“Then God said, ‘Let Us make in Our image [icon], according to Our likeness’” (Genesis 1:28).
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7)
All Orthodox Christian theologians return again and again to these phrases from the story of creation. They explain the difference between “image” and “likeness,” they proclaim God as Trinity, they present the Holy Spirit in the human being, and they anticipate the great doctrine of iconography, affirming the Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity incarnate as Son of Man, the epitome and paradigm of what God intended a human being to be. When we say “icon,” we mean the image of Jesus Christ.
We know the story of the famous Icon Not Made By Hands, that face of Jesus Christ adorning most of our churches. He is the ultimate role model for all human beings. By that we understand that Christ’s image is to be discovered in all men, women and children – not His features, of course, but the Holy Spirit sent by the Father God, inspiring each person to a Christ- like way of life. To see Christ in each person we encounter is a tremendous challenge to the seer. It requires a supernatural spiritual growth. One must have overcome every obstacle that the world considers natural: passions of the body, mind and spirit; the so-called fight or flight instinct; and the inclination to judge. In a term, to have made the Sermon on the Mount a way of life.
We live in a time of neo-iconoclasm: Not merely the religious iconoclasts of Judaism and Islam, not even the benign facelessness of our Amish brethren, but the inhumanity of mass killings such as those taking place among radical terrorists out to make some statement or garner attention by the media, as in the recent atrocity perpetrated in Norway. When done in military conflict, it’s called collateral damage.
All life is sacred. Not only life, but all that exists is created by God. How then can the modern person stare into elaborate telescopes orbiting beyond the atmospheric limits of earth and behold the glories of the cosmos yet conclude that it proves no Being is responsible? All is mere accident. Living creatures are interchangeable objects to be studied and defined without reference to divine source, inspiration or motivation. Even our modern art is an exercise in patterns, designs and colors. Walk through any art museum and you will notice how faces and figures, outdoor scenes and interiors of buildings of past centuries have given way to mere abstractions.
Nothing happens by chance. Jesus Christ told us that when He said: “The very hairs on your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10:30) Physical health is today’s concern. Let us add to it the care for the elements of the spirit. Each person you meet is on a journey through the present and onward through this lifetime, passing through the borders of death and onto the Kingdom of heaven. Is it possible that you might help her or him through whatever dark obstacles are being currently faced and open the light of paradise? When you are with somebody who has no faith in her own value, are you capable of treating her with the proper respect due to the bearer of Christ’s icon? Can you treat a child with the honor you would accord to an adult whom you regard? When you are in the check-out line and you are held up by an elderly person fishing for coupons or delaying progress by chatting with the cashier, have you the imagination required to consider that this may be the only conversation that aged one will have today? Practice searching for icons. They’re not only on walls.