Monday, April 18, 2016

Worship or wash-up?

There is one biblical passage which, for me, sums up mankind's relationship with God. In Exodus xxxii.1-14, we hear of Aaron's commissioning of the Golden Calf at the behest of the people. Where's Moses? He's up the mountain, receiving the commandments from God Himself. The people have already given up on him and are seeking to worship the god(s) who brought them up out of Egypt. In many ways, there is a certain amount of sympathy that we ought to have for the people of Israel. They want to worship God. They want to thank and praise the God who has brought them out of Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land. Their intentions are not wholly bad; they are not wholly corrupt. Yet, it is the way they go about it that brings the wrath of God on them and means that they have to spend time in the wilderness for those wrong ideas and heresies to die out. So what did they do wrong?

For the Church after the Seventh Oecumenical Council, holy images are very much to be encouraged along with their veneration:

"The more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration {latria} in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult objects. Further, people are drawn to honour these images with the offering of incense and lights, as was piously established by ancient custom. Indeed, the honour paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model, and he who venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image."

What is the difference between the Golden Calf and Rublev's ikon of the Trinity?

Let's start with the obvious. At no point has God ever been seen as a calf. He has made Himself manifest as a man in the second person of the Trinity. One may indeed argue that the three men who visited Abraham and told him to expect Isaac was a manifestation of the Trinity, though the text does not explicitly say this.

Second, the Israelites have come out of Egypt, a culture which worshipped many gods and worshipped them in the animals around them - Horus the kestrel, Anubis the Egyptian golden wolf, Thoth the ibis. However, God had shown Himself to be the True God above and beyond these false gods.

These false gods are clearly limited and cannot represent God in His Divine Simplicity and Wholeness. We learn that, just as we cannot limit God, we cannot take Him to bits and worship Him in pieces.

The essence of worship is worth, and it is precisely the values we ascribe to God or to things that determine what we truly worship. Our Lord Himself reminds us that where our treasure is, our hearts will be also. Our values, the things we give our best worth to, transform us into their likeness. But the thief breaks in, the moth and mould corrupt, the world destroys. The worth of our idols destroys us along with our idols.

Likewise the worship of God transforms us. The soul liberated from idols is free to be transformed into the likeness of God. This is possible because and only because God took flesh and dwelt among us. We therefore have His image to see and to know God by. Unlike idols which can only ever point to things of the earth, ikons point to things beyond, like little holes in the veil clouding the eyes of our souls after the Fall.

If we are not open to transformation into a being of light, then our worship of God is not able to be perfected. If we are not willing to be made perfect, then there is something in our lives which is of greater value to us than God. To an extent we are all idolaters, yet it is our desire to cast away our idols and seek the true and living God that prevents us from commissioning golden calves.

We should indeed surround ourselves with ikons and use them to peer into Heaven. Anything can be an ikon to the soul aspiring perfection in God, for everything bears His fingerprint. The art then becomes trying to resemble the Artist from His fingerprints. Further, we should strive to see everyone as an ikon of Christ, but I think I'll leave that for another blog post. However, veneration of ikons is this process of seeing things of Heaven in earthly depiction. Veneration does not transform us, it is in itself an ikon of God transforming us Himself. Veneration can never become worship if we're doing it correctly.

Anglican Catholics hold to the Doctrine of the Seventh Oecumenical Council. We thus hope and pray fervently that we, too, become a better ikon of the Church Triumphant.

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