When we hear the word “icon” today, we typically think of the pictogram or ideogram displayed on our computer screen which helps us navigate the computer system. The word also refers to a person who is representative of something: Elvis Presley is a rock ’n roll icon. But the word, icon, as I use it this morning, is a painting of Jesus or another holy figure, painted on wood, and used as an aid to devotion in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The word, icon, means “image.”
The first thing I see each morning are the icons displayed on the wall when I enter my study. Some of these icons were gifts from friends who knew of my interest in icons and the others I’ve collected from Crete, Russia, Italy and other places. I became fascinated with icons when stationed on the Island of Crete over a half-century ago and experienced first-hand the ardent devotion given to them by my Greek sisters and brothers. Icons are venerated by the Eastern Orthodox and are viewed as one of the ways God is revealed (along with scripture, liturgy, tradition, etc.). While such veneration is not a part of my religious tradition, the icons do serve as message-bearers, as revelation, because each morning they shout out to me that we are all icons of God.
It is said that we humans are made in the image of God. We are, therefore, an icon of God. When I see the icons on my study wall, I am reminded of this reality, as difficult as it is to believe, that each member of the human race is infinitely precious to God. Timothy Ware in his book, The Orthodox Church, quotes Clement of Alexandria, “When you see your brother or sister you see God.” Ware continues, “And Evagrius taught: ‘After God, we must count everyone as God Himself.’ This respect for every human being is visibly expressed in Orthodox worship, when the priest censes not only the icons but the members of the congregation, saluting the image of God in each person. The best icon of God is the human person….The image of God (in each person) is distorted (by sin) but never destroyed; in the words of a hymn sung by Orthodox at the Funeral Service: ‘I am the image of Your inexpressible glory, even though I bear the wounds of sin.’”
Just as the icon on my computer screen enables me to navigate the computer system, so the Orthodox icons on my study wall help me navigate life’s journey, reminding me over and over again, that every person has “that of God” within. Each person is to be given dignity, respect, and love because she or he is an icon of God.