Thursday, February 02, 2006

Praying with the Icon of Christ & His Mother

If I stopped someone on the street, showed her this image painted on wood, and asked her, “What can you tell me about this?” she could probably identify it as a painting and recognize the subjects as Mary and Jesus. If so, she would be correct, but her answer would only capture the surface of the reality behind it. This is not merely a painting, but an “icon,” a sacred image. It is a visual representation of the heavenly reality that teaches us about the spiritual world around us.

The woman pictured here is indeed Mary. She is typically adorned with three stars representing her virginity, before the birth of her child, during the birth of her child, and after His birth. She is the ever-Virgin Mary, who conceived her child without a man through the Holy Spirit and gave birth to Him, the Son of God. A few Greek letters identify her as the “Mother of God.” (She is also called the Theotokos, the “God-bearer.”) The titles bestowed upon her tell us who she is, but more importantly reveal the identity of her Son. If she is the Mother of God, then her Son is God Himself in human flesh.

A few Greek initials reveal her Son’s name, Jesus Christ. A halo, divided into three parts with three letters, surrounds His head. The letters spell the Greek words meaning, “the One Who Is” or “the Existing One.” Who is this child? Remember back to the time our Creator spoke to Moses through a burning bush. Moses asked God His name. God replied, “I Am Who I Am.” “The One Who Is,” who can identify Himself by simply saying, “I Am,” and who forbade the Israelites from making an image of Him has come into the world as a human being, born of a woman, to take on an image we could see and we can still portray. As St. Paul said, Christ is the icon (image) of the invisible God. The invisible One became visible and the One who cannot be contained confined Himself to a human body. The icon proclaims the unfathomable mystery that Jesus Christ is fully God, beyond comprehension, and completely human, one of us.

The icon teaches us eternal Truth, but it accomplishes more than instructing us. It allows us to see into the spiritual world. This is why icons are called “windows to heaven.” We pray standing before them, peering beyond the image into heaven itself, where Christ dwells and where His mother, with all the Saints of heaven, pray to Christ, our God, for those of us on earth. Icons direct our hearts and minds to heaven while showing us the heavenly reality present around us. When I see the icon of Christ, I see Christ Himself through the icon. When I kiss the icon, I kiss my Saviour by means of the icon. When I honor the icon, I worship my God represented by the icon. When I pray before the icon, I speak with Christ who is portrayed by the icon. I'm thankful to God that He has given us holy icons. They help me to pray, teach my mind, guide my heart, comfort my soul, and remind me Who is always with me every moment of every day. Through our prayers, may we become living icons who reflect the image and likeness of Christ, pointing others, not to ourselves, but to the loving and compassionate One Who Is.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. (Icon from the IconoGraphics ColorWorks Collection,