Icons: “Channel of Divine Grace”
Our Lady of the Sign. “The Lord will give you a sign. The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son. Is 7:14. Holy Trinity Chapel.
“What the Gospels explains by means of words, the iconographer shows by means of his works.” Saint Basil the Great
Iconography has been used for centuries as a means of communicating theology with the use of images. Especially in the early days of the church, when many could not read, this was extremely beneficial.
Veneration of icons is a common Byzantine practice, respect being paid not to the painting itself but to the person it represents. Some icons are believed to be the means of obtaining miracles, and people pray in front of them for healing or other assistance.
Icons are considered ‘windows into heaven.’
Christ the Teacher icon. O God, we pray that the whole creation will in all things be restored to your Son, the King of the Universe. Holy Trinity Chapel.
An image, says St. Thomas Aquinas, connotes three simultaneous qualities: likeness to prototype, derivation from it, and similarity of species with it. Likeness alone is not enough … The underlying idea of the icon is the manifestation of the hidden.
Metropolitan Seraphim explains the role of the icon in prayer this way:
“If you stand before the Redeemer’s icon or that of the Mother of God, stand as if you were before the Lord Jesus Christ Himself or before the Blessed Virgin Mary. Keep your intelligence without any representation, for there is a great difference between standing before the Lord in His very presence and representing Him to the imagination.
In the latter case, attention is not given to prayer directly, but is held by traditional impressions which only skim the surface of our consciousness.”
The Eucharist icon. Jesus with St. Paul. Holy Trinity Chapel.
Eucharist icon. Jesus with St. Peter. Holy Trinity Chapel.
#SaintPeter with Jesus; “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The Pantocrator, Christ blessing his people with New Testament in left hand. Holy Trinity Chapel.
The original Holy Trinity icon written by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev (b.1360), also called The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. One of the most recognizable icons in the world.
The three angels portrayed are sharing together at the table. When a circle is superimposed over the icon, Rublev portrays each figure as equal, no one is more important than the other.
“The Holy Trinity” mosaic icon. Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia PA. Photo credit: Cathedral of Immaculate Conception
The persons of the Holy Trinity: the Holy Spirit is on the right, the Son in the middle, and the Father on the left.
Macrina the Younger sister of St. Basil. Holy Trinity Chapel.
In the Life of Macrina, by St. Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina says “Lord, from your sacrifice, true life begins when present life finishes.” – #MacrinatheYounger
The icon, then, is not only an aesthetical entity. It is the result of the faith and prayer of the Church. It is the life of the Church lived in Christ.
A saving truth is not communicated by the word alone but by the fact of awakening vital forces of life, through the presentation of beauty. Because God loved us, He turned to us a visible face, a human face, in Christ. He turned to us the face of the absolute beauty which is not different from the fullness of God and the fullness of being. The icon carries with it the love of this beauty, and the beauty of this love.
– from Byzantine Daily Worship by Archbishop Joseph Raya & Baron José de Vinck, Alleluia Press, Allendale, NJ. Adapted for use by Father J. Michael Venditti. Eparchy of Passaic NJ.
“Christ,” says St. Paul, “is the icon of the invisible God” (Col. 2:7).
The icon, therefore, is not a picture. The icon is not a painted representation meant to teach. The icon is a grace and a life. It is a life that penetrates and purifies and elevates. From the icon emanates a virtue that inspires the faithful with hope and gives him consolation.
St. John of Damascus calls it a “channel of divine grace”. In another sense, one can say the icon’s relationship to the faithful is similar, though certainly not equal to, that of Holy Scripture. It may be for this reason that, in the vocabulary of the Byzantine Tradition, an icon is not “painted” but “written.”
– Eparchy of Passaic (NJ)
“Old Testament Trinity” icon is based on Genesis 18:1-15. The story is commonly known as the hospitality of Abraham. When Abraham talks to them, they respond as one (“they said”), the one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Cappadocian Fathers: Basil “the man of action”, Gregory of Nazianzus “the orator” and Gregory of Nyssa “the thinker”.
The Pantocrator icon written on ceiling of the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception.
Transfiguration Icon. Here You were transfigured in glory on Mount Tabor, O Christ; You showed Your disciples Your glory.
Icons are “channel of divine grace,”as St. John of Damascus calls it, next to the scripture, an almost sacramental character.