Picture of the diptych icon of the Divine Heart of God the Father visiting and being venerated in the humble abode of a Latino family in the United States of America. Also present are a relic of the True Cross of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and relics of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles.
The theophanic ministry of the icon (as different from a religious painting) leads to the restoration and return of souls to their Creator and Father not just by its intrinsic beauty, which both leads in a mysterious manner to and transmits the beauty of Him Who is Other, but by drawing souls beyond the pale of this earthly plane to that of the heavenly plane through its epiphanic presence and direct participation in the divine light; the energeia of God. The icon is neither a sacrament as considered by some in the Eastern Church, nor is it just a sacramental as understood by the vast majority in the Western Church. The icon lies at the intersection of both, showing characteristics of sacraments and sacramentals, yet never attaining to the fullness of the former, while having more than the fullness of the latter. It is thus that the icon has been granted by God a unique place in the history and function of the liturgy, as well as the history of the salvation and deification of humankind.
What are icons? Icons are sacramental avenues of divine grace that struggle in our times both for the Church and for the faith, in a similar, albeit inverse, manner to when the Church struggled for the icon during the major periods of iconoclasm in the history of Christianity. It is the icon that will bring forth, once more, the bloom of the incomparable beauty and love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the eye, heart, mind and soul of humankind. This it will achieve by removing, through its ascetic beauty and embodied grace, the blindness of the spirit – the shuttered and darkened nous – that so characterizes human persons in our present times.
The symbolic language of the icon is “incomprehensible to the sated flesh, to the heart full of longings for material things. But it becomes the very fabric of life when these longings collapse and an abyss opens at our feet. Then we need a firm foothold at the edge of the abyss, we need to feel the motionless calm of the icon above our tribulations. And the joyous vision of a sobor, a church of all creation above the bloody chaos of our existence becomes as necessary as our daily bread. We need (more…)
“At all levels – the artistic, the spiritual, the political and the domestic – icons reveal a profound concern for the integration and inter-relationship of the spiritual and the material, the sacred and the secular” (J. Baggley, 1987, Doors of Perception).
“The wider significance of the events portrayed [in the icon] has to be worked out in the soul of those who behold the icon; what the icon represents may have been manifested at a precise point in time and space, but its fuller significance is found in the inner world where the true work of purification, illumination and union have to be accomplished” (Fr. John Baggley, 1987, Doors of perception: Icons and their spiritual significance, p. 82).
More about why it was an icon, not a painting, that was requested by God the Father for consecration and veneration can be found here.
“The veneration of icons by the Church is like a lantern and the light from it has never been extinguished. It will continue to burn, as it has in the past; but its is not motionless . . . And even when all that is hostile to the icon strives to extinguish its light, covering it in a shroud of darkness, the lantern does not run dry and cannot run dry. And if, through loss of piety and devotion, the ability to paint icons should ever fade, even then the light will live on, ever ready to reappear in all its power to renew us through the victory of Christ’s Transfiguration” (Fr. Gregory Krug, Thoughts on the icon).