Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | December 3, 2012

Taught by God – Part 3

“And they will all be taught by God” John 6:45 – Part 3

Finally, the power of the Epilogue to Boosalis’s “Taught by God” is inescapable. He begins it with the familiar idea that as we struggle in the process towards becoming holy by divine grace, “one’s sanctification is not limited to one’s own nature.. but extends outward to all creation” (p. 129). And most helpfully, he returns to the role of icons in the Church:

“The Orthodox icon points toward the potential sanctification of all God’s creation. In an existential and eschatological way, it proclaims this sanctification as a present, though not yet perfected reality.”

“And in a world that has become a global marketplace of idolatry and false idols, such as money and power, celebrity and fame; the light of the icon shines on brightly, illuminating the Orthodox understanding of man’s true spiritual potential.”

“This is what makes the icon so relevant for us Orthodox. This is what makes Orthodoxy so relevant today. This is why we Orthodox kiss our icons, and offer incense before them, and sprinkle them with holy water. We light candles before them, and pray before them; we cry before them, and bow before them. They are there when we are married, and they are there when we are buried. They are present with us always, from our baptism to our grave.”

“Many people today tend to identify the Orthodox Church with incense and icons. It is interesting to note how during the Divine Liturgy, when the priest censes the iconostasis and the other icons in the Church, he also censes the people in the congregation.”

“The Church does this because she believes that it is man himself who is the greatest icon of all. Man created in the image of God, is indeed a living icon of the living God. The Church censes the icons of paint and wood, as a way to honor them. And she censes the icons of flesh and blood, honoring the image within, venerating the icon inside.”

“To venerate and honor painted icons is a good thing. Yet is even better to venerate and honor the living icons of God, who are our fellow human beings. Every man and every woman has been created in the image of God, whether we are black or white, Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew.”

“If I venerate painted icons, yet disregard and despise God’s living icons, then I am simply re-enacting the iconoclastic heresy. I become like those Byzantine emperors who persecuted divine images (pp. 129-131).

And ultimately then it is this process of the veneration of God’s Holy Icons – the whole of his Creation living or aspiring to live in communion in the Glory of God – that our theology is meant to instill. This is the purpose of our Orthodoxy, our worship, our prayer and even the whole of our lives. It’s really that simple!

Funny, how the hard things really can be quite simple if we let them. But that’s just it: We don’t, and we don’t because it seems to be something of our nature to wander off from this sort of unnervingly precise clarity… as though it were the gaze of Truth looking us squarely, and uncomfortably in the eye. And it’s almost as though by letting our eyes dart aside, we can continue sifting as though we’re not quite “done”, and so escape the inevitable consequences of that next step …putting off all that bit about changing… “at least for now”.  And so the church gives us all this “stuff” … the liturgy, the hymns, the prayers, the lives of the saints, the icons and the intricate web woven between them all – as a way to keep the focus on Christ even as our gaze shifts to someone or something else in this Holy community… and so softens our resistance.

Sure, there’s the idea that we won’t or don’t resist… but as for me, that’s not been the way. At best, I’d say I find there’s always an appeal that keeps me coming back, something just beyond expression or awareness… like the awkward mix of emotions when my mom or grandmother used to pull me close in the middle of her friends… and there’s no right or wrong here, but somehow, you just let it happen for a moment, and then you’re free to go off again. I think it’s more this way than we think: We’re kept close, and our attention’s retained even as it shifts… even when we run back to the playground until mom’s finally ready to get in the car. She knows we’re listening now… even as she continues her own pause, keeps her discourse with her friends, but her ears out for us as well.

That’s okay. Maybe it’s even a training of sorts… to see Christ in each of these others around us so that in turn, we might be strengthened for the more difficult tasks of seeing Him not just in ourselves as the light within our lives as it spreads from revelation to revelation, but perhaps more importantly that which illuminates and animates others as well… and their listening to the Shepherd’s call. And to come to know Christ in the freedom He gives us as well… to hold Him close, to allow that embrace, and then to run off again… each knowing the other is there and comfortably aware… each waiting for the other’s next step… like that moment before leaving for home.

And perhaps that’s an odd take-away: The Church and all it gives us is Christ’s playground… a playground within His greater Creation where all that surrounds us in the Church reflects His presence, and His awareness of us… and invites our attention as well to His life, His discourse, His attention … as we wander through and along our way. We’re loved, we’re nourished, we’re even doted on for a moment while at the same moment… perhaps even gently admonished to “take more care on the sliding board” or whatever… and then let go again. And whether we stay here, or as we grow, pass beyond its walls and fences, our hearts may remember this to our benefit.  And what I do know is that there is indeed great joy, freedom and love in these remembrances… even as some are long gone. And if this is a prayer of sorts, or a progress into a different sort of prayerful awareness… then so much the better. May we enter and remain with these to the Glory to God.

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