Wednesday, November 01, 2017

All Saints 2017: looking back through the window.

What do we honestly expect to see when we see the saints?

Our ikons display women and long-bearded men with solemn expressions on their faces wrapped in robes with various designs and devices upon them belying their unique holiness in God. Why are they so solemn? Should not there be joy upon their faces?

My ikon of Christos Pantocrator also has this solemn expression. It is a look of concern, almost of worry. If we recognise this expression, then we realise why Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints are depicted with this expression. They are worried about our salvation. The saints are perfected in the love of God: they therefore bear the same concern for our welfare as God Himself as they partake of His divine nature. We use ikons to see into Heaven, and yet it is as if the citizens of Heaven from the Great King downwards use those ikons to peer through into our world of imperfection and flux, longing for us to be with them. What they see is us as we are - imperfect, striving for repentance, falling and writhing in the agony of our sins, or numbed to the pain of our imperfections by the distractions of this life.

In the West, our saints are depicted with statues, bearing emblems of their peculiar conversation in this life. These might be a small cathedral held in their hands to depict their efforts to build the Church, a pallium for their archbishopric, or the instruments of their martyrdom, even their own skin! Do these engage us in the same way as the ikon, or are they merely symbolic - used to tell tales of wonder, love and praise to the illiterate?

For an ikon to work, we need to set time aside to study it, and to look through the created matter to see the light of God. Since saints are already supposed to be ikons of God, an ikon of a saint is essentially an ikon of an ikon. This might seem to diminish the presence of God, yet the saints we celebrate today are those perfected in their purity. Just as a light shines perfectly through a pure crystal, so the Light Uncreate beams perfectly through the countenances of those whom God has washed, justified, sanctified and glorified in the name of the Lord Jesus. To worship an ikon would be like worshipping the mirror itself. It is the Light that pours out of the ikon that we worship because it is the True Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

Sometimes, though, it seems to me that, occasionally, the lips of Our Lord in my ikon seem to smile faintly as if to encourage me in remembering that, as a creation of God I cannot be all bad, no matter how far I fall. The ikon gives us this encouragement by its very existence: if there are so many people who, despite being in Eternity (in fact precisely because they are in Eternity), are rooting for us right now then it demonstrates that we cannot be alone in our troubles and sadness.

This means that we can say our Litanies of the Saints with impunity knowing that prayers will indeed be said for us in our state to the end that we may eventually attain the ranks of these perfected humans. And then, we shall pray in turn for those whom we shall see as we gaze back through the window into this fallen world.

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