Updated: Oct 11, 2022
by Father Chris Mason
A picture paints a thousand words. Most of us have heard that saying at some point in our lives. Did you know that iconography, although it is art, is also an ancient spiritual discipline that opens us to the divine?
“An icon is a sacred image used in religious devotion.” Icons are commonly painted on wood panels, although they can be drawn or painted on many different surfaces using a variety of artistic media. Icons are meant to be approached, mindful of the images and meanings attached to the content that have been painted or applied on its surface. Icons seek to be windows into the Divine. They have been called windows to heaven or doorways to the sacred. When you are standing in front of an icon, it is as if you are looking through a portal into the heavenly world of a mystery. But this is a two-way window. As you look through the window, you are also being seen with the eyes of love by those in the icon. It is as if you yourself were becoming a part of the mystery that the icon seeks to express.
From the eyes of the iconographer, writing an icon is a process of opening oneself and one’s heart to God. It begins with prayer to discern God’s message. Each step along the way, from the choosing of the wood for the board, the smoothing of the Gesso, the detail of the drawings, and the layering of color begins and ends with prayer. The writing of an icon moves from the simple to the complex, from darkness into light and illumination.
Highlighting is done in three layers to symbolize Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At all times the iconographer seeks to receive God’s message through his or her hands.
Indeed, part of the iconographer’s prayer reads as follows:
“Enlighten and direct my soul, my heart, and my spirit.
Guide the hands of thine unworthy servant,
So that I may worthily and perfectly portray thine Icon,
That of thy Mother and all the Saints,
for the glory, joy, and adornment of thy Holy Church.”
Scripture and Reflection: Genesis 1: 26-27
Then God said, “let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
I offer you the following words by Rabbi Joshua ben Levi who wrote: “A procession of angels passes before each person, and the heralds go before them saying, “Make way, make way for the image of God!” Indeed, we continue to be saints in God’s image. Imagine what a beautiful sight it would be to have a throng of angels preceding your every step, saying, “Make way! Make way!” And offering God’s love to everyone they meet.
Reflect on your spiritual journey, mindful that the growth and development of your spiritual self is a life-long odyssey toward God through his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
We have no options about the journey we must make from birth to death, a journey that affords us a multitude of opportunities to find meaning and the fullness of life through Jesus. I have had a number of occasions where God has reached out to me, and I am especially blessed to share the results of my journey with you.