The Icon: God With Us

“If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him. Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered, ‘Don’t you know Me, Philip….Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father’” (John 14:8,9).

The Sunday of Orthodoxy celebration has a double feature: A procession of icons and the condemnation of all heresies of the past. They are integrally connected. However, non-Orthodox and even some of our own faithful look upon icons as mere adornments, an insignia of our faith. They beautify our temples and our homes. Western Christians explain them as ways to tell Bible stories to those who cannot read. In fact, icons are much more—they manifest the basis of our faith. Whatever they may appear to be to the uninitiated, for true believers they witness to the essence of the Orthodox Church doctrine. Every false teaching about the faith of our fathers has in one way or another violated the truths portrayed in the icons.

Imagine being among the disciples when Philip requested our Lord Jesus: “Show us the Father.” What is Philip asking? For a Jew, and they were nearly all Jews, such a question is more than foolish. It’s an impertinence edging on blasphemy. They dared not even utter the sacred Name of God revealed to Moses. Not only Jews, even the Muslims would understand and agree. God is beyond all definitions, much less revelations to mere humans.

Rather than rebuke Philip, Jesus uses his naive request to reveal a profound mystery—He Himself is the image of the Father. All that the Father is, Jesus Christ the Son of God is also. This inconceivable truth sets Christianity apart from all religions and philosophies. More, Jesus is telling Philip in effect, “Do I have to explain that? Isn’t it apparent in all that you have seen Me do and heard Me say?”

Heresy is a fragment of the whole truth about God. In ancient times, thinkers were well aware of God’s transcendence. They were not able to conceive of a deity who would deign to become human, unless it were to alleviate heavenly boredom, as was the case with the gods of Mt. Olympus. They would take human or animal form just to see what it would be like to live as they. They could imagine that the Son of God might inhabit a human body, much as they do in science fiction nowadays. An icon of Jesus Christ as Son of God would be but an idol, condemned by the Ten Commandments. Orthodoxy insists that Jesus Christ is “true God of true God, of one essence with the Father” as we recite in our creed.

People today have a vague belief in God. It’s easier to think of Jesus as an ideal human being loved, blessed and accepted by the Father as a true Child of His; as in the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar,“He’s a man, just a man….” If that were the case, an icon would be but a portrait.

Iconoclasts, those who denounce and reject our veneration of icons are docetists, meaning that they believe Jesus Christ appears to be the Son of God, but really isn’t. They deny the logical conclusion of our Lord’s incarnation. He is God-man, both Son of the Father and Child of Mary the Virgin Mother. In every sense He is all that the Father and the Holy Spirit are, as well as being everything that we humans are, except for sin. These two natures are united in one Person.