM
Sunday, October 16th : 12 PM – 5 PM

Church Phone: 937-320-9977

The Greek Street Food Truck will be present, selling their fare on Friday evening from 5-9pm.

 

The Cross: Sign of Victory over Evil

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 “You should venerate not only the icon of Christ, but also the similitude of His cross. For the cross is Christ’s great sign and trophy of victory over the devil and all his hostile hosts; for this reason they tremble and flee when they see the figuration of the cross. This figure, even prior to the crucifixion, was greatly glorified by the prophets and wrought great wonders; and when He who was hung upon it, our Lord Jesus Christ, comes again to judge the living and the dead, this His great and terrible sign will precede Him, full of power and glory (cf. Matt. 24:30).

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So glorify the cross now, so that you may boldly look upon it then and be glorified with it. And you should venerate icons of the saints, for the saints have been crucified with the Lord; and you should make the sign of the cross upon your person before doing so, bringing to mind their communion in the sufferings of Christ.”

(St Gregory Palamas, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Location 46350-46360)

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May Christ our God who died on the cross

for the salvation of the world

bless you and have mercy on you.

Icon Exhibit October 14-16

Icon Exhibit   October 14-16

Title: Mary & The Saints: A Celebration  of Eastern Orthodox Iconography

Dates: October 14-16, 2016
Times:  Friday 14th : 5-8 PM (Opening Reception)
     Saturday, 15th: 10 – 5 PM
     Sunday, 16th : 12 PM – 5 PM
Place: St. Paul The Apostle Orthodox Christian Church, 4451 Wagner Rd, Dayton, OH 45440
Contact:  FrTed@StPDayton.org
Admission: Free. Both self-guided and docent tours will be available.
Description:  This exhibition features more than 75 rare icons of the Virgin Mary and various other saints commemorated by Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Taken from private collections across the United States,  the exhibition will include unique examples from 15th century Medieval Russia, 16th and 17th century Greece, through 19th century Imperial Russia, as well as contemporary Icons painted in America. This is a  singular opportunity to view prime examples of the spiritual  art of the Eastern Orthodox Church  as they were originally  intended in their appropriate setting.