Icons and the Theology of Light – Part 1 (Notes)


Icons and the Theology of Light – Part 1

  1. Sayings of the Fathers
    1. “We ought to be on our guard, in case our conscience has stopped troubling us, not so much because of its being clear, but because of its being immersed in sin.
      St. John Climacus
    2. “A ‘good’ conscience is one that stands ready to convict oneself immediately with shame. There IS a difference between a ‘good’ conscience and a ‘clear’ conscience. The clear one can be dead or deceived.”
      St. John Climacus.
  2. Recap Last Week
  3. Tradition and Scripture
    1. Holy Tradition is not:
      1. Quaint customs based on culture that come and go
      2. Traditionalism – love of tradition for its own sake
    2. Holy Tradition is
      1. The Holy Scriptures – the reference, although not meant to be a commentary on everything little detail life brings to us
      2. The oral teachings and experience that was received directly by the Apostles from Christ, and affirmed also by the Holy Spirit, of which the Scriptures are the written record and other “how tos” praxis details that are not necessarily recorded in Scripture. “The Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance ALL that I have spoken to you.”
      3. The unseen, invisible power of the Holy Spirit which energizes the Church and guides it into all Truth – also known as the “mind” of the Church, the ability to discern right from wrong. Arius and the Council of Nicea – even thought Arius was a Bishop and knew the Scriptures, the Church discerned the truth used to refute his heresy by relying on Holy Tradition.
      4. How does this relate to Icons – Icons are a part of the Holy Tradition – as a physical object they are not specifically mentioned in Scripture, but their presence in the Church is based wholly on the immutable, scriptural Truth that God manifest Himself as visible, touchable Christ, the perfect image of God the invisible Father (cf. Genesis 1:26, Colossians1:15)
  • Topic of the Day – Icons and Theology of Light
      1. Icons are about seeing – we look at them with our eyes, and we “read” their message to us – what is written in them, in their use of color, style, subject matter – much like reading the Scriptures themselves.
      2. However, what we really “see” when looking at an icon, or reading or listening to Scripture for that matter, depends on what is brought to the task. Anyone can “read” Scripture or look at an Icon, but it is the Spirit of God that quickens us to “see the unseen” 2 Corinthians 4:18
      3. This is ultimately the purpose and value of Icons in the Church – the redemption and transformation of our sight, as part of our complete transformation into the Image of Christ. (read Ouspensky).
      4. This affirms that, for us as created beings, the spiritual and the material worlds are inexorably connected together – what we look at with our fallen, physical eyes, and what we actually “see” or what is transmitted to us, can be restored by the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit. Seeing things from God’s “point of view” so to speak. We’re moving from a state where we are blind, to a state where we can really see as God intends us to see.
      1. Let’s go back again to the very beginning – Genesis 1:3 – And God said, Let there be LIGHT: and there was LIGHT. 4 And God saw the LIGHT, that it was good(Evdokimov – “good” here in the Septuagint is kalon or beautiful)”and God divided the LIGHT from the darkness.” It is because of light that we have life – can we imagine an existence without light, no color no form, void – yet this is the way the creation is without light. Yet, with light, the creation is beautiful and good.
      2. Orthodox Church teaches that darkness was NOT created by God in order to juxtapose light, nor is it an evil that exists as some anti-god, or some original “nature of wickedness” — it simply is a state that exists “by the withdrawal of light.” (St. Basil the Great, the Hexaemeron Homily #2 (the six days of the creation) “The earth was invisible and unfinished” – these things were said to counter the heresies of Marcion, Valentin, Manicheans.
      3. The Fall Genesis 3 – things get ugly because “our minds and hearts were darkened”. Even though we are fully capable to comprehend physically and mentally light and dark, day and night, we see that, even for the Jews, who encountered God in extraordinary ways and circumstances in their history, as a race men suffer from blindness. John 1:4-9 (esp. v.5), 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (the veil over the Jews), Romans 11:10 (the blindness of Jews, light to the Gentiles), Ephesians 4:18 (state of blindness for the Gentiles)
      4. Its is enough to say that we do not see things as they really are. We are prone to blindness and need to have our eyes, the faculty of our sight, enlightened. There are numerous accounts in Scripture when the veil of blindness is lifted, and true sight is given to men.
        1. 2 Kings 6:17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
        2. Peter’s confession that Christ is the Son of God in Matthew 16:17And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for FLESH AND BLOOD hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
        3. The Transfiguration: Matthew 17: Peter, James and John’s eyes were open to the reality of who Jesus really is.
        4. Luke 24:31 the road to Emmaus their “eyes were opened”
        5. The Conversion of Saul Acts 9: And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7 And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. 8 And Saul arose from the earth; and when his EYES WERE OPENED, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.v. We have learned already in our Study of Icons that the Scriptures alone do not guarantee that we will see things rightly.

          “The fundamental principle of this art is a pictorial expression of the teaching of the Church…This art is intended not to reflect the problems of life, but to answer them, and thus from its very inception, is a vehicle of the Gospel teaching.” Leonid Ouspensky, The Art of the Icon, p.27

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