Archive for December 11th, 2008

The Luminous Eye

December 11, 2008

ephrem_the_syrianBlessed is the man who has acquired a luminous eye with which he will see how much the angels stand in awe of Thee, O Lord, and how audacious is man.

St. Ephrem the Syrian

The Seraph could not touch the fire’s coal with his fingers, but just brought it close to Isaiah’s mouth: the Seraph did not hold it, Isaiah did not consume it, but us our Lord has allowed to do both.

St. Ephrem the Syrian

I received in the mail today my awaited copy of The Luminous Eye: The Spiritual World Vision of Saint Ephrem the Syrian by Sebastian Brock. Recommended by one of the readers on the blog – it will make rich fare in this season of fasting!

I look forward to the spiritual feast and, God willing, to sharing some thoughts with everyone as I make my way through. I can already see that it makes me wish I had studied Syriac. As is, I’ll have to settle for my Hebrew. St. Ephrem pray for us!

Bad Icons

December 11, 2008

iconoclasmAnd 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 (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

It is a teaching of the Fathers concerning the holy icons that we do not truly “see” them if we have no reverence for that which they depict. Icons are “windows into heaven,” but not in a manner that objectifies heaven. Thus even icons that some may consider badly painted reveal the very depths of heaven if they are viewed by a saint.

By the same token, even badly marred images of Christ in other human beings can reveal the depth of the love of God if seen by the eyes of a saint.

And so the mystery of the holy icons seems to work from both sides. For the viewer, the icon is a window to heaven (if the viewer is indeed looking for heaven). And for those who are not looking for heaven, icons, including their human forms, become opaque, and we see only the reflection of our sinful self.

I like good icons, and would gladly fill my Church with them. But I want to become the kind of viewer who could see heaven if it were shown me (else even good icons become a waste) – and I’d like to be the kind of icon in which someone could see heaven if they were looking (else I become a scandal to the name Christian).

What seems inescapable to me is that there be icons. If you outlaw them in the Church, they will still occupy the Church in the persons of the congregation. We cannot say, “Only read the Scripture, do not look at me as an icon.” Nobody gets that kind of free ride as a Christian. You’re an icon whether you like it or not. And there will be other images as well – either well done reflecting heaven itself – or poorly reflecting everything other than heaven. But there will be icons. God give us grace to rightly honor the windows to heaven He has opened for us, and to be a window to heaven for all who see us.

Originally posted in November, 2006