Truth, Lies, and Icons

 

 

As verbal beings, we live in a world of icons. We experience the world in an iconic fashion. A major difficulty for us is that we have lost the vocabulary of iconic reality. We have substituted the language of photography. The dissonance between reality and our photographic assumptions has led us to doubt both. Man is an iconographer and needs to re-learn what that means.

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Franz Kafka famously wrote: “The Lie has become the World Order.” It was a sobering estimate (by an unbeliever) of the nature of human reality. Lying, simply not telling the truth, can seem a minor thing. But Jesus and the New Testament seem to pay a great deal of attention to lying, and treat it quite seriously. There is more here than the mere abrogation of a moral tenet. It is a concern with something more “Kafkesque.”

The nature of truth and lies becomes clear if they are thought of in terms of being. The Church describes God as the “Author of our being.” In the writings of the Fathers, being itself, simple existence, is seen as a good thing, the first of all created good things. God brings us into existence saying, “It is good.” More than that, the Fathers teach that it is God’s will that we grow towards “well-being,” with the ultimately goal of “eternal being.” This, in terms of existence, is the path of salvation.

And this understanding reveals the nature of a lie: it has no true existence. That which is not true not only has no existence, but its very purpose is to obscure or destroy that which indeed has true existence. Fantasy and imagination, even though they have no true existence, are by no means inherently false. Only those forms which seek to distort, deny or destroy that which truly exists can be called “lies” rather than “fantasy” or “imagination.”

But this makes speech about reality (that which truly exists) very significant. The most obvious thing we can say is that reality itself and speech about reality are not the same thing.

In classical philosophy, the school of thought that describes words as only “in our heads” is called Nominalism. The names (nomina) of things are described as “nothing more than thoughts.” Those who argued otherwise (there are various types of such arguments) are called Realists. Orthodoxy, in its classical form, has always espoused some form of Realism. There is a relationship between words and thoughts and that to which they refer that is greater than simply being something “in our heads.”

One of the places where this debate took shape was in the debate over the veneration of icons. It is clear that images had played a role in the life of the Church from very early times. But that role was not questioned or explored until the 7th and 8th centuries. The debate was about more than the mere making of images. A greater and more pressing question was the veneration (giving honor) to the images themselves. St. Basil the Great stated a clear connection between the image and the subject of the image: “Honor given to the image is referred to its prototype.” Thus the honor given to an icon of Christ was, in fact, honor given to Christ Himself.

St. Basil’s statement was something of a simple assertion, without elaboration. But in the 8th and 9th centuries, St. Theodore the Studite developed a much more careful treatment of the question. He described an icon as a “hypostatic representation,” that is, a representation of the personal or particular characteristics of its subject (the personal is always considered particular rather than general or abstract). He further taught that what is represented is “hypostatically” present in the image. The image does not become what is represented – that would be a presentation of its essence. Instead, it makes present what is represented, i.e., the Person. St. Theodore’s treatment used the language that the Church had developed for speaking about the Holy Trinity, as well as the Person and Nature of Christ to speak about the Holy Icons. It is a treatment that is often forgotten or neglected.

St. Theodore’s teaching on this question manages to avoid Nominalist solutions. He does not say, “It’s just a picture.” He does not say, “It’s only connection to what is depicted is in the mind.” Like all of the Fathers, he is a Realist. There is a true, even ontological, relationship between the icon and its subject. But he avoids charges of “magic” by maintaining that what is represented is only hypostatically present.

His explanation makes it possible to say, “The man in the picture is Peter.”

Turning back to language, the same understanding says that words matter. They have an actual relationship with the reality of which they speak and it matters. Fr. Georges Florovsky once said that “doctrine is a verbal icon of Christ.” Or, as the Seventh Council said, “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.”

Of course, the palette of language is far richer than the palette of the artist. Words have “shades” of meaning and subtle hues that an artist should envy. But, in the teaching of the Orthodox faith, words have a grounding in reality beyond psychology.

Some have said that the modern world is inherently Nominalist. We believe that our words are only words, and only have meaning because we say or think they do. The “reality” they describe is, therefore, in our minds. There was a school of thought (Idealism) that held that there is no objective reality outside the mind, or certainly that it cannot be proved. That extreme position has never gained acceptance. However, the modern sociology of knowledge, in which perceptions, prejudice, etc. are given a dominant and controlling position, yields something of the same effect. Conversation begins to falter in the face of withering doubts about the reality or trust-worthiness of anything in our heads.

Words have something of a sacramental relationship with the reality they represent. Or, to be more precise, they have an iconic relationship with reality. Icons are not photographs, nor can words ever serve as a photographic or holographic substitute. But icons also carry more information than photographs and are able to make associations and connections that reveal the truth of reality (its foundational reality) far more profoundly than is possible in a photograph. Words have that same ability. Take the poetic sentence:

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

No photograph (and perhaps no icon) could carry as much information as this combination of words from Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” The many associations of “beast” (including the Beast of Revelation) do not “approach” – they “slouch.” It carries overtones of “slither” (and the serpent of the Garden) as well as other emotional content. And so the analysis would continue. It is a phrase that lives in my mind, capturing a reality both present and yet to come.

And this brings us back to lying. The struggle to speak the truth transcends mere morality. At its most fundamental level, it is a struggle to rightly relate to and participate in reality itself. To “live a lie” borders on not living at all – and is a synonym for hell.

To claim that the reality of our words lives only in the mind is itself a “lie” (not an intentional one, but simply not true). And even the photographic presentation of reality (as in all literalisms) fails to rise to the status of truth.

The Fathers held that the world-to-come (the Eschaton) was the truth. The Old Testament, they said, was a shadow, while the New Testament was an icon.

As verbal beings, we live in a world of icons. We experience the world in an iconic fashion. A major difficulty for us is that we have lost the vocabulary of iconic reality. We have substituted the language of photography. The dissonance between reality and our photographic assumptions has led us to doubt both. Man is an iconographer and needs to re-learn what that means. The result can be a movement towards the truth and a renewed confidence in our speech.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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47 responses to “Truth, Lies, and Icons”

  1. Lewis Hodge Avatar
    Lewis Hodge

    The artificiality in our lives seems to me a prime culprit as it substitutes for reality. Contrast a drive through nearby Pigeon Forge with a walk in the National Park. From clothing to amusement to social relationships, we are daily increasing our preference for and consumption of the things we produce for ourselves to the things God created. I’m not decrying manmade things but our “worship” of them.

  2. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father, this is simply stunning, thank you. Words fail me to convey how much is in this essay! (But especially helpful the basic understanding that lies are meant to conceal truth/reality.)

    My one question remains: how do we tag on to what you have written the hysteria over certain words/pronouns, etc — and the fury if the wrong one is used? I suspect this is extreme instance of photographic zealotry, but I defer to you.

  3. Joyce Avatar
    Joyce

    Father, bless.

    This essay brings to mind a tendency to divide people through the use of statistical groups. We often label “others” as whites, blacks, gays, the old, the boomers, the millennials, immigrants, the mentally ill, and so on.

    However, these groups are merely abstractions and are often wielded as weapons rather than tools for understanding and cooperation. They are used to strengthen arguments such as “whites have privilege,” “blacks commit more crimes,” “millennials are lazy,” and so forth.

    What truly matters is the mystery and truth of the person standing right beside me. Do I love Mary, a member of my parish? Is my brother Thomas, my life? Do I genuinely care for my son’s teacher, Patrice?

    Am I capable of seeing this particular fast food worker as a person? Have I taken the time to know his name and address him accordingly?

    Does this person have dreams, hopes, and a desired legacy? Do they possess an inheritance and a will? Do they have a face that reflects their unique story?

    In moments of fatigue, fear, or laziness, instead of pausing to reflect, I choose to belittle the person and attach the worst lies about their statistical group to them. I even engage in falsehoods about myself.

    I fail to recognize the mystery within them, within the person. I fail to grasp the mystery within myself. Yet both of us bear the image of God.

    “He’s just another oblivious boomer.”

    “I’m just a forgotten Gen Xer.”

    Lord, have mercy on me, this sinner.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I was blessed to “see” my late wife’s Guardian Angel attending her in prayer as she lay dying. When my priest asked me what the angel looked like, the only adequate explanation I had was “like an icon, minus the wings”.
    Icons open up the reality of being. Photographs, even the best of them, only capture a moment in time. Freeze it.
    Praying before an icon, even a little opens one to the person of the icon and vice versa.

  5. Randall Herman Avatar
    Randall Herman

    Thank you, Father.
    This reminds me of a biography on Martin Luther I read a few years ago. The author underlined that among the Reformers he was the only sacramental Realist. The sentence that, ‘Luther was always looking back to the Truth’ was the last straw. I had felt that in reading Luther’s writings I was being pushed toward Orthodoxy.
    Their was also the pull-factor of your writings; I’ve been reading your blogs & books since about 2010.
    I am now an inquirer at All Saints Orthodox. Thank you again, Father.

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Randall, may your mind, heart and soul be blessed as you inquire. After 37 years, I am still inquiring.

  7. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    St. Basil the Great stated a clear connection between the image and the subject of the image: “Honor given to the image is referred to its prototype.” Thus the honor given to an icon of Christ was, in fact, honor given to Christ Himself.

    It occurs to me that this is reflected in all the NT teachings concerning love for neighbor and enemy as well as care for the widow, the sick, and the suffering. The necessity of these things is tied together by “giv[ing] honor to Christ Himself”. It’s odd that this had not fallen into place for me before–at least not in such a concrete manner.

    There was a school of thought (Idealism) that held that there is no objective reality outside the mind, or certainly that it cannot be proved.

    I think this has a much deeper hold on our society than you say, Father.

    This feels like the beginning of a series. I look forward to further posts!

  8. Fr Jacques Smuts Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,
    Christ is risen!
    I read your wonderful post as I’m thinking of the Sunday of the Blind Man, with its recounting of the farcical contortions into which the Pharisees knotted themselves in trying to explain away the plain reality of the blind man’s healing at the hands of Christ. And failing miserably, because of their inability to reconcile the shadows of their assumptions about God the Father with the light His Icon has brought to the blind man’s life.
    Which may, now that I think about it, go some way towards explaining the contortions into which the World Order knots itself, trying to explain its lies to itself.
    I often think of GK Chesterton’s circle of unreality: rational in internally consistent – but small, and utterly removed from the very large circle of the truth.
    O, for more sacramental words!
    And music, too. Like Arvo Pärt’s musical icons.

  9. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    “Man is an iconographer and needs to re-learn what that means.”

    Fr. Stephen: This article has made me think about how much I don’t know and would like to.
    How can I “re-learn” to be an iconographer? Being a convert from protestantism has left me deficient in many ways.
    Where can I start learning this? Books, articles, ?

    Thank you,
    Anna

  10. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Christ is Risen!

    The sense I get is that metaphors serve as more powerful carriers of truth than precise, literal language. I tend to think of icons as pictorial metaphors, and liturgical rituals as embodied metaphors. The work of Iain McGilchrist. has helped me much in this regard. He notes that the word “metaphor” is itself a metaphor: it means one that “carries across.” Perhaps this makes Christ the Metaphor par excellence (Colossians 1:15).

  11. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    I appreciate your thoughts in this article. I was reminded of a priest who, quoting a church father, once said, “Everything I tell you will be a lie, because words fail to translate the truth well.” or something to that effect.

    I believe the failure of photograph or even a lot of words is that they often take only a snapshot of reality and are therefore incapable of giving the complete picture. The mental image I have is of trying to use a single frame of a complete video as a way of describing the whole movie.

    The single frame or photograph is not evil and not an intentional lie. It is only when we decide that they are the whole story that we start to stray off the path of truth.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Randall,
    May God further your journey!

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Anna,
    It’s a good question – I’m not thinking of any books (or they don’t come immediately to mind). But, I think we begin, primarily, with our eyes open to perceive Christ at work in other people and in nature around us. Others may have some suggestions. Perhaps my book, Everywhere Present, would be of use.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Drewster,
    Just today on my morning walk, I saw something I liked and tried to take a picture. But the phone/camera could not take in the whole of what I was seeing and so I bascially couldn’t take the picture I wanted. The one I did get was a “lie” in that it failed to see what any human being would see.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Anna, the best way to learn iconography is to apprentice to one. I would also recommend “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius.
    Either book is available on line through 8th Day Books here in Wichita,Ks.
    Owned, curated and operated by friend and fellow parishioner, Warren Farha. http://www.eighthdaybooks. You can also call and ask 800-841-2541. There is a whole section on iconography on their web site. Operating since 1988. Has friends and patrons world wide.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael, FWIW, I think Anna was referring to the “iconographer” that all human beings are naturally called to be (as I used the term in the article) rather than a literal painter of icons – unless I misunderstood her.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Perhaps, but there are a wide variety of books and 8th Day remains the best place. Plus I gained a lot years ago by sitting and watching as an iconographer showed and explained her craft–part of which is the art of prayer. So even talking to a good iconographer could bear fruit. If there is a solid Orthodox parish with a good chanter–going to Vespers can be a way to experience a deeper sort of iconographic understanding. Of course Divine Liturgy.
    In one’s own parish, putting aside one’s experience with others can be a trick, but still possible.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Other experiences that have worked for me is finding a wide open section of prairie or forest land with old growth trees. For me it is the Flint Hills here in Kansas. Or the one time I went with my father and brother to the land my grandfather homesteaded in 1910. Again high plains with sparse human habitation. Indeed, for a long time when I thought of “icon” I thought of sections of the Flint Hills. The sense of wonder, beauty and immanent Person but still Transcendent. Probably one reason I love the Orthodox Church.

    Each of the endeavors I describe have been of benefit to me over the years revealing the some answers to Anna’s question.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Forgive me if my replies sound harsh. Not meant that way.

  20. Levi Avatar
    Levi

    Truth and the struggle for it and to it. This piece is very profound, I find that it resonates through and through. I will have to read it over and again. God Bless Father.

  21. David Kontur Avatar
    David Kontur

    Thank you, Father Stephen! As I was reading this article I remembered the one you wrote a few years ago (or so), in which you referred to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s article, Live not by Lies. At this time, in our political and cultural landscape it feels like we are drowning in lies – across the spectrum. What are things we can do in our daily lives to resist the temptation to just get sucked up into living this way?

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David,
    The large presence of the internet in our lives (certainly magnified when “smart” phones became widespread) has given a huge megaphone to several streams of noise: politics (Left and Right), entertainment, opinion. 50 years ago, we had newspapers (once or twice a day), radio (mostly music), television (30 news summary in the evening). That contrasts with what is now the 24/7 news cycle and all of its noises.

    Setting boundaries on news/advertising consumption is one way to tone down the noise. Set a time and a limit on how and when you’ll look at certain things. Try not to “go down the rabbit hole.” We have become addicted to information with the false feeling that “there’s something I can do about it.”

    The goal of the information we are given is not about “doing any thing.” It is about manipulating how you feel – and how you feel is about “shopping” (in one way or another. Simply put: all they want is your money.

    Live simply (or more simply than just coasting along). To a certain degree – quit “caring.” Our propensity to be “good” people, to “care” about others and their troubles is used against us to “suck us in” (as you describe it). Caring is good – but take charge of it. Care about your neighbor (the people near you) – and act on that care.

  23. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Fr. Stephen,
    Could you please unpack how the Creed is understood in these terms? That is, how does the Creed speak in the vocabulary of iconic reality, rather than the language of photography — more like poetry than prose? To be honest, such an approach has saved my faith (from the brittle opacity of literalism).
    Many kind thanks,
    Owen

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Owen,
    Fr. Georges Florovsky described doctrine as a “verbal icon” of Christ. I would be cautious in disparaging “literalism” with regard to the Creed, lest it seem that it means something other than what it says. For example, that Christ was “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,” certainly means that He was conceived without a human father. That He is “true God of true God” means just that. I recall in my Anglican seminary days having a professor (a priest) who said He could not say, “Jesus is God.” I asked him, “What about true God of true God?” He said that he crossed his fingers when he came to that part of the Creed. He was obviously some kind of Arian and should not have been a priest. But, at least he thought the words meant what they said and had the gentlemanly response of crossing his fingers rather than twisting the words to mean something that they do not.

    Nonetheless, the Creed, in most Orthodox languages is referred to as the “Symbol of Faith.” If I were describing the Creed in iconic terms, it would be to remind us that the literal content of the words is but the surface – they point to a fullness that – were it to be expressed – could not be contained by all the books in the world.

  25. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Thank you for the response, Father.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, The Morning Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow has one request which I have difficulties with: “In unforseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by you”
    While I know that is not a lie in the fullness of life, it seems extreme and very hard to not exclude some(many?) events.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    It is a common teaching of the Fathers and is indeed difficult when thinking about certain events. I suppose that certain things are described as part of God’s “permissive will.” What is hopeful in it (and I do think it is quite hopeful), is the confidence it expresses that, regardless of what might happen or take place, God is working His good will. For example, it’s a terrible thing to place three young Hebrew men in a fiery furnace…nevertheless, God was with them, and that was their confidence. Their statement of faith in God (“nevertheless”) made them impervious to the wicked threats of the king.

  28. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father, Michael,
    Yesterday, I was again reminded of this ‘scandalous method’ of God’s Providence, taking advantage of evil to eventually produce good – as Joseph told his brothers at the end of Genesis.
    Our spiritual Father was explaining to my brother -who was complaining about the terrible things being allowed to occur in the world at the moment-, how Christians once complained about the idolatrous temple of Aphrodite erected by Hadrian in the 2nd century on the site of the crucifixion on Golgotha to suppress Christian veneration there, and yet this served as a way to temporarily guard that location, which might have otherwise been lost if the then Jewish schemes for the site had materialised.
    Similarly, he was reminded how two faithful sisters in the Nazi concentration camps always offered daily prayers of thanks for everything: the air, the water, the ‘shelter’ and even the lice …! But one of the two would complain that thanking for the lice was too much, it was nonsensical, as she couldn’t stomach the suffering that the rather extreme lice issue was continually causing her. However, when they were eventually freed, they realised they were the only ones who hadn’t been abused horribly (because of their lice issue) and then she realised her sister’s wisdom – even though her sister was quite unaware of the blessing in disguise during her thankful prayers.
    May God grant us a more continuous fervent gratitude for all things!

  29. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Dino, amazing.
    A friend of mine was once transcribing the testimony of a very elderly survivor of the Armenian Genocide. He punctuated every horror with “Glory to God”

  30. Preston Avatar
    Preston

    Hello Father,

    I’m not Orthodox, but I’ve been a regular visitor to this site and a reader of your writings in particular. The more I learn, the more I find the Orthodox theology of icons profoundly beautiful and compelling. At the same time, I do have hesitation. I’ve been exploring patristic writings, and I can find plenty of statements by certain early fathers that your typical Western Protestant would latch onto as arguments against iconography. Even Athanasius in his “Contra Gentes” attacks the pagan use of images in such strong terms that it’s hard (for me) to see room in his thought for a legitimate Christian use.

    There is one thought I have as I’ve been wrestling with this. Pagan worship of images “like unto corruptible man” represents a worship of the “saeculum.” As I understand it, canonical Orthodox iconography is an attempt to produce images that point towards INCORRUPTIBLE (that is, transfigured) prototypes, which has only become possible through the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ. Should all patristic critiques of image-worship thereby be read with the proviso that they’re speaking of “corruptible” images?

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Preston,
    First, the is incontrovertible and ample archaeological evidence of the making and use of icons during the time of Athanasius. Indeed, in the generation following him, St. Basil makes a theological case for the practice, which he treats as a hallowed tradition. There was, indeed, a decided prejudice in the Eastern Church against 3-D statues and such because of their resemblance to pagan images – though this never seemed to have been a problem in the Western Church.

    Ultimately, it came down to not a question of images, per se, but images of what. Images of false gods are problematic. Images of that which is true is a different matter. There is evidence that Jewish synagoges of the period made use of painted biblical images. We often image a sort of Islamic style iconoclasm among the Jews that was never the case. There were images of angels in the Temple, for example.

    And, of course, because of the Incarnation, everything changed regarding images related to God. The God who could not be image, became such as could be image. The making of icons of Christ became a specific proclamation of the Incarnation itself. Orthodoxy still has prohibitions of any attempt to picture the Father – with only the most oblique symbolic references (such as a hand extending from heaven, etc.)

    Of course, if the Shroud of Turin is genuine, (which I think is possible), then God Himself left us an image of Christ. Your thoughts on the images of incorruptible prototypes is worth thinking about.

  32. Preston Avatar
    Preston

    I’m actually glad you mentioned the Shroud of Turin. I’ve become more and more and more interested in it as I’ve dug into this subject. The document below is particularly fascinating (maybe you’ve even read it before). The kicker is that I’m pretty sure the author is a Protestant who may or may not realize the full implications of what he’s saying…

    https://www.shroud.com/pdfs/anc-stalley-pap.pdf

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Preston,
    The Protestant NT scholar, Dr. Gary Habermas, is very strong on the authenticity of the Shroud. His work on the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ is as good as I’ve seen anywhere.

  34. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Father, where can one find St Basil’s discussion of icons?

    Dana

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Letter 360
    St. Basil the Great ca. 330-379

    “According to the blameless faith of the Christians which we have obtained from God, I confess and agree that I believe in one God the Father Almighty; God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; I adore and worship one God, the Three. I confess to the œconomy of the Son in the flesh, and that the holy Mary, who gave birth to Him according to the flesh, was Mother of God. I acknowledge also the holy apostles, prophets, and martyrs; and I invoke them to supplication to God, that through them, that is, through their mediation, the merciful God may be propitious to me, and that a ransom may be made and given me for my sins. Wherefore also I honour and kiss the features of their images, inasmuch as they have been handed down from the holy apostles, and are not forbidden, but are in all our churches.” (Letter 360)

    You can google search for Basil on image and prototype and come up with another great passage (from his letters).

  36. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I’ll go so far as to say the Shroud is authentic. I question the possibility that someone 800-900 years ago would have had the foresight, ingenuity or ability to incorporate details that only the technology of modern science could decipher.

  37. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    *Alice in Wonderland* keeps coming to mind, where Humpty Dumpty, being the master of his own personal reality, insists that any word he uses means just what he chooses it to mean, neither more nor less. And before she meets Humpty Dumpty, there’s Tweedledum: “You know very well you’re not real,” Tweedledum tells Alice. “I am real!” she replies, and begins to cry.
    Originally, Wonderland represented absurdity, irrationality, uncertainty and disorder, but Humpty Dumpty and Tweedledum are now mainstream.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind and love your neighbor as thyself.”

    THE guidance(command) for living the Truth, conquering lies and seeing, thinking and hearing iconically.

    But it begins in my heart and soul by recognizing I am a sinful man far from my beloved who needs repentance. The more I repent, the more the lies in my own heart become clear.

    I had been judging, disliking and slandering (in my mind) a fellow Orthodox believer for 40 years (we knew each other before being received into the Church). I just reconnected with him and we humbled ourselves and the wound we both carried is being healed Of course much more difficult to do with someone with whom one lives.

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

    My repentance is the only way the lies in my own heart can be rooted out so that I may know the Truth so that the iconic reality of my soul may show forth the image of Jesus Christ living within me.
    Mt 4:17: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
    We Christians, myself most of all have forgotten.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I think that John 10, 26 and 27 apply somehow, but I not sure.
    “But you do not believe because you are not of My Sheep. As I said to you: My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.”

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I think those verses refer to the state of the heart.

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The statement seems so final. If someone does not hear, can they learn? In a sense His voice has always been in my ear through my mother mostly. Easy to attend to — never foreign. I have tended to assume everybody is that way, at least to some degree.
    In any case it has made The Truth more attractive to me.

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    Since He “enlightens every one who comes into the world (John 1:9), we are right to assume that everyone hears His voice. We need to leave judgment in His hands – for He alone knows what constitutes “hearing His voice.” What we know is the path that He has given us in the Orthodox faith and the promises that accompany that. But we cannot answer the questions about things we haven’t been told. We haven’t been given the information that allows us to explain the world and everything in it. We’ve been given enough to follow Christ.

    I think we find it frustrating to not know everything. I can only assume that knowing everything would actually be harmful to us – making us like demons.

  43. Preston Avatar
    Preston

    “ I think we find it frustrating to not know everything. I can only assume that knowing everything would actually be harmful to us – making us like demons.”

    I think you just summed up the basic disease that has been afflicting much of Western Christianity (and the modern world) for quite some time…

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Preston,
    I think many people operate under a “management theory of salvation.” They imagine that if they only had enough information, they would know what to do and would do it. At its core is an unaddressed issue of shame. We cannot bear the shame of our own ignorance – we want to be like God.

  45. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for the reminders about God enlightening everyone who comes into the world and that judgment must be left to Him alone.
    I have a brother-in-law who just died at 89. He never attended church his whole life. Yet visiting him just 2 or 3 weeks ago, I asked him if I could pray for him. He surprised me by saying, “If you think it will help.” We prayed. Just 2 days before his passing we prayed with him again. He now is in God’s presence and we pray that Christ God have mercy on his soul. He was rough, crude, a drinker…a cowboy type. But when I think of him and his life I recall someone saying that they would rather be with a good-hearted, sloppy drunk any day, than with a mean-spirited self-righteous person. So, we leave Rod in the hands of our good and merciful God.

  46. Shannon Avatar
    Shannon

    Fr. Stephen:
    By some grace given me, I remember from my youngest days always thinking that lying must be one of the worst of sins. (And with today’s internet, reality deniers and conspiracy theorists, my opinion hasn’t changed. In my youth one could at least “believe” photographs, unlike today, with rampant photoshopping.) Whenever I would consider the act of lying in general, Ecclesiastes 3 always came to mind. In its ‘times to every purpose’ – times to kill, to destroy, to lose, to scatter, to rend, to hate, et al. – blatantly lacking (to me) was any time to lie.
    Your explanation how the subjects of lies lack any existence may be at the heart of all this for me.
    Thank you for this excellent post.

  47. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Thank you, Father Stephen. l love your statement that man is an iconographer. And also the description of the Old Testament as shadow, the new as icon. In the little church still in my heart we sang the cherubim hymn thusly:
    “Here we become, in mystery, icons, icons…icons of the cherubim…” (It follows the Greek). Of course, it is only at that liturgical moment we can truly feel ourselves to be such. But even merely to remember having had such moments is the promise of eternity, I think.
    Thank you as well for describing Saint Theodore’s explanation; my youngest grandchild, (born on my birthday!) is named Theodore, and I painted for him the icon I found of the Saint returning from exile to Constantinople in a little boat – it’s a lovely icon. I will copy out your explanation here, and maybe he will read it for himself someday.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…


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