The Icon of the Divine Heart: Part 6 – The Need for the Ecumenical Icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father Encompassing All Hearts
As has been shown, a need exists in the universal Church, for both icons in general and the ecumenical icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father Encompassing All Hearts in particular because, “Contemporary culture has turned away from the faith and trod another path . . . [it] attempted compromise or lost itself in resignation and cultural abstinence. The last of these led to a new iconoclasm . . . [as heretical compendium; Evdokimov, 1989], which has frequently been regarded as virtually mandated by the Second Vatican Council. The destruction of images . . . left behind a void, the wretchedness of which we are experiencing in a truly acute way . . . [It has become] a symptom of the crisis of man’s very existence . . . a blindness of the spirit” (Benedict XVI, 2000, p. 130). In fact, according to Ouspensky (1992), “While in the period of iconoclasm the Church struggled for the icon, in our time it is the icon that struggles for the Church.”
Elaborating on icons in general and the role that they play in the Church, Archimandrite Zenon said that, “The icon is an embodied prayer. It is created in prayer and for prayer, whose driving force is the love of God and yearning for Him as perfect Beauty” (in Alfeyev, 2011). Metropolitan Alfeyev (2011) confirmed that, “the icon is also a school of prayer for those who contemplate it and pray before it.” Thus what, in reality, is the true mystical meaning of icons, especially in relation to the diptych icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father Encompassing All Hearts? This question is forthwith explored and answered, without re-entering fully into all the previously discussed reasons of why the Eternal Father has requested that this icon be written and enshrined, in the first instance.
According to Evdokimov, “The light of the first day and the light of the eighth day meet in the icon” (in Benedict XVI, 2000, p. 123; Evdokimov, 1989) because it, “is always characterized by the unity of creation, Christology and eschatology: the first day is on its way toward the eighth, which in turn takes up the first . . . [it] is still ordered to the mystery that becomes present in the liturgy. It is still oriented to the heavenly liturgy . . . [whereby] the curtain between heaven and earth is torn open, and we are taken up into a liturgy that spans the whole cosmos” (Benedict XVI, 2000, p. 125).
These statements of both Evdokimov and Benedict XVI address directly the mystical function of the icon, especially the icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father, in relation to the era of the eighth day: that is, both the forthcoming era of peace (Rv 20:1-3) and the descent of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rv 21:1-8). For among other things, it is precisely through the formal consecration of all mankind to God the Father – both individually and collectively, as He has incessantly requested since the early 20th century (Ravasio, 1932/1994), and ideally with the purification of souls prior to consecration to Him, in the spirit of the Maccabees (St Andrews Productions, 2009) – that the Eternal Father desires to be ‘drawn down’ (ibid.) into an intimate relationship with both each individual and all mankind (Apostolate of the Divine Heart, 2011; Bartolo-Abela, 2011a, f, g); bringing in with Him the new era of peace: the era of the Divine Will (Piccarreta, 1899-1938/2010). Finally fulfilling our ceaseless prayer to the Almighty Father throughout the centuries, as taught to us by His Son, Jesus Christ, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). It should be noted that the era of peace will, in fact, also be the era of the common spiritualization of mankind, through theosis and deification as originally revealed in Sacred Scripture (Thomas, 2007) and explained by the Fathers of the universal Church; especially the Greek Fathers (Russell, 2006). Since the forthcoming era of peace will be the era of the reign of the Father, in the Eucharistic age of the Holy Spirit (Bartolo-Abela, 2011a).
Meanwhile, returning to the mystical meaning of icons in general and the icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father in particular, in the icon, “the beautiful and the good, ultimately the beautiful and God, coincide. Through the appearance of the beautiful, we are wounded in our innermost being, and that wound grips us and takes us beyond ourselves; it stirs longing into flight, and moves us toward the truly Beautiful, to the Good in itself” (Benedict XVI, 2000, p. 126). Evdokimov (1989) maintained that, “the icon is a sacramental . . . [that unites] meaning and presence” through its liturgical function and theophanic ministry. With the icon attaining its liturgical theology of epiphanic presence and theophanic value by participating in the Wholly Other. Meanwhile, Alfeyev (2011) stated that since icons are an object of liturgical veneration, in keeping with the decrees of Nicaea II, “icons should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honor, but not of real worship, which is reserved for Him Who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature” – once again the worship of proskynesis, not latreia, as previously discussed in the section on the Stoglav Council.
All of the above are especially important points because God the Father, as both Presence and Eternal Father, has to date been largely absent from the hearts and minds of many – if not most – of mankind (unlike Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and countless saints), as well as the liturgical calendar of the universal Church (Ravasio, 1932/1994; St Andrews Productions, 2009), despite being the Alpha and the Omega of the entire universe. Under the rationalization that the Father does not need to be venerated in such a manner, given that He receives the Sacrifice of the Mass daily. However, it should be noted that such a rationalization may originate from, “what seems like the highest humility toward God . . . [ends up turning] into pride, allowing God no word and permitting Him no real entry into history . . . [despite the fact that] God is the Wholly Other, but He is powerful enough to be able to show Himself” (Benedict XVI, 2000, p. 124). For as St Paul recognized, “glory appears where the form and the idea of God, which inhabits it, become one. This is especially true where form becomes a place of theophany, where the body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit” (Evdokimov, 1989). Joseph of Volokolamsk declared that in the presence of, “the visible image, the spirit launches itself toward the divine . . . [For] it is not the object (the material icon) which is venerated but the Beauty which, by resemblance, the icon transmits mysteriously” (in Evdokimov, 1989). Moreover, theology and iconology are considered to be, “the two major expressions of one single faith culminating in the contemplation of the mysteries” (Evdokimov, 1989).
On the Western side of the Church, Benedict XVI (2000) himself emphasized five fundamental principles regarding both the need and function of images in the universal Church, particularly holy icons. These principles are that:
- Icons are, “Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship” (p. 131);
- “Sacred art finds its subjects . . . beginning with creation and continuing all the way from the first day to the eighth day” (p. 132);
- “Images point to a presence, they are essentially connected with what happens in the liturgy” (p. 132);
- “Their whole point [of images] is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level, to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceived the Invisible in the visible . . . It comes from an interior vision and thus leads us to such an interior vision. It must be a fruit of contemplation . . . a prayer and seeing undertaken in communion with the seeing faith of the Church. The ecclesial dimension is essential . . . [providing] an essential connection with the history of the faith, with Scripture and Tradition” (p. 133);
- “The Church in the West . . . must achieve a real reception of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II, which affirmed the fundamental importance and theological status of the image in the Church. The Western Church does not need to subject herself to all the individual norms concerning images that were developed at the councils and synods of the East . . . There must, of course, be no rigid norms. Freshly received intuitions and the ever-new experiences of piety must find a place in the Church . . . [Furthermore] art cannot be “produced” . . . it is always a gift . . . it has to be received, otherwise it is not there” (pp. 134-135).
Meanwhile more recently, on the Eastern side of the Church, Metropolitan Alfeyev (2011) identified six crucial and inherent dimensions of icons, in comparison to sacred art in general. These dimensions are (1) theological, (2) anthropological, (3) eschatological, (4) liturgical, (5) mystical, and (6) ethical. Alfeyev elaborated that, “The theological significance of the icon is that it speaks in the language of art about dogmatic truths revealed to human beings in Holy Scripture and Church Tradition . . . Every icon is anthropological in its content . . . and reflects the eschatological, apokatastatic, redeemed and deified state of nature . . . The icon’s purpose is liturgical . . . [and] mystical. It is inseparably bound up with the spiritual life of a Christian, with his experience of communion with God and his relationship to the spiritual world. At the same time the icon reflects the mystical experience of the whole Church, not only her individual members.”
Thus as Ouspensky had stated in relation to holy icons, and as applicable to the icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father, the universal Church, “is called to bear witness to the Truth which it transmits through its liturgy and icon. Hence the need to realize and express the dogma of the veneration of icons as applied to modern reality, to the demands and quests of the modern man . . . [since] while in the early ages Christianity had before it a heathen world, in our day it stands before a de-Christianized world which has grown on the ground of apostasy” (in Alfeyev, 2011; Ouspensky, 1992).
- Alfeyev, H. (2011, February). Theology of icon in the Orthodox Church. Lecture presented at St Vladimir’s Seminary, New York. Retrieved on December 19, 2011 from: http://www.mospat.ru/en/2011/02/ 06/news35783/
- Apostolate of the Divine Heart. (2011). Devotion to the Divine Heart of God the Father (2nd ed.). MA: Author.
- Bartolo-Abela, M. (2011a). The reign of God the Father, in the Eucharistic era of the Holy Spirit. In The Divine Heart of God the Father. MA: Apostolate of the Divine Heart.
- Bartolo-Abela, M. (2011f). The interpenetration of love. In The Divine Heart of God the Father. MA: Apostolate of the Divine Heart.
- Bartolo-Abela, M. (2011g). A fusion of hearts. In The Divine Heart of God the Father. MA: Apostolate of the Divine Heart.
- Benedict XVI. (2000). The spirit of the liturgy. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press.
- Evdokimov, P. (1989). The art of the icon: A theology of beauty (S. Bingham, trans.). Torrance, CA: Oakwood.
- Ouspensky, L. (1992). Theology of the icon, Vols. I & II (rev. trans.). NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
- Piccarreta, L. (1899-1938/2010). The Kingdom of the Divine Fiat in the midst of creatures: Book of Heaven, Vols. 1-36. Miami, FL: DivineWill.cc
- Ravasio, E. (1932/1994). The Father speaks to His children (1st English ed.). Retrieved on October 13, 2011 from: http://divineheartofgod.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/father_speaks_to_his_children.pdf
- Russell, N. (2006). The doctrine of deification in the Greek Patristic tradition. NY: Oxford University Press.
- St Andrews Productions. (2009). Seeing with the eyes of the soul: Revelations from God the Father to all mankind. McKees Rocks, PA: Author.
- The New Jerusalem Bible. (1999, stand. ed.). NY: Doubleday.
- Thomas, S. (2007). Deification in the Eastern Orthodox tradition: A biblical perspective. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.